If the Academy Award for best documentary, a ninety-six per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and overwhelmingly positive word of mouth about The Cove hasn’t been enough to catch your attention so far, let’s see what I can do in a few hundred words.
It’s almost hard to believe The Cove isn’t fiction, though by the final scenes, you’ll wish it was. It tells the story of a wildlife photographer trying to film the slaughter of dolphins in a hidden away cove in Taiji, Japan.
He’s made aware of it by Ric O’Barry, the man who trained dolphins for the TV series Flipper. The popularity of the series lead to trained dolphin shows becoming a big industry, something he regrets so much that he’s spent his life since trying to free dolphins from captivity to try to undo the harm the show did to the species.
O’Barry hasn’t been able to get proof of the slaughter himself. While the Japanese allow spectators to watch dolphins being rounded up for sale to aquariums, they ferociously block anyone from seeing what happens to the unsold dolphins right around the corner, although the blood seeping through the water is a pretty clear clue.
To get their footage, the pair track down a group of specialists; it’s like something out of a spy film. There’s a mid-Western kid specialising in flying toy helicopters, a pair of world record-setting free divers, film set designers from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, and a thrill seeker who’s worked on Pirates Of The Caribbean, as well as a group of surfers featuring celebrities.
In the film, they have to lose their police tail and sneak around in the dark using heat-sensitive cameras to avoid local angry fisherman. The free divers set up sound equipment in the dark underwater, while the others set out cameras hidden inside fake rocks and bird nests.
So, it’s a tale of conflicting cultures and tricky politics, as well as one of redemption for O’Barry, but The Cove is also an action thriller set in a stunning physical location. That alone would make this a documentary above and beyond most.
But then there’s the dolphins. What happens to them is what makes The Cove so heart-breaking.
Yes, people hunt animals. We slaughter domesticated ones. The Cove makes the case against dolphins for food – they’re high in mercury and they’re intelligent enough to be self aware – but most people in the Western world need little convincing, as we’re used to seeing dolphins as Flipper, not food. The sheer viciousness of what’s happening in Taiji compounds the horror.
There’s one scene halfway through that acts as a portent for the final shots of the slaughter. One of the free divers is standing along the edge of the shore, watching as a dolphin escapes the cove, jumping barriers in the water, swimming as hard as it can towards her. Every leap it takes leaves blood spilling out into the water. Watching it thrash helplessly and eventually sink below the water, she can’t help but break down in tears.
The final scenes are much more gory, sucking the joy out of the covert ops success of managing to film them. Men in boats stab away at trashing, trapped dolphins, as the water in the cove turns blood red.
The Cove is filmmaking at its finest. Beautifully shot, it’s an excellent story with captivating characters and a point to make that will leave you thinking for a long time to come. You won’t forget it soon.
While the film itself is a stunner, the seven mini features on the DVD don’t add much to the overall experience.
One goes into a bit more detail about the build-up in mercury in fish, dolphins and whales, and us, in turn. While most of the film clips are disappointingly taken straight from the main feature, there’s one bit that’s described as the “Japanese equivalent of Supersize Me”, showing how quickly mercury builds up in your blood stream if you eat tuna every day.
As the scientist notes,”I have not eaten tuna since this experiment.” It’ll make you regret stocking up on cans of the fish, that’s for sure.
There’s also a short mini-feature about the cameras used, another detailing the surfing protest attended by Heroes star Hayden Panettiere, as well as a pair of shorts showing lovely footage from free dives with dolphins.
The one thing missing from the DVD extras is more footage of the slaughter. While it wouldn’t exactly be enjoyable to watch, the sequence in the main film is actually quite short, and it would have been interesting to see more of what they managed to capture, even if it wasn’t high quality enough for the main film itself.
The Cove is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.