Given that I’ve just spent a year of my life studying wildlife television, and that I consider myself a connoisseur of wildlife films and TV, I’ve decided to start reviewing nature-based films and television programs. This first review concerns Sharkwater: Extinction by the late Rob Stewart.
iTunes describes Sharkwater: Extinction as, “A thrilling action adventure journey that follows filmmaker Rob Stewart as he exposes the billion dollar illegal shark fin industry and the political corruption behind it…Stewart’s mission is to save the sharks before it’s too late.”
Here’s my take on the film:
Very General, Minimal Spoilers Synopsis
Sharkwater: Extinction picks up in Costa Rica, where the first Sharkwater left off. Accompanying Stewart is Regina Domingo and a team of filmmakers, and together they examine the political and economic structures that drive the slaughter of sharks. Things happen and the team has to run away, but they continue to investigate the exploitation of sharks all over the world.
The key figure in Sharkwater: Extinction is Rob Stewart, who is not your typical film presenter. Stewart is calm, thoughtful, speaks in an even tone, and comes across as a well-adjusted human being. While I’d normally be horrified by such an individual, in Stewart’s case it works. In fact, his relaxed demeanor makes the emotionally trying scenes in Sharkwater: Extinction easier to bear.
Various activists and conservationists join Stewart throughout the film, and he’s always accompanied by his film crew. One is able to observe the crew’s interactions at multiple points in Sharkwater: Extinction, giving the documentary a measured pinch of transparency.
However, what impressed me most about Stewart and his companions was how respectful they were – even when interacting with people whose views differed from their own. I’m not sure I could’ve kept my composure as well as Stewart & Co., especially during a particular fishing sequence in Florida.
The camera work in Sharkwater: Extinction is perfect. At times it’s crisp and pristine, whereas at others it’s raw and jolting – depending on what the scene calls for. This variation in picture quality, which appears to be both strategic and necessary, accentuates the mood of each scene wonderfully.
My only gripe about Sharkwater: Extinction is that the sound quality could be better. There are a couple instances in which the dialogue has a slight echo to it, as if the crew were relying on their cameras’ audio instead of an external mic. But this is a minor complaint, and likely reflects the unpredictable nature of Stewart et al.’s adventures.
From a conservation standpoint, Sharkwater: Extinction is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. It goes beyond showcasing nature as exquisitely beautiful or savagely vicious, and delves into the root causes of the current shark extinction crisis. And I’m not going to mince words: this is a crisis.
Sharks are the top predators in the most important ecosystems on Earth – the oceans – and if we lose them the rest of us are in serious trouble. Sharkwater: Extinction is blatantly honest about this fact, but Stewart is also adamant that the situation will improve if we work together. That hope, that defiant optimism, is necessary for inspiring action.
An unexpected theme that hit me over the head in Sharkwater: Extinction was the precariousness of life. The scenes surrounding Stewart’s tragic death were hard to swallow; because, if this fit and larger-than-life figure could perish so suddenly, then no one is invincible.
In some ways, Stewart’s unexpected death is a metaphor for what’s happening to sharks. These perfectly-evolved creatures have been top predators for millennia, and yet human beings have almost annihilated them in thirty years. No matter how tough sharks may seem, if we don’t act now, we could lose them.
We can’t let that happen.
Sharwater: Extinction is one of the most impactful films I’ve ever seen. You simply must watch it – you’ll never be the same.