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Our reviews of Shark Week: Ocean Of Fear (published August 28th, 2008), Shark Week: Restless Fury (published August 13th, 2011), and Shark Week: The Great Bites Collection (published July 24th, 2009) are also available.
This Discovery Channel Landmark Event Series? It'll Swallow You Whole…
Before a certain Steven Spielberg and his movie Jaws came along, mainstream audiences really didn't give two sniffs about the shark. The often misrepresented demon of the sea was restricted to fisherman's lore and the occasional sports outing saga. But make a highly effective blockbuster about the silent, deadly eating machine and suddenly rationale people are afraid to take a swim. Since 1987, cable's Discovery Channel has been taking advantage of this newfound fear to promote a series of shows that they've labeled "Shark Week." Often roping in other franchises from the network to help the hype, this celebration of all things selachimorpha proposes to education, but really does little more than confirm frightened viewers of their already rampant aquaphobia. Image has collected six different specials (along with three additional "bonus" episodes) to highlight the nautical horrors involved. While beautiful to look at, these foolhardy explorations of the ocean's ever-present dangers will test one's tolerance for talent devoid of basic common sense.
Facts of the Case
The six different shows here all follow a very similar pattern—sharks are bad and always ready to attack, so we will (a) recreate such blood and body parts spectacle, (b) offers ways of challenging said interspecies chum bucketing, (c) test theories of survival, (d) test commercially available—and rumored—means of repellant, (e) laugh in the face of death, (f) show as many close-ups of these creatures chewing on gory fish carcasses as possible, (g) shill the holy Hell out of it all. Insert random set-up into said mix and you have a "Shark Week" show. Individually, here are the programs and basic premises provided:
Surviving Sharks—everyone's favorite Survivorman Les Stroud explains the do's and don'ts of shark survival.
How Not to Become Shark Bait—three 'dudes' are brought to the Caribbean to swim with sharks and learn techniques to avoid becoming a snack.
Mysteries of the Shark Coast—Australia takes center stage as a team of scientists try to uncover the reasons for a recent migration away from the country.
Mythbusters: Shark Special 2—Jamie, Adam, Tory, Grant, and Kari put various shark-based myths and theories to the test.
Day of the Shark—the anatomy of a shark attack is explored from six different perspectives.
Dirty Jobs: Greenland Shark Quest—host Mike Rowe travels to the frozen North to seek out the most elusive shark of all.
Like lame direct-to-video erotic thrillers and tributes to the late Michael Jackson, if you've seen one Shark Week show, you've basically seen them all. As stated in the aforementioned Facts, the Discovery Channel creative team has these scare and dare scenarios down pat. There is stunning stock footage a'plenty, show talent who are always less than enthusiastic about being part of such man-eating entertainment experiments (and yet willing to partake in such stunts), suntanned and windblown marine biologists ready with a fun fact or twelve, and ominous music meant to mimic the experience of having your vital organs shredding by a hungry hellspawn fish. No matter the name celebrity placed in the multi-toothed mouth of fate, this is all implied horror and post-Jaws traumatic stress syndrome.
Individually, these six shows all have their highs and lows. The Mythbusters are uniformly interesting, though this is not their best shark-based outing. The "eye poke" episode is all set-up and little payoff, while the "fish in distress" experiment yields little but boredom. Tory, Grant, and Kari have a couple of the more interesting ideas to test, including a very creepy set of night dives. Still, these fact finders have done better. So has Les Stroud. The man who can out nature Euell Gibbons and out aggrandize Bear Grylls does his best to emphasize shark safety and rationality, but when you are dealing with beasts that will bite you in half for no good reason, such an approach seems antithetical to one's life saving purpose. Finally, Mike Rowe does his deadpan best to laugh along with a bunch of frozen fishheads as Dirty Jobs goes ice casting.
Of the other three offerings, Day of the Shark is probably the best. It showcases semi-realistic recreations of people being attacked, and the reasons why they became victims. There is also a bit of anti-media blame gaming included. Indeed, the hysterics we witness here, as well as in the 24 hour news cycle of the bonus feature Summer of the Shark offers a tabloid-like feeding frenzy that makes Network look like a documentary. Elsewhere, Shark Bait has too much "extreme bro-ness" to warrant much attention, and the only enigma for the folks Downunder is why these sea-based predators haven't 'am-scrayed' from their shores decades earlier.
This is not to say that everything here isn't worth visiting, at least once. The brilliant nature photography, enhanced immeasurably by the format choice applied, turns even the silliest set-up into a pristine issue of National Geographic. The images are striking, the bravery of the cameramen and crew beyond reproach. It takes a certain level of guts to swim with the suckers. Now imagine having a huge electrified pack on your back and a massive airtight machine obscuring your optical point of reference. Yikes.
In truth, The Greatest Bites Collection is not bad. It's just missing a vital element that could have helped make the anthology even more special. Since Shark Week has been around for over two decades, a little history would have been nice. How about giving us some of the earliest specials created, in sharp contrast to the 22 years of education that has since past. Or maybe let us look at some installments that misinterpreted or misread the beast. After all, there are some people who argue that sharks are vilified via a lack of understanding and artistic misrepresentation. Lastly, if they are going to give us an overview, does it have to be so "series-ccentric." In some ways, this feels like one big PR push for several of Discovery's already hit TV shows. While Mythbusters, Survivorman, and Dirty Jobs probably don't need the plug, this digital overview is intent on making you aware of their weekly existence.
Like a clichéd marketing slogan, Blu-ray does make things better—at least in the case of this particular package. Since almost all the shows present are offered in High Definition to begin with, translating them over to a 1080i image is a no brainer. The 1.78:1 widescreen picture is incredible, close-up details of sharks and shark attacks giving viewers a far too familiar angle on how these animals function. There are some minor gaffs here and there—a smidgen of edge enhancement, a few noticeable compression defects (Image has placed close to nine hours of content on one Blu-ray disc), but overall, this is a quality transfer.
Sonically, there's not much to offer. While the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 is perfectly fine, it doesn't provide much immersion and there will be times when ambient elements (wind, water, weather) distract from the conversations. As for added content, we get three additional standard definition episodes. Two are from Dirty Jobs ("Jobs that Bite" and "Jobs that Bite…Harder") as the aforementioned look at sharks and the media (Shark Attack Files IV: Summer of the Shark). While keeping with the theme, they really offer nothing new or novel.
There is nothing wrong with being afraid of sharks. They do represent the ocean's biggest mystery—and for some, menace. But as Discovery Channel's Shark Week The Great Bites Collection points out, a lot of the mythology surrounding these beings is completely manmade. Aside from the truth about their tendency toward human mastication, they've been transformed into movie monsters who seemingly respond to only the most arcane and eccentric anthropological extremes. As a diversion from the normal grind, a primer for the next installment of this week-long special feature extravaganza, or the chance to see some favored TV personalities in bathing suits and scuba gear, this is a decent diversion. It may not be the most authoritative overview on these creatures, but it sure beats actually getting in the water with them.
Not Guilty—a trifle made even more memorable by the HD upgrade of
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