Monday, April 14, 2008


"Sharkwater" is a somewhat devious documentary. First writer-director Rob Stewart attempts to debunk all our preconceived thoughts of sharks as dangerous to human existence, insisting, among other things, that soft drink dispensing machines kill more humans each year than sharks. Sharks are, Stewart claims, warm cuddly creatures that you could have as pets in your home and take for walks in the park if they didn’t need to remain underwater constantly in order to stay alive. This section of the film features stunning underwater photography and some "Oh, wow!" moments Stewart’s photographic crew has managed to capture on film. Then, after domesticating the shark—gettng us to abandon our fears and embrace the shark—Stewart describes how the shark population is being decimated by uncaring Asians demanding shark fin soup, that how the shark fin industry is a multi-billion dollar business that has created its own mafia to help with the production and distribution. This annihilation of the shark population is not only consequential on moral grounds, Stewart posits, but also because sharks eat those fish that feeds on the plankton that absorbs carbon dioxide. Thus, drastic reductions in the number of sharks could, according to Stewart, be another factor leading to accelerated global warming. But it’s here that the film begins a downward spiral, not because Stewart’s arguments can’t stick, but because he (1) ceases to be reportorial documentarian and becomes the leading man in his own "Save the Sharks" campaign and (2) he directly inserts himself into the film so that this crusade becomes all about him and not about the endangered shark. He joins the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led by activist Paul Watson who has the reputation of ramming and sinking ships he believes are poaching illegally in international waters. Together Stewart and Watson begin patrolling the waters off Costa Rica to catch those involved in shark finning—the hooking of sharks, cutting off and saving their fins and dumping the rest of the carcass back in the water—but run into trouble from what Stewart claims is the Taiwanese Mafia that controls the shark fin industry. This Mafia is able to go so far as to have Stewart, Watson and their crew arrested on charges of attempted murder. We also get plenty of shots of Stewart in a Speedo, Stewart caressing sharks in the water and a rather long, boring interlude in which Stewart is hospitalized with an infection in his leg. There is no way he can defend that this segment has any relevance whatsoever to the subject of saving sharks. I’m surprised he didn’t call his film "Stewartwater." Grade: C-

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