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With: Chris Branning, Graham Brant-Zawadzki, Chris Clark, Charlie Enright, Jesse Fielding, Robbie Kane, Steve Manson, Chris Schubert, Kate Theisen, Mark Towill, Genny Tulloch, Pieter van Os, Chris Welch, Kit Will, Jeremy Wilmot
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Paul Crowder, Mark Monroe
MPAA Rating: PG for some language
Running Time: 100
Date: 10/17/2008

Morning Light (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

For Sail

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Roy Disney once took part in the TransPac race, which takes you 2275 nautical miles on a yacht, from California to Hawaii, over the course of some ten days (or more). Apparently it changed Disney's life, to the point that he wanted to share his life-changing experience with everyone else, via this documentary. But rather than race again himself, he spends his considerable money and influence to put together a kind of reality show in which eleven amateur twenty-somethings race against seasoned veterans. "It's really about the journey," says Disney at one point early in the film, which is his insurance against the movie's ending. If they win, he's got a great, exuberant, happy ending. If they lose he can just say, "It's really about the journey" again.

The film's first half is the reality-show setup. The racers get several months to train, and we get a tense countdown on the screen, along with a truly awful music score by a group called "Matter." They practice and fail. One girl goes snowboarding and breaks her arm, which provides at least ten minutes of drama. The racers contribute some of those from-the-heart testimonials, in which they talk about how meaningful all this is (they use phrases like "everything hinges on..." and "...decides our fate"). But worst of all is the scene in which the fifteen chosen contestants must choose which eleven of them actually get to go on the boat. (The other four are alternates.) It's not unlike those annoying, "suspenseful" pauses before some "American Idol" or "Next Top Model" contestant gets kicked off the show.

The actual race settles down quite a bit, and we get a bit more spontaneity and organic drama. Disney's boat is called the "Morning Light," which is quite a lovely name, and the boat ventures through some equally lovely scenery in the remote ocean waters. The co-directors Paul Crowder and Mark Monroe do a very nice job of detailing the mundane chores of the race, such as cooking the horrible-looking, freeze-dried food (this may be a 52-foot yacht, but no one is eating quail and caviar) and sleeping in the cramped, smelly, stuffy conditions of the quarters below. There's also a portion of the race in which the sailors must decide how to get around a huge dead spot in the water. They must veer either north or south, otherwise they'll find themselves without wind, and stuck. This may not sound that interesting, but it actually creates some suspense onscreen.

After the race, Morning Light spends a lot of time dealing with the rampant post-race emotions, including some "clandestine" scenes of crying, etc. But as the movie ended, I really didn't feel the life-changing experience that Disney had or these racers had. In that, the movie blatantly fails; it fails to let us live vicariously through these sailors and actually join them on their trip. And it fails because it's a reality show. It's less about validating your life by racing in a boat and more about validating your life by appearing on a TV or movie screen.

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