Judge Dylan Charles says sharks are maligned. Humans have feeding frenzies too, if there's free pizza.
Our review of Sharkwater (Blu-Ray), published April 28th, 2008, is also available.
He risked his life to save the most threatened species in the world.
Socially conscious documentaries meant to raise awareness about a particular cause are hardly new: We've got An Inconvenient Truth, which warned us about man's effects on global warming; we have Michael Moore's Sicko, which lets us know the fallibility of the American healthcare system (or lack of it); and we have the classic Harlan County U.S.A., which let us in on the plight of coal miners.
Sharkwater is unique not so much in its intent, but in what it is trying to save: the shark.
Never has an animal been as mythically feared as the shark. It dominates the ocean, a realm we have only begun to explore. It has haunted our movies and books, with Jaws leading the pack (although Peter Benchley later became a staunch defender of sharks and regretted his depiction of them in his novel). Nothing gets the media into a feeding frenzy more quickly than the words "shark attack."
Rob Stewart is a man who has begun to dedicate his life toward the preservation of sharks. In Sharkwater, he has documented both his preservation attempts and his fascination with sharks. He photographs them and battles fishermen and poachers with Sea Shepherd, a borderline militant environmentalist organization. Now he's trying to get the word out to as many people as possible using the medium he's most comfortable with.
The best part of Sharkwater is the cinematography, and Stewart's background as an underwater photographer comes through crystal clear here. His shots of sharks in their natural habitat and their interactions with him go a long way toward tearing down the myth that sharks are uncontrolled killing machines, which is one of the largest hurdles sharks face. Most people are not concerned about helping something that looks like it's on the verge of eating key parts of their anatomy. The shark's plight has for years gone on unnoticed, and Stewart points out that it's believed that ninety percent of the shark population has been extinguished by our actions.
Along with the shots of unimaginable beauty, Sharkwater has some of the most brutal scenes I've ever seen on film: poachers cutting off shark's fins and then dumping them into the water to die either of suffocation or blood loss, whichever comes first; and hundreds of kilometers of fishing lines, with barbed and baited hooks attached, killing hundred of sharks, sea turtles, or whatever might take the bait or swim too close and get entangled in the lines.
Sharkwater has a tendency to focus on Stewart a bit too much. This makes sense, given the personal nature of his crusade, but it tends to create a definite bias. But then, there really is no such thing as a truly unbiased documentary, and it is hard to blame Stewart for letting his passions get the better of him.
Sharkwater has few extras, but the few it has are worth watching. One is a shark defense film put out by the United States Navy back in what looks like the 1960s. God forbid you're the downed airman who had to rely on this for protection, since it shows how little we really know about sharks.
The second extra is a making-of featurette, which actually has entertaining and worthwhile information about what goes on in the making of a movie, if you can imagine such a thing.
Sharkwater is a beautifully shot movie which shows some truly terrible things and highlights a key issue that many may not have considered. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Beneath the Surface" Featurette
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