Discovery Channel // 2008 // 661 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 18th, 2009
"You go through a couple marriages, smoke cigarettes like it's going out of style, your body aches from the time you get up to the time you go to bed, and you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about where you're going to put the next pot. Yeah, it's a great lifestyle." -- Phil Harris, captain of the Cornelia Marie
When I was in college, the school newspaper ran help wanted advertisements in the back of their winter editions for deckhands on Alaska king crab fishing boats. The ads offered the opportunity to make as much as 30 large in just a couple months -- an attractive proposition for an undergrad who could barely scrape together enough dough for a case of Milwaukee's Best. But even as a dumb kid, I knew the offer was too good to be true -- the opportunity to make that kind of bread in that brief a timeframe meant the job had to be hideous. Having now seen Deadliest Catch, Discovery Channel's reality television show about king and opilio crab fishing on the Bering Sea, I'm glad I never gave those ads in the back of the Northern Star more than a passing glance because, let me be blunt here, I'm too much of a candy-ass to be a crab fisherman.
Alaska crab fishing is a badass business. Boats tool through the choppy and sometimes violent Bering Sea, dropping strings of 800-pound baited cages called "pots." Dropping and retrieving the pots is a cold, wet, physically exhausting, and dangerous business (one misplaced rope can drag a deckhand overboard and to the bottom of the sea in seconds). Deadliest Catch is a reality show sans lame contests, audience voting, and contrived drama. It is fascinating purely because of its examination of the fine details of the job (illuminated through voice-over by Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and illustrated by the occasional animatic), a very real sense of danger, and the unpretentious but colorful deckhands and captains on each of the boats.
Season Four of Deadliest Catch follows the adventures of five boat captains sailing out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska on a quest to harvest millions of dollars worth of king and opilio crab. Along the way, they fight inclement weather (and by "inclement" I mean "hurricane force gales"), sleep deprivation, and on-deck shenanigans and personality clashes. Co-captains of the Wizard, brothers Keith and Monte Colburn must contend with a hard-headed greenhorn named Jason "Moi" Moilanen. Helming the Cornelia Marie, gruff, chain-smoking Phil Harris battles sudden health problems as well as the mischievous excesses of his sons Jake and Josh. The Northwestern is run by captain Sig Hansen and his brothers Edgar and Norman, Norwegian-American fishing legacies whose superstition runs as deep as their knowledge of the sea. The Northwestern is also the stage for a battle of wills between greenhorn Jake Anderson and seasoned deckhand Matt Bradley. Captain Johnathan Hillstrand and his brother Andy set sail on the Time Bandit, despite their mother's ominous prediction that something bad will befall them. The brothers hope that Johnathan's son Scotty will carry on the Hillstrand fishing legacy, but the kid has plans of his own. New to the scene is Sten Skaar, out to prove that he can make a fortune with his father's fishing boat, the North American.
The 16 episodes of Season Four are spread across four discs double-stacked in two slimline DVD cases, which are tucked into a cardboard slipcase. A fifth disc, in a slim case of its own, contains extras.
The first eight episodes of the season cover the October king crab season.
* "Get 'Em Back Safe"
* "Striking Out"
* "A Numbers Game"
* "Unsafe and Sound"
* "No Mercy"
* "Racing the Clock"
* "Seeking the Catch"
* "No Season for Old Men"
Episodes nine through 16 delve into the bitterly cold January opilio crab season, during which deckhands spend much of their time chipping ice off of their boats in order to keep from capsizing in the rough winter waters.
* "Storm Season"
* "Blow Up"
* "Big Weather, Big Trouble"
* "Mortal Men"
* "Fresh Blood"
* "Changing Tides"
* "Catch as Catch Can"
* "The Final Hour"
Deadliest Catch is shot on video by sure-footed camera men as well as a number of fixed cameras on each of the boats. The quality of the footage varies. The handheld material is sharper and sports better color than the fixed camera material, which has something of the look of security footage. None of the variations are annoying given the show's cinéma vérité style. The DVD presents the show in a fine 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced widescreen transfer that is superior to standard definition broadcast and nearly as good as the show's appearance on Discovery HD. Audio is a straight-up Dolby stereo mix that, like the show's fishermen, gets the job done.
There are no episode-specific extras, but Disc Five of the set contains a separate, five-episode mini-series called After the Catch, which delivered bang-up ratings for Discovery during its original broadcast. The show is a series of roundtables (often set in a bar) during which the captains and deckhands swap stories about crabbing, family, past tragedies, and workplace shenanigans. It's good stuff.
* "Real Life"
As a rule, I hate reality television -- I mean hate it. For the most part, it's a genre fueled by schadenfreude and filled with ill will and ginned up histrionics. Deadliest Catch is the exception that proves my rule. It offers genuine drama, harrowing danger, and a cast of compelling personalities too busy doing their jobs to be the sort of craven attention-seekers one normally finds on reality shows. Deadliest Catch is reality show that feels quite real. Imagine that.
Not only is the show entertaining, it looks great on DVD. And there's something to be said for experiencing the episodes in order, one right after the other, as it maintains the dramatic intensity of the various plotlines. Fans of the show shouldn't hesitate to grab this set. Greenhorns should consider renting the discs, or seeking out the show on the Discovery Channel.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 661 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site