I just (December 2011) got back from watching this at a nearby art-house theater. Too bad its distribution seems so limited, as it's truly excellent. It could be used in a school classroom to prompt discussions about what is consciousness and what does it mean to communicate with aliens. In a theater, it can either entertain and delight, or leave viewers with plenty to ponder. Several relationships with the whale are described as far deeper than one would have with a typical pet (a dog for example). Questions around just what it really means to be "friends" with another species are very much in the foreground throughout the film. The photography is stunning. The shots of landscape and water alone would thrill; lots of shots of different boats -both powered and rowed- and of floating logs for lumber and of people -both groups and individuals- come along with the mix too. But that's not all - there are also amazing closeups of whale-human interactions, whale-boat interactions, and more generally the whale under water. Initially I thought they were fancy special effects shots that were filmed only with great difficulty after lots of careful planning. I expected stand-in whales to be used, and was rather discombobulated when the narration made a point of saying every individual whale could be identified by its pattern of spots. But it turns out the shots are not staged or subbed at all; they're just plain real; this really is a documentary. Just the shots of huge decorated native canoes with singing rowers traveling over these remote waters are worth the price of admission. There are the whale sounds too. Sometimes they're featured, presented as listening to hydrophone recordings, clearly underwater. More often they're presented as just a completely natural and unremarkable part of some whale-human interactions, moving seamlessly from underwater to above and back. The journalists who took the pictures are shown almost exclusively in or near boats. So you might expect all the shots to be from boat height. But it's much more varied than that. Somehow there are shots from a great height (did they climb all day, or use a helicopter?) and very long shots along with all the closeups and the underwater photography. Pacing and sequencing are excellent. You won't be gripping the edge of your chair, but you won't stop wishing to find out "what happened next?" either - the experience stays comfortably in the middle. No violence nor blood is ever shown, and the one bit about an injury avoids closeups and goes by quickly. Inevitably different people have different ideas about how to treat the whale. There's more than one idea about how to "be kind". We even briefly see a completely different point of view: that the whale is just plain an unwanted nuisance or interruption and the whole situation should just somehow be made to "go away". The film is scrupulous about _not_ taking sides, about presenting _all_ the different points of view and not commenting on _any_ of them. When a boat trip was described as a "reconciliation", I was initially puzzled about just what had happened to split people so far apart they needed reconciling; the disagreements -although described quite adequately- do _not_ suffuse the feeling of the film. Despite the film's even-handedness, for myself (most likely it's a personal predisposition) I couldn't help concluding that the government bureaucracy had spent an awful lot of money -remaining politically correct at every point- but failed miserably to achieve their big goal of avoiding injury to either humans or animals. Further, it seemed to me they never ever managed to realize they had "egg on their face" and looked awfully silly.
The true story of Luna, a young, wild killer whale who tries to befriend people on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island.
January 27, 2021