"Blackfish" Film Review | Movie Review

Beauty and the Best

"Blackfish" Film Review

You know how people always say, “Read the book, it’s SO much better than the movie?” Well, get ready to hear that again. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about the plight of killer whales at theme parks, and particularly SeaWorld, is interesting in parts. However, it is not nearly as compelling as the two pieces written by Ted Zimmerman (who is the editor of “Blackfish” ) for Outside Magazine about the deaths of trainers Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands and Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld San Diego.

The movie features several interviews with ex-SeaWorld employees about the misinformation they were given about the killer whales from SeaWorld and how, in hindsight, they were foolish to think what they were doing was safe or morally sound. Some of these employees are more compelling than others.  Samantha Berg, Jeff Ventre, Carol Ray and Dave Duffus from OSHA are especially good. Some of the others come off as self righteous and overly dramatic.

What you are not going to see in this movie is some shocking, hidden footage of killer whales tearing people apart, which you might expect from the hyperbolic film reviews. If you are interested in the details of how Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau or Keto killed Martinez, read Zimmerman’s bone chilling articles. The background on what might have led these majestic creatures to act in this way - which is what I find interesting – is spelled out in great detail in Zimmerman’s articles.

There are a few ghoulish accounts in “Blackfish,” most notably the 1991 death of Keltie Byrne at a rundown, smaller park in British Columbia called Sealand. Keltie was a 20-year-old research assistant who would feed Tilikum (and two other orcas) fish to get them to jump out of the water for guests. To the credit of Cowperthwaite, she tracked down two eye witnesses to this horrific event who detail exactly what happened on that overcast day. The witnesses describe the park as dilapidated -- essentially a couple big swimming pools with captive Orcas -- nothing approaching the professionalism of SeaWorld. Perhaps adding to the moroseness of the interview is the fact that one witness is clearly still somewhat traumatized by the event and awkwardly smiles during the whole recount, even as she describes how Keltie’s eyes went wide once she realized no one could save her (although lots of people were watching). Once again, reality trumps even the most expertly done horror films.

Overall, this is a good film definitely worth a watch. When you really think about it, the real miracle is that these six ton whales (the largest members of the dolphin family) have rarely attacked a human in the wild and for the most part, do not exhibit aggression to humans even in captivity.

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