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The true story of a young killer whale, an orca nicknamed Luna, who makes friends with people after he gets separated from his family on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. As rambunctious and surprising as a visitor from another planet, Luna endears himself to humans with his determination to make contact, which leads to laughter, conflict and unexpected consequences.Written by
"The Whale" is a documentary where its subject material transcends what is otherwise a very middling documentary. I think you can get most of how I feel about the movie from that sentence alone. It is a documentary where everything is on cruise control, the narrator guides you from event to event, people are interviewed and sometimes they cry, there are scenic helicopter shots repeated ad nauseam, and some Native Americans show up to say something vaguely spiritual. This really wouldn't be worth much if the subject matter, an orca named "Luna" trying to make some friends, wasn't so strong. As such, it ends up being more than the sum of its parts.
This documentary is the story of an orca that got separated from its family. Very early on we learn from a less zany Ryan Reynolds (as the narrator) that orcas stay with their families for their entire life. Alone, and without social contact, Luna stumbles upon, and makes a home of, a place called Nootka Sound. In this stretch of sea it befriends the locals and draws some controversy, as many have differing opinions on what should be done about this whale. The main tension of the documentary comes from the idea that the orca should be left alone, despite its want for attention. Those who hold this view the orca as a liability or safety concern, and state that it is even detrimental to interfere with this whale's life. The other side of this is that Luna is just trying to make a connection, and it is cruel to deny him that.
The documentary does a good job at exploring this bizarre relationship that a community has with this orca. It is touching and sad to see how much it desires attention. The orca will come up to side of boats, and seems to revel in the experience of being gawked at and touched. A lot of the documentary is moving because Luna himself is so surreal, and the interactions between him and everyone is playful and practically human. There is something innately understandable to us concerning the want for companionship. Luna just wants to be friends, and it is heartbreaking because he really does not understand the controversy that goes on around him. You get wrapped in the story so much because of this. This is by far the best aspect of the movie, and it is worth watching because of it.
Unfortunately, the documentary itself has a made for TV feel to it. Ryan Reynolds does an OK job as the narrator, but sometimes his lines feel corny and lack substance. Actually, a much better fit for narrator would be Michael Parfit, who is he director of the movie and was also a journalist who wrote about Luna. In his brief speaking moments he would often say things that are more profound and thought provoking than anything Reynolds said in the entire movie.
Further, while there is tension in the film concerning the real safety concerns that an orca in habituated waters draws, the documentary remains oddly neutral despite an obvious skew. I wish it made a stand, or an accusation, or anything. There was clearly something wrong with how this was handled by the government, but it is only hinted at through slight frustration. I did not want an attack or a diatribe, but it failed to analyze what went wrong and how it could have been better.
Lastly, I am tired of watching a documentary where the narrator will say something vaguely scientific and random pieces of journal or newspaper articles will fly toward the screen, sometimes with highlighted words. It is a stupid effect, and it highlights the fact that this movie is only a little scientific and spends too much time on building Luna up as some sort of mysterious entity, almost mystical. The analogy between Luna and an extraterrestrial is made one too many times. We get it, it's a stranger in a strange land kind of story. So, let it speak for itself and stop beating me over the head with it.
To sum it up, "The Whale" is worth watching because the story itself is provoking and rightfully pulls at all of those humanoid emotional strings. It ends up transcending a documentary that, by itself, is rather poorly produced.
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