There have been many documentaries on the Great Barrier Reef over the years, particularly from the ABC and the BBC.
Netflix’s first Australian original documentary, Puff: Wonders of the Barrier Reef, anticipates that we will see the Atoll like never before with super macro techniques developed especially for the film. While we’ve certainly seen the reef up close, nearly all of this doco keeps the framing tight around its diminutive subjects while underpinning an ecological disaster theme.
Storyteller Rose Byrne’s sweet storytelling also gives a puffer fish, “Puff,” the hero’s journey.
How to build Looking for Elmo‘s stardom, ‘Puff’ is fondly followed through life’s adventures in the depths of the Reef. He is the size of a “jellybean” at the top of the film, which later grows to the size of your thumb.
Coral life is teeming with microcosms, colors, threats and faces an ecological disaster. Director/producer Nick Robinson is on a mission to build fascination and empathy for marine life from a wide audience, and his little hero is certainly an accessible way into the story.
The real star of the doco is Pete West’s photography, capturing “invisible” worlds that would make Attenborough smile. Hylton Mowday’s music helps the drama rise and fall, while the editors take a very modern approach to panning and camera movement, which feels a bit imposed.
But the script is more about emotion than science, with Rose Byrne targeting a family audience. (“it’s not all tanning and snacking” / “he’s so hungry he could eat a horse”). While the dangers of coral reef destruction are very real, there has been no attempt to outline how human behavior can reverse an environmental crisis.
But the bigger, or should I say smaller, picture is undeniable. You could easily seat your family down for a fun education about reef life, decorated with aquatic micro-wonders.
Puff: Wonders of the Reef screens Thursdays on Netflix.