Review:  ‘Mission Blue’ explores life of oceanographer Sylvia Earle


The documentary “Mission Blue” chronicles the life’s work of legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who served as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration between 1990 and 1992 and has been an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society since 1998. She dedicated her academic career to canvassing uncharted territories for seaweed, and her attention is now on championing preservation of the seas.

Earle first experienced the ocean at age 12 when she moved with her family to a place near the Gulf of Mexico. At 78, she has logged more than 100 expeditions and 7,000 hours underwater. She held the solo deep-submersible dive record of 3,300 feet (until filmmaker James Cameron broke it), and the Smithsonian houses her collection of more than 20,000 plant specimens.

Cameron, the late filmmaker Mike deGruy and the lime-green bathyscaphe currently seen in the documentary “Deepsea Challenge 3D” have cameos here. Earle and Cameron cite oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as an influence, but these overlaps aside, “Mission Blue” emerges as far more informative and impactful than “Deepsea.”


Though “Mission Blue” gets its title from Earle’s nonprofit organization, the film rarely comes across as propaganda. Filmmakers Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon don’t gloss over that her professional ambitions led directly to the disintegration of her marriages.

One complaint: The narrative is not told chronologically, and it shuttles haphazardly between biography, science and advocacy. That the home-movie inserts are in fact reenactments also make them seem a bit disingenuous.


“Mission Blue.”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.