Documentaries on ecological crises often begin by scaring the bejesus out of viewers before adding a note of tempered optimism. For “Deep Rising,” a film about the race to mine the deep seabed (in particular, the floor beneath the Pacific’s vast Clarion-Clipperton Zone), the director Matthieu Rytz eschews shock for awe, and inflammatory rhetoric for measured persuasion.
The director’s choice of his two chief characters proves richly dialectical. Gerard Barron is the hipster CEO of The Metals Company, a Canadian mining concern focused on harvesting polymetallic nodules containing nickel, manganese, cobalt and copper among other minerals that the so-called green economy craves. (“Please get nickel!,” Elon Musk can be heard saying in an audio clip.) Sandor Mulsow is a warm, serious-minded marine geologist and the former head of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources at the International Seabed Authority, the organization the U.N. has tasked with protecting the ocean floor.
Rytz takes care not to lionize or demonize either man. Even so, the pitch Barron gives a roomful of high-net investors sounds too good — and low-impact — to be true.
The composer Olafur Arnalds’s string-led score and the actor Jason Momoa’s sonorous narration add to the film’s argument that where the world’s biodiversity and the seafloor’s still mysterious environs are concerned, caution and care are paramount.
The footage of iridescent creatures with billowing tentacles or translucent bodies mesmerizes but it also creates contemplative pauses amid the documentary’s facts, interviews and the damning history of the mining industry. The optimism here resides in the filmmaker’s trusting his audience to grapple with the entwined fates of the seafloor, its inhabitants and humankind.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters.