Monday, January 16, 2012

The Whale (B+)

Originally released late September last year, The Whale continues my three film running streak of uplifting family faire. Focusing on the unlikely friendship between the residents of a small lumber town in British Columbia and a social orca whale abandoned by his family, the film seemingly presents the viewer with a situation more fit to a Discovery Network special than a feature length documentary. Knowing very little of the film other than the already mentioned basic premise, my pre-viewing curiosity mostly did not stem from learning of the fate of this unusual friendship (I assumed that something tragic would occur to the whale, but important lessons would be learned), but rather how director Michael Parfit would turn this unfortunately melodramatic real-life tale into something compelling enough to warrant its own existence. Other than the documentary format, what would set this film apart from a 30-minute nature special, let alone cousins in the blooming "Save the Dolphin/Whale!" genre Dolphin Tail and the upcoming Big Miracle?

While I admittedly not seen Dolphin Tail, or even Free Willy, one aspect of the film that I greatly appreciated which set this film apart than other films in its mini-genre was that there was no villain. None, whatsoever. Every townsperson, every government officer, every Native American. Even Seaworld wants to help this whale in a non-shady way! The conflict of the film doesn't stem from a kind town trying to protect a whale from those who want to harm it, but rather many different kind groups arguing over how to protect a whale. Near the end of the film, when an attempt to capture the whale is made, another group interrupts and destroys the entire operation. With everyone trying to save the whale in they're own separate way, the only one loosing is the whale, who simply wants to be interacted with. It's a compelling story, literally forcing the audience member to choose which of the well meaning groups they're going to root for, and when every person is portrayed in such a kind light it's difficult to decide.

However, the main flaw of the film is also the reason why the theater was filled almost entirely with families. Too often during serious or suspenseful moments a quick shot of the whale acting goofy is edited in to lighten the mood. While understandably the film's prime audience is families, making my critique a little snobbish, the unnecessary flashes of "wacky whale" during odd moments are more distracting than cute or funny. When the scene is happy, show as much "wacky whale" as you want, but when stakes for this whale's life couldn't be any higher, please don't.

Because I'm probably the last person in the country to see this movie in a theater, you might have to wait for the film to reach DVD to see it, but despite some minor flaws it's a compelling documentary for the whole family. With (literally and figuratively) human characters each trying to do the right thing to help the lost whale, the film presents an alternative for a "bad guy" unlike most childrens films you'll ever see. Also, while it wasn't mentioned during this review, the cinematography of the Canadian landscape is also pretty stunning. Concluding with that tangent, The Whale is a solid compelling documentary you shouldn't miss.

Grade: B+

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