There’s the larger issue of whale and dolphin slaughter throughout Japan and their desire to go back to slaughtering them en mass. It’s not just that, it’s the increasing amount of mercury in the larger fish that we’re eating, all around the world.
The Cove is an eye opening documentary, a moving and informative one, a documentary that should get you off your seat and get you mad.
However the practice has never been filmed, for the locals and the government officials do their upmost to keep anyone with a camera away from the site and the cove is a place where it’s very difficult to enter. Fences, barbed wire, and guards prevent you from getting near.
The film opens with the man who started bringing the plight of the dolphins in Taiji to the world, a man who was once responsible for capturing and training them himself, and who might have been directly responsible for the worldwide need for these animals to be captured and trained, Richard O'Barry.
He was the trainer of the dolphins for the television series Flipper, but it was only when one of the dolphins, well after the show, died in his arms that the realisation came to him that the captivity and training of these roaming and very social animals was intrinsically wrong.
So a team are assembled with high tech surveillance equipment, and head out to try and get into the cove to film the secret mass slaughter that occurs every day for months on end, every year, killing thousands upon thousands of dolphins.
Yet the film isn’t just about this cove, it’s about the increasing mercury in the fish supply, and the corruption inside the International Whaling Commission as well as within Japan itself, intent on being able to mass slaughter whales and dolphins.
I can’t tell you about the film without referencing the DVD menu, while that is usually part of the extras, the menu in The Cove does reference the film and sets the scene for story. While it plays it takes a key scene from the film which turns a map into a 3D relief map and travels around it, highlighting some key areas and displaying some rather pertinent facts and background.
Once you’ve seen the menu and read these facts then you really do have a strong base for the documentary to begin. Of course you don’t need to see these facts, and I haven’t seen the film without knowing them, but I do think it alters the feeling of the beginning of the film, raising the tension knowing what the film is leading to.
The documentary does a great job of building the story without immediately leaping into the main plot and location, instead it starts talking about how the project began, bringing us to meet the driving force behind the fight to stop the events that occur in the Taiji cove, and a man who’s story cleverly turns the audience around from where their minds may well be.
You see you probably start out watching this film from the point of view of most, the view that dolphins are lovely creatures, you’ve seen them perform with whales on televised performances from places like Sea World, and you think that they are having a great time, that these water circuses are saving them from something worse.
Not so, and the film has to take us through that first and it does it wonderfully by taking us alongside the journey of Richard O’Barry. Through his words, photographs and films we understand what his drive is for saving dolphins from any form of captivity, never mind the slaughter, and along the way we understand some key facts about these animals, connecting us with them on a very human level.
These early scenes introduce us to the story of O’Barry, some of the people involved in the team who will take part in the documentary, and break down and rebuild those long held views of dolphins.
Emotional connections like these, both with the main characters and the subject matter, are vital for any film, particularly a documentary, and with The Cove they get it perfectly right almost straight away.
With this emotional connection made the film moves onto the task in hand, a very difficult task, and one that it handles well. Throughout the film the issues of the Whaling Commission and mercury poisoning are examined without diluting them, nor without forgetting and drawing the story away from The Cove itself. It presents the full view of what Japan is trying to do with regards whaling and dolphins, and what the people of Japan really know and think about these practices.
The results present a far from complimentary view of the Japanese government and the whaling and dolphin industries, people at the heart of the move to push the IWC to allow whaling off their shores once again. One of the ways they do this is by paying for countries (even landlocked countries) to join the group and vote for them in return for monetary assistance in other areas.
There’s also the shock of the mercury levels within the fish, and a quick look at some studies carried out that show the levels of mercury are dangerously high in these larger fish, and not in just Japan either, in the U.S. too. Worse than that it makes connections between mercury poisoning and autism and birth defects, with a mass case of birth defects in one Japanese city showing just what can happen.
It contains some shocking facts and information that shows the people behind these industries of whaling and dolphin culls place this business above anything else, including the health of their children and the people of Japan.
Don’t be thinking this is all negativity and darkness though, there are some warm moments, some scenes that are laughable either through some darkly comic moment or because it’s so unbelievable it’s funny, and it does manage to build a thriller-like feel to it.
The thriller aspects are built through the behind the scenes work that the team take on in order to get into the cove, and this lightens the story slightly but at the same time builds on the suspense of what is to come from the microphones and cameras they place around the cove both on the cliffs and underwater. Sneaking through the night, using thermal cameras and night cameras, and the constant fear of being caught and just how far these fishermen and protectors of the area will go.
All the time though, the film returns to the events at the cove at Taiji, keeping it easily at the core of the story. Once we’ve explored the very serious issues around the culling of these animals we find that the story of filming the cove has come to an end, and without expecting it we begin to see the footage, and it’s horrifying.
I’m really not exaggerating it is an emotionally harrowing series of sequences and has been edited nigh on perfectly, but like most documentaries it is something you really have to see, for without seeing it, you won’t be spurred on to action. After watching the footage I immediately went and added my name to the petition to stop the events in this cove, something I suspect will only be the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start and a start that has to be made.
These sequences have some startling images in them that engage your mind and capture your heart, and they aren’t just of the dolphins themselves, the whole event and the people involved provide some staggering moments.
The final moments of the film provide some feeling of satisfaction, and seeing a senior official presented with this footage after denials galore throughout the film is priceless. This is followed by the documentary staple of “what happened next” to some of the major players in the story, some of which gives a great deal of satisfaction, but unfortunately for the dolphins, not closure.
The picture throughout the film is strong, surprising considering the amount of different cameras used, moving from standard HD to hand-held to mobile, even night vision and heat vision at times. All these styles hold well together and the picture looks great, especially during the underwater scenes which have a strong quality to them and a decent amount of detail in the depth of field. While purists might find fault, realising that the different cameras have been mixed together and that this review copy was DVD, I think it was superb quality.
Dolby Digital 5.1
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't really feel as though it delivers much more, but hearing from people who have listened to the stereo track only, I would say that the underwater scenes have a bit of added, and excuse the use of the word, depth to them. However on the whole it won't matter too much if you listen to either track for it's everything else about the film that engages and absorbs.
Audio Commentary with Director Louie Psihoyos and Producer Fisher Stevens, Mercury Rising, Free Diving Short, Taiji Whale Festival, Extra Footage
A quick word about the main menu, which I think should be viewed as part of the film. It contains a short computer generated image of a map that Taijin officials gave the team showing where they should not be going on the cove. This turns into a three dimensional map and the camera moves through key areas as short notes appear over them to indicate key points of the story and give the viewer a basis for what the cove is. It’s an interesting menu that also gives some good information before we enter the film. Watch it before you press play.
Audio Commentary with Director Louie Psihoyos and Producer Fisher Stevens
This audio commentary is definitely worth listening to. So often commentaries just give you more of what you’ve seen in the film or what you’re offered in the featurettes amongst the extras. Not here. With the commentary we get more insight into some of the amazing and shocking pictures, as well as some rather important background on the main characters and their stories. One such example is hearing more about the two local officials in Taijin who at first glance seemed quite complicit, but with the commentary much more of their story is told and you realise how important they are. The commentary is filled with additional information and background like this. Excellent stuff.
A featurette that explores a lot more about a secondary issue brought up in the documentary, secondary, but just as important. Mercury levels within the fish we eat are rising, and when we eat larger fish who feed on smaller fish, the mercury levels are multiplied, and by a horrifying factor. The documentary examines this worrying increase, and the effects it can have.
Free Diving Short
A short film about the free divers we see featured in the film with some additional footage of them swimming with dolphins and whales, some truly beautiful scenes.
Taiji Whale Festival
Considering what you’ve just seen in the film, to see the footage of the whale festival in the town that thrives on butchering them is surreal. It feels like it’s out of a film, you can’t believe that these are real people who are at one moment worshipping the creatures, and the other butchering them.
Additional footage from the film is also bundled together, including Additional Camera Footage, Surfer Paddle Out, Mandy & Dolphin, and Ric's Wig Recon. Nothing too exciting, just more footage from the film.
The Cove is a shocking film, one of those documentaries that has to be seen and I would recommend you do. It's not just one of those documentaries that is intended to shock and scare, but it's one of those that has the potential to change the world, for the better. However it can only change the world if people watch it and are moved enough to do something, I was, and it wasn't that hard because the film makes it easy.
Weaving together different issues with ease and never letting any fall to the side, powerfully edited to tell a story as well as present a message to the audience. Even amongst the more serious moments, and the scenes that deliver a strong message, the film manages to deliver lighter moments, laughs even, and that main message is built through an entertaining and well built thriller-like story, except the story is real life.
The Cove is an amazing documentary that will open your eyes, anger and move, and could well change things for the better. You have to watch it, you have to know.