Reviewed by Victor Francis
Starring Rob Stewart
Directed by Rob Stewart
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Quick, what do you think of when I say the word shark? Odds are that the first thing that would spring to your mind is Steven Spielberg's iconic 1975 killer shark movie Jaws. Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, we all carry the mental image of sharks as mindless killers, black eyed monsters of the deep, who exist for no other reason than to eat us alive if we ever have the temerity to venture into their domain. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, as Rob Stewart’s excellent documentary Sharkwater proves beyond a shadow of a doubt. I had considered myself fairly educated on the subject of sharks, being a rabid viewer of Discovery Channel’s annual "Shark Week" series; but after viewing Sharkwater, I discovered just how ignorant I was of the perils facing these majestic creatures.
Sharkwater follows Stewart, a lifelong ocean lover and shark enthusiast (not to mention a marine biologist) as he attempts to bring the plight of the shark ( whose numbers have decreased by a STAGGERING 90% worldwide!) to light. One of the biggest obstacles he faces is society’s unwillingness to protect and defend a creature we have been conditioned by films like Jaws to hate and fear. As he, and some of the other oceanic experts in the film point out, it’s easy for most people to get on board with saving a cute little baby seal; but asking them to feel the same way about the Great White shark is crossing the line. Sharks are bloodthirsty monsters, after all, right? Who wants, or needs, to save a beast like that?
Setting out to combat the image of the shark as Holy Terror of the High Seas by making a beautiful, serene shark documentary, Stewart ends up being so moved after encountering numerous dead sharks on an illegal long line fishing net that he traverses 15 countries over a four year span, and damn near loses his life( due to staph infection, not shark incident) in order to raise awareness of shark endangerment. Over the course of this amazing journey, Stewart will meet and team up with Greenpeace’s Sea Shepherd Society, hitching a ride on the infamous Oceanic Warrior (whose Captain is an entertaining, and frankly, balls out crazy chap) and have run ins with Asia’s infamous shark fin industry, all in the name of protecting sharks from the savage treatment that they receive.
I wont lie ... Sharkwater is emotional dynamite, and you don’t have to necessarily be an animal lover, or Eco-terrorist like Greenpeace to become enraged at the senseless, violent and inhumane treatment of animals, shark or otherwise, that is depicted in this film. Stewart never shies away from showing the wrongs done on both sides of the issue though, such as when the Greenpeace vessel attempts to ram a fishing boat, and fires it’s water-cannon on the fishermen aboard the trawler. That being said, it is quite hard to feel sorry for the fisherman after you’ve just seen them slice the fins off a hammerhead shark, and throw the still thrashing fish back into the ocean to drown. Sharkwater is rated PG, but I would venture to say that it probably should have been at LEAST a PG-13 due to the hideous animal cruelty on display. There were instances during Sharkwater's 90 minute run time where I felt so helpless and angry as I watched sharks being killed that I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and other times that I felt tightness in my arms and looked down to find my hands clenched into fists, I was that upset and angry. Bottom line is, this film is an important wake up call, right up there with An Inconvenient Truth and 11th Hour as required viewing for anyone interested in not only saving an animal older than the dinosaurs, but saving the very planet itself. Do yourselves a favor and watch Sharkwater, and you might also conclude I have come to: the most dangerous animal in the oceans is no longer the shark. It is mankind, and we, not the Great White, Hammerhead, Tiger, or Bull shark, are the ones who have made the oceans run red with blood.
Special features include Sharkwater: Beneath the Surface, a fascinating making-of documentary that further fleshes out the feature film and includes even more beautiful oceanic footage; theatrical trailers and TV spots, and a HILARIOUSLY inept US Air Force “training film” on how to deal with a shark. I kid you not, the US Air Force used to tell it’s pilots and Airmen to scream at the shark underwater, and the shark would go away. The footage of an Airman doing just that is beyond priceless, and had me giggling like mad. Of course, maybe that’s due to the fact that I’m ex-Navy, and anything that makes the Air Force look stupid amuses the hell out of me. So yeah, obviously the selling point of the disc is not going to be the Special Features, but the film itself.
5 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5