Blue Water White Death Peter Gimbel


Known for influencing Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Blue Water White Death is a legendary documentary that has finally surfaced from obscurity. The first documented upfront look at the Great White shark, it’s painfully dated in parts (whales and horses are butchered to attract the predators) but is filled with an abundance of jaw-dropping footage. An expedition led by director Peter Gimbel, married divers Ron and Valerie Taylor, and cinematographer Stan Waterman, among others, the goal was to capture images of the Great White up close and personal. It’s a sluggish watch initially, as they journey from South Africa to Ceylon to Madagascar without any sign of the giant man-eater. But there’s plenty of drama that creeps in, mostly from shooting the now scarce Oceanic White Tip sharks, which feed on a giant whale carcass. The film’s greatest achievement though is its cinema verité approach, as Waterman and Gimbel attack the waters without discretion. As they say in the featurette, it was a "shoot anything no matter the circumstances” affair, which is best captured in the end when there’s a devastating, almost fatal collision between a hungry Great White and Peter Lake in a shark cage. That footage is, to this day, one of the greatest encounters with a Great White ever caught on film. The commentary is endearing (the reference to the "unspeakable” Vegemite is a good laugh) and it’s refreshing to hear how conscious they were of the whale slaughtering, as well as reinforcing the ironic importance of how sharks need to be protected these days. The featurette looks back on the film, mainly through the 2007 Beneath the Sea convention that collected the remaining cast. It’s mostly a heartfelt "catching up” reunion that recounts the voyage fondly. The commentary is more effective but it’s interesting to hear Valerie Taylor describe the primeval account of fighting off the White Tips outside of the cage, and her husband Ron nearly losing consciousness after getting hit in the head by a shark. Legendary diver Rodney Fox’s advertisement for his expeditions however, is a terribly cheesy presentation, setting stills and video footage of sharks, seals and "good times” to a tasteless chill out score. (MGM / Fox)