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Peter Gimbel & James Lipscomb
MGM Home Video presents Blue Water, White Death. Screenplay by Peter Gimbel. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated G. Theatrical release: July 1, 1971. DVD released July 31, 2007.
Before Jaws and Discovery’s Shark Week, there was a time when the Great White Shark was only described in sailor tales, displayed in museums or captured in photos. Blue Water, White Death follows the exploits of Peter Gimbel and his crew’s pursuit of the ferocious eating machine. They had one objective: capture it on film for the sake of cinema. Could they swim with sharks without losing their fingers while pulling focus?
This is not a film for the weak of heart or prissy nature lovers. This isn’t a cute wilderness documentary about pretty fish. The first part of the expedition has them hanging around whaling vessels off the coast of Durban, South Africa. They show the ugly nature of a whale being harpooned and how the sharks feast on the floating carcass. Later we see the slaughter house for these huge mammals. Gimbel makes a point that he does not support the killing of whales and fears for their extinction. But he knows the whales are the perfect bait for the great white. Soon after this scene, the crew becomes bait for the Oceanic White Tip sharks when their lights cut off during a night dive. There’s constant danger with this shoot.
If you wonder where Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic cribbed the concept of a sailor playing an acoustic guitar while the crew hunts the ocean for a legendary fish; this is your answer. Tom Chapin, the brother of folk legend Harry Chapin, is part of the deck crew. Because he doesn’t have to strap on an aqualung, he’s always found plucking away a little eco-friendly ditty while resting against the hull. It’s not quite David Bowie being sung in Portuguese.
If you go to a documentary film festival, you’ll notice that a majority of the features are shot on video. Even March of the Penguins used Super 16. What’s astounding about Blue Water, White Death is that it was shot in 35mm cinemascope. They want to make sure the screen fits the enormous size of the shark. On top of that, the film is in Technicolor. The blue of the ocean, the grey of the sharks and red of the blood will make you gasp for air. There’s plenty of great views of the numerous cameramen floating around their cages as the sharks swarm.
This isn’t just a film of underwater photography. There’s plenty on conflict above the sea as the crew is constantly frustrated at their lack of Great White action. Gimbel wants them to remain at a wreck off Sri Lanka. The crew argues that there’s not even regular sharks in that area. They crank up the engine and set course for Dangerous Reef off Australia. Where else would a Great White hang out other than a place called Dangerous Reef? Rodney Fox joins the crew for this leg. Turns out that Fox once had his arm inside a Great White Shark. The photos of the bite are really graphic. We know this shark means business.
When the Great White arrives in the last reel, it’s all that’s promised. This is no David Beckham of the deep. When they lower the cage with the cameraman, the Great White goes straight for the metal. You fear for the crew as you as they sneak out of the cages to get clean shots of this eating machine. The Great White goes after one diver in a cage that turns into a life or death battle.
Blue Water, White Death is one of the great expedition documentaries. While over the decades we might have become a bit jaded when it comes to shark movies, this grandfather of the great white action holds up. If you get excited as Shark Week approaches, this documentary is required viewing. Thrills, chills and it’s all real.
The picture is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks great and clean.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital Mono. Most of the footage underwater is atmospheric music that’s at a proper level. Tom Chapin’s songs sound great. The commentary track features Valerie May Taylor, Rodney Fox and Stan Waterman. They really fill in the screen action with a lot of behind the scenes details. The subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.
Diving into Blue Water, White Death (24:58) reunites the crew for a special screening at the “Beneath the Sea” convention in March, 2007. Gimbel passed away in 1987, but he gets a toast at the reception. They explain how close they came to being eaten by the Oceanic White Tip Sharks. They explain how close they came to killing the film when the sharks finally showed up.
Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions (4:47) is a advertisement for a ship that will take you out to see the Great Whites in Australia with Rodney. The still shots of the Great Whites are thrilling. If you have the cash, this would be a fun vacation.
Sea Salt is a promotion for Stan Waterman’s book of essays. You can read Peter Benchley’s Foreward for the book.
|The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Blue Water, White Death
||RATING(OUT OF 10)
||9(NOT AN AVERAGE)|
The Inside Pulse
Back at film school, Ray Regis screened his 35mm print of Blue Water, White Death for us. We thought it would be a cheesy ’70s movie like the search for Bigfoot films. Instead we were captured by the nature of this adventure and the Great White action at the end. The DVD goes one step beyond that print by providing the stories of what else was going on as the crew swam on Dangerous Reef.