83 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Let’s assume that the documentary “Blackfish” – about killer whales in captivity – is an honest effort, that it doesn’t manipulate the facts for propaganda purposes.
Granted, that’s a big assumption. We all got burned a couple of years back by “The Cove,” a doc that blamed marine theme parks for the annual mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
Later, after “The Cove” had won the Oscar for best feature documentary, we learned that Japanese fishermen have been rounding up and killing dolphins for at least a century because the mammals compete with them for fish. Moreover, marine theme parks no longer capture wild dolphins, relying instead on breeding programs. Which meant that the film’s entire premise was pretty much bogus.
“Blackfish” also condemns the marine theme park industry, but by focusing exclusively on the biggest animals in these menageries – the magnificent black-and-white orcas – Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film stands on much firmer journalistic ground.
But at the same time it’s a hugely emotional experience. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself bawling. I’ m talking about a full-bore, nose-blowing rush of pathos.
The main subject here is a whale named Tilikum who made headlines in 2010 when he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld-Orlando claimed that Brancheau, an experienced whale handler, was targeted by Tillicum because she wore her hair in a ponytail.
But as “Blackfish” shows, Tillicum was a killer long before that. In fact, this one whale was already responsible for two other human deaths. (more…)