• Blackfish is an excellent documentary with ambitious intent. Not only to identify a problem, but also to change preconceptions and behavior.
  • For the most part, it succeeds.
  • Blackfish would love to see SeaWorld and other marine theme parks release all orcas, might even prefer to see such parks close entirely, but that is not the documentary’s immediate objective. We are. As in the communal we, the we that has, will or someday could plan a vacation to attend SeaWorld or the other parks of its ilk.
  • To that end, at least three times Director Gabriela Coperthwaite emphasizes that orcas are worth millions of dollars, even as she shows us lines of park goers moving around, into or out of SeaWorld, Loro Parque or Sea Land. It is a resonant visual statement that works each time she makes it. Who establishes the dolphins’ market value? We do. How can we decrease it? By no longer attending these parks.
  • Coperthwaite condemns park goers mostly by implication, but she accuses SeaWorld and other marine parks with less subtlety. She turns a critical lens on the parks, delving deeply to decipher spin and make us angry. Through a deft touch and impeccable pacing, she succeeds. I cannot imagine any viewer trusting SeaWorld’s media releases or public relations again.
  • Coperthwaite pays constant attention to her belief that the captivity of killer whales is inhumane imprisonment, but she also presents at least one counter argument, if with less focus. Given that she aims to persuade, it is a wise choice. Just as it is wise that she doesn’t directly rebut the counter, choosing instead to let its stupidity speak for itself.
  • Equally powerfully, the director limits her scope. She never criticizes all zoos or other attractions, nor even most of SeaWorld’s offerings. She maintains primary focus on killer whales and a secondary lens on any display that has dangerous animals interact with human beings. Her restraint makes Blackfish more powerful, because it means the documentary never overreaches, never extends its message too far.
  • For all of that, Blackfish is not flawless. The movie makes several statements of fact (wild orcas live twice as long as those in captivity, less than 1% of wild male orcas have the floppy dorsal fins that plaque 100% of captive whales, etc). The statements themselves are not problematic, but that Coperthwaite never offers citation or evidence of their veracity is. Blackfish aims for journalistic and academic integrity, but the mandates of academia require proof of such declarations. That this film doesn’t offer any makes us question whether or not the director is sensationalizing the issue so as to evoke stronger emotion.
  • On balance, however, Blackfish remains a terrific documentary. If enough people see it, it is good enough to have an impact.
  • Final Grade: A-

26 thoughts on “Blackfish

      • Never seen Deep Impact haha
        I cry in most films too :/ lol
        I cried at the bit with the seal on the ice berg, and the bit where they separated the baby whale from its mum 😦

      • Interesting. The seal didn’t really upset me. I was more amazed by the whales’ brilliance.

        Taking the whale from it’s mom, though. Yeah.

        I also teared up as one of the former trainers was talking about how SeaWorld blamed the victim when they knew full well it wasn’t her fault. His anger, his emotion was so visceral.

      • that poor seal though! the way it just helplessly rolled off the iceberg to get eaten 😥

        Tis a very moving film though, made me look at things like seaworld in a whole new light! Which, I suppose, was the point of the film xD

      • I understand empathizing with the seal. 😉

        I just didn’t. 😉

        And that was definitely the point. I was at the Orlando SeaWorld the day before Brancheau died. This flick makes me feel dirty for being there, dirtier for believing the nonsense that it was her fault, and dirtiest that I took my daughter to the killer whale show.

        I will never enter another SeaWorld. Either will my children, at least until they are old enough to make their own decisions, to go without me.

  1. This is such an amazing film. People should know more about the subject and the cruel things that happen to these poor, beautiful animals. I found myself crying tears of rage during Blackfish, which is definitely the sign of an excellent documentary!

  2. This really reminded me in some way of the days of ancient Greece and the shows that gladiators put on. Such cruel acts for such limited, temporary entertainment. It made me sick. The entire world needs to see this film, I’m glad it resonated well with you, as well James

    • Agreed. Definitely somewhat reminiscent. (Gladiators were even more morally reprehensible, I think, given that they were slaves and forced to risk their lives each time they “entertained,” but the general idea is similar.)

  3. I used to LOVE watching the Orcas in Sea World but after watching The Cove doc, it’s all changed. I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same about this doc. Great look into this, James!

  4. Great review. I really liked how you discussed how the director narrowed her focus to emphasize the subject matter. Nice observation, sir.

  5. Great review and also an amazing movie. I saw it 3 months ago and it is still one of my favorite films of 2013 and I still think about it over and over. I teared up during this movie on a few occasions also, but this is coming from a guy who also teared up at the climax of Fever Pitch (2005)

  6. Fever Pitch (2005) is a baseball rom-com with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. I almost re-watched Deep Impact (1998) today because of you 🙂 It’s my favorite disaster movie. I will hopefully watch it in the near future.

    Blackfish (2013) is my 2nd favorite Documentary of all time. Very few docs can compare to One Day in September (1999). Granted, I’m not a big fan of docs tho.

    The irony of that is that the only real Oscar I ever held in my hand was from a documentary called The Panama Deception (1992) (which I have still never seen) when I met Barbara Trent in a comedy club where she was waiting for Richard Belzer. I unsuccessfully tried to convince her to sell it to me. 🙂

    • Now that you mention it, I remember Fever Pitch. Meant to see it. Never did.

      I haven’t seen One Day in September. I’ll get on that. On the topic of great docs, have you seen Stories We Tell (2013) yet? I actually like that one even more than Blackfish, which is certainly saying something. 🙂

      Can’t blame her for not selling the Oscar to you. I wouldn’t have either. Well. Unless you were offering a lot more than I’m anticipating. 🙂

  7. Stories we tell (2013) is on my list and I have it, so I’ll watch it within the next few weeks. I now also have The Panama Deception (1992) to watch 🙂

    It’s always nice to be reminded about movies via conversations like this. Thanks.

  8. Nice review, i agree with you on some of the sweeping statements that are made throughout without weighted evidence to back them up. Despite this, i thought the docu achieves what it sets out to do, shine a light on the truth about Marine parks and the horrors they hide.

    • I certainly do, too. Personally, I would have nominated this one for the Oscar and ditched Cutie and The Boxer. (I also would have ditched Dirty Wars in favor of Stories We Tell.)

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