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 six 'Shark Week' programs and slapped them onto a pair of DVDs, and thus we have the Shark Week: Jaws Of Steel collection.
Here's a look at what this latest collection includes...
Blood In The Water: (80:67) Spielberg's Jaws were inspired by some actual shark attacks that took place in 1916 off the coast of New Jersey. Various phenomena turned a part of the Jersey shore into a literal feeding ground for Great White Sharks and this incident turned out to be the first recorded multiple shark attack incident in U.S. history. A heat wave drove tourists to the shores in droves and as temperatures rose in July of that year, the shark attacks increased. This entire episode is done as a reenactment, so it plays more like a movie than the documentary (this is despite the fairly sensationalist narration) style that the Shark Week programming is known for. As such, it doesn't seem quite as real. It's interesting enough and worth watching, but not the best entry in this collection by any stretch - it feels like the made for TV movie that it is.
Deadly Waters: (42:19) Les Stroud hosts this entry in his typical Survivorman style as he jumps out of a helicopter into the middle of the ocean where sharks are swarming in front of the camera. From here, Les takes us to some of the most notorious shark infested waters around the world, explaining to us as he goes what makes certain parts of the world's oceans, starting in the Caribbean and moving across the globe, more shark-prone than others and explaining why temperature, visibility and other animals all play a role in this. Les also tests sharks, trying to explain why certain waters have more shark attacks than others, and goes about proving and disproving ideas and theories and it's all quite interesting. A lot of great location footage shows us just what Les goes through to get the shot and prove his point, and while there's always a certain amount of control to any set up situation like this, the guy is still swimming around in the ocean with a lot of sharks, and that deserves some respect.
Day Of The Shark: (42:19) This third entry explains how and why sharks get put into 'attack mode' and are more likely to strike at certain times of the day. The show explores the area off of the Australian coast at a time where a surfer could easily be mistake, underwater at least, as a seal or large fish or something else that a shark might want to eat. From there we learn about the shark's innate sense of curiosity, and what provokes them to strike aside from just basic hunger. Interviews with local surfers tell some interesting stories and some gorgeous cinematography ensures that this is a very impressive entry, at least on a visual level. Interestingly enough, full moon's cause fish to spawn in certain areas which brings larger predators into the area and in turn, sharks. Who knew? There's all sorts of interesting facts just like that in this episode - and some impressive surfing footage as well!
Sharkbite Summer: (42:33) The second disc starts off with this entry, a documentary that takes us back to the American summer of 2001 where there were an unusually high number of shark attacks occurring off of the country's coast lines. Large fish were coming in closer to shore which was good news for fishermen but bad news for swimmers and surfers. This is a pretty interesting account of what happened that year, starting on July 6, 2001 in Florida where an eight year old was attacked in three feet of water by a Bull Shark. There are some good interviews here but this episode is also pretty heavy on the reenactment footage and it suffers for that reason. The firsthand accounts of what happened that year, however, are rather telling and as such, quite interesting.
Great White Appetite: (42:02) The Great White Shark is the most feared of all sharks and renowned as one of the most efficient and deadly of all of nature's predators. This installment follows a former Force Recon Marine named Charles Ingram as he travels along with the Discovery Channel team to test the Great White's appetite culminating in a scene in which our host offers himself up to the sharks as 'live bait.' This is a very sensationalist entry in the line, but it's still a pretty interesting one and some of the underwater footage of the sharks in action is incredibly impressive. The episode does a pretty good job of trying to explain what drives the Great White Shark to act and behave the way that it does, explaining that there's a lot more to these majestic beasts than just the drive to eat and eat and eat.
Shark After Dark: (42:04) Sharks are scary enough during the day, right? They're even scarier at night! That is, when they show up. This documentary follows a team that sets out to better understand the nocturnal habits of sharks, but it takes them some time to find one. Thankfully, through the magic of editing, we don't have to deal with too much filler. Instead, we get some great shots of the sharks doing their thing at night while the science time freaks out. Infra-red and heatseeking cameras help cast a light (no pun intended) on what the sharks do at night off the coasts of various locations, while stoic narration explains to us how the operate in little to know light and still manage to find prey. By concentrating on a lesser known part of shark activity, this entry turns out to be the most interesting one of the six included in this set. It's all well and good to discuss shark attacks and shark survival tactics, but we've been there and done that before. This at least goes into lesser known territory, as such, it stands out a bit.
While not ever entry in this latest Shark Week collection is 'edge of your seat' entertainment, they're all worth a watch, even the lesser ones. The educational merit of some of this material is certainly debatable but there's no denying the power of some of the footage or the intensity of some of the stories that are told. It makes for fairly riveting viewing more often than not, and stands to prove why Shark Week is one of the most beloved cable TV traditions.
The six features are presented in AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen in transfers which are generally pretty solid but which lack the fine detail that top notch nature documentaries can have in HD. There aren't any obvious compression artifacts present in any of the darker scenes, though some mild line shimmering is noticeable. That said, color reproduction looks very good here even if there are some scenes where skin tones look a bit pinkish. The blues of the ocean and the grays of the sharks themselves look quite nice and while detail can't rival the best of the Blu-ray transfers out there, it does impress periodically, if not quite as consistently as some might have hoped for. Much of that likely has to do with how this material was shot in the first place, but as a rule, the good certainly outweighs the bad here.
The English language 48kHz 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks that are supplied for each and every one of the six episodes in this collection sound clean and clear though there isn't much in the way of rear channel or surround activity to note aside from some spacing out of the music used. No alternate dubbed tracks 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 weather conditions or surroundings, it's never a problem understanding what's being said. Where you might notice a difference between this mix and it's SD counterpart is in the musical cues, which seem to pack a bit more punch and have a bit more bounce on the lower end of the mix. An English SDH option is included.
The first disc contains episode selection and static menus as well as a bonus episode of Cash Cab's Deadliest Catch (21:11) episode (you'll find it in the episode selection menu). Here the host drives people around New York City and asks cab patrons (or in this case, members of the Discovery show Deadliest Catch) trivia questions for cash prizes. Some of the questions get shark-related, so I guess this sort of fits in with the rest of the content. Disc Two also includes menus and episode selection, as well as one bonus feature, Sharks Under Glass (49:32) which examines how sharks have become commonplace in aquariums around the world which has lead to thousands of people seeing them first hand, close up, with only a few inches of glass separating them. There's some very impressive footage in here that makes up for the fact that the narration isn't all that interesting. If you've ever wanted to know how sharks make it from the ocean to an aquarium exhibit, however, this answers that question and a few more.
Shark Week: Jaws Of Steel Collection is certainly going to appeal to Shark Week enthusiasts as it provides a reasonably diverse selection of shark related documentaries and reenactments. There's a fair bit of sensationalist tactics used throughout the six features, but that's to be expect, by this point it's part of the Shark Week experience. The video quality is decent, better than broadcast HD quality if not reference quality, and the audio isn't bad, all things considered. The inclusion of the two bonus episodes is also a nice touch. 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.