Dolphins & Whales: Tribes of the Ocean
directed by Jean-Jacques Mantello
(3D Entertainment, 2008)

The visuals were everything I expected.

When the subject is dolphins and whales and the setting is an IMAX theater, you expect a certain degree of visual excellence. And Dolphins & Whales: Tribes of the Ocean doesn't disappoint, as it places viewers right in the midst of playful dolphins and massive whales. At times, I felt like I could reach out and touch a passing fin or crusted back, and I was amazed at every turn by the graceful beauty of the scenes.

But the film disappoints. For one, it's short -- only 42 minutes, barely enough time to finish a small bag of popcorn. For another, it's presented in very brief vignettes, each devoted to a different cetacean (for some reason, the humpbacks deserved two slots, while the gray whales and massive blues were overlooked entirely -- and manatees, which aren't cetaceans at all, got a nice long segment all to themselves). The educational snippets are so short, you don't learn much. It's more like a quick flip through a deck of cetacean trivia cards.

The text is also preachy. Yes, we know whales of every species are endangered -- in some cases, right on the brink of extinction -- and yes, we know it's our (by which I mean humans in general) fault. Yes, everyone who sees these gentle creatures in their element must be moved to want their preservation. But, come on, let's not hit the poor audience over the head with that sad fact every couple of seconds. There is so much to learn about whales, and we barely scratched the surface in this "educational" film.

Finally, I quibble with the choice of Daryl Hannah as narrator. She's a fine actress, but here she sounds bored.

Dolphins & Whales: Tribes of the Ocean is nice to look at, but a movie -- even a three-dimensional IMAX event -- thrives on more than just pretty pictures. The overall package here falls short.

review by
Tom Knapp

3 April 2010

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