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In a sleepy lagoon off the coast of Japan lies a shocking secret that a few desperate men will stop at nothing to keep hidden from the world. In Taiji, Japan, former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry has come to set things right after a long search for redemption. In the 1960s, it was O'Barry who captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character in the international television sensation "Flipper." One fateful day, a heartbroken Barry came to realize that these deeply sensitive, highly intelligent and self-aware creatures must never be subjected to human captivity again. This mission has brought him to Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonders and mysteries of the sleek, playful dolphins and whales that swim off their coast. But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and "Keep Out" signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling and the consequences are so dangerous to human health that they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it.
For more about The Cove and the The Cove Blu-ray release, see the The Cove Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 23, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Writer: Mark Monroe
Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Isabel Lucas (I), Roger Payne
» See full cast & crew
The Cove Blu-ray Review
Heartbreaking, tragic, and unforgettable.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 23, 2011
It's rare to encounter a documentary that plays out like a caper thriller, contains viscerally disturbing imagery and manages to be both infuriating and inspiring, all at the same time. And yet that's what we're confronted with with The Cove, the Oscar winning piece which has raised considerable international hackles, especially in Japan, while also becoming both a source of pride for environmentalists and a rather more contentious film for those who insist it overly sensationalizes a supposedly age old tradition, not to mention outright misrepresents several facts. Where you come down will probably be largely a function of how you feel about the wholesale slaughter of dolphins and whales, a subject which was also at the core of another recent Blu-ray I reviewed, At the Edge of the World. What makes The Cove so spectacularly involving is the personal story of Ric O'Barry, the man who actually fostered the worldwide fascination with dolphins some 50 years ago, when he trained the five females who would become known to worldwide television audiences as the most iconic dolphin of all time, Flipper. O'Barry had no compunctions about capturing and training the mammals back then, as a vintage documentary excerpted in The Cove aptly proves. This relic of a bygone age congratulates O'Barry and his then-cronies for "bringing home" a captured female, who obviously—to the filmmakers anyway—now finally "feels safe." Part of The Cove's inarguable emotional resonance comes from O'Barry's conversion as it were to an environmental activist after Cathy, one of the females who portrayed Flipper, ostensibly committed suicide in O'Barry's arms by refusing to take another breath (O'Barry inists dolphins can choose whether or not to breathe, and can thus put themselves out of their misery if need be).
The Cove seeks to expose the frightening and seemingly needless annual "dolphin drive" in and around the tiny fishing village of Taiji, Japan, which the filmmakers allege accounts for the killing of 23,000 dolphins annually. (Taiji seems to be a picture perfect little village, full of ferries that look like whales and tons of statues honoring various sea life, but it turns out to be something of a masquerade). O'Barry and the director of The Cove, Louis Psihoyos, have made it something of their life's mission to document and hopefully put an end to this practice, something which has been hobbled for years by a ruthless and sometimes violent group of Taiji residents who do not want film crews or anyone else who disagrees with their "tradition" trying to spoil it. O'Barry has been repeatedly arrested, and in fact one of the interesting facts that comes out in The Cove is that Japan can pretty much arrest anyone for any reason, valid or not, and hold them for 28 days without having to account for what's being done to them. Against this outright scary background a team of environmentalists descends upon Taiji to fully film and record one of the most horrific acts of animal brutality you're ever likely to witness.
The documentary is interestingly structured and slowly builds to its appalling and shocking conclusion. We get some nice background information on O'Barry, including some fun footage from Flipper itself, as well as archival training footage of O'Barry with Cathy and the other females who played Flipper. Against this rose colored glasses back story comes O'Barry's realization that dolphins held in captivity were self aware enough to be depressed, for wont of a better word, about their circumstances. O'Barry recounts the repeated deaths of dolphins held at various dolphinariums, including one in Baltimore, where the mammals simply became too stressed due to their conditions, including their extreme sensitivity to sound, to continue living. What becomes rather disturbing in this scenario is the collusion between the big dolphinariums, like Sea World, with various "research" institutes that actually fund some of these international dolphin drives. As repellent as the actual slaughter of the dolphins in Taiji is (at least to most people), the ostensible reason given for the drive is the capture of live dolphins which will be shuttled to various dolphinariums around the world. Each live dolphin delivered to a dolphinarium can fetch up to an astounding $150,000.
There's also a public health aspect to the interwoven story, as the dolphins which are killed are cut up and sold for their meat, meat which is insanely high in mercury content. There's a tragic sidebar here about Japan's long history with mercury poisoning, including a famous case from decades ago where scores of children were born with birth defects due to rampant mercury poisoning. The Cove fires a warning shot across the bow that the same thing may be happening again soon, due to so much highly toxic dolphin meat being sold, usually packaged as whale meat.
As depressing as much of The Cove is, it's also viscerally exciting and even inspiring at times, as it shows the extreme lengths these environmental commandoes go to to get their footage and sound recordings of the killing, which takes place in a secluded and very inaccessible site. We are introduced to everything from special effects magicians at ILM, who craft faux rocks to hide hi-def cameras, to deep sea divers who are able to easily hold their breath for several minutes, who help to plant undersea cameras and microphones in the dead of night. The whole enterprise plays out almost like a caper movie, and in fact director Psihoyos puns horribly, but amusingly, that their escapades resemble Ocean's Eleven.
The final few moments of The Cove are beyond disturbing, as the fruits of the activists' surreptitious labors reveals some gut wrenching footage of scores of dolphins meeting a gruesome and sickening end. The entire cove literally fills with blood, and the undersea camera shows the water quickly changing from an opaque green-blue to a distressing murky red. The shots taken from the "rock-cams" are even more devastating, as the entire cove becomes cloaked in blood, and dolphin after dolphin flops around in horrifying death throes.
The film has come under some criticism for evidently fabricating one Japanese official's firing as well as exaggerating the lobbying success of the Japanese contingent to the International Whaling Commission, the group supposedly charted with protecting whales and dolphins, but which, like so many international organizations, is better at talking than actually doing anything. While there evidently may be a case for taking issue with some of what The Cove depicts, there can't be any serious arguing about the core of this piece, since the terrifying footage is fully on display for all to see. In fact, O'Barry takes a portable monitor, literally strapped to his chest, into the IWC meeting showing all the commissioners that claims of humane killing tactics are ridiculous. Of course, he's quickly escorted out of the meeting. He may be out of sight, but once you've witnessed what happens in The Cove, what he's exposed will never again be out of mind.
The Cove Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Cove's AVC encoded 1080p transfer (in 1.78:1) is occasionally hobbled by the very source elements which give the documentary such an air of undercover intrigue. O'Barry and his crew utilize a whole variety of subterfuges to capture their footage, including infrared and night vision cameras, and as a result some of the images here are extremely soft and grainy. But that goes with the almost "spy" ethos that underlies a lot of The Cove. There's also passing usage of stock footage, some of which is not up to current hi-def standards. The rest of the film, and the vast majority of it, looks nicely sharp and well detailed, though a lot of it was obviously shot on the fly under trying circumstances. Colors are well saturated, sometimes horrifyingly so, as in the climax when scores of dolphins are slaughtered before our very eyes. Interview segments also reveal a wealth of fine detail.
The Cove Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Cove's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't overly immersive, but it gets the job done in a suitably professional manner. Surrounds do kick in with some aplomb in some of the Taiji scenes, where encroaching groups of residents try to keep the filmmakers from shooting the carnage. There's also some nice underwater recordings of both whale songs and dolphin calls that are very evocative. Fidelity is very good throughout, with all of O'Barry's on camera statements and voiceover narration clear and easy to hear. This isn't a blockbuster sonic mix by any stretch, but for a documentary, it's reasonably well modulated and provides a decent aural experience.
The Cove Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Cove comes with these supplements:
The Cove Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Cove builds briskly toward one of the most harrowing denouements of any documentary, and the footage of scores of dolphins being brutally assaulted is not easily taken in or forgotten. This film has sparked an international uproar and hopefully O'Barry's ardent wish that the wholesale slaughter and/or capture of dolphins will end in his lifetime will be realized by acolytes who are moved to action after having seen this devastating film. Highly recommended.
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The Cove Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Cove, Rules of Attraction, Still Waiting Blu-ray Go Wide - February 16, 2011
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced the general Blu-ray release of The Cove, The Rules of Attraction and Still Waiting... for April 5. These three titles had been released on February 1 exclusively at Best Buy.
• Best Buy Starts Blu-ray Exclusive Page - January 31, 2011
Tomorrow, Blu-ray enthusiasts are expected to flock at the doors of Best Buy: no matter your film tastes, there is bound to be something at BB that you like and you won't find it anywhere else, as the retailer will offer over a dozen exclusive BD titles, from various ...
• Trio of Lionsgate Blu-ray Titles Exclusively at Best Buy - January 24, 2011
On February 1, Best Buy will offer exclusively three Blu-ray titles from the Lionsgate catalog: the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009); The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002); and Still Waiting… (Jeff Balis, 2009). Disc details and the ...
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