Warner Bros. // 2006 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 28th, 2008
"The fact is, we're just a bunch of primates out of control."
Undersea photographer and fearless biologist Rob Stewart brings his love of sharks to your Blu-ray drive in one of the most kick-ass documentaries I've ever seen.
Stewart has devoted his life to sharks. Since he was a child he always questioned how the media and society in general characterized sharks, specifically as sinister man-eating nightmare machines. So he devoted his professional life to studying sharks and swimming with them and petting them and making them his BFF.
The documentary opens with some baseline facts about sharks, how they're not murderous monsters patrolling the seas for toddlers and are terrified of humans and have been along since the dawn of time and play a pivotal role in the oceanic ecosystem, which of course plays a pivotal role in life above sea level and how they're being slaughtered at a frightening pace these days.
Then it's onto high adventure as Rob hitches a ride with the Sea Shepherd, a boat that countries bring in to watch the waters for shark poachers and form that point on beaucoup crazy @#$% goes down and without ruining too much for you, by the time the credits rolls you will have seen a pirate fight with water cannons, threats of attack by the Guatemalan Navy, barbed-wire booby traps, covert incursions into Costa Rica and flesh-eating bacteria.
I had my doubts as this disc spun. I was expecting a paint-by-numbers National Geographic-ish nature documentary and the review quote on the disc case ("an edge-of-your seat environmental thriller") did little to key me up for what was to follow. Plus Stewart's even-keeled voiceover was monotonous. So here I was all set for a "guy swimming with sharks and lecturing us about how they're majestic species and why don't you just drop your preconceived notions you anti-sharkite" and suddenly this thing turns into Jack Bauer of the High Seas.
I'll keep this quick because I know you're interested in the tech merits of the disc more than anything, but know this: even to a skeptic of enviro-hysteria like myself, Sharkwater delivered a thought-provoking, heart-breaking, inspiring and straight-up exciting piece of documentary filmmaking.
There's a point in the film where the typical "documentary"-like game-plan of strung-together segments morphs into a linear narrative, and it's a thrilling one at that. Once Stewart gets on board the Sea Shepherd, this thing just takes off. Following a confrontation with shark poachers (participating in the utterly contemptible act of "shark-finning," catching sharks, ripping off their fins and tossing the maimed animals back into the sea), Stewart and his pals narrowly escape a Guatemalan gunboat, encounter corrupt Costa Rican authorities, blow the lid off of an illicit shark-fin smuggling cabal and tangle with the Tiawanese Mafia. Like I said -- bad-frickin-ass.
When Sharkwater stumbles, it's toward the end, when the film takes on the preachy tone I had feared in the beginning. Stewart has important things to say, but these speeches lose their effect when juxtaposed with the awesome -- and more than sufficiently illustrative -- footage he had just finished showing us not a handful of minutes before. The final moments are, in a hyphenated word, anti-climactic, and what ends up keeping Sharkwater from achieving legendary status.
The film looks great in its spiffy Blu-pants. The ocean footage is striking, displayed in stunning clarity in its high-definition transition. With so many colors underneath the sea for the lens to devour, the 1080p transfer has its hands full. But the disc handles the work extremely well, leading to a vibrant, engrossing viewing experience. My one complaint is the few out-of-ratio shots, primarily interviews where the picture appeared stretched to fit the 1.85:1 screen. The standard-issue 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is fairly subdued, save for some of the more raucous musical cues.
Extras: a robust making-of featurette, an original (and inadvertently comical) shark training film produced by the Navy and a gorgeous virtual gallery full of 1080i underwater photography.
Check this one out. That is all.
Not guilty. And can I state again for the record how f -- -ed up shark-finning is?
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Making-of Documentary
* Naval Training Video
* Virtual Ocean