Blackfish (2013)

Kids, next vacation, you’re going to Universal and you’re going to like it!

This a documentary discussing orcas, how they’re captured, sold, taken to SeaWorld and left to perform tricks and all sorts of shows for the pleasure of tourists and rich families. However, underneath all of the showboating and smiley faces that usually come along with these performances, is a very dark and sinister world that goes even deeper than orcas being mistreated, they’re downright tortured. But this is also a story told through one orca named Tilikum who, when just a wee, little baby, was taken away from his mother and taken to SeaWorld, where he was expected to perform acts, follow the rules, not hurt anybody, not get hurt, not screw up, and basically, just get used to the cram conditions he was set to live in. Apparently though, Tilikum didn’t listen all the way through, and due to him, SeaWorld has been held responsible for four trainer’s deaths, all of which they do not take sole blame for. And this is despite not only SeaWorld owning these orcas, but also paying and ensuring the safety of the trainers themselves, especially the most notable one, Dawn Brancheau.

In case any of you out there have been living underneath a rock for quite some time, you may have seen that this documentary has caused quite the stir among just about everybody in the world. Celebrities, activists, tourists, regular humans, and heck, even rockin’ bands like REO freakin’ Speedwagon themselves don’t want anything to do with SeaWorld all because of this documentary. Now if that doesn’t tell you at least something of this movie’s effectiveness, then I don’t know what will. Oh wait, yes I do: A nice, lean, mean and mashed-up, 1500+ word review from yours truly. Here we go, people!

Just imagine tears steaming down his face, and you'll understand the sadness.
Just imagine tears steaming down his face, and you’ll understand the sadness.

Some of you peeps out there may not know this, but I am quite the animal lover. No, that doesn’t mean I am a vegetarian, or don’t wear leather or fur, but I know when an animal is being mistreated and I, like many other humans out there I would suppose, don’t stand for it. Downright, I am one of those big softies that, even after kicking some tough dude’s ass at a bar, would go home, lay down on my bed and cuddle up with whatever pet was lying around my house. So basically, I’m a big softy because I love animals, but that’s just the way I am and I would hate to see any torture or mistreatment placed upon those little friends of mine, as well as ours.

That’s why documentaries like this, no matter how well put-together they may actually be, always get me up in a rut. For starters, I never did trust SeaWorld to begin with. Surely, I’ve been there maybe once or twice, but those were when I was just a little tike. Now that I’m older, wiser and more knowing, I’ve learn to not really trust a place too much that parades around a bunch of killer whales, as if they could actually be pals with either you or I. Like I said, I love animals and all, but there would be no way in my mind that I could see myself befriending a killer whale, hence why I give a whole slew of credit to the trainers who show up here to talk, not just for sticking with SeaWorld when they actually saw all of the mistreating that was going on behind the scenes, but because they took a risk each and every day, getting into that water with those whales, performing with them, training them and just trying whatever it is that they could do to treat them the best that they could, because they sure as hell weren’t going to get it anywhere else in that corporation.

And through these stories with these various trainers over the years who have either been with Tilikum, or who have worked at SeaWorld in general, we get a pretty good idea of what’s really going on behind the whole show of SeaWorld and why we can’t always trust what it is that we see, especially since all of these people themselves never did, and yet, they still stuck around! Why? Because they had a heart and a conscience, and they knew that if they left, then nobody would take care of their “pals”, so they stood by no matter what. Even when it got so dangerous, they had to be placed on another side of a steel barrier. If that doesn’t make you at least well-up a bit just reading that, then I don’t know what will.

Oh wait, yeah I do: THE REST OF THIS MOVIE WILL!

The best aspect about Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s direction here as a documentarian is that she clearly sides with the killer whales, the trainers and the people who are especially sympathetic to Tilikum’s cause, but due to their actually being some wrongful deaths involved in the mix of things, it never gets to the point where she’s so one-sided, that she loses the humanity behind the whole idea. The movie does deal with three or more deaths that were caused by killer whales, and shows/tells us even more near-death experiences some trainer’s have had and it’s some of the most suspenseful, exhilarating things you’ll hear in a movie this year. Which is odd too, because it’s all told to us through words and recollections. There are some video spots of these actual attacks happening on-screen for the whole world to see, and as good as they are, they somehow don’t match up to watching these people just tell us like it was, with all of their feelings and emotions right in front of us. It’s raw, brutal and altogether, very sad, because while you do realize that most of these people may still be coping with the fact that they were almost killed by somebody they considered “their friend”, but that they know that there are more experiences like that to come for other trainers, and they can’t do a single thing about it.

And honestly, that’s probably the most heart-breaking aspect surrounding this documentary: The fact that no resolution seems to be found in sight. Sure, watching as killer whales get taken away from their parents is more than sad, in fact, it’s downright torturous; but I knew that it couldn’t have been all that bad for the whale once they got to the big-budget, illustrious and wonderful extravaganza that was SeaWorld. Sadly though, I was terribly wrong and it really hurt me to see how it continued to get almost worse and worse, with no end to all of the problems in sight. I won’t even dare to spoil the ending to this documentary and what sort of note Cowperthwaite herself ends on, but what I can tell you is this: It will make you angry, upset, ready to punch a wall, free any Willy you stumble upon, and do all sorts of these other heroic, inspiring things that you can only see in movies about pot-smoking, free-loving hippies (of which this movie has none, except for one, and his fate isn’t quite desirable).

How in the blue hell can something that massive, be "poorly-treated"?
How in the blue hell can something that massive, be “poorly-treated”?

And that’s quite alright, since these are the types of documentaries to do so, especially one as perfectly-crated with just enough amount of respect for those who have fallen, those who stand behind the corporation that’s going to continue to commit their wrong-doings, those who were there with Tilikum and witnessed, first-hand, the name he lived up to over time, those who saw the corruptness to the corporation and still stood by it because they had “prior obligations”, and last, but certainly not least, those who know that it’s a problem, won’t stand for it and are making their voices heard. With all of these people getting behind the movie’s message and the movie itself, I wager that maybe, just possibly maybe, SeaWorld will cease to exist in the next 20, or 30 years, which also means that plenty of orcas will be allowed to roam freely throughout their large bodies of water, without having to worry that one day, they might just accidentally get picked up by a couple of hunters looking for a quick buck, sold to some head-honchos looking for more than a quick buck, being enslaved in tiny, concrete pools, and practically being forced to live the rest of their lives in a joyless, depressing and highly emotional manner. Yeah, I know I sound soft and sweet, as if I traded in my “Man” card for a whole big can of red paint, but trust me, once you see this, you won’t want to do anything else in your life other than stand up, get your voices heard and let SeaWorld know that you’re onto them, and you won’t be giving them a single one of your own dollar bills.

In other words: Fuck SeaWorld.

Consensus: You don’t have to be a die-hard animal lover to understand the wrong-doings that Blackfish clearly speaks out against, and for that, the movie will more than likely have you upset, disgusted and downright appalled that something like this still stands, in a popular tourist attraction no less. But it will also make you want to speak up, have your voice heard and make a difference in your life, but also with these poor, little killer whale’s lives’ as well. Strange, right?

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

See? All the killer whale wants is a kissie, along with a side platter of blood and guts, but hey, we're losing the point!
See? All the killer whale wants is a kissie, along with a side platter of blood and guts, but hey, we’re losing the point!

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. I’ve heard about some performers cancelling Seaworld shows but I didn’t know about this documentary and how it’s raising awareness. It surprises me to hear that several trainers have died. Excellent review.

  2. Glad you liked it. I was a big fan of Blackfish, although I don’t think I could watch it again. Watching Blackfish makes you understand how manipulate and cruel SeaWorld is, the way they handled the death of Dawn Brancheau is despicable.

    Lovely review.

    • I was upset with this and it made me realize that SeaWorld is a sick, twisted and evil place. However, they make people smile. But it all comes for a price!

  3. Universal? Really? Disney sonnnn.

    I was in a good mood when a friend of mine said this was a good documentary to watch. At the end, I wasn’t in a good mood.

    I was sad. Sad faced. Not cool Sea World! This was well done

  4. It was a very powerful documentary. Have you also seen The Cove? Back when I saw that I already decided to never go to these sea aquariums anymore, this one only made that feeling stronger.

  5. It sounds really good but I’m always suspicious about documentaries like this. I remember reading where SeaWorld (obviously) spoke out against it. That’s nothing new. But it was interesting how vocal & openly they challenged the film pointing to some glaring omissions and even more glaring inaccuracies.

  6. I do want to see this one, but I have to work myself up to it. It seems as if it would stir up the same emotions I had watching The Cove and I have to prepare for that. Good job on the review.

  7. Nice review Dan –

    I saw this back in April at the Sarasota Film Festival. It was the Opening Night film. Cowperthwaithe and a few other folks from the film were in attendance, and spoke after the screening. Watching the film itself was a powerful and moving experience, but as Dan said – nothing is as moving as hearing the words come from these people. My review was posted back then

    Yes. the film is one-sided, but Cowperthwaite gave Sea World every opportunity to respond and offer their side in the film. They always declined. For those who think that Sea World has defended it itself by decrying the film – just think of the billions of dollars at stake. It’s not just the shows at the Sea World Parks, it is also the plush toys, the tee-shirts, the hats, key-chains, and on and on. Of course, they would attempt to hold on to what they have.

    I am so glad that I had the opportunity to see Blackfish.

    • I am as well and I think you summed it all up perfectly, Mike. SeaWorld has a reputation to protect, so of course they’re going to deny whatever it is they can, in the most sly ways possible. If not, they just look like nincompoops and most likely will lose their billions and billions of dollars of revenue.

  8. Completely agrew with everything you’ve said here. I was both heartbroken and angry while watching this and that lasted for a few days. Great review Dan!

  9. I really loathed this doc. I agree with the general idea behind getting orcas out of captivity. However, I felt it paraded the trainers around as heroes and refused to take them to task for their responsibility in carrying out, and taking part in, the abuse these orcas have suffered for years. I mean, at one point one of the trainers says that they all knew that Tillikum was being abused by his original trainer, but the doc lets him, and every other trainer, avoid the real heroic act of taking responsibility for their actions and lack of action when it came to the orcas.

    There’s also the ridiculously inaccurate science employed by the film. Orcas do not have an aggressive gene that can be passed down, they don’t even have coding for an aggressive gene period. It brings up the undisputed fact that orcas are social creatures, then ignores this when it wants to paint the orcas as not having formed relationships with their trainers.

    There’s so much that this doc gets wrong, and ultimately it does a disservice to its agenda by being such an ineptly made film.

    • I see what you’re saying, Bill. I disagree with you on some aspects, however, I ultimately feel like what it is that this flick is speaking out against, deserves to be seen and heard. Sure, the trainers may have not been the brightest of the bunch, but they did all that they could. Which, i feel, is a little bit better than what I would have been able to do.

  10. great film an great review. Not a big fan of documentaries, but loved this one. It’s definitely the best doc this year with Stories We Tell (2013) coming in a close second.

  11. Wow thanks for writing up this review. I have some friends who worked at Seawod, and I heard rumors about dolphins committing suicide because they were so unhappy, so yeah, I knew it was a miserable place and I never visited. I’m glad this documentary was made so that more people realize what a scummy company it is.

  12. Ok Dan, so I didn’t see the review til I went looking for American Hustle. But I applaud you for your concise critique on this flick. Orca’s are of course my favorite sea creature, and after that it’s the mola mola, or otherwise known as the sunfish. Anyway, I thought this film did a good job of exposing sea world and how they treat the animals and the trainers. I have watched some interviews on youtube that the former trainers and Cowperthwaite did after the movie came out and what they said is that the seal and dolphins are treated even worse. And when you read about the stockholders who own sea world all you can think is they will get there’s one day, and it can’t come too soon, in my opinion. Good review, I did one too on this movie. Shazz

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