What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – The Cove and Commando


The Cove

No one likes being preached at.  No matter how much you agree with Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, there’s still a large part of you that wants to punch him in the face. Hard. Repeatedly.  Likewise with Moore and Spurlock at their most sanctimonious.

These preachy personalities with their  ‘mission’ documentaries seem to have become a lot more popular of late: both on film and on television (or at least British television).  It seems everywhere you look there’s a Jamie Oliver telling you to teach other people a healthy recipe, or a Gok Wan telling you to be a “natural beauty”.

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe did a whole show on the phenomenon, showing how easy and lazy it was to make ‘good’ television around such campaigns:


Joining in on the fun isThe Cove. Its campaign? Dolphins.  They’re being killed in a cove in Japan and we really should care about it.  Now, don’t get me wrong we really should care about it.  However, there’s a difference between objectively showing me the evidence: trusting that I have the ounce of morality it takes to believe the slaughtering of dolphins is wrong, and ramming said opinion down my throat.

The film centres on Ric O’Barry a man who worked as the main dolphin trainer on the 1960s show Flipper. A man who, I must admit I was fascinated by.  Someone who’d seen the error of his ways and was seeking redemption by doing his utmost for the safety of dolphins worldwide.

He emotively tells us the pain he saw in a dolphin’s eyes the day before they died.  This apparent suicide convincing him of the wrongness of keeping dolphins in captivity.  The film contains lots of accounts like this, as people use their personal experience to essentially prove dolphins are people too.  Of course they’re not.  But the film goes to great lengths to show the viewer “they’re just like us”.

If such accounts were used in some religious documentary attempting to prove Christianity, Islam, Scientology or whatever, people would rightly point out that personal experience is just that -personal and subjective.  It has no place in proving anything objectively.  Experiences like this are perhaps useful in helping explain why a person holds the beliefs they do, but nothing more than that.  In fact, I would have no problem with such opinions being shared in a film that looked at why people were willing to risk so much for the fate of these smiling mammals.  But that’s not this film.

Aside from these accounts, the film also goes into Ocean’s Eleven mode about half way through its runtime.  Ric O’Barry and the director assembling a crack team of specialists to set up secret cameras all round this Japanese Cove.  This aspect of the film completely succeeds on an entertainment level, going toe-to-toe with the best scenes from any heist movie.

Nevertheless, this stylish and brilliantly edited part of the movie still feels manipulative, and took me out of the experience: forcing me to consider how everything was put together.  It led me to question how much of what I was shown was real and exciting, and how much of it was made to look that way for the sake of an exhilarating scene.

The Cove is a movie which was made with the best of intentions.  I have no doubt that the people behind it completely believed in the importance and virtue of what they were doing.  However, in being unable to take a step back from their cause, they’ve made a film which treats its audience like children: telling us what’s right and wrong instead of trusting us to see it for ourselves.  I come from a school of thought that documentaries should document, and in telling, as oppose to showing us something, I believe the film has failed. An admirable failure, perhaps.  But a failure all the same.



Coming from completely the opposite end of the spectrum, is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. A film the term Best Worst Movie was almost made for.

The plot is similar to the recent Liam Neeson film: Taken.  Arnie’s an ex-commando and his daughter has been kidnapped.  It’s up to him to rescue her.

Commando is the best type of B-Movie, since it has no illusions about its own artistic merit.  This leaves it  free to be as silly as it wants.  Like Terminator, it realises Arnie is at his best when not given too many words all at once. Instead, almost all his dialogue is delivered in one liners such as:

Arnie: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last…. I lied


Cooke: You scared, motherf****r? Well, you should be, because this Green Beret is going to kick your big ass!

Arnie: I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I’m very hungry! 

Aside from these one-liners, the other thing that differentiates it from the average action flick is that, at the time, it held the record for most number of on-screen kills in a movie by a single character. The final showdown between Arnie and his adversaries setting the benchmark for how to ramp it up to the max right before the credits roll:


There’s not much more to say about Commando, except it’s Arnie doing what he does best. Although I think he’ll be best remembered for The Terminator movies, he’s not the only reason those films work. Commando, on the other hand, is completely his film, and the amount of enjoyment you get from it rests entirely on whether you can buy into his unique acting ability and on-screen presence.  For those of us who can, Commando is way more fun than it has any right to be.

4 responses to “What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – The Cove and Commando

  1. about the cove – quite a harsh review! I think the reason it was produced in such a “look how shocking this is” approach was because very, very few people know about this situation. You need something to grab their attention and do so in an entertaining way because its a method of trying to get people off their arses to actually do something about it. If it was just “heres what’s going on, make up your own mind” i don’t think it would have worked. The film was made by folks who clearly passionately care for these dolphins and need all the help they can get to put an end to it. I agree it was biased in their favour but to be honest i can’t really think of what the counter arguments or defence of the people slaughtering these dolphins would be anyway. Even when they were given a chance to explain themselves they were so anti-filming it made it very hard to get their point of view.

  2. For me editorial impartiality is not necessarily about showing both sides of the argument, it’s about ensuring everything you do say is factual.
    The stuff about dolphins being “just like us” is not, and points to the main problem with the film: that nothing anyone says on camera is ever questioned or held to account.
    And I disagree that if you showed people the footage they got of dolphins being slaughtered without any type of commentary they wouldn’t be just as shocked and angry as any viewer who’s seen the 70+ minutes leading up to that scene.

  3. people care more about issues if they are made to feel more attached to that issue. Dolphins being portrayed as just like us is an attempt for people to take action. Sure they could show footage of a dolphin killing in isolation but i think people would be just like “oh that’s so cruel” for a day or two then forget about it again and go about their lives. I don’t think having an emotional aspect to the film makes it a bad documentary, you can still show facts like they did and have an emotional element to try and win viewers hearts. And is it usual in a documentary for the people making it to be questioned and challenged?! Don’t think ive seen any.

  4. I would’ve liked to see more about the fishermen’s perspective. I found the brief scene just before the slaughter where they were sitting round a fire discussing the old whaling days interesting – obviously a lot of history there… do they feel its part of their identity? do they recognize how cruel it is? do they know any other way of making a living? are they being lied to/exploited by industry or government? To be fair though, none of them looked particularly willing to co-operate, so perhaps it was never going to be possible to present that side of things.

    Thinking back to my GCSE English days, you’d call it more of a persuasive than discursive documentary… but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Don’t think it was misleading in that respect. And it generates discussion!

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