“Jurassic Shark” was broadcast as part of a series of related programs and feature films on Channel 5, which was titled the “Terrors of the Deep – Weekend”. This essay will focus on the contents of the documentary as well as its approach towards the audience. The spirit of the program: By being part of the “Terrors of the Deep – Weekend” it seems unlikely that this documentary was just aiming to attract unbiased hobby-marine-biologists. Since the film “Jaws” 1 at the latest the word shark already attracts attention on its own. So what can the viewer expect when hearing a title like “Jurassic Shark”?
The close relation of the name to “Jurassic Park”2 is surely not just coincidental. The one-hour documentary’s intention was to inform about the history and evolution of sharks from the Jurassic period until today. Considering this special weekend though the viewer would also be expecting something a bit more frightening than just a normal documentary. Approach: Documentaries have become very popular again over the lost couple of years. This might also be due to the fact that computers have made it possible to give a far better impression of how life may have looked like, in a time that could not be captured by photography yet.
“Jurassic Shark” opens with a teaser. It shows a huge shark passing by from the screen towards the endless ocean. The viewer’s position here is underneath the shark, slightly reminding of the starting sequence of “Star Wars” when the battle ship flies towards space. A narrator informs about the time span that sharks have existed on earth in comparison to dinosaurs and humans. His voice is tense and tries to act serious and alarming as well. A gripping music plays in the background and pictures of sharks in all forms and sizes are shown, which seem to be swimming in fire.
This is to demonstrate the Jurassic period. After 45 seconds the teaser ends with the huge shark now swimming fast towards the screen and having his mouth wide open. Just as the shark’s jaws seem to fill out the screen the narrator concludes the teaser with the catch phrase: “From the monsters of pre-history to the sophisticated killers of today. ” By now it is already clear that this documentary will also try to keep viewers attached to the screen whose interest for the animal itself is fairly limited but who do like to watch frightening scenes.
The first report on the show deals with the rarely seen “Greenland Shark”. Within 5 minutes the viewer has received information about where the shark lives, how he looks like and for the first time ever to be filmed, how he eats. Just as the audience gains interest in this alien like animal the reporting breaks off to continue in Australia where fossil findings now provide a bridge to some computer animated scenes from ancient history. Effects are used here to make the viewer realise that a leap through time has just taken place. The sky changes to an orange, red like colour.
The sea is rough and there is no mistaking in the fact that we are now in the Jurassic period. It is demonstrated how the continents were connected at that time and the Latin names of the ancient sharks are introduced. It is interesting to pinpoint out the use of colours for this scenery. The Jurassic shark now seen on screen is beautifully patterned and slightly orange-yellow, which is rarely found today. The narrator gives information about how life in the oceans may have looked like while we watch the animated fish strolling through the waters.
Just as the shark approaches a reef, something that appeared to be a boulder opens his mouth to become a giant ancient fish that used to feed on sharks. Again, the viewer is startled in this sequence, which is a good way of trying to constantly keep the attention and interest at a high level The pattern of reporting continues from now on. We are taken back to our time, are confronted with fossil findings or other interesting facts about sharks and then taken back to view how life in the Jurassic period could have looked like.
“Using fossil evidence and a little educated imagination, scientists have painted a picture of how it might have been like in the shark-infested sea of the carboniferous – more than three hundred million years ago. ” The expression “painted a picture” seems to well describe the following scenes. The fish are all very colourful and appear in strange looking shapes. At this stage the first commercial block sets in. After a short break the documentary continues. We are now introduced to the sex life of sharks.
Very impressive long shots of their mating habits accompany the narrator who informs us about the different ways, that sharks breed. Unusual for the rest of the documentary, it nearly takes up ten minutes of time. Beautifully filmed scenes of Manta Rays who also belong to the shark family follow this. As we are approaching half time of the broadcast the danger of loosing potential viewers increases. “Jurassic Shark” has dealt with this problem in the most obvious way. It is now time for the Tiger Shark – one of the most dangerous of all.
The narrator introduces him as a fish “that eats anything, from floating rubbish to people”. Again, with the help of very impressive footage, the shark’s preying on albatross fledglings is demonstrated. To top this we are now becoming the spectators of a real drama. A female turtle is shown in close-up as she exhaustedly lies on the beach after breading. Meanwhile the narrator has initiated the viewer into the fact that a Tiger Shark is waiting nearby in shallow water. By pulling herself together for the last time the turtle finally manages to drag herself to the shore and into the ocean.
The volume of the background music increases as well as the narrator’s voice. He explains to us: “The turtles move creates waves of pressure that touch the tiger. It can feel at a distance. Then the electrical sense kicks in. Even the beating of the turtle’s heart is enough to give her away. ” We see the shark approaching the turtle, which unsuspectingly floats on the surface. The shots now seem to jump between the two animals while the volume of the music still increases in the background. Finally and in close-up the shark rips the turtle to pieces and out of its shell.
While the viewer is still terrified of the pictures the narrator reassures us that not “all modern sharks are that bloodthirsty” and that some have adopted a quite different approach. As he finishes the second break sets in which as first commercial advertises the buying of “Deep Blue Sea”, a horror movie about a monstrous shark. As the documentary returns we are introduced to the largest fish on earth – the “vegetarian” Whale Shark. The gripping music has changed to a dreamlike melody while we view wonderful pictures and very long takes of this gigantic animal.
Again the scenery changes to the Jurassic in order to find the ancient pendent to the peaceful Whale Shark, which of course was a carnivore in those days. We are introduced to a huge shark whose fossil findings of teeth appear to be about three times the size of the ones belonging to a Great White. The narrator describes him as the “Tyrannosaurus Rex of the sea in the Jurassic period”. Interesting as well is the fact that “there was nothing in the sea that was not big enough to kill”. This can hardly be taken for granted, as we do not even know exactly what animals exist in our ocean today.
Back in our time again we now make the acquaintance of the Great White, as we become terrified witness in watching him prey on sea lions. The scenery resembles the one with the Tiger Shark and the turtle. We are reminded that a Great White feeds on mammals and it so “takes a special place in the human psychic”. Then there is a sudden twist in reporting. For the last ten minutes of the documentary the viewer is confronted with the fact that in comparison to about 28 people annually getting killed by sharks we kill over 100 million of them.
This would only change if our fear would turn into fascination. Conclusion: The documentary “Jurassic Shark” was interesting to watch when I saw it for the first time. Whilst preparing for this essay though, my mind changed. As it was broadcast alongside the “Terrors of the Deep – Weekend” it was definitely biased by means of reporting as well as in the way the viewer was watching it. The photography was very impressive throughout the film and a lot of effort was presumably taken when creating the animation. What lowers the quality though is the way the sharks are presented.
The sentence “from the monsters of pre-history to the sophisticated killers of today” already says it all. Sharks are still seen as monsters and killers. Not one word was said about the dangers that their extinction would cause to the marine ecosystem if we carry on killing these fish. Referring to the section about the Whale Shark, the program also fails to report about the rareness of these creatures and their brutal slaughtering. Although under conservation the killing still continues in order to provide a mythical cure for the increasingly fading virility of mostly Asian customers.
The way particular scenes (like the one with the turtle) are put together in connection with some of the narrator’s comments actually do support the widely spread opinion that sharks are mindless killing machines. Finally 1 want to say that, although the thought behind this documentary was most possibly to educate about sharks in order to take our natural fear of them, it did not really achieve this goal. The facts were interesting but for someone scared of sharks this documentary did not reduce but rather increase it. Notes 1 “Jaws”; Universal Pictures; 1975 2 “Jurassic Park” ; Universal Pictures; 1993.