The Underwater Realm: Under the Sea, and Under the Radar

The internet is a place where anyone can put up anything for public consumption: artwork, writing, photography, and, of course, videos. I am willing to bet quite a bit of money, that I honestly do not have, that if you are here reading my blog, you have watched some sort of video on the internet before, probably quite recently, some of you (okay, a lot of you) may even have YouTube open in another tab right now. Prospective filmmakers have taken to the internet like slam-poets took to coffeehouses, and some of these projects are even pretty good.

The Underwater Realm, is a series of five short films by director David M. Reynolds (view them on YouTube in HD here), totaling around twenty minutes of material, that document the few times that us surface-dwellers have come into contact with those living beneath the waves. From the heyday of the Roman Republic to the present day, these films show glimpses of a lost civilization living in the deeps. Reynolds makes use of new techniques for filming underwater, and the effect is quite interesting to behold. These shorts were released on Christmas-day of 2012.

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These five films take place, in reverse chronological order, in the present day, 1945, 1588, 1208, and 149BCE. The first focuses on a pair of honeymooners who go diving and see more than they were intending to. The second focuses on a downed fighter-pilot during the second World War as he struggles to escape from a potentially watery grave. The third sees a deckhand on a ship fighting the Spanish Armada that is sucked overboard after his ship is damaged in the fight. The fourth soon-to-be-submerged character is a young woman living Britain during the Dark Ages that throws herself off a cliff after her lover is killed. The fifth, and the only one from the point of view of those from the depths sees a young woman and her companions try to rescue a man thrown overboard, chained to a rock, before he drowns.

The five films possess very little narrative cohesion, and they seem like, and almost definitely are, glimpses of the possibilities of a feature film featuring this world, and this technology, rather than a complete story in its own right. But I must hand it to the people at Realm Pictures, they manage to create a unique under-the-sea world with very limited screen-time and actually manage to insert some detail about the culture through subtext in the five shorts. For example, the people living on the ocean floor seem to become increasingly wary of those from the surface as the settings get closer to the present day. Also, as the culture becomes more wary of us, they seem to be less numerous, and less prosperous. Additionally, we view the same ritual performed twice, in events around a millennium removed from each other, and see how it has changed over the years, in both practice and effectiveness.

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The idea of Atlantis is always one that has struck a chord with humanity, the idea of a lost people, a more civilized, a more noble, a more pure people who have survived unchanged over the years, undisturbed by the failings of humanity. This idea is not just restricted to Atlantis, lost worlds are also quite frequent occurrences in myths and fiction, but there is something strangely beautiful about a people surviving, and thriving, in the depths we dare not seek. Atlantis appears in the myths of Greece and the world of superhero comics (DC’s Aquaman and Marvel’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner are each Kings of Atlantis) and just about everything in between.

The Underwater Realm has taken the traditional idea of the people populating Atlantis and made them, seemingly, more tribal. In most renditions of the myth, Atlantis is usually a sunken city-state of Greece or something of that ilk. In these shorts, the people arm themselves with spears, they practice blood-rituals, and they are apparently more like the Aztecs than the Greeks or the Romans. Note, however, the glimpses we get offer little insight into their culture, just hints. The setting is well-developed, surprisingly so, and I would be intrigued to see more of this world.

While the story is certainly intriguing, if frustratingly vague in parts, the best reason to watch these shorts is the fantastic underwater cinematography Reynolds and his team manage to pull off. The underwater visuals are extremely clear, but still seem like they are viewed through the lens of ocean water. The takes are long, and there are very few quick-cuts once the stories go beneath the waves, so the effectiveness of what is transpiring is maximized. The first short, featuring the honeymooners, has tension building throughout its five-minute run-time that is compounded by the lengthy segments without any cuts, and therefore breaths.

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The sequences taking place above the water possess some impressive special effects as well. The dogfight and naval battle scenes both have well-done special effects and CGI, and while they may not be as visually impressive as the segments underwater, they are certainly impressive in their own right. These five shorts have effects and cinematography that would be visually stunning for a feature film, let alone for online shorts, and there is little else to say on the matter.

The Underwater Realm is one of the more ambitious, and well done, online film-making efforts to have hit the world-wide-web, and is well worth viewing for the stunning underwater cinematography, while the strong setting is just a bonus. David M. Reynolds and the people at Realm Pictures are clearly angling for a potential feature film with these shorts, and I definitely hope they get it, because I would certainly like to see more of the people populating this realm under the sea.

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