Sunday, January 5, 2014

Blue Water, White Death

Directed by
Peter Gimbel, James Lipscomb
Writer Peter Gimbel
Starring Tom Chapin, Phil Clarkson, Stuart Cody, Peter Lake, Peter Gimbel, James Lipscomb
IMDB Entry

Sharks! People are fascinated by them these days, so much so that the Discovery Channel can get high ratings by running a yearly “shark week” of shows about them.  People trace this back to Jaws, which certainly made sharks into a terror even to people who were a long way from any ocean.  But before Jaws, the movie that brought the shark to the theater was Blue Water, White Death.

The film was a documentary, showing the attempts by a crew of marine biologists trying to get footage of the great white shark in action for the first time.  They travel to South Africa and work to get the shots.

The technique probably gives current-day conservationists the chills:  they follow whaling ships and, when a whale is killed, they go into the bloody water to shoot the feeding frenzy.

The pace of the movie is slow – deliberately so.  It’s not supposed to be nonstop shark action; the process of finding the sharks is shown in detail, and the journey takes eight months before the great white is found. We spend a lot of time with the shark hunters as they talk about what it is like facing a shark.

Some of the ideas seemed extremely foolhardy at the time, when the habits of the great white were not well known.  For instance, they decide at one point to get out of the shark cage and shoot unprotected in the middle of a feeding frenzy.

The footage was sensational for its time and still holds the power to fascinate.  Steven Spielberg must have liked it:  he hired some of the crew to set up the shark effects on Jaws.*

The most successful entertainer in the film was Tom Chapin, who was a part of the surface crew.  Tom was the brother of Harry Chapin and has had a Grammy-winning career as a performer of children’s music. 

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