Entertainment » Movies

A Life Among Whales

by Phil Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 11, 2009
A Life Among Whales

Bill Haney's documentary focuses on the work of Roger Payne, the marine biologist who is best known for his scientific and political advocacy on behalf of whales. Payne's work in recording and deciphering (to some extent) the "songs" that whales use to communicate helped to spur a greater appreciation of the aquatic behemoths - which, it turn, helped to fuel Payne's efforts to bring a halt to the cruel and excessive hunting of the global whale population.

The film provides sublime underwater videography that shows the whales in graceful, almost balletic underwater movements. However, the film is also heavy with a great deal of footage from whale hunting and the slaughter of the animals on the decks of the fishing fleets. This is not a film for the squeamish, as the film of the whales and dolphins writhing in agony is truly horrifying when one considers the kindness and intelligence that Payne has identified with this creatures.

The 2005 film also provides a rueful lesson on the fragility of the marine wildlife, with footage of the last surviving captive Yangtze River Dolphin (the animal is now considered extinct in the wild).

Being front and center throughout the film, Payne often comes across a little too smug for comfort. Even worse, there is relatively little in the way of balance in regard to where Payne fits within the larger scope of whale-related science, particularly in regard to contemporary scholarship and environmental advocacy.

Nonetheless, the film offers an important consideration regarding the survival of the whale population. Even if the communications vehicle is a bit wobbly, the message is still vitally important.

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time

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