Judge David Johnson was absolutely stunned to discover that if you wade around in shark-infested waters there's a chance you might get bitten. Thanks, Discovery Channel!
Your worst nightmare caught on film.
As seen on the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," this special follows shark bite victim Dr. Erich Ritter on his quest to gather as much information on the chomping methods of sharks as he could. This data-collecting journey will bring in professionals from around the world, involve people putting their limbs on the line as they study the beasts up close, and cost big, big money to build a mechanical shark, with all of it leading to conclusions that are, pretty much, common sense.
Facts of the Case
On April 9, 2002, Dr. Erich Ritter was filming an interview about sharks and soon found his lower leg in the vicelike grip of a bull shark. After much frothing water, the shark took off with nearly all of Ritter's lower leg in its teeth. Of course, Ritter was standing knee-deep in a shark-infested ocean at the time, but whatever.
Dr. Ritter barely survived the attack, and he now boasts an impressive wound. So did he then opt to abandon the study of sharks and turn his attention to a field with a lower chance of being eaten, like botany or accounting?
Instead Ritter embarks on a crusade to reconstruct the nightmarish event that left him hobbled and accumulate data on what makes a shark bite so devastating. To do this, he's given seemingly unlimited resources, including access to big-brained scientists and buckets of cash. The study leads to new inventions to test the strength of a shark's bite as well as the creation of a fully articulated replica of a Great White (courtesy of a motion picture special effects company).
Eighty-five minutes later, we learn that sharks are big and tough and maybe it wasn't that great an idea to stand around in their feeding waters in the first place.
Hey man, sharks are great. Frightening and horrible and the stuff of everyone's nightmares sure, but awesome beasts nonetheless. Unfortunately, all 85 minutes of Anatomy of a Shark Bite miserably fail to live up to the awesomeness of its sea-dwelling subject matter.
The biggest problem this program faces is its incredible repetitiveness. The first few times Ritter's shark attack footage is shown it's scary and unnerving. After what seems like the thousandth time, it began to feel conspicuously like the producers were desperate to pad the run time. Seriously, the amount of times they showed the footage and rehashed the story (how many ways can you say "Erich Ritter was bitten by a shark and now wants to learn more about them"?) traipsed into the territory of self-parody.
While this goofy stylistic choice is distracting, it's not enough to distract the viewer from this simple fact: There appears to be no point to it all. The whole quest is never satisfactorily explained. We hear vague proclamations like "Erich Ritter wants to re-create that horrible event," but the purpose of all of the huffing and puffing is never clear. I'm pretty sure the idea was to figure out how hard a shark bites and why it bites and…well…I guess that's it. To answer these questions, the filmmakers seem to go through a whole lot of time, money, and labor—all to arrive at mere estimations.
Take, for example, the construction of the mechanical shark. This process is the centerpiece of the documentary, and is shown almost as much as the re-re-re-re-repeated clips of the original Ritter shark attack. So after much toil and treasure, this mammoth Great White replica with robotic jaws, metal teeth, and movable head is attached to a metal bar that runs the length of a warehouse and is pulled forward, where it chomps at a variety of items. Several of these tests are run, with different controls of the robot shark employed, until the scientists arrive at this startling fact: Sharks do a lot of damage when they bite down on something and violently shake their head around.
And then there is the sailor experiment. Here, Ritter and company attempt to re-create a heinous tragedy that befell hundreds of sailors in World War II. After their ship sank, the sailors were left floating in the Pacific, where they were feasted upon by roving sharks. To try and understand why this happened, a slew of guys are dropped in a huge pool and a remote control machine—from a shark's-eye view—is piloted around underwater while Ritter and some others examine the data poolside. WTF?! This strikes me as a phenomenally pointless exercise, and the conclusions it reaches are all well known to any shark researcher worth his missing thumb: Try not to flail around like a crazy person, and you may not spend the next few hours of your life in a shark's lower intestine.
Not all of this special is a waste of time—just most of it. A segment where Ritter meets up with some fellow shark attack victims is particularly unsettling. But sporadic cool parts like these are overshadowed by big, pointless experiments.
Anatomy of a Shark Bite looks and sounds fine. The original full-frame aspect ratio is very clean. Sound, too, is effective, with a surprisingly aggressive Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. Included on the disc is another Shark Week episode, called "Future Shark," which spotlights new technology used for studying sharks and is narrated by Peter Coyote. It's actually a more interesting program than the feature it supplements.
A lot of stuff happens. Really smart people build cool things. And you get to watch a guy have his leg gnawed upon over and over again. But to what end does Anatomy of a Shark Bite go through all of this? No end, from my vantage point.
The accused is released back into the ocean.
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• "Future Shark" Bonus Episode
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