Morning Light – DVD Review

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The Walt Disney Company built its empire by producing mainly true-life adventure documentaries in the 1950s. Walt Disney’s nephew, and current Disney CEO, Roy E. Disney, has always been a avid sailor. He has competed successfully in sailing’s version of the Indianapolis 500, the Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac for short), numerous times. So you had to know that it was only a matter of time before Disney would produce a sailing documentary film. Back in 2007 the call went out for talented sailors who’ve never competed in the Transpac. Over 500 applied, and eventually Disney narrowed down the finalists to 15. What happens next is fully documented in the Disney film Morning Light.

Morning Light is a documentary film that focuses on the 2006 Transpacific Yacht Race. This race is an annual competition between sailing sloops as they cross the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii. The film observes a team sailing the “Morning Light” sloop. The potential crew of the Morning Light consists of a group of young men and women who undergo intensive training for a half year and then race against sailors far more experienced than themselves.

The first half of the film is you typical reality-competition series. The cameras focus on the rivalries between 15 people competing for 11 slots on the final sailing team. As expected, the usual melodrama happens. But really there is no real drama or tension with the entire film. Like every other underdog story you pretty much know how this film will end. The second half of the film is a sailing training manual. The coed crew kept journals and we watch them read from those journals as they talk about the team, the sport and the way sailing makes them feel closer to the Earth by “being one with the wind.” It is here where the film is at its best.

What separates both great films and reality shows, which it’s clear this film is trying to a combination of both, over all the rest is interesting characters. There are only a few on the Morning Light sloop. No matter how hard they try to show a little diversity, the sailing team is mainly made up of white, Ivy-League educated, young males. In fact, to pound home the point of sameness, there are four guys named Chris that make it as finalists. The notable exceptions are a son of a sailor from Australia, an inner city black teen from Baltimore who isn’t a strong swimmer, some Merchant Marines, and two women. So really these characters can’t cause much drama between themselves, because at the end of the day they still have to sail safely and competitively for 500 miles.

So in the end, Morning Light, is not for everyone. The sailing footage is exciting to watch, and it almost makes you wish you were on the boat yourself. But as the second half of the film drags on, non-sailors will start to lose interest with all of the sailing jargon and day-to-day minutiae that gets thrown at them. It doesn’t help that the people who make the Morning Light sailing team aren’t that interesting to watch. When you compare Morning Light to the past great Disney documentaries of yesteryear, it just doesn’t compare.

The video included is available in widescreen color presented at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The quality is great. You would actually be surprised to know that Blu-ray doesn’t really help this film since the film was shot in different ways with different cameras. It’s most consistent as it is presented this way. Again, the best part of this film are the visuals and sailing footage.

The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound or French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear, but unlike the video quality, the audio quality is not as good in standard definition as it is on Blu-ray.

“Morning Light: Making the Cut” Special
This is a 42-minute special that originally aired on ESPN. It’s basically the prequel to the film as it concentrates solely on the trials and selection process. There’s more footage here of selecting the team, so at times you get more information about the people on the ship than you do for the film. Almost recommended viewing before watching the film.

“Stories from the Sea Featurette
This runs 30 minutes and it’s hosted by Jason Earles of Hannah Montana fame. This is basically a combination of “making of” featurette and “outtakes”. We see stuff that didn’t make the final cut of the film, including an interesting character that didn’t make the team, Steve Manson. You also get various interviews from the cast and crew. So if you want more information on this film, this is interesting to watch.

Morning Light will be a must-watch for sailing fans. But non-sailors really aren’t missing much as this is an average documentary film at best that doesn’t have a lot of mainstream appeal.


Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents Morning Light. Directed by Mark Monroe and Paul Crowder. Created by Roy E. Disney. Starring Jeremy Wilmot, Genny Tulloch, Charlie Enright, Chris Schubert, Mark Towill, Chris Clark, Graham Brant-Zawadzki, Robbie Kane, Kate Theisen, Chris Branning, Chris Welch, Steve Manson, Kit Will, Piet Van Os, and Jesse Fielding. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: June 16, 2009. Available at Amazon.com

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