“World-renowned marine photographer, award winning filmmaker and dedicated environmentalist, Bob Talbot has travelled the world for over twenty years capturing extraordinary images on film”. So begin the notes for the Dolphins and Orcas DVD, the lifetime labour of love that started before I was even born.
We know Bob’s work through Ocean Men, Free Willy and his incredible stills, but before all this he was travelling up the coast to British Columbia, living in a tree house and taking a dingy out every day to find orcas. Braving the cold, hand- cranked Bolex cameras and inquisitive sea life, he was inspired to make a film, set entirely to music of these incredible creatures.
Over the next twenty years he travelled the world in this quest, getting bigger boats and more sophisticated cameras capable of exposing film at rates of 500 frames per second, rather than 24. This gives extreme slow motion and therefore exquisite detail of breaching orcas, over in a flash in real time.
He also found a pod of friendly dolphins on a sand bank forty miles off the Bahamas which yielded the most incredible footage, over a minute and a half in one take, and pilot whales out in the Pacific. Finally, he sat down to edit and set the film to music. Hours of footage were eventually cut down to the most spectacular forty-five minute film.
As a filmmaker myself, I know just how hard it is to make something appear effortlessly good, and this film is painfully brilliant. It is stunningly shot, gracefully edited, and the music enhances the images beautifully. Unless you have a multi-region DVD player at home, you will have to change the settings on your computer and watch it there, which I did, hugging the radiator to keep warm as the January weather did its worst and I watched dolphins playing in the sunshine.
There are five chapters to the main film. The first consists of topside images of spotted dolphins in the Pacific, gliding in front of the boat, and their acrobatics as they break the surface. Shot mainly in slow motion, the pictures are so perfect that it was almost unreal until I caught a tiny glimpse of Bob, caught in a reflection and leaning over the prow with his camera.
The second chapter begins with an oceanic white tip shark swimming towards the camera, a sharp contrast to the peaceful grace of the pilot whales which allowed Bob to shoot from all angles and so close the screen is filled with them. Shot underwater in the endless blue, they appear as sleepy submarines, silhouetted against the sunlight, the music echoing their epic and mysterious nature.
Chapter Three follows the pod of spotted dolphins on the sand bank off the Bahamas. This was jaw-droppingly beautiful. They were moving together like a flock of birds, pirouetting on their noses in the sand, and whirling round and round the camera in 360 degree turns, the camera revealing no other divers, no other life for as far as the eye could see. For me this was the highlight of the film and made me yearn to be there.
In Chapter Four we have the mighty orcas, opening with the most spectacular shot of an orca slowly breaking the surface against a golden pink sky, the spray turning to rainbow fire in the light. The use of slow motion is most effective in this sequence and we see them breaching, crashing down against the rocky backdrop of British Columbia.
And if that was all a bit much to take in, the final chapter is a medley of these animals. Their greatest hits, woven together to the stunning music of Chip Davis.
Watching the film I began to want to know more, and this is where the ‘making of’ documentary is so good. We hear Bob talk us through his journey, the changes to the equipment and landscape, and see just how difficult it was to produce. We relive technological evolution from grainy 16mm film to today’s crisply rendered slow motion. The stunning image of the Orca breaking the surface, which Bob considers one of his best, was shot on the last day and with the last roll of film. Some things are just meant to be!
There is also a photo gallery on the DVD, a beautiful accompanying booklet, and a list of useful links. Over twenty years in the making, it is a classic for anyone even remotely interested in the underwater world and I couldn’t recommend it more highly
You can find out more information, as well as purchase the Video or DVD (priced at 19.95 USD), at the Talbot Collections Website.