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  Blue Water, White Death Shark Infested Waters
Year: 1971
Director: Peter Gimbel, James Lipscomb
Stars: Various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1969, an expedition led by underwater cameraman Peter Gimbel, assisted by television documentary maker James Lipscomb, set out to capture what they claimed was the first ever footage - on 35mm film, too - of the Great White Shark. To this end they travelled to Durban in South Africa where they had heard that these sharks swarmed off the coast, following the whaling ships to pick off scraps of the harpooned whales as they were pulled behind them. Gathering on a steam ship, the film crew were optimistic, and as they tailed the whalers they were rewarded with footage of feeding sharks - but they were not the Great Whites they were looking for...

It's hard to talk about Blue Water, White Death without mentioning the large killer fish in the room, which was the release a few years later of the film of Peter Benchley's novel Jaws. Although the author claimed to have been inspired by authentic incidents, the similiarities between the finale of his work and the one in this film are notable, as both feature the shark cage for use in shooting the beasts (with a camera in this case), and indeed both feature the cage being attacked by the subjects of their investigation. However, you have a long wait for the stars of the show to turn up, as did Gimbel and company who spent about nine months on their trail.

This means the actual Great White part of this is reduced to fifteen minutes at the end, which leaves you with eighty-odd minutes of the crew getting frustrated to sit through. It's not as bad as that sounds, though, as they did capture some fascinating sights as long as you can get past the whaling near the beginning - this was made before regulations concerning the hunting of these animals were fully in place, and to their credit the documentary crew don't seem to be too happy about seeing the creatures being slaughtered, so have mixed feelings when it does mean they have the possibility of securing the imagery they want for their work, yet are under no illusions about the damage whaling is doing to marine life.

Nevertheless, they pull on their scuba gear, get into those cages and descend into the azure depths to observe the sharks they do find, collecting fish smaller than the Great Whites for their movie, although there are times when what we are seeing comes across as contrived for the purposes of drama. Emphasis is placed on the bravery of one of the divers emerging from his cage to get a better look at the sea denizens, but as he is patently being filmed by someone unseen by us who is already out of a cage, then the courage of his act could be questioned. Especially as the divers are armed with non-lethal shark prods which they take delight in applying liberally to any sharks unlucky enough to get too close.

Of course, some of the novelty of Blue Water, White Death has worn off due to the fact that these days somewhere in the world, no matter what the time, there will be a documentary showing on television about sharks, so it is possible that you are now overfamiliar with the concept by now. Nevertheless, Gimbel and Lipscomb got there first, and what they did discover was impressive. Never mind that they essentially wasted their time for most of the shoot off the coast of Africa without seeing one single Great White, as when they venture to South Australia and start chumming for the beasts there, they are rewarded and so are we. The sharks there are magnificent, and make you wish the crew had gone straight to Australia in the first place so we could get to see more of them, but they are worth waiting for. Certainly this rivals the nature documentaries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, which they apparently desired to emulate. Not sure about the folk singing, mind you.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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