Now, if that short little description suits your fancy, then you should just run out and buy a copy of the absolutely magnificent picture Whale Rider, Niki Caro's phenomenal adaptation of a great coming-of-age story. It features gorgeous cinematography, powerhouse performances, and a stellar narrative about individual growth, nature, and societal assimilation. Eye of the Dolphin, alternately, is a really weak deviation of the same formula that only holds onto some of the same prettiness in its visual design around the dolphins that it highlights.
The focal youngster here in Eye of the Dolphin is Alyssa, played by Mean Creek's Carly Schroeder. She's down a darker path after her mother died in a tragic accident, causing her to rebel both in school and towards her grandmother. After she's run out of ideas to make Alyssa snap out of this "emo"-like funk, her grandmother decides that it's finally time for the unaware daughter to meet her estranged father. He's a self-absorbed marine researcher in the Bahamas who specializes in dolphin sonar analysis, but has never been given the opportunity to be involved in her life. Now, with no other options available, the two zip down to paradise to reconcile a troubled daughter with her eschewed father in a final attempt to rid this broken family of their woes. She discovers more at the gorgeous Bahama shores than just her father, though; aside from mingling with the locals, she also waywardly discovers her ability to instantly click with a wild dolphin that swims near the area.
Eye of the Dolphin concentrates on Alyssa's ascent from her funk as she begins to absorb the island's natural beauty and hospitality through a growing connection with both the surroundings and her new flippered friend. She's obviously society-stricken, as clearly shown by her outrage when her iPod meets a wet demise following her first face time with a dolphin. Carly Schroeder does an acceptable job of darting out the typical angst teenager glances through an exterior which, obviously, will develop into one of more considerable warmth and understanding. Eye of the Dolphin is paint-by-numbers sap and sweetness, complete with sparkly waves and dancing dolphins to nail the full effect. To think, we haven't even gotten to the not-so-subtle emotional shift sequences yet.
After all this is a full-blooded family flick with all the familiarities, namely some glossy high notes and cringe-worthy annoyances, that you'd expect from any bit of inspirational schlock on TLC or the gambit of primetime television channels. The film's already shaky level of quality rapidly fades as Alyssa lowers her emotional barriers at a rather unbelievable rate, especially towards her bull-headed father. Once the "destructive, big-box society" mechanic kicks in and tourism threatens to wedge into and destroy his research area, all thanks to an anti-dolphin development advocate (Judy Lynch, 40 Year Old Virgin), most of the film's dramatic integrity flies out the window and Eye of the Dolphin flaps and flounders around with unbarred sentimentality as it jerks, tugs, and pulls at every heartstring available.
Eye of the Dolphin's attempts at emotive provocation don't play fair, either; there's a level of identifiableness that those cute, cuddly little Flipper clones give off that make the beautiful oceanic cinematography that surrounds them quite affective. And, right on cue, dramatic music comes to the rescue to try and lift your assumedly whimsical spirit high as you glide through the water with the dolphins. I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little something as I watched the beautiful aquatic mammals fly through the water. However, everything else in the film paddles so far passed forgivable levels of disbelief, from Alyssa's unnatural transformation into "dolphin whisperer" extraordinaire to the dramatic shift in the island from pro-nature to pro-consumerism and back, that it makes the sweeping azul visuals a waste of scenic splendor.
It's all for the goodliness of the anti-development, pro-family environmentalist message that rings true within just about every scene, I suppose. I had to remind myself, over and over, that this is a film with a specifically aged audience in mind. For them, which might include an up-and-coming oceanography nut or two, Eye of the Dolphin might be worth a shot. They'll get a kick out of the underwater camera tricks and the dolphin stunts - once they get through the forced teenage angst that weighs down the beginning. However, if there's even a scant level of awareness regarding corny dialogue, indulgent acting, or downright silly plot twists and turns in your audience, then Eye of the Dolphin probably won't cause much of a splash.
Monterey Video present Eye of the Dolphin in a standard, clear keepcase with appealing, water-based coverart and discart.
Eye of the Dolphin's 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks crystal clear and, at times, quite striking during the sweeping shots of the Bahaman landscape. The film's camera limitations give it a bit of a murky haze in scattered shots, but overall the image stays pretty strong outdoors. Indoors, most of the shots are fairly underwhelming in their stock mediocrity, only jumping out in spaced intervals with depth and detail. Once the photography finds its way within closed spaces, it maintains a steady level of pure serviceability. Overall, this print is clean, colorful, and wholly satisfactory.
Equally as average is the film's Dolby 5.1 surround track, which doesn't do a whole lot to make the soundstage terribly active. Vocal clarity was suitable, as was the boisterous score that flooded the speakers. Some of the sound effects, like the gentle splashing of water in a shallow cove or the squeals of the dolphins, managed to jump out a step above the overall subtlety of the audio track. A Dolby Stereo track is also available.
Carly's Excellent Dolphin Adventure:
This twenty-minute (20) pseudo making-of feature splices together footage from the film, behind-the-scenes shots, and interview time with Schroeder and director Michael Sellers. It addresses some of the troubles that Schroeder was confronted with while on the set, as well as the legitimacy behind the story's cornerstone plot element in the solo, or rogue, dolphin. Its not a bad watch, but spends a little more time showing footage from the film than it probably should.
The Dolphins of UNEXSO:
More behind-the-scenes footage is captured here in this seven-minute (7) of the crew's interaction with the film's dolphins. The piece introduces the viewer to the "dolphin experience", its trainers, and the integration that the crew had to dance around to capture the real "stars" of the film. Unlike the previous piece, this one is enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Also included are Actor Bios, a nice anamorphic Trailer (strangely, in 2:35 ratio instead of the film's 1.78:1 image), as well as a series of computer Wallpapers available to download on your PC.
Would I have liked Eye of the Dolphin more if I hadn't seen much stronger aquatic-based childhood development films? Maybe so, yet the glaring problems that it has with playing "the audience game" in trying to be bold and theatrical for a more universal appeal would still make me shake my head. If you've got some ocean lovers in the family, preferably of younger ages that are used to the Disney Channel style of acting, then Eye of the Dolphin might be worth a rental. However, for more seasoned movie fans, Eye of the Dolphin's forced theatrics and nerve-rattling lines of dialogue more than suppress the few strengths that the film exhibits. It's better off to just Skip It and jump over to some movies with a bit more strength and similar "troubled youngster meets wild animal" nature messages, such as Lilo and Stitch or the previously harped-upon Whale Rider.