I vividly remember viewing 'The Cove' for the first time at Sundance a couple years ago. I'd gotten to the screening just a little late, so I had to sit dead center in the front row. No one ever wants to sit in the front row, but doubly so for this movie. All that real-life blood and senseless carnage only a couple feet away, towering over me, felt insurmountable, like there was nothing I could do personally to stop such senseless butchery.
'The Cove' is the Academy Award-winning documentary that stars dolphin expert Ric O'Barry as he sets out on a quest to stop dolphin hunting in the Japanese fishing town of Taiji. Ric was a trainer on the world-famous television show 'Flipper.' He feels inherently responsible for dolphin captures and slaughters, because his show is what made them popular in the first place. After flipper amusement parks started popping up, using trained dolphins in their acts. No one really thought about where all these dolphins came from, we just enjoyed watching them jump through hoops and balance balls on their noses. We were even kind enough to give them fish after they were done.
In Taiji, Japan dolphins are horded by the hundreds into a claustrophobic cove. There dolphin trainers from around the world come and pick the best ones for their shows. After the pack is picked over the dolphins are herded into another even smaller cove and there the rest of them are brutally slaughtered by the fishermen.
O'Barry and his group of activists spend their time during the movie trying to uncover what is happening in that cove, since everything is kept very secret. The land around the cove in off limits. Local police hassle O'Barry and his crew whenever they get near the place. It's all kept very hush, hush.
In a plot straight out of something like 'Ocean's 11' O'Barry hires some guys from Industrial Light and Magic to produce HD cameras that look like rocks. In a scene that just as suspenseful as any thriller out there, the team sneaks in under the cover of night to plant these well-camouflaged cameras on the mountainside hoping to record the monstrosity taking place. What happens is simply indescribable.
'The Cove' is an important film. Not only is it a documentary about the powers of activism, but it brings to light a practice that no one knew was happening. We all knew that the Japanese where still killing whales, but we didn't know they were slaughtering dolphins by the hundreds. It's a stunning movie. At times, it's almost impossible to watch. If you are squeamish then it will be impossible to sit take in. What happens in Taiji is so brutal, and so beyond comprehension that it's hard to put into words. The worst part is that the fishermen end up selling the dolphin meat (which has deadly levels of mercury in it) back to their own people under the guise that it's "whale meat."
O'Barry and his team have uncovered an event, which results in a needless loss of life. A barbaric act that shows the ugliness and greed of humanity. Hopefully, 'The Cove' will be able to open people's eyes to what is happening over there. Even after the earthquake and tidal wave, reports indicate Taiji has no plans to stop killing dolphins. It's an epidemic, and with any luck we can help it cease.
Like many documentaries 'The Cove's video presentation is home to a variety of source materials. From old-time, standard definition television broadcasts, to grainy night vision footage, to crisp high-def footage. It's got just about everything. So, looking at the video score, keep in mind that this mostly comes down to the various sources that have been used.
Most of the film, where they aren't using stock or nighttime footage, looks just as clear and precise as any other high definition presentation. Colors, contrast, blacks, and delineation during these scenes are top-notch. Like I said, when we switch to night vision, the image becomes especially noisy with a substantial amount of grain. The focus is soft, and detail is almost non-existent. I don't expect night vision to look perfect, I'm just letting you know what you're in for. Stock footage is also used quite a bit, and throughout the movie you'll run into a few blocky images almost as if they were pulled off of YouTube.
Considering the different sources that went into filming this movie, the overall presentation is really well done.
'The Cove' swims onto Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that does exactly what it's supposed to do. Don't expect any sonic surprises here, just a straightforward documentary audio track. Dialogue is presented clearly through the front and center channels. The surrounds stay silent for much of the time, but they do pipe up with the anxious yelling from the Taiji fishermen as they surround the camera and try to push the activists out of their town. Dolphin calls and clicks also reverberate through the soundfield whenever we hear the recorded distress calls of the captured dolphins.
'The Cove' is a powerful and emotional film. You can tell that each of the people involved with making this film are determined to actually do something about what is happening in Taiji. O'Barry is a heroic figure who has realized the error of his ways and is spending the rest of his life trying to atone for what he believes he's done wrong. It's a distressing look at how pride and greed can affect humankind. How callous we can become. How insensitive we can grow. 'The Cove' is an important documentary, one that everyone needs to see at least once even if it's impossible for them to watch it all.