With no nation willing to enforce a 1986 international agreement establishing Antarctica’s Ross Sea as a mammal sanctuary, the Sea Shepherds, an under-funded, unprotected volunteer group of nautical vigilantes, has sailed into the breach to hunt down Japanese ships exploiting a loophole that allows whale killing for “science,” even though the “experiments” wind up in sushi bars. Both Animal Planet’s Whale Wars TV series and this documentary follow the Shepherds’ rickety ships crewed by spottily trained international youth as they battle streamlined whalers with jerry-rigged devices like bunches of rope that ensnare ship propellers, hull-gashing “can openers,” and stink bombs. But this real-life drama and its vast setting demand to be experienced on the big, instead of the little screen—men go overboard, skiffs go missing, and the long arm of the law threatens in this lean, sharply directed film. From Edge‘s opening wide shot of the Shepherds leaping off an iceberg into encircling rings of crystalline turquoise waters, the sea’s vast expanse becomes a looming character in its own right—by turns stupendously beautiful and grimly terrifying, and best appreciated in a movie theater.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 25, 2009