ATLANTIC CROSSING: A ROBOT'S DARING MISSION (DVD) Image

Dena Seidel’s documentary, which was produced by Rutgers University, focuses on an oceanographic milestone: the 2009 launch of the first autonomous underwater robot to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

And why did the robot cross the ocean? Well, this missile-shaped, propeller-free “glider” (named Scarlet, even though it was painted yellow) was fashioned by Rutgers’ scientists as being the deep-sea equivalent of Sputnik – it was sent forth to conquer a previously unconquered horizon. Scarlet’s trip was not without hiccups – a typo in the computer coding nearly sank it before it left the New Jersey shoreline, while a blanket of biological growth halted its progress in the shark-infested waters off the Azores.

Since Scarlet did not carry a video camera to let us see what’s under the ocean waves, the film focuses on the scientists and engineers who created and monitored the journey. Unfortunately, these individuals are among the most charisma-challenged individuals to find their way into a nonfiction film – they detail their work in monotonous tones when they are not fighting among themselves. The combination of droning and bickering scientists and an inanimate robot floating in the water does not result in compelling viewing.

This DVD comes with a choice of a 55-minute version that played on PBS and a 75-minute version designed for the big screen. Either way, it is a long haul in endurance.

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