When I initially saw the poster and title for Blackfish, I was convinced it was a horror movie. Upon learning more about the film and watching it, I was not too far off. Blackfish presents the story of a notorious performing whale, locked away in captivity, along with the tales of other killer whales in various sea parks and their capacity to kill. The film is a documentary with a clear stance, but it also functions as an emotional thriller at times, given what we learn about these animals and the situations they are placed in from others who tell their stories. While not a warmer documentary like the ones I have previously written about, it is certainly a film worth taking a look at, which you can now do on Blu-ray.
Blackfish focuses on the notorious killer whale Tilikum, who is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. The film shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. In an effort to aid the film even further, several interview subjects tell their stories related to the deaths that occurred and the practices that take place in various sea-themed parks. Many of these subjects were in fact employees of SeaWorld at one time, which aids the film’s attempt to portray the problem.
Admittedly, I am already not a fan of SeaWorld, so a film that essentially exposes unfavorable aspects of how they handle their business is not necessarily one that brings me delight (it really doesn’t), but it does give me the a chance to learn and back up my thoughts. As a documentary, there is obviously a one-sided notion to all of this, but director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is wise in how she goes about presenting the film.
Blackfish has every opportunity to create true villains out of SeaWorld and those involved in the practice of capturing killer whales, but the film is much more content to have these interview segments, where the subject tells a story. The stories being told can already be devastating to hear, so adding more logs for the fire really is not all that necessary. Hearing about a trainer who was killed has plenty of impact in the way it is addressed by people that knew them and are willing to speak about it in a matter of fact way, regardless of how emotional they may get.
Now, with that being said, Blackfish does delve into how unfair things are. Cover-ups do occur and reasoning for allowing Tilikum to remain in captivity can be angering to hear. Again, while most documentaries have to lean on a certain side, it is hard to imagine what the other side of some of the arguments made in this film could be. There are animals that are treated unfairly and behave in a manner that comes across as deadly, but appropriate given what we know, and people have died as a result. Maybe there is more to know about some of the people involved, I am not sure, but the film makes its arguments clear and I was both very into watching this presentation and taken aback by how affecting it was.
This does not mean that I am all for freeing all the fish and sea-dwelling mammals and ridding the world of these types of amusement parks. All I can say is that there is a captivating story being told here and certain practices do not seem right to me. With that in mind, Blackfish is a well-made documentary that is clear in what it tries to accomplish, providing perspectives from people with stories to tell, and giving insight into what is going on behind the scenes, while “Shamu” is made to perform.
Aside from the use of grainy archive footage, the presentation of HD video-recorded interviews is all top-notch. The Blu-ray arrives with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer and the portions of the film that utilize HD are very clear. The texture, detail, and colors on display are all presented in a clear and respectable manner. It is not really jarring to see some sub-par footage, because that comes with the territory of a documentary covering past topics, with footage to share. Seeing what this disc had to offer visually was a fine experience, when considering what needs to be clearly on display.
The audio track on this Blu-ray is just as solid, with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track doing its best to allow you to hear every interview clearly. Again, the archival footage has a varying degree of clarity, which is to be expected, but a good job is done everywhere else, with an accompanying score by Jeff Beal to further emphasize the tone of the film. A superb audio track is here to round out this half of the technical specs.
Given that Blackfish is a documentary, it always tends to be hard to really judge the quality of extras. How much more does one need about a subject, without creating a whole other film. Well, fortunately, there is a nice selection of extras and a commentary that provide just enough insight into a few more aspects of the story and the making of the feature.
Commentary by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Producer Manuel V. Oteyza – a good look at how difficult it can be to put this kind of film together and crafting a narrative.
A Note from Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Alternatives to Captivity
[The rest of these features are all brief interviews with other trainers and doctors.]
“Death by Mosquito” in Marine Parks
Orca Teeth Show the Stress of Orcas in Captivity
Recollections of a Former SeaWorld Trainer
The Truth about Wild Whales
Blackfish is a documentary that I found to be quite affecting and revealing. Again, I am not sure how the “two sides to every story” can apply here, but it does not matter. A fine film was made from the stories we hear from people with concern and opinions on the matter of situations that have not been addressed enough in their eyes. While Blackfish was not a horror film, it does show some situations that expand on scenarios that some people really have not heard about and probably would not want to, given the good time they may have wanted to have with visits to various sea-themed parks otherwise.
Learn more about the Blackfish story HERE
Order Your Copy Of The Film Here:
Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com