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Legacy Review

Playing with Sharks (2021)

Valerie Taylor is an Australian marine conservationist, and her story is a pretty compelling one. First a competitive spearfisher, then a Hollywood consultant (including on Jaws!), then a public advocate for shark protection, she is the subject of TONS of archival footage of swimming and interacting with sharks, and now’s our chance to enjoy it all.

This National Geographic doc is framed as Taylor looking back on her whole life. We get the requisite shots of 85-year-old Taylor in 2021 puttering around her house and looking out her window pensively as she recollects her childhood.

But the movie really picks up when her story gets to her spearfishing days. There’s some gnarly fish gore, and a minorly heartbreaking segment where she regretfully recalls the only time she killed a shark over footage of that exact incident.

My attention flagged as the documentary shifted towards re-litigating the negative impact that Jaws had marine conservation. While the topic itself is interesting, it’s tough to follow shark-swimming with newspaper clippings and TV interviews.

The movie picks back up as Taylor invents shark chain mail to the world’s astonishment. But at this point, I had got what I wanted from the doc and was checking my watch.

The movie’s appeal is the incredible archival underwater photography of sharks across several decades. I love watching sharks swim. They’re so alien and agile, halfway between regal and menacing, that it never gets old.

It doesn’t hurt that Taylor is charismatic and, yes, beautiful. It’s not hard to see how she became a minor celebrity.

The structure of the documentary is competent, but run-of-the-mill — lots of talking heads over nature B-roll. But the footage is so good, and some of the supplementary shots so fantastic, I recommend it.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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