Directed by: Peter Gimbel and James Lipscomb
Premise: A documentary from 1971 detailing a voyage around the coast of southern Africa and Western Australia to photograph Great White Sharks for the first time.
What Works: Blue Water, White Death is one of the most extraordinary documentaries on sharks or marine life ever made. Although the film is dated, its footage remains some of the most amazing, exciting, and frightening footage of sharks in the wild, such as a late night dive with sharks feeding on a whale carcass. But what sets Blue Water, White Death apart from other shark documentaries is the journey of the film. The story catalogues the crew’s travels along the African coast and the people and locations that they encounter there. It also gives a look into the now-defunct whaling industry and maintains a dramatic narrative with the anxieties of the filmmakers when it looks as though their search for the Great White may be in vain. Blue Water, White Death also sits apart from other shark documentaries in that the film acknowledges that these are wild animals. It does not make sharks into monsters but it also does not anthropomorphize them into Disney characters. The rawness and the honesty of this approach make the filmmaker’s journey all the more thrilling.
What Doesn’t: The film is a bit dated and with the familiarity of shark footage from documentaries on The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, some viewers might find the ending underwhelming, despite the quality of the footage.
DVD extras: Commentary track, making-of featurette, text by Stan Waterman.
Bottom Line: Blue Water, White Death is requisite viewing for all those interested in nature documentaries, marine life, or fans of Jaws. The film captures the beauty of nature by embracing its wildness and ferocity, rather than filing it down into safe, PETA-friendly stereotypes.
Episode: #151 (August 5, 2007)