Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 12, 2009)
Almost 35 years after Jaws made swimmers think twice before they entered the ocean, the public fascination with sharks persists. Every year, “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel consistently boasts their best ratings. We get a look at a selection of those shows in a package called Shark Week: The Great Bites Collection.
Bites includes six episodes:
Surviving Sharks (42:02): “For ‘Survivorman’ Les Stroud, staying alive against the odd is nothing new, but this time he show us how to survive a swimmer’s worst fear.”
On the surface, this episode wants to teach us how to make it out make it out alive if we’re in the water with a shark. And it does that to a decent degree; we learn some techniques that could help in case you find yourself in the vicinity of these toothy beasts.
In truth, however, “Surviving” really exists so we can see a lot of cool shark footage. It succeeds in that quest, especially when it focuses on great whites. The bits with the reef and tiger sharks are good, but the great whites remain the most fascinating of the species, and the shots of them on the attack are pretty awesome. “Surviving” mixes educational material with interesting sea footage to keep us involved.
How Not to Become Shark Bait (40:55): “Join a group of amateur shark enthusiasts as they dive into the warm waters of the Caribbean to find out just how easy it is to end up on the menu.”
Didn’t we just cover the same subject in “Surviving”? “Bait” does seem like déjà vu at times, as it often looks at the same kinds of sharks found in “Surviving”; we again look at tiger and reef sharks, though the show avoids the great whites. It does so because it takes a different perspective on how to make it through shark attacks: the folks here deliberately provoke bites.
Actually, only one of them actively participates, as his two cohorts just sit around and watch the action. “Bait” does a lot to demonstrate how tough it is to be attacked by a shark; we see that sharks don’t just swarm without really good cause. That means we get an interesting show that lets us see a side of sharks we don’t normally learn.
Mysteries of the Shark Coast (1:26:02): “Northeastern Australia boasts the world’s largest concentration of sharks… but that appears to be changing. A team of top scientists seeks an answer to why these magnificent predators are disappearing.”
After two shows that focus on the dangers posed by sharks, “Coast” focuses more on dangers that affect sharks – sort of. “Coast” becomes the most scientifically oriented episode to date, but that doesn’t mean it provides a ream of data about sharks.
Indeed, the show focuses on the efforts to study sharks to the exclusion of much else. Yes, we do learn a bit about the “secret lives of sharks”, but we learn a lot more about the attempts to research the creatures. That makes “Coast” less informative and enthralling than I’d like. I think the program could run half as long and be just as useful.
MythBusters: Shark Special 2 (1:34:08): “Jamie, Adam and the MythBusters team return to the water to take a bite out of some of the better-known shark myths.”
After the dull shark search of “Coast”, we get more bite in “MythBusters”. This program looks at common perceptions of sharks and determines how many are true. These include topics related to attracting sharks and repelling sharks. “MythBusters” adopts a cartoony tone to tell its tale, which seems good and bad. While it prevents the show from becoming too dry, it also makes it more difficult to take the buffoonish hosts seriously. Still, the program looks at some interesting concepts and manages to entertain while it informs.
Day of the Shark (42:13): “Everywhere in the world, whenever swimmers get into the ocean, they enter the domain of sharks. Learn what happens when unsuspecting victims break a few simple shark rules.”
While the prior programs looked at experiments conducted to see how sharks behave, this one takes on anecdotal material. Real shark attack victims tell their tales of blood and mayhem. I like that side of things, though the format gets a bit stale before long. We see clumsily “re-enacted” sequences that don’t work very well, so the actual shark footage tends to be lackluster. Still, it’s good to hear from survivors of attacks instead of just seeing the more contrived material.
Dirty Jobs: Greenland Shark Quest (41:13): “To find what may be the world’s most mysterious shark, Mike Rowe joins a team of scientists to go ice fishing in Canada’s frigid far north.”
The Blu-ray ends with a look at an unusual shark, and it takes us to a very different environment. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in fascinating TV. Like “Shark Coast”, “Quest” focuses more on the processes involved than the sharks themselves. Given the blandness of the icy setting, we rarely see much of interest; how long can we stare at an ice-fishing hole and remain involved? Eventually the show pays off with footage of the rare shark, but it’s an erratic journey.