An urgent trip to the imperilled bottom of our world, narrated by Jason Momoa

Deep Rising - Still 1

Source: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

‘Deep Rising’

Dir: Matthieu Rytz. US. 2023. 93 mins.

Jason Momoa is an excellent choice to narrate this documentary which considers the threat posed by deep-sea mining to the floors of our oceans and the creatures who live there. His bass tones lend depth and gravitas to this latest environmental crisis film from Matthieu Rytz,  and his Aquaman credentials won’t do any harm either when it comes to attracting the interest of mainstream audiences.  Rytz previously brought Anote’s Ark to the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, which went on to enjoy a strong run at festivals. Now he’s back in the festival’s Premieres section and the presence of Momoa (who also executive produced) is almost certain to ensure at least the same measure of success for Deep Rising, which also boasts the sort of beautiful underwater cinematography and hot button subject matter that are likely to lure in distributors.

Visually this is a winner

Rytz’s focus is 2.5 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, where the Clarion-Clipperton zone lies. It’s home to the sort of luminescent creatures that big screen cinema was made for, fragile and intricate jellyfish which twirl like elaborate light displays and translucent and pulsating fish that look as though they’ve been plucked from a science-fiction film. It’s also attracting the interest of big business because of the presence of mineral-rich manganese nodules - which are similar in size to lumps of coal and take millions of years to form. There are those who say these hold the key to unlocking a green revolution if harvested to satiate the world’s huge demand for electric batteries - but Rytz’s film takes a firm activist stance, asking us to consider what the price of that would be in terms of loss of biodiversity and environmental damage. 

Those who think the nodules can fuel a greener future include The Metals Company, which is attempting to persuade the International Seabed Authority (ISA)  -  the global body that has stewardship of the deep sea areas - to allow it to mine them. Rytz offers fly-on-the-wall footage of the machinations of the company as it tries to woo with its “green” credentials at the same time as developing a hulking mechanical harvester, which despite being coloured green looks less than environmentally sensitive. In a second strand of the film, Rytz offers the testimony of Sandor Muslow, the former head of the Office of Resources and Environmental Monitoring. He argues that the ISA has been assigned the conflicting interests of conserving the deep sea - considered “the common heritage of all mankind” - at the same time as authorising the exploitation of it. 

Deep Rising’s third component is the deep sea footage, which is accompanied by Momoa’s narration. Adapted in part from Helen Scales’ book ’The Brilliant Abyss’, this attempts to forge the connection between humanity and the importance to us of our finite resources and the animals that live in our oceans. Rytz covers a lot of ground, from the history of the ISA and the way that oil companies and other conglomerates like Lockheed Martin are diversifying into deep-sea mining, to the greenwashing of destructive practices and mankind’s short-sightedness when it comes to the planet’s resources. This almost inevitably makes it feel like a primer in places, but he picks some compelling arguments. 

When Momoa cites the way we have moved on from whaling in order to harvest the mammals’ oil to fuel our lighthouses, it does prompt you to wonder whether we are again being short-sighted with the suggestion that these nodules might offer a magic bullet solution to our problems. In other places, however, such as when it is suggested that it’s in the interests of big business to make sure the resources needed for batteries are scarce in order to maximise profits, the gut reaction may be strong but the argument could do with more extensive fleshing out.

Visually this is a winner. Rytz and his editor Elisa Bonara carefully juxtapose the footage in ways that bring home the destructiveness of the harvesting machines as they kick up clouds of sediment, in contrast to the delicate creatures they are disturbing and destroying in the process. With the seabed offering one of the world’s last truly unexploited places, Rytz constructs a strong argument to suggest we should think a lot more deeply before we changing it. 

Production company/international sales: Rocco Films,

Producer: Matthieu Rytz

Narration written by: Helen Scales, Matthieu Rytz

Cinematography: Matthieu Rytz, William Mackenzie, Diego Pequeno, Spencer Peter Wangare

Editing: Elisa Bonora

Music: Olafur Arnalds