Mr. Movie

'The Cove' shows dark side of theme-park dolphins

Who doesn’t love dolphins?

They are smart, personable and are great entertainers and a huge draw at water theme parks. Some places have tanks where you can plunk down wads of cash and swim with them for an hour or so. After a show or a swim, you can hit the gift shop and pick up a cute dolphin stuffed animal.

-- Times, trailer, theaters. Ric O’Barry says this is dolphin abuse.

He ought to know. O’Barrry blames himself for dolphin mania after he captured and trained five dolphins to play the character Flipper on the hugely popular 1960s TV show Flipper. His experience on the show and the death of his favorite dolphin led him to the conclusion that dolphins ought not to be in captivity and O’Barry has dedicated his life to setting them free.

As part of his penance, O’Barry got director Louis Psihoyos and some activists to travel to Taiji, Japan to unveil extreme dolphin abuse by Japanese fishermen. They herd pods of dolphins passing by Japan into a small, hidden cove. Young dolphins are a valuable commodity. They’re captured, sent to water parks and similar ventures or sold to researchers.

The rest are speared and bludgeoned to death — allegedly for food.

O’Barry’s documentary says dolphins — being quite high on the food chain — are mercury magnets. The toxic chemical element is dangerous to humans. Kids at a local school eat the meat.

Locals hate O’Barry and do not want him interfering with the city’s proverbial cash cow. Using undercover spy techniques that would impress the CIA — infrared cameras for night shots and cameras hidden in strategic locations — O’Barry and Psihoyos and their group show you the brutality of the slaughter. He belives because of their intelligence, dolphins — like whales — ought to be protected from such treatment.

O’Barry and Psihoyos’ documentary is very popular. It has won audience favorite awards at festivals such as the Seattle International Film Festival and Sundance. The film is also quite controversial, and once you learn about the controversy, the movie gets even more fascinating.

Television reality shows have taught us that like fiction, reality can be rigged. Critics are accusing Psihoyos and O’Barry of adding CGI to make the killing more gruesome. These same critics criticize them for giving human characteristics to an animal.

Supporters say not so.

The Cove, like the equally disturbing and hopefully soon-to-be-seen in the Tri-Cities documentary Food, Inc., asks important questions.

Everything about The Cove will disturb you. Some of you are going to rage about the injustice. And you are right. It is ugly. A few of you are going to discuss how to stop this awful practice over burgers at a local restaurant. Cows providing that meat were slaughtered in much the same way.

Something to ponder.

And should we be assigning human characteristics to animals? Is that fair to them? That’s what O’Barry and Psihoyos do, but is it even germane to the issue? And can we really define what is happening to those dolphins as “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “evil?”

O’Barry wants you to come to that conclusion. In his mind, what happens to those dolphins is inhumane. After seeing that footage and footage in Food, Inc. it’s hard not to agree with him.

Whether you agree with him or not, the point here to educate ourselves about who we are, our purpose on the planet and how we are connected to and, as the highest life form, responsible for all other life forms.

Your answers to these questions are why documentaries, and the reality shows that are now so popular on television, are much more interesting than catching a recycling of the seven basic plots by a film industry that is nearly out of original ideas.

If you see The Cove for no other reason — see it for that.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated PG-13 for very mature themes and extreme and disturbing violence. It opens Friday, Aug. 28 at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.