Monday, October 21, 2013

Video review: "Whale Wars: Season 1"

This seven-part documentary following the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd is interesting, but perhaps not in the way you expect.

The cover of the DVD, as well as the intro to each episode, suggest that "Whale Wars" is a high-adrenaline thrill ride showing the risky business of challenging Japanese whaling boats on the high seas. In fact, that's only a small part of the documentary.

What we mostly get is an inside look at the dysfunctional Sea Shepherd team. They squabble, they bicker, they back stab, they blame one another. It's a bit like a reality show with each member trying to get someone else voted off.

They're also frequently incompetent. In trying to launch one of their small boats, it's mishandled, flips over and dumps several people into the freezing water. Later, they twice lose contact with a small boat sent out from the main ship because no one apparently has explained when and how to use the radio. In another instance, the launching of boats is bungled so badly one crew member breaks a thumb and another breaks her pelvis.

To be fair, the crew does have some successes in harassing the Japanese whaling boats, so if you support Sea Shepherd you will have something to feel good about. It's just that anti-whaling groups tend to widely publicize those accomplishments, so it's eye-opening to see the backstory.

The head of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, contends that the group is focused on physically stopping Japanese whalers, but the documentary reveals that much of their time and effort is spent on manipulating the media. How you feel about that may depend on how you feel about Sea Shepherd.

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