July 31st, 2011! I'm writing this review on a day I'm sure plenty of you have had marked on your calendars for months now...the launch of this year's Shark Week, an annual tradition on the Discovery Channel for nearly a quarter of a century now. Before the first Shark Week in 1987, most people's knowledge of sharks was limited to what they'd heard in sensationalized newscasts or saw on the big screen in Jaws. Shark Week sets out to demystify these mighty creatures of the deep blue sea, honoring their strength and ferocity while also documenting that they're not bloodthirsty man-eaters by nature...that sharks are an integral part of the food chain that
deserve our respect. Cable television's longest running programming event, one that drew nearly thirty-one million viewers last summer, is now striking for the kill on Blu-ray.
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Shark Week: Restless Fury showcases nearly six and a half hours of shark documentaries from the Discovery Channel's vaults, spread across six main features and another three bonus segments.
- Into the Shark Bite: The first of the documentaries in this two-disc set wants to get really up close and personal with a variety of different sharks -- black tips, ragged tooths, tiger sharks, and great whites -- in a way you've never seen before. The filmmakers have assembled a massive assortment of handmade bite-cams, each customized for different species of shark, allowing them to explore the mechanics of each beast's distinctive bite. You actually get to see several shark bites from the inside, a vantage point not all that many people have seen and been able to tell the tale afterwards. Along with the bite-cams and the constantly dwindling count of cameras that remain intact afterwards, "Into the Shark Bite" also plays around with a fin-cam bolted onto a shark fin and 1,000 fps slow-mo shots of an aerial great white attack.
- Ultimate Air Jaws: If you were in awe of the aerial strikes of the great whites in "Into the Shark Bite", then you'll have plenty to look forward to with "Ultimate Air Jaws", capturing with high-speed cameras that sight of great whites soaring out the water. "Ultimate Air Jaws" is a proper documentary as well, setting out to discover why great whites periodically migrate away from islands teeming with seals and move instead towards the mainland. A 'seal sled' is also constructed to get photographer Chris Fallows terrifyingly close to a great white, hoping to learn how seals are so frequently able to escape those gaping jaws at the last possible fraction of a second.
- Day of the Shark III: The first truly gruesome documentary in this collection, "Day of the Shark III" pits man against shark, delving into a series of encounters across the globe that left swimmers and surfers disfigured and dismembered. Among them are a Navy SEAL in Australia who lost his right hand and leg in what should've been a routine training mission, a middle-aged mother who lost her buttocks and 40% of her blood swimming just off the Great Barrier Reef, and a snorkeler in Mozambique whose leg cramp and bad luck cost him huge chunks of his chest, shoulder, and hand. The recreations of these attacks are unflinchingly graphic, so this one's definitely not for the junior set.
- Shark Attack Survival Guide: Former Green Beret Terry Schappert puts his special forces training to the test to show how to make it through a series of attack scenarios in one piece: being stranded in the middle of the ocean with your boat a wreck, dealing with an attack in shallow water, and how to handle a shark that refuses to let go. Schappert's put together more than just a how-to guide, though, setting up experiments to answer such questions as whether sharks are more attracted to sound or blood, why sharks are so prone to attacking in shallow water, if the depth of the water makes an attack that much more likely to be fatal, and even whether or not sharks are capable of swimming backwards. Schappert definitely doesn't take it easy on himself, at one point trapping himself in an underwater cage with a shark. This might be my favorite of the six main documentaries in Shark Week: Restless Fury.
- Sharkbite Beach: The Pacific Coast had historically been safe from shark attacks, but all of that changed in the summer of 2008. "Sharkbite Beach" documents that reign of terror, beginning with a 15 foot great white that took a bite
out of a surfer's board in Huntington Beach...a claim that went pretty much universally ignored until a fatal attack on a group of swimmers in San Diego shortly thereafter. The body count continued to rise, prompting an illegal killing spree of the creatures off the Mexican coastline. Along with a series of interviews, "Sharkbite Beach" also features grisly recreations as well as archival footage and photos.
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- Shark Week's Best Bites: Finally, The Late, Late Show's Craig Ferguson hosts this part tongue-in-cheek doc, part clip show. The Discovery Channel has recruited Ferguson to swim with sharks and even hand-feed them, and as he prepares to head into the water, Ferguson introduces snippets from the Shark Week archives, such as a 2009 clip with a great white chomping into a tiny little boat while that show's host was still onboard. There are also clips from shark-centric episodes of Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs. I have to admit to not being all that keen on "Best Bites" so much...kind of repetitive and not nearly as funny as it's clearly trying to be. It's better near the end when Ferguson is actually in the water, in complete and total awe as he feeds these sharks, and doesn't reach for laughs so much.
For what it's worth, of all of the documentaries listed above, only "Into the Shark Bite" and "Ultimate Air Jaws" are re-airing on the Discovery Channel for Shark Week this year. Unless you've been holding onto these docs on your DVR from earlier broadcasts, Shark Week: Restless Fury is the only way you're going to be able to see most of these again any time soon.
Really, I don't know how much of a review you need. Chances are if you've made it this far in this write-up, you're a frothing-at-the-mouth Shark Week fanatic and already know if you're chomping at the bit for a Blu-ray collection like this. With a runtime clocking in at six and a half hours and a fairly modest sticker price -- $15.99 on Amazon, as I write this -- I think I'd have to bite. Recommended.
The six main features that make up Shark Week: Restless Fury are presented in 1080i, the same as they originally aired on cable and satellite. At their best, they're crisper, cleaner, and more detailed than anything my cable provider has piped into my living room. Colors are often very striking as well, particularly the dazzling blues of the Caribbean and the lush foliage in the tropical locales. Compression is also far more adept than what I'm used to suffering through on cable, although for whatever reason, every single wide shot of the seal islands wind up looking distorted and unstable.
The quality can vary wildly even within segments thanks to the use of stock and archival footage, some of which has been sourced from standard definition. To my eyes, "Into the Shark Bite", "Shark Attack Survival Guide", and "Shark Week's Best Bites" are the three best looking features. "Sharkbite Beach", on the other hand, is fairly soft, and "Ultimate Air Jaws" looks so lackluster that I'm surprised it premiered only last year. Just with the way its HD footage looks, I'd have thought it was shot back in 2005 or something.
Shark Week: Restless Fury is unavoidably uneven on Blu-ray, but I'm mostly pleased with what the Discovery Channel has delivered here, and it's definitely a step up over what I'm used to seeing on cable.
Both of the discs that make up Shark Week: Restless Fury are dual-layer, and all of this material has been encoded with AVC.
These two Blu-ray discs are limited to DVD-quality audio -- Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) soundtracks. As expected for a series of mini-docs, the emphasis is placed primarily on narration and interviews, and those are reproduced here without any issues. Music and underwater gurgles coax a healthy snarl from the subwoofer. The surround channels are reserved largely for reinforcing the music, splashes of water, and roaring underwater currents. The rears aren't remarkably prominent but do add an extra sense of immersion that's particularly effective underneath the ocean's surface. For whatever reason, "Ultimate Air Jaws" seems unusually quiet following "Into the Shark Bite", but I didn't notice any other imbalances after that. Don't expect much of a step up over what you've been hearing on the Discovery Channel but certainly solid enough.
Also included are optional English (SDH) subtitles.
A couple hours' worth of additional segments are showcased on the second disc in the set.
- Sharks: Are They Hunting Us? (43 min.; SD): My least favorite of the segments on this Blu-ray set, "Sharks: Are They Hunting Us?" sets out
to answer whether or not sharks are deliberately seeking out people to eat or if we're just getting in their way. Dave Salmoni compares and contrasts sharks with the land predators he's gotten up close and personal with over the years. Over the course of the documentary, he learns to scuba dive and works his way through a variety of different types of sharks until he's ready to freedive with the mighty great white. The constant chest-thumping gets a little old, the vlog approach quickly grates, and it definitely feels like an also-ran following so many more thorough and more informative documentaries.
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Although "Are They Hunting Us?" is presented in 1080i, it's very clearly been upconverted from a low resolution source.
- Man vs. Fish: Tiger Shark (41 min.; HD): Aussie extreme fisherman Matt Watson and his team have been tasked to drill holes into a tiger shark's dorsal fin and bolt an elaborate satellite tag onto it. Obviously that's easier said than done, and by the end, Watson and his crew have literally wrestled a couple of these sharks into submission.
- Man vs. Fish: Mako Shark (41 min.; HD): With so much of Restless Fury swirling around bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great whites, the change of pace here is appreciated. This time, Matt Watson has set his sights on tagging a mako shark, and to really push the "extreme fisherman" angle, Watson tries to do it in a toy inflatable raft...something that'd be rickety in a swimming pool, let alone in the open sea with a hundred-someodd pound man-eater thrashing around.
The Final Word
If you want to schedule your own Shark Week without having to wait until late July or early August, or if you just don't have space on your DVR to record this year's onslaught on the Discovery Channel, you'll probably find Shark Week: Restless Fury well-worth picking up on Blu-ray. Recommended.