“Nobody thinks of it from the whale’s point of you.”
I think this is the very first film I’ve ever seen that was made in Iceland. Of course, Iceland isn’t one of those movie-making meccas known throughout the world for their movie magic. The truth is, there haven’t been too many films set in Iceland and even fewer shot on location there. Now that Harpoon has come along, I don’t expect that is going to change any time soon.
From the start, Harpoon tries to put you in the mood for a gruesome film. During the opening credits segment you’ll find authentic footage of whale hunts and the slaughter of these majestic beasts. I imagine that there will be some of you more upset by this graphic footage than with the human carnage that’s about to follow. Of course, the whale footage is real, while the human slaughter is not. Still, I think there are too many of you out there with far more sensitivity to animal violence than when it’s conducted against humans. This segment is also problematic for another reason. Many of the credits jump. This jarring presentation makes them difficult to read, and I gave up trying to make note of them because I was getting a headache in short order.
Like many films in the horror genre, this film begins with the depiction of tourists in an isolated part of the world attempting to enjoy the sights and the sounds. In this case it’s a nightclub with some of the most bizarre music I’ve ever heard. This goes for pretty much all of the music in the film from the distorted sounding score to one of the worst closing-credits songs I have ever heard, and I’ve heard some pretty bad songs in my day. We are barely introduced to some of the tourists here before a quick edit sequence brings us to morning.
That’s when an international group of tourists are boarding a rather rundown boat to go on a whale sightseeing excursion. You have to know something is going to go wrong as soon as you notice that the captain of the ship is played by Gunnar Hansen. If I have to tell you who he is, stop reading the review. I can pretty much promise you that this won’t be your kind of film. Hansen was involved in a little Texas-themed film that involved a certain gasoline-powered gardening tool. Enough said.
The group goes out on the open water to spot whales, but the whales appear to be a bit shy on this particular day. The captain isn’t one to disappoint the paying customers, so he takes to the radio to try and find out where there might be some whales. A faceless voice gives the captain some coordinates to a place where he promises that whales will be “dancing around the boat”. So off they go. Unfortunately, the captain meets with a little harpoon accident while the first mate is trying to rape one of the tourists. He wants to show her the bed that Leonardo DiCaprio once slept in. After the captain’s accident, the mate climbs into the ship’s only lifeboat and hauls butt away. Now there’s no one on board who knows how to drive the boat. Fortunately, or so they believe, another boat happens along. The crew take on the tourists and promise to take them back to harbor.
Of course, you know they aren’t going back to the harbor. Somebody must have thought they needed a bigger boat, because that’s exactly where they are taken. Once on this huge ocean liner we meet one of those horror movie special-needs families. Mama and her two sons start to slicin’ and dicin’ as soon as everybody’s on board. The survivors of the initial attack scatter like rats and spend the film trying to keep from joining the family’s next holiday feast. Sound familiar?
Director Julius Kemp at least did his homework. He’s obviously familiar with the conventions of the American slasher film. Most of them can be found in this movie. There are plenty of people getting got by sharp implements, although none of them are gasoline-powered. There are the usual beheadings, stabbings and impalements to be found. There’s the obligatory half-naked chick hung up with chains while a “mentally challenged” brother plays with her a little. The film isn’t terribly original, but it meets most of the slasher genre requisites. The idea of a tanker in the middle of the ocean is actually a pretty nice touch. The ship might be huge with plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide, but there is that feeling of being trapped all the same. The kills again aren’t very original, but most of the f/x are pretty good. The two beheadings fall a little flat, pun intended.
Where the film goes mostly awry is toward the end. Some of the deaths become quite contrived and have nothing whatsoever to do with the bad guys. They actually get dispatched a little too easily for my tastes. The characters are not very sympathetic either. They are mostly quite mean-spirited and just as willing to stab each other in the back. One girl begins with sympathy. She’s on her honeymoon, but her fiancée died just before the wedding so she’s here to be his “eyes” and fulfill their dream of seeing the whales. There’s an awkward side story that features a group of environmentalist warriors that are patrolling the seas to stop whalers. In fact, the film is not very complimentary toward the Iceland natives, who are portrayed as brutal and insensitive clods who are just ticked off that those American groups have shut down their whaling business. When you consider the film was made in Iceland by Icelanders, that’s a little surprising. I wonder what the local tourist board had to say about this movie.
Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. This film doesn’t look very good. For a high-definition image transfer, there isn’t a lot to recommend about the picture. The low-budget nature of the production is constantly obvious. But it’s more than just that. There isn’t a ton of detail here, and the picture’s about as sharp as a 100-year-old rusted harpoon. Where the movie suffers most is the black levels. I’m not sure that the color black exists anywhere in the picture presentation. Images are very poor here. There is no shadow definition to speak of. It’s really hard to make out what’s going on more than a little. There is a scene where two ladies are on a raft that is attacked by a killer whale. I guess they spent a ton of money to build this mechanical whale, but it’s completely lost in the film. You can barely make out shadows. All sense of detail is completely buried in the darkness.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as flat. There are some jarring moments where you have to readjust the volume. One of the things I hate most about watching a movie is having to keep a hand on the remote control to adjust the volume up and down. If you don’t, you’re either going to miss dialog or get your ears blown out by distorted sounds in the score. I have to tell you that this might very well be the worst Blu-ray audio and video I’ve encountered to date.
Behind The Scenes: (15:40) This feature is a standard-definition collection of random moments behind the scenes. Hansen is about the only one who talks, and I’m not really sure what in the heck he’s talking about half the time. It’s a disappointing feature.
It’s an interesting enough film to rent, but I don’t think this is one you’re going to be dying to have in your permanent collection. It’s a bit confusing at times. While the crew had a good understanding of the genre’s vocabulary, they didn’t necessarily understand the finer points about the language. They know the words, but the sentences are really just gibberish. I can’t imagine this one is going to win over a ton of fans. I don’t know about Iceland’s future in the horror film business. “I want to see the whales.”