For whatever reason, people seem to be fascinated with sharks. There's something sinister about them, their eyes look soulless and their reputation as some of the world's deadliest killing machines obviously gives them a truly ominous vibe. At the same time, they're also rather beautiful in their own strange way. This fascination has lead to an onslaught of programming geared towards these creepy creatures, which has been airing now for two decades semi-regularly on The Discovery Channel. Image has packaged up fourteen 'Shark Week' programs and slapped them onto four DVDs, and thus we have the Shark Week: The 20th Anniversary Collection. Here's a look at the eleven hours of toothy content...
Shark Attack Rescuers: The first program in the set takes a look at the men and women who work the beaches specializing in shark attack rescuing. We get a look at some of the methods that are in place to help speed things up and in turn save lives at beaches in areas where shark attacks are prominent. Some of the re-enactments are hokey in this one but it does lend some interesting insight into what's involved in trying to save someone who has been attacked by a shark.
Shark Attack Survivors: This one is exactly what it sounds like - interviews and re-enactments documenting instances where someone has been attacked by a shark and survived. Additionally this documentary covers why sharks attack when and where they do and how and why those who survived didn't find themselves sleeping with the fishes. The stories about the surfing kids are a little unsettling and again the re-enactments are a bit corny but some great footage and some very interesting and frightening stories more than make up for those shortcomings.
Anatomy of a Shark Bite: In this particularly interesting documentary we learn why various sharks will bite where and when others will not and how different breeds have different bite types. It's fascinating and frightening to see how evolution and the environment has taught different types of sharks how to adapt to their conditions.
Prehistoric Sharks: This simulated trip back in time explains the origins of the modern day shark by explaining to us how, during prehistoric times, a gigantic shark named Megalodon ruled the seas. We're treated to some interviews with experts and some CGI recreations of what this creature probably looked like. Along the way we learn about other fish of the era and we see how various archeologists are studying the evidence that still exists which proves this creature's existence.
Future Shark: This segment examines what we don't know about sharks, how much of their behavior remains a mystery thanks to the all encompassing depths of the ocean and how new advances in technology are allowing scientists to study certain shark quirks in all new ways for the first time. Plenty of fantastic underwater footage makes this one a stand out feature, with plenty of clips showing the truly unusual angel shark in its native environment. There's also some neat footage in here of the massive whale sharks, basking sharks and nurse sharks.
Bull Shark: The World's Deadliest Shark: As the title implies, the focus of this program is on the bull shark. The opening scene, in which two scientists are wading hip deep in water that is completely infested with bull sharks, is definitely memorable. Many of these sharks reach 450lbs. in weight. Amazingly enough, one of the men gets his leg bit on camera. From there we learn why bull sharks are considered the deadliest of all sharks, how they breed, and how they eat. We see some truly amazing underwater footage in this one, and we learn about where they live and why they choose to live there. Amazingly enough, these sharks will swim a ways up river and they've been found in the Amazon river.
Jaws of the Pacific: This documentary explains how new technology has revealed that great white sharks, who were once believed to live only in coastal areas, will actually cross the Pacific Ocean at times. We learn about their migratory habits and follow along on the ride to a tiny island where hundreds of great whites gather (fantastic footage shot from inside a cage here!). We see how scientists tag and track great whites in order to better understand them, and we learn why there's more great white activity in various areas in the fall and early winter and then why they leave in late January and head towards Hawaii where they look for food sources. If great whites are your thing, this is going to be right up your alley as much of the footage is very impressive.
Sharks in a Desert Sea: This documentary explains how the sharks that live off of the coast of Mexico are diverse and unique and how the interference of the human population is threatening to disrupt their living conditions. The documentary explains that previously it was believed that only female great whites would come to the area in order to give birth in the warm waters but male great whites have shown up in the area as well, alongside white tipped reef sharks and the Galapagos shark. Fossils prove that sharks have been in the Sea of Cortez for centuries, and recently the Mexican government has stepped in to try and protect the sea life in the Sea of Cortez, the whale shark in particular.
Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa: This fascinating documentary reveals how and why sharks around a certain segment of the South African coast have learned to jump out of the water in order to snack on tasty fast moving seals. There's some absolutely stunning footage of great white leaping several feet out of the ocean and into the air in here - it's quite amazing to watch these mammoth creatures move like that out of the water!
Air Jaws II: Even Higher: This follow up documentary brings us to the sunny coasts of Australia where a Hollywood special effects technician uses a few interesting tricks and a freakishly realistic artificial seal to try and coax the great whites of the Australian coast to mimic the crazy jumping tactics taken on by their South African friends.
American Shark: This documentary travels all along the American coast line taking the time to explain what sharks are in each area and why. We learn about how many of the most vicious sharks in the world can live off of our own coasts, and we move from Maine all the way around to Alaska. Narration explains how the success of Jaws fueled shark-mania in the U.S.A. and how bull sharks, whites, threshers, makos and basking sharks can all be round around New York and Cape Cod. Some great footage shot by a submarine on a routine dive 100 miles off of the New York coast captures some interesting specimens, and from there we learn how roughly half of the nation's shark bites come from the Daytona area, or at least the media would have us believe that. We hear from people who have survived shark attacks and from those who study the creatures and how sharks weren't really studied very much until shipwrecked sailors ran into problems with sharks during the Second World War.
Shark Rebellion: This documentary takes us to Recife, a coastal city in Brazil where shark attacks have been on the rise for the last ten years. While the city used to be a surfer's paradise, the rise of shark attacks has obviously put a damper on that. We hear from some local surfers who have survived attacks, how roughly one third of the victims have died, and how because of this a lot of people won't go in the water because the sharks are rebelling against the people in the area. Scientists are trying to better understand why various zones are becoming more dangerous than others. There's some gorgeous underwater footage in this one that shows off the clear blue waters of the area and captures some interesting pictures of the local shipwrecks and of course, the local shark population including some rather distressing bits where divers hand feed scads of sharks swimming around them.
Shark Hunter: Chasing the Great White: Frank 'Monster Man' Mundus makes his living as a great white shark hunter. Widely considered to the Peter Benchley's inspiration for the Quint character in Jaws, his stories have become legend and this documentary lets the 78 year old man tell many of them in his own words. Mundus goes to South Africa to see and 'play games' with the jumping sharks. Roy Scheider narrates and we learn how Mundus became a shark hunter, and we see plenty of great archival pictures and film clips from his own collection. Mundus talks about the people who took fishing where idiots, but his expeditions were usually booked a year in advance. It's interesting cross between a biography (we learn about his drinking problems and his personality quirks) and a travelogue (as we watch Mundus and his crew travel to South Africa). There's some rather telling footage of Mundus killing sharks with bullets, hooks, and harpoons and how he'd use them as chum on his next trips and keep the big ones as trophies. He expresses regret for it now, admitting that he feels sorry for the fish even though he 'won.'
Shark Bite! Surviving Great Whites: This is a collection of on camera interviews with people who survived attacks from great white sharks in Australia, South Africa and California. Re-enactments and real footage are mixed together to paint a picture of what happened and the stories, which are told in the survivors' own words. Many of those attacked are surfers or swimmers, and we see some rather gory evidence of what the sharks did to them by way of photographs taken after the attacks. Experts explain the sharks behavior and try to analyze why the various interviewees were attacked, and we learn just how lucky many of these people are to still be alive.
Overall, some of these documentaries are better than others but each one is definitely worth a look for shark-o-philes. The educational aspect of the material here is interesting stuff and it's a great, easy way to learn about sharks should you be so inclined but the highlight of each and every documentary in this set is when the cameras take us underwater into the shark's domain. It's here that the Shark Week programs have always been at their best and this collection illustrates why that is quite nicely. Once we're underwater, despite the fact that we know it's in a somewhat controlled environment, it's almost as if we've entered another world and things are now on the sharks' terms. When we're underwater with the sharks, their mysterious nature and uncanny behavioral traits become suspenseful and at times even frightening. As long as people are fixated and obsessed with sharks, the content will likely continue. There certainly seems to be plenty more mysteries that scientists are still trying to solve which means we'll hopefully be seeing programs like the ones contained in this set for some time to come.
Each of the shows in the collection is presented fullframe (with some footage occasionally letterboxed within the 4x3 picture), preserving the original broadcast aspect ratio of the material. Video quality is quite solid despite some softness here and there. Some of the older episodes don't look quite as good as the newer ones but for the most part the picture quality is strong. There are no issues with print damage to report, and there aren't any problems with heavy compression artifacts. A bit of edge enhancement is noticeable here and there but it's never overpowering nor is it particularly distracting. None of this material is reference quality, but it all looks decent.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks that are supplied for each and every one of the fourteen episodes in this collection sound clean and clear. No alternate dubbed tracks or subtitles have been supplied but the quality of the audio is just fine. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and while there are a few spots here and there where some of the on location audio isn't crystal clear because of whether conditions or surroundings, it's never a problem understanding what's being said.
Aside from some fairly basic menus and a fancy lenticular cover, this set is devoid of any extra features at all.
While it would have been nice to see some supplemental material provided, you can't argue with the price and the content here is a gold mine for shark fanatics. The episodes are all interesting in their own way and much of the underwater photography is very, very impressive. Shark Week: The 20th Anniversary Collection comes recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.