Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Lot Of Observations, Very Few Answers, Great White Odyssey Is A Mixed-Bag Documentary!

The Good: Interesting set-up, Decent photography, Interesting exploration of the phenomenon.
The Bad: No real resolution or answers, Some odd special effects and unremarkable photography, No real resolution!
The Basics: National Geographic presents the story of a great white shark on Great White Odyssey, which is a somewhat unremarkable documentary.

Not long ago, my wife and I had a little argument before bed. It was one of the few times in our (almost) four years of marriage that we did not go to bed together. I needed to sleep for work the next day and so she stayed up in one of our other rooms and watched documentaries until she fell asleep. After our fight was resolved, she eagerly told me all about the documentary she had watched. It was Great White Odyssey and this morning, we watched it together.

Unlike my wife, I was not terribly impressed.

Great White Odyssey is a documentary that focuses on a single great white shark, so it is a subject I had a lot of interest in. Unfortunately, I also had quite a bit of knowledge coming into the documentary, so there was little that the documentary did to enhance my knowledge of sharks. This was a fairly rudimentary documentary and, while it has some decent photography – or cinematography – films like Oceans (reviewed here!) have spoiled me. I expect more of an aquatic documentary now and Great White Odyssey is just not there.

Opening in South Africa, Great White Odyssey introduces Nicole, a great white shark. Unlike virtually every other great white shark off South Africa, Nicole does not stay close to the shore. Instead, Nicole eats a seal and then heads into the South Atlantic. 27 days after tagging, she goes in the opposite direction. In a fascinating turn of events, she goes deep into the dark.

While Nicole goes on an atypical journey over four thousand miles away from her home off South Africa, she is menaced by humans who are shark fin hunters (who chop off the fins of sharks while they are alive, dump the bodies back in the water, and take the fins for soup and souvenirs), hurricanes, and annoyance by the film crew.

Great White Odyssey is barely forty-five minutes and the point of the documentary – which captures Nicole’s journey from South Africa to Australia – is entirely unclear. The documentary captures the highlights of the eventful journey, without exploring or explaining why the journey occurred. In fact, it seems odd that Nicole would just happen to make an amazing journey after she was tagged and the subject of a documentary. So, how the documentarians first discovered Nicole would have been an excellent point for the documentary to address.

The director jerks the viewer around by showing a shark caught on a line, dying, talking about how this is a threat Nicole faces . . . only revealing late in that segment that the poor shark being mutilated is not, in fact, Nicole.

But, more important, Great White Odyssey does not really hazard a guess as to why she has made such an exceptional journey. It is briefly theorized that she might be mating, but it is not explained or explored to reach any point. So, Nicole is a shark that swam far and dove deep . . . for no particular reason and who may or may not be indicative of other sharks (who knows, this one just happened to be the subject of a documentary, with tens of thousands of great white sharks in the water, maybe more do the same thing . . . maybe not).

Ultimately, the good thing about Great White Odyssey, is that it does not make sharks out to be mindless killers. The strength of the documentary is that it provides more – and different – footage. The weakness is that it does not present much that is new, definitive, or even particularly well-shot. This might have been better supplementing another documentary than it is on its own.

For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
After Porn Ends
Nantucket Film Festival’s Comedy Roundtable
The Captains


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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