Everybody loves dolphins. We marvel at their graceful rolls among the waves. We enjoy watching trained ones do tricks for Sea World audiences, and some of us even pay big bucks to swim with them at specially built facilities. But behind these glimpses of intelligent marine life, there’s a deadly, disgraceful hypocrisy. There are mega-millions being made at the expense of innocent creatures, and the people behind the conspiracy will stop at nothing – including murder – to preserve their lucrative, dirty business.
The Cove exposes the evil, bringing the documentary format into the world of cinematic thrillers. Hidden cameras, hostile authorities and horrible slaughter are key elements in this eloquent but depressing documentary that won dozens of awards last year, including a well-deserved Oscar.
Rick O’Barry is our main guide through the bloody tragedy that is a small Japanese city’s dirty secret: Some 23,000 dolphins are killed each year, their meat distributed under false labels to unsuspecting consumers. And the few that are merely sold for entertainment are so miserable in captivity that they decide to stop breathing – they prefer suicide to a life of doing tricks in confinement.
O’Barry knows what he’s talking about. Indeed, he carries a burden of guilt that has followed his fearless crusade for 35 years: He’s the guy who trained Flipper. In 1964, the TV series Flipper became a hit. It was filmed largely at O’Barry’s waterfront home, and it was his skill that helped Americans appreciate the image of smart, playful sea mammals that we still hold dear.
But the fate of his beloved Cathy, one of the dolphins that portrayed Flipper, turned O’Barry away from showbiz and into an animal rights fighter.
The Cove tells his story – and that of other daring souls – with the skillful suspense of a true-life spy adventure. The title refers to the film’s major locale, a heavily-guarded inlet by the southwestern Japanese town of Taiji.
Unknown to most of their fellow countrymen, Taiji’s fishing fleet focuses on catching and killing cetaceans – dolphins, whales and porpoises. These blood-stained boatmen earn huge paydays with their underhanded roundups. They guard their dirty business zealously, and local cops are on their side.
So The Cove takes us on a stealthy study of the ghastly slaughter.
By first showing us the dolphins’ intelligence and beauty, director-narrator Louie Psihoyos sets us up for some serious shocks. He obtains his damning footage in ways that James Bond would admire. For example, he gets a friend at Industrial Light & Magic to manufacture fake rocks where he can hide high-def cameras. He defies irate locals, he loses count of his previous arrests, and he visits Tokyo to show us the largest fish market in the world to give us a notion of the massive scale of the killing of whales and dolphins.
The whaling industry is exposed almost as a sidelight: Psihoyos documents the ways Japanese taxpayers buy off potential opponents, specifically the island nations of the eastern Caribbean.
It’s the dolphins that earn our central sympathy as we watch them suffer and die. The horrors of Taiji’s death cove are caught on camera despite the tough resistance of local officials. It gets scarier: The town’s civic leaders want to feed dolphin meat to children, earning millions through school lunch menus. One little hitch: The meat is loaded with mercury. Indeed, mercury poisoning is a compelling subplot to a story of heroic defiance against greed and power.
Using infrared and night vision, Psihoyos shows us how his secretive band infiltrates a target. His underwater views of dolphins in motion, his interviews with protesters and his hidden-camera discussions with reluctant Japanese officials create a totality that leaves little room for rebuttal.
Caution: The images of blood-red seawater in the Taiji secret cove are truly horrifying and indescribably sad. Even so, The Cove should be shown everywhere. It will teach adults something about how inhumane practices can be rationalized by those who earn money from them. And perhaps it could steer youngsters toward greater appreciation for the efforts worldwide to stop Japan’s vicious whaling and dolphin-killing practices.
The 1080p high-def presentation has a widescreen 1.78:1 transfer, presented in AVC at a bit rate that varies between 15 and 30 Mpbs. Although largely shot on hi-def video, it has the fine grain of film. Shocking images might be too harsh for very young children, so parents should view it first.
The main soundtrack is in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 at 48 KHz at 1.8 Mbps. Equally important is the commentary track, a 2.0 Dolby Digital narration at 48 KHz at 192Kbps. Psihoyos and co-producer Fisher Stevens (yes, that Fisher Stevens) provide vivid background material, making the film worth a second viewing.
Audio commentary: See above.
Black OPS Covert Gear (8:56): Rocks, bird nests and other surveillance devices are demonstrated. We like the thermal camera used to check for guards and goons. The heli-cam is cool, too.
Freediving (4:23): Just a peaceful few minutes underwater with divers, dolphins and whales. A sweet greeting-card moment of beauty.
Deleted scenes (9:37): Extended interviews with Australian pro surfer Dave Rastovich and a scene with a half-dozen protestors sneaking into the cove during a killing spree and then running away from violent locals. And O’Barry buys a silly girl-wig disguise.
The Cove: Mercury Rising (18:35): Incisive featurette about how the oceans are being befouled, particularly by mercury poisoning. Who is to blame? All of us, say the filmmakers. Learn why Japanese physicians won’t eat sushi. Includes a revealing interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Theatrical trailer (2:18): A condensed look at the paranoia and horror that fueled this Oscar-winning effort.
Some things we are more comfortable not knowing about. This film will not make you comfortable. It’s a must, though, for anyone interested in taking a broad view of how we are wrecking our planet, or for anyone wanting more specific knowledge of how humans gladly slaughter gentle, intelligent ocean dwellers for profit.