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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
• Audio Commentary with director Louis Psihoyos and Producer Fisher Stevens
• Special OPS Cameras
• Deleted Scenes
• The Cove: Mercury Rising
• Theatrical Trailer
Fish are friends, not food!
Documentary about former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry’s efforts to shed light on the evils of the dolphin trade worldwide, and the hidden horrors committed in a small alcove in Japan.
The mark of any good documentary is what kind of action it spurs you into, be it bursting into tears, or sending support to a group of people, or straight into a library to do more research, all for the greater good of mankind. If this is the case, I don’t know how positively I should judge The Cove, considering the most basic, visceral reaction the film stirs in you is possibly dropping another bomb on Japan.
Not the entirety of Japan, to be fair. The Cove even goes out of its way to show that the average Japanese person as of the time of filming is completely oblivious to the atrocities at the heart of it (the film itself doesn’t see a wide theatrical release in Japan until June, but reaction from the premiere in October was more of a tempered shock). Instead, the film paints a bright red target of fury on the small village of Taiji, a town that at first glance seems like it gets its annual budget entirely from Sea World advertising kickbacks, and probably does. Cartoony dolphin/whale imagery and symbols plaster the town from end to end. The real heart of the matter, however, lies at the edge of town, where there’s a hidden alcove, surrounded by a mountainous national park, where a select group of fishermen use walls of sound to herd dolphins in. A few of the dolphins caught get sold and sent off to aquariums, Sea Worlds, etc. The vast majority of them, however, disappear behind the mountains, never to return except in the occasional spread of red water from the cove itself.
The film’s focus is twofold: The first is on establishing dolphins as conscious, sentient, self-aware creatures who don’t need to be in captivity to say nothing of being massacred in Japan. It’s the easiest heartstring pull of the film, but the ace here is in the story of Rick O’Barry, famous for being the guy who trained Flipper, whose guilt over being one of the reasons a dolphin trade exists to this day has led him to a lifetime of atonement. The guy’s story is utterly compelling, and could support a film by itself, albeit one with an absolute gut punch of an ending, where he tells us the real fate of the dolphin who played Flipper.
The focus for the second half is the struggle on the behalf of many to expose the dealings in that little alcove in Taiji to the world. And for such a tiny village, there are government installations in Washington where the security’s less tight. Fishermen regularly patrol the hills, and every good vantage point to peek into the alcove and witness the slaughter. The entrances are gated with razor wire. Anyone with round eyes gets routinely harassed by fishermen and local police.
And the filmmakers need to get a camera in there.
The Cove is designed to get you good and venomous for the rest of its running time, first at the men doing the fishing and killing, then at the so-called experts defending their way ot life, then at the government, particularly the International Whaling Commission for being as useless as an armpit uterus when it comes to taking any sort of decisive action against the Japanese, especially once you find out several countries were blatantly bought by the Japanese to back them in the commission. Make no mistake: that country’s government does NOT come out of this film pretty at all, and just letting the cameras run on some of the conversations that take place with the cove’s security force or local police do more than enough to make anyone with half a political mind white-knuckle furious. So when the filmmakers put together an “Ocean’s Eleven” team of concerned citizens, armed with the best A/V equipment money can buy (disguised by a few special effects wizards at ILM, no less!), and decide to stage two midnight stealth missions to the alcove to plant audio and video devices for the expressed purpose of catching these fishermen in the act, it’s as tense as anything you’ve seen on your average episode of 24, and despite the nebulous legality of it all, you’re rooting for these guys all the way, though the reward for “success” is an utterly horrifying 5 minutes of film captured inside the cove. The film is impeccably structured here, designed to press all the right buttons, and for the most part asks all the right question, the most important one being “Why?”
There’s a few theoretical reasons presented for the slaughter: Some of the meat does get sold for food, despite the fact that dolphin meat is chock full of delicious life-ending mercury. One talking head cites a study saying that dolphins are screwing up the natural food chain by eating up the fish Japan depends on for livelihood and the hunt is a form of pest control. This, of course, is what is commonly known in the academic community as “big ass bucket of bullshit”. Frankly, the film never really does get a definitive answer, and to the film’s minor detriment, director Louis Psihoyos never really delves into whaling as antiquated tradition, which I’m willing to bet would hew closer to truth. But when there’s such a basic violation of animal rights going on, it doesn’t need to, and despite the occasional moment of imbalance and something of a disappointing conclusion–what Ric O’Barry does witrh the footage has the build up of somehing amazing, but turns out to be the kind of stunt even Michael Moore would find mawkish and cheap–The Cove does provoke, without flinching, something primal in its viewers that hopefully turns into action from every one of us.
Just, please, not the bomb. Look at modern anime. We’ve done enough.
The Special OPS footage section is just about the camera technology that was Solid Snaked into the cove by the filmmakers, and the clever ILM-forged disguises for them. Vigo The Carpathian makes a cameo. The Freediving section, while still pretty, and full of soothing music and beautiful footage of divers swimming wish the dolphins and whales, and all that good stuff, even upscaled, standard DVD does NOT do this justice whatsoever. I’d say this applies to the film too, but certain things, 480p is about as much detail as I need.
The deleted scenes are nothing special. Most of it is an extended look at the surfer demonstration held in the cove (where Hayden Panettiere almost got herself arrested). There is, however, a hilarious bit with Ric O’Barry picking out the right wig and getting all drag queened up to stay incognito during a trip to Taiji.
The big feature is the 20 minute long Mercury Rising mini-doc, which spins off of the section of the film talking about the mercury levels in fish to go into more detail about the problems in the current system of seafood production and consumption. Interesting and informative (thank God my sushi cravings only hit once or twice a month, and theyre usually for salmon), but there’s dozens of questions and topics from the film I’d have loved elaboration on, and the mercury thing was pretty low on the list. The commentary with Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens (for the last time, YES, THAT FISHER STEVENS) is as perfect as commentaries get, but its not nearly enough to make this set feel rounded out.