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Movie Review

Some racers are as amazing as the race in 'Morning Light'

Young sailing enthusiasts train for the Transpacific Yacht Race, a two-week, 2,300-mile test of skill and endurance. Young sailing enthusiasts train for the Transpacific Yacht Race, a two-week, 2,300-mile test of skill and endurance. (Sharon green/disney enterprises)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / October 17, 2008
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After seeing "Morning Light," a fluffy piece of Disney nonfiction about the one woman and 10 men who competed last year in a yacht race across the Pacific, I have some questions. Is anyone thinking about turning this into a reality competition show ("The Amazing Race on Water")? More seriously: Why, after all this training footage, don't we learn what actually makes a good sailor?

The idea to invite untested mariners into the Transpacific Yacht Race, or Transpac, comes from Roy Disney, one of Walt's kids and a Transpac veteran. Soon after he explains the idea of a nationwide search for young sailing enthusiasts, the movie counts down to the start of the two-week, 2,300-mile offshore race. And as the clock in the upper left corner of the screen ticked away the remaining pre-race training time, I started to panic. Have these kids, mostly amateur racers, really learned enough to beat the boat of professionals they'll be up against? Probably, but we never get a useful sense of what that knowledge entails.

When the final crew is set, they all seem the same, temperamentally and physically. The sun appears to have bleached just about everybody blond; the Australian captain is recognizable insofar as he sounds Australian and captainy. But we get little explanation in the way of tactics or technique, and the filmmakers have compressed time into a bunch of cuts and platitudes about how the race will change the competitors' lives. The kids are all smart and seem nice enough; a few are students at Rhode Island schools. But except for title cards that catch us up at the end, they're barely individuated.

The lone woman in the race, Genny Tulloch, has to endure the boys' playful taunts. But interestingly, her participation forces her teammates to contemplate how strange and lonely she might feel. The personal journal entries she reads as narration only touch on how weird two weeks under those circumstances might be for her. Judging from her nonchalance, it's no big deal.

A more crucial mystery is what criteria were used to select the racers, particularly Steve Manson, a virtual orphan from Baltimore, who happens to be the lone African-American on the crew. The film flashes back to certain teammates' selection interviews; we see that Manson isn't much of a swimmer. He makes the cut anyway, but for the rest of the training months you're forced, again, to wonder how.

His inclusion has the whiff of tokenism. It's not until that blitz of who's-doing-what information at the end that we know just how nautically gifted Manson even is. While we're watching flavorless dramas about Ernie Davis ("The Express"), we could be seeing real eye-openers about guys like Manson. Steve, have you sold Disney the rights to your story?

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

Morning Light

Directed by: Mark Monroe

At: Kendall Square, Hingham

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG (some language)

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