Judge Clark Douglas searched for great sharks and only found a turkey.
The ultimate shark adventure!
In both the fiction and non-fiction realms, sharks are a pretty easy sell. Jaws is the one of the most successful summer blockbusters of all time (not to mention the godfather of all summer blockbusters), and the Discovery Channel devotes an entire week of programming to sharks annually. Our terror of sharks is directly linked to our fascination with them, so a documentary about them doesn't have to do much aside from occasionally reminding us of how powerful and deadly they are. Despite meeting that requirement with much-too-eager enthusiasm, Search for the Great Sharks doesn't quite work.
This brief IMAX film begins by informing us that sharks dominated the seas for billions of years, until the greatest predator of them all began to explore the oceans (cue ominous music): man. Yes, we have seen the enemy and it is us, but the special then drops that notion and begins to toss out a few of the usual shark facts. So, I settled in for a basic examination of the fearsome mammals, but then the documentary changed course once again and introduced us to its real subject.
That would be a man named Dr. Clark (no relation), a cheerful guy who seems to be the flesh-and-blood incarnation of Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit series (aside from an Australian accent, his voice is identical). Many years ago, Dr. Clark was nearly torn in half by a shark. Fortunately he survived the attack, but it took nearly 500 stitches to piece him back together. "I used to hate sharks," Dr. Clark says warmly, "But now I love them!" No further explanation is given for this change of heart.
I'm sure that Dr. Clark is a knowledgeable, intelligent man who is very well-qualified to be studying sharks, but he's depicted in this documentary as a hapless boob. Upon being lowered into the water, Dr. Clark manages to get himself bitten on the hand ("Ow! Good thing he can't bite through this chain mail!"), accidentally loses his flipper, nearly drowns in his attempts to get it back, is forced to get rid of his helmet, and comes floundering back to the surface. In his chain mail, he looks like a sad knight who was rejected from the round table and promptly thrown into the ocean.
Dr. Clark informs us that while other scientists would prefer to do useful things, he prefers to have adventures. So it seems, as the latter half of Search for the Great Sharks spotlights the good doctor at his most Wallace and Gromit-y, standing inside a plastic cage underwater and wondering aloud to himself how long it will be before a shark tries to eat him. They claim the point of this mission is to figure out whether sharks will attempt to eat humans based on sight. There are a bunch of sharks in the water, and a couple of them half-heartedly bump into the cage. "It tried to eat me!" Dr. Clark shouts. Yeah, okay, if you say so.
Cut into this less-than-thrilling saga are oddly-staged moments of "terror," such as a scene in which a shark jumps out of the water to eat a fish and one of the seasoned female scientists holds her hands to her face in screams in unconvincing horror. Then we cut to a shot of a dog barking at the water. There's a general sense that most of these scientists are being coached into creating a tense dramatic experience, but it just makes the film seem alternately stiff and silly.
As you might expect, Search for the Great Sharks looks excellent in hi-def, boasting a sharp 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. The cinematography is easily the best thing about the special, with a variety of genuinely interesting and compelling shots popping up over the course of the film's otherwise clunky 37 minutes. There's a "shark's eye view" stretch early on that particularly impresses. Detail is strong and blacks are nice and deep throughout. Audio is mixed, as some of the dialogue is quite muffled but the music comes through with clarity. There are no extras included on the disc.
I wish I could recommend Search for the Great Sharks to you as a splendid IMAX adventure, but it's honestly well below the level of an average hour of Shark Week programming.
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