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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember an announcement on a local news broadcast warning viewers
that they should be wary of bats acting strangely because there was a
rabies epidemic. I pondered this. How can you tell if a bat is acting
strangely? Everything a bat DOES is strange. They'd have to sit down at
a piano and tickle out Schubert's Scherzo in B Flat to make me think
they were acting more queerly than they usually do.
There was a similar problem with this program. It's a dramatized history of the famous 1916 shark attacks along the New Jersey coast, which cost five lives. The voice-over kept referring to the man eater as a "rogue shark." Is a shark a "rogue" if he tries to eat what appears to him as a couple of pale seals flapping around in the surf? This shark seemed to be doing what sharks do. They swim around and eat what they can catch.
It would be nice if they didn't catch humans but they do once in a while. Not that they've turned our littoral beaches into death zones. Statistically, you're far more likely to be hit by an object falling from an airplane than bitten by a shark. Still, the prospect is awfully scary. Getting beaned by a giant frozen Popsicle from an airplane's toilet is humiliating, but being eaten alive is more hair raising than that.
Maybe that -- the prospect of being preyed on by a predator, instead of its being the other way around -- accounts for the continued popularity of shows like this, not to mention "Jaws" and its descendants.
That New Jersey shark, or sharks, if there were more than one, caused a real ruckus during the summer of 1916. The first attack left barely a ripple. It was hardly mentioned in the NY Times and the popular belief was that the villain was a barracuda. A specialist from a New York museum opined that a shark's jaws didn't have the strength to crush a human bone, and he backed up his argument with "scientific" evidence.
But after the second death -- both with multiple witnesses -- the hysteria grew and spread, though not enough to prevent more deaths a mile and a half up a muddy tidal creek.
There have been other documentaries about this incident but none so complete in its details or in its visualization of those details. It's mostly a dramatization of the events of that summer. And, man, is there ever blood in the water.
The money shots, of a shark mangling what appears to be a human body, are plentiful and gory, verging on the distasteful, so to speak. It's bloodier than "Jaws" was.
Yet the accuracy reflects the amount of research effort that's gone into the production and it's well worth seeing if only for that reason. Most educational is the human response to the attacks. The sharks were being herded onto the coast by German U-boats. (Kids: In 1916, World War I was being fought in Europe and it was clear that the US was helping England and France.) Shark bites were thought to be venomous. This particular shark was considered brain damaged because he was farther North, living in colder waters, than we thought it was proper for a shark to be.
When it came to sharks, their anatomy, their place in the ecosystem, there was a colossal arrogance on the part of their observers. Of course that doesn't make the scientists and public of the time more than ordinarily stupid. It just makes them human. Every generation believes itself to be standing on the pinnacle of knowledge. There's nothing left to learn, just a few dots left to be filled in.
This is a two-hour TV documentary that examines with some care the famous attacks. It's good for two reasons. One is that it's the most complete documentary account that I know of, and the other is that the dramatization adds a hominid element to the story that makes it something other than just another documentary. The acting isn't very good, but that's not a primary consideration anyway. Just listen to lines like, "I watched my good friend being eaten and I couldn't do anything."
...remarkable to note that it was indeed the incidents of these manifold shark attacks in 1916 off the East Coast of America that were the original inspiration (I think this is correct) for Jaws. I think this also may have been an addition to Shark Week on the USA Discovery Channel. Good performances especially from Anthony Edridge and also from Peter Brooke as the Reporter. Sharks seem to have an endless fascination for man, perhaps it's the mixture of their physical beauty mixed in with the fear they are able to produce in humans as well as their more standard 'prey'. I look forward to more drama-docs about sharks since they are all so engrossing. The counter-play and differing viewpoints of the two leads was handled very well.
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