"Sharkwater" DVD Review
May 01, 2008 by James Harvey
Remember how Jaws begins? With the young girl, swimming at night, a beach party happening off to the side? And then we watch as we see something watching her from deep in the water, slowly moving close to her. The now-classic score kicks in as the mysterious danger moves closer until, suddenly, the young girl feels herself being pulled down below the water. After a short struggle, finally, she is yanked under to be consumed by a deadly shark. Remember how the movie was promoted, as an event to make us scared to go into the water, and that's what we actually thought? Well, according to Sharkwater, which features the above clip, we have it all wrong.
Filmmaker Rob Stewart has had a life-long fascination with sharks. Driven by his passion for the magnificent creatures, the filming of Sharkwater began as an underwater adventure, but became a journey to preserve the balance of life on earth. Filmed on high definition video, Sharkwater showcases gorgeous underwater footage, taking the viewer into the shark rich waters of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Stewart exposes the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world’s shark populations, and shows that human greed could easily destroy their population within our lifetimes. But the exposé came with a price. During filming, Stewart and his crew faced pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, and attempted murder charges, and Stewart himself was threatened with not one, but several life-threatening illnesses. Stewart’s mission to save the world’s sharks quickly turned into a fight for his life, and ultimately, for that of humankind.
Sharkwater is a powerful and moving documentary, one of the best to come about in the past few years. What's interesting about this documentary is we see what Sharkwater was supposed to be about, and then we see what it has become, in the final product. It's a completely different beast, but, as we watch the documentary change from beginning to end, it makes for an absolutely fascinating watch. Now, the documentary does have a problem or two, but I'll get to those in a little bit. It goes without saying that, after seeing this movie, your perception toward the shark, and their place in our world, will undoubtedly change.
Now, there's a reason this movie has won a whole boatload of awards, and it's won quite a few. Infact, Sharkwater has won 23 International Film Awards to date, including the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature and Audience Choice Award at the Gen Art Film Festival; People’s Choice at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Atlantic International Film Festival; Top Ten at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Cambridge International Film Festival; Best HD Feature at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival and is nominated for both a Genie Award and a Genesis Award. And that's just a taste, too! There is more nominations and awards in there, too! And there's a reason, and the reason is, quite simply, this is a great, powerful movie.
We watch the documentary unfold, starting out as a simple documentary on sharks and ocean life, escalating into boat-ramming, mafia problems, hospital trips, and much more. I really don't want to ruin the surprises here, but Stewart is able to successfully mix the unpredictability of the documentary with some amazing underwater scenery. Chuck in some hilarious old videos concerning what to do when a shark approaches, it just hits you. It just proves how much we don't know about the ocean life, and shark sin particular, and how we really need to change that, because the atrocities shown here are just unforgivable.
It's heartbreaking to watch at times, and it'll certainly startle you. There are things that are just shocking that need to be seen, not read from some review. This film really does help educate the viewer on the copious misconceptions about the shark, explains their important role in our eco-system, and what we can do to save them. However, since we're responsible for 90% of the shark population disappearing (watch the film, it'll tell you how), this is a giant wake-up call.
I really enjoyed this documentary, and was completely enthralled, however, there are a couple issues to be had. If there's any problem with the movie, it's Stewart himself. There are times when the camera is just too focused on him, and add on some very obviously staged moments, a very pretentious ending, and some monotonous narrating, and he does take a chunk of enjoyability out of the film. There's one scene in particular when, after finding out in the hospital that he'll recover from a flesh-eating disease he acquired during filming, he dramatically removes an IV from his hand and . . . it's just so staged. And so dramatic. And just cheesey and nearly embarrassing. Shortly afterwards, we spend about the last five minutes of the documentary, before the credits roll, watching him swim with the fish in nothing but a Speedo, which I found to be out of place. Wrap it all up in his usually monotonous narration and you have some very minor damage inflicted on an otherwise amazing and heart-stopping (and usually heart-breaking) documentary.
Despite my problems with the filmmaker (and narrator, and director, and writer of the documentary) I still Highly Recommend this documentary. The story it tells, and the trouble the cast went through during production, is an amazing story and one that should be seen. On top of that, it brings notice to one of the biggest misconceptions of our time. And, honestly, after watching the Naval training video, showing us how to "properly" scare off sharks (by splashing in the water, or actually yelling at it underwater), I think a documentary like this is long overdo. It's a riveting eye-opener with a great message and beautiful scenery. There are many jaw-dropping moments both above and below the sea line, and this release is arguably the best documentary release of 2008 so far.
The DVD comes in the standard Amaray packaging, with no insert or slipcover. Please note this title is available through Warner Home Video in America, but is released through Alliance Atlantis in Canada, so content and specifications may be different from release to release.
The DVD itself has a fairly basic menu screen. However, once you s tart the disc, the option comes to view the menu, and movie, in either English or French, which gives me the impression that Warner Home Video has ported the Canadian Alliance Atlantis release. You'd never see this on an American release, but this is actually fairly common for Canadian releases, to have the initial French or English menu.
The extras for the standard release are fairly basic. The release include the theatrical trailer and TV spots for the movie, along with an interview with Stewart, a short "Sharkwater: Beneath the Surface" Featurette, and a longer version of the Naval training video mentioned in the documentary itself. A pretty standard collection.
Despite my few minor misgivings about Sharkwater, I still feel this docuomentary should be Highly Recommended. It's a startling tale and a real wake-up call for just how little we actually know about these creatures, and what's happening to them right now. It's a great documentary with a sizeable chunk of extras to go with it. It's really something that should be watched. However, despite the PG-rating, there is some really graphic moments in here, mostly involving sharks going under the knife (though not for the reason you'd think), and could be really upsetting to younger viewers. Regardless, it's a solid documentary that everyone should really see.
Sharkwater is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.