Blackfish Screen 14 articles

Blackfish

2013

Blackfish Poster
  • We are supposed to understand that orcas are both sensitive and vicious, that they cannot adapt to life around humans but must be rescued due to their immense capacity for empathy. For much of the film, Blackfish's rhetoric and argumentative structure are so muddled that there are very few things we can discern from it with certainty.

  • The case is presented forcefully, but there’s a gap between the righteous advocacy and some poor aesthetic choices here that keeps undermining the good intentions. Whether it’s the cheesy dun-dun-DUN music choices or a climactic scene of trainers staring lovingly at a while herd in its natural habitat, Blackfish seems to keep shooting itself in the fin by resorting to such chintzy Dateline moves...

  • Blackfish does make a pretty strong case that it sucks to be in a cage, even underwater. Its efforts to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between captivity and violence, contending that the orcas snap and kill people out of chronic frustration and boredom, are considerably shakier.

  • Discourse really isn't Cowperthwaite's main concern, though. Blackfish... is more of a call to arms for awareness and activism. But the calculating execution is so emphatic, specifically the use of sweeping music cues to pinpoint emotion, that the filmmaking often stifles the message. Even more troubling is how Blackfish uses death as climactic event, a way to confirm ideology instead of evaluate change.

  • It’s a great subject for a movie; unfortunately, this feels like a ten-minute news segment blown up to theatrical proportions. Much of the footage, in fact, is simply recycled from old TV broadcasts, and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s sole stylistic idea—heightening the distorting effects of aged analog video, a la Asif Kapadia’s Senna—has no meaningful connection to the content.

  • Overall style is shameless, with horror-movie music for the accidents and heart-tugging piano when the talk turns to whale babies being torn from their mothers, but that's why advocacy docs will always be a form of exploitation imho.

  • The film may rely on a tried-and-true, smooth mix of interviewees, animation, and archival video clips, but it's an effective piece of feature-length reportage because of the Frankensteinian rebellion of creature against keeper, and in the slow, if predictable, "revelation" that corporate entertainers like SeaWorld, dependent on these 8,000-pound mammals to keep the revenue churning, apply the amoral sense of the Jaws resort mayor to their bottom line...

  • Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite leans heavily on the ominous music and builds momentum to the 2010 fatality of a beloved chief trainer, a tactic that’s slightly shameless. But the outrage here is sincere (partly implicating our own love of spectacle), and there’s an undeniable truth when one ex-employee suggests we’re in era of barbarity, penning multi-ton beasts into tiny swimming pools, separating them from their young and insisting that they hit their performance marks.

  • Premiered earlier this year at Sundance and opening today at Lincoln Center, “Blackfish” is a slick, TV-style documentary that presents the 2010 death of an experienced SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, as a deliberate attack by a disturbed captive male orca named Tilikum. There’s a sensational component to be sure but the movie also makes strong, emotional muck-raking argument. Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair would be proud.

  • The shots of whales lashing out in desperation and the closeups of tearful trainers begging forgiveness for their role in past abuse are innately powerful. Arguably none of these elements needed to be "helped" with "Monday Night Football"-style gimmicks and "you will cry now" music; but the filmmakers could counter with Malcolm X's "by any means necessary"—and perhaps they should.

  • Blackfish channels righteous ire at Tilikum’s unethical treatment, but it’s less successful in its attempts to build a conspiracy thriller narrative, starting with the double-bluff opening sequence of mismatched audio and video which deviously suggests we’re about to actually witness the death of Brancheau (we don’t). It’s a queasy, sensationalistic slice of audience manipulation that compromises the ensuing film’s strident moral focus.

  • Cowperthwaite backs her emotional-heavy argument of admonishing animal entertainment shows with enough facts from marine researchers to make it sound, but she still holds a one-sided argument against SeaWorld as no current worker is represented in the film. Despite this potential weakness, the film is padded with enough diverse outside voices and intellectuals to still create a story comparing the animal hierarchy in nature to the greedy capitalistic ladder in corporations.

  • Unapologetically designed both to inform and affect, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s delicately lacerating documentary, “Blackfish,” uses the tragic tale of a single whale and his human victims as the backbone of a hypercritical investigation into the marine-park giant SeaWorld Entertainment.

  • “Blackfish” is a highly compelling film that’s already being touted as a likely Oscar contender. It uses the gruesome 2010 death of a SeaWorld trainer named Dawn Brancheau, and the troubled life history of a six-ton bull orca named Tilikum – who drowned and partly ate Brancheau, and has apparently killed two other people – as the starting points for a disturbing and much larger story.

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