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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

DVD Review: Shark Collection

Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated with sharks. And judging by the number of films and documentaries about sharks, I know I’m far from alone in this interest. Shark Collection contains three shark documentaries: Shark Girl, Death Beach and Great White Code Red. Each is forty-six minutes long.

Shark Girl

The first of the three documentaries, Shark Girl, is my favorite. It follows Madison Stewart, a young woman in Australia whose passion for sharks has led to activism and her mission to protect them. She herself narrates the opening of the film: “I love sharks. I have never felt fear of them. I would risk life for them.” She talks about her obsession with the Great Barrier Reef, an area she started diving at the age of twelve. She then left school at the age of fourteen with the mission of saving sharks.

The documentary is narrated, and gives us some information on the danger to the Great Barrier Reef: “During little more than Madison’s lifetime, the reef has lost nearly half its coral. And now the very creature that keeps the reef healthy is threatened too.” The narrator is, obviously, referring to the shark, which as an apex predator, helps keep other species in check. The threat to sharks poses, by extension, a threat to the entire marine ecosystem.

There is quite a bit of interesting information and some staggering statistics. “An estimated ninety percent of the world’s sharks have already disappeared.” That’s incredible. I had no idea the problem was that extreme. I also had no idea that people eat shark meat. The information on sharks as food is some of the most interesting material in this film, particularly the study on the mercury content of shark meat. There is some interesting and horrifying footage from China.

There is also a lot of great and beautiful underwater footage. Sharks are fully protected in the Bahamas, and the footage there of Madison feeding the sharks is incredible. The documentary also includes interviews with marine biologists.

Shark Girl was written and directed by Gisela Kaufmann.

Death Beach

Death Beach, the second documentary, is quite a bit different. While the first shows how safe people can be while swimming with sharks, the second opens with this bit of narration: “It’s one of the most dangerous beaches on Earth. Six deaths in five years, and an untold number of sharks. Something has changed here, driving sharks into frenzy.”

This documentary focuses on Second Beach, on the east coast of South Africa. It begins with the story of a sixteen-year-old boy attacked and killed by a shark, with interviews with family members. Fatal attacks are very rare, but all six attacks at this beach were fatal. The documentary follows a shark expert trying to find out what type of shark was behind the attacks and why the sharks are now feeding at this beach.

I could do without the recreations of the attacks. I almost never like recreations in documentaries. I also wish the film didn’t rely so heavily on narration, and instead did more interviews. Still, it’s fairly interesting, particularly the scenes where they learn about the different types of sharks that are in the area, sharks they never expected to find there.  There is also some information on how sharks smell and hear prey.

Great White Code Red

The third documentary, Great White Code Red, focuses on the great white shark and the physical attributes that make it such an interesting fish. A shark expert and a biologist dissect a great white shark, and that is the centerpiece of the film.

They talk about how it’s able to move so quickly. The narrator says: “The great white does not have a single real bone in its entire body. Its rubbery skeleton is formed from a lightweight flexible cartilage which provides the strength of bone without the weight, and allows for extreme agility.” A great white is able to swim up to thirty-five miles per hour.

There is some excellent information, particularly on how the shark senses prey. Because of its lateral line, a great white can hear all along its body. The lateral line is “a small hollow tube which acts like an extension of the ear.” A great white shark’s sensitivity to smell is “ten thousand times greater than a human’s.” They talk about just how a shark’s sense of smell works.

As they discuss each part of the shark, they show it on the specimen that they’re dissecting. The information on the shark’s brain is fascinating, as is the fact that the shark’s giant liver gives the fish buoyancy. There is also some interesting information on seals, mostly in relation to what attracts sharks to them.

While the information is excellent, the style of the film is rather annoying. There is some nonsense at the beginning, as four men with flashlights enter a lab, shining their lights on information on the great white shark. Are we supposed to believe that these men are breaking into the lab to steal something? Then it shows the men donning lab coats in slow motion. The film should dispense with all of that nonsense, and just present the information.

Great White Code Red was written and directed by Benjamin G. Hewitt.

Shark Collection is scheduled to be released on DVD on July 22, 2014 through Inception Media Group. All three films are on a single disc. There are no special features.

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