Summer is here. Beachgoers are contemplating a dip. And right off of Cape Cod, great white sharks are again expected to return from their winter vacations to feast on their favorite fatty snack, the gray seal.
“Great White Shark” arrives at the New England Aquarium with impeccable timing. It’s shark-fearing season. Cue John Williams’s ominous music. Dah-dum. Dah-dum. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum . . .
British codirectors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas (”Wild Ocean,” “The Last Reef”) are no newcomers to the nature documentary. Their short follows teams of shark researchers as they dive into great white hot spots around the globe: South Africa; Guadalupe Island, off Mexico; the Southern California coast; and freshly discovered shark territory off New Zealand’s southernmost tip. Voice-overs from scientists and divers provide context, as does narration from A Famous Actor (an apparent requirement of the genre) — in this case, Bill Nighy (”Love Actually”), who gives the proceedings a proper dose of British gravitas.
“Now all our fears are focused on one animal,” Nighy intones. “But is it the monster we’ve imagined it to be?” We learn how these ancient beasts have been maligned and nearly fished to extinction. In a sequence demonstrating the public’s wary view, a leaping animatronic Jaws scares the bejezus out of giddy folks on a Universal Studios tour.
With expected 3D-IMAX splendor, “Great White Shark” attempts to balance consciousness-raising with spectacle. Ample helicopter shots swooping over coastlines are juxtaposed with dreamy underwater footage of divers implanting the sharks with radio transmitters to better understand their ways and moves. Free divers leave the safety of shark cages to swim alongside them. That ups the tension. We’re also treated to some great white eye-candy. Spectacular slow-mo footage shows massive great whites leaping out of the water to devour baited lines and wooden seal decoys. Not necessarily for research purposes, but because it’s cool to see.
Can the filmmakers have it both ways? Heightened awareness of the great white’s plight may be the goal of “Great White Shark.” The viewer is told, “We are far more dangerous to them than they are to us.” But the amped-up danger and overdramatic soundtrack exploit the very fears the movie is trying to dispel. Which leaves behind a fishy aftertaste.Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.