Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Movie Review: The Cove

The Cove *** ½
Directed By:
Louie Psihoyos.
Written By: Mark Monroe.
Featuring: Joe Chisholm, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Kirk Krack, Isabel Lucas, Richard O'Barry, Hayden Panettiere, Roger Payne, John Potter, Louie Psihoyos, Dave Rastovich, Paul Watson.

Dolphins always look like they are smiling, but that’s just a mistake of evolution. The dolphins we see in captivity are not as happy as they appear to be. They are very sensitive to sound, so being putting in a tank where they are forced to perform in front of hundreds of cheering people is almost like torture to them. They get so stressed out that they are fed Maalox every day, to combat the ulcers they have. Because they need to think about every breath they take, unlike humans who are unconscious breathers, they sometimes get so depressed that they simply stop themselves from breathing.

The Cove is a documentary that is mainly about the slaughter of thousands of dolphins a year in Taiji Japan, in a hidden cove. But The Cove is angry about more than just the slaughter of dolphins, but about how humans treat dolphins in general. Dolphins are self aware mammals, among the most intelligent creatures on earth - some even believe that dolphins rival humans in terms of intelligence. The central figure in the film Richard O’Barry, who during the 1960s was the lead dolphin trainer on the Flipper TV show. He made a lot of money over the years, but after the show ended, and one of the dolphins used in the show committed “suicide” in his arms, he decided to become an activist against everything he had worked for in the past.

For the last few years, O’Barry has set his sights on shutting down the slaughter of the dolphins in Taiji. Every time he enters the city, he is followed by the police everywhere he goes. When he tries to get into the area where they kill the dolphins, he is run off and threaten with arrest. He has never been able to get footage of what goes on in that cove.

That is where the filmmakers come in. They are determined to get the footage that Japan does not want to get out. The department of fisheries, the representative to the Internal Whaling Committee (IWC) and everyone else denies what is going on. The filmmakers want to catch them red handed. They assemble of team made up of ex-military men, free divers, camera experts, and people who just really believe in the cause. They hide cameras in fake rocks made by Industrial Light and Magic, and sneak them into the cove to see what they can see and hear. The process in which they go in and set the cameras and sound equipment is thrilling in and of itself. They document what they do with infrared cameras. There are many tense, scary moments, but they succeed in doing what they set out to do.

The footage that ends the movie is shocking. Essentially what happens is that the Japanese set up a line of ships that create a wall of sound. What they do when a fleet of dolphins show up is stick giant metal poles into the water, and hit them with a hammer, causing sound to ripple through the water, terrifying the dolphins, who have no where else to go but into the cove to escape the sound. After they are in, they are sealed in. Then dolphin trainers from around the world show up and pick the best dolphins to be shipped to their theme parks around the world. They pay up to $150,000 per dolphin. The dolphins that do not get picked get slaughtered. Because they are trapped in a cove, surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, and a net on the fourth side keeping them in, it is literally like shooting fish in a barrel for the fisherman. Instead of guns though, they use metal spears. Dolphins get stabbed several times, often try to swim away once wounded, before their bodies finally give out on them. By the end of the slaughter, the water in the cove is bright red. The fishermen laugh and joke about what they do. The dolphin meat is than sold, and often passed off as more expensive meat. No one wants to actually eat dolphin meat, because it is full of mercury much in excess of WHO recommended safe levels.

I walked out of The Cove more shaken then any other movie this year. The footage from The Cove was enough to bring me to tears. The Cove is the best of a recent wave of documentaries that confront an environmental issue head on - full of anger and rage at what is being done. Do the filmmakers play fair? Not really, although they do try and give the other side a chance to defend themselves, even if their real goal is to not give them a chance to speak, but to ambush them. The movie makes no attempt to try and play fair. The film has an agenda, and does not try and hide what they agenda are. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. The film is full of passion on the part of the filmmakers, and the result is simply stunning. One of the best documentaries of the year.

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