Sunday, November 3, 2013

CNN Blackfish (2013) - Review

CNN Blackfish SeaWorld Killer Whale Orca Documentary Poster

The movie opens with 911 distress calls about killer whale attacks on their trainers.

We then go back to the 1970s, when killer whales (also called “Orcas”) were captured for display purposes. Baby orcas were specifically targeted. It is heart-breaking to see the families not leaving the captured ones behind, even when they had the option to do so.

When SeaWorld was legally told to stay away from Washington, they immediately moved to Iceland to procure more orcas.

Now comes the focus of the movie, a male killer whale called “Tilikum”. Captured in 1983, he showed extraordinary physical growth right from a young age.
Killer Whale Orca in captivity

Tilikum was initially placed at Sealand of the Pacific, where he was paired with a trained killer whale. Based on Tilikum's performance, both were offered food (as positive reinforcement) or denied food as punishment.

Tilikum's mistakes made him the unfortunate victim of physical attacks by other orcas. On top of that, the orcas were put in a small enclosure that limited their mobility. All these incidents are suggested to have caused a growing psychosis in Tilikum.

This would soon manifest in 1991, when Tilikum claim his first victim, Keltie Byrne. He would go on to claim two more victims: Daniel P. Dukes (with his private parts bitten off) and a trainer, Dawn Brancheau.

But Tilikum is the only killer whale to go rogue in the documentary. Kasatka initiates an assault on his trainer, Ken Peters that goes on for a few minutes and is gripping to watch. To watch a human at the complete mercy of a huge animal underwater is frightening.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite Blackfish director

The director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite has done a tremendous job. Kudos to her for presenting an objective view of the dangers inherent in holding such powerful and intelligent living beings in captivity. Even worse is subjecting such life forms to perform actions and tricks, that they would never do in the wild.

Along with the director, the other stars of the documentary are the ex-SeaWorld trainers who honestly express their concerns about the hazards and reality of holding killer whales in captivity. The initial parts of the documentary has some scenes, where the trainers discuss their fascination with killer whales and how they were inspired to work for SeaWorld.

Samantha Berg Carol Ray Dean Gomersall Jeffrey Ventrea Ex SeaWorld Trainers in CNN Blackfish 2013 documentary

It is tough to accept one's lapse in judgment and full credit to these real life heroes for their profound contributions.

Orcas have very advanced brains and are very social beings. They are capable of communicating with each other using sounds and language. It has been documented that each pod of whales have their own set of signs and communication signals.

Orcas live as long as humans do (unlike how some of the SeaWorld employees in the documentary would have us believe).

Orca Killer Whale family wild and free in the oceans

Again, it is interesting to note that there has not been a single human casualty due to killer whale attack in the wild. All the casualties have occurred in the marine theme parks.

The movie raises some hard hitting questions:

1. Is it ethical to subject such intelligent and caring living forms to a captive life in a relatively small enclosure for their entire lives? Who is responsible for causing the killer whales to attack (and sometimes kill) their trainers? Is it the orcas themselves or the marine mammal parks or the people who encourage this industry by buying tickets to such shows?

2. Is it a wise move to use Tilikum's genetic material to create new babies, given his track record of aggression towards his human handlers? Does not that tantamount to taking unnecessary risks of having such incidents recur?

Killer Whale Orca in captivity

3. Was it ethical in the first place to take away baby orcas from their families to live their entire lives in captivity? Even now, baby orcas are taken away from their mothers, to be transported to other branches of SeaWorld. The decisions are made based on monetary considerations, without any regard for the emotional well being of the whales themselves.

4. Further, does it make any sense to let children watch other equally (if not more) intelligent living beings behave in an unnatural way. For example, killer whales are trained to “wave” to the audience using their fin. This is something that the whales never do in the wild. Is that way we want the young children to take away from such shows?

Unfortunately, Tilikum and other orcas are still held captive. Let us hope that this movie will help create the necessary public awareness and consensus to have these killer whales released to the wild.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite Blackfish director with cameraman Jonathan Ingalls Chris Towey

Gabriela Cowperthwaite and her crew have delivered a one of a kind experience that will change your perception of Orcas/Killer Whales and marine theme parks forever.

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Image Sources: CNN Films, Cable News Network (CNN), Magnolia Pictures, Manny O Productions

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Friday, November 1, 2013

CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode # 6 "An Unnatural Arrangement" - Review

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 6 An Unnatural Arrangement

Sherlock takes Joan to a police station to observe cell inmates to sharpen her skills of observation and deduction. Joan protests that they can make better use of the limited number of Friday nights.

A NYPD detective, Craig Basken (Peter Hermann) approaches Joan with a request for assistance in solving a seemingly trivial case.

Captain Tommy Gregson's separated wife, Cheryl Gregson (Talia Balsam) encounters an masked man in her house. The intruder claims to be looking for her husband.

Cheryl shoots at him in self defense and wounds him. The unknown stranger makes his escape.

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James Monroe (Ted King), a neighbor gives his eye witness account of the intruder's escape on foot.

Captain Tommy Gregson (Aidan Quinn) gives access to all of his personal files to Sherlock and Joan, with the intention of catching his enemy.

Talia Balsam and Aidan Quinn as Captain Tommy Gregson and his separated estranged wife Cheryl Gregson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 6 An Unnatural Arrangement

Sherlock notices that one Dustin Bishop has been persistently sending emails to Gregson. Sherlock and Joan break into Dustin's apartment and (surprise, surprise) Dustin has been shot.

Holmes and Joan's investigation leads them to one Jacob Esparza (Armando Riesco) and subsequently Elizabeth Roney (Sarah Wynter).

I recommend the readers to check out the episode for the resolution.

Canonical References
1. Miller's Sherlock deducing that a prison inmate's crime involves a litter of purebred Yorkshire Terriers - In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes deduces that Dr James Mortimer is “the possessor of a favourite dog, which I should describe roughly as being larger than a terrier and smaller than a mastiff.” 

2. Elementary Sherlock deducing that Sam Clennon had military experience in Afghanistan - Sherlock Holmes makes the famous deduction about Dr John Watson in A Study in Scarlet: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 6 An Unnatural Arrangement

3. Miller's Sherlock expresses his disapproval of marriage as something that forces two participants into unhealthy monogamy - The Canonical Holmes too expressed his aversion to marriage, but for completely different reasons. He states in The Sign of the Four: “But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.”

4. Joan's statement about Elementary Holmes: “You have been doing this since you were a kid. I have some catching to do” - Sherlock Holmes tells Dr John Watson in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual - “Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.”

5. Miller's Holmes brings Tibetan fried bread to Joan for her breakfast - Sherlock Holmes informs Dr John Watson in The Adventure of the Empty House: “I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa, and spending some days with the head lama.”

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 6 An Unnatural Arrangement

6. A significant deduction involves the silence of Elizabeth's dog, Gotham - This reminded me of “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” in The Silver Blaze.

The song "Heal" from Long Way Down by Tom Odell is played in the closing scenes of the episode, when Elementary Sherlock is observing Joan Watson.

This was another weak episode. I watch the show mainly to catch the nods to Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.

Ted King as James Monroe with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 6 An Unnatural Arrangement

Recommended only to die-hard fans of the show.

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Image Source: CBS 

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