An award-winning documentary with franchise potential? That’s the conceit behind Animal Planet’s three-part miniseries “Blood Dolphins,” which continues the narrative of this year’s Oscar doc champ, “The Cove,” by following the further adventures of dolphin activist Ric O’Barry. An easy sell for the nature net’s target audience, the project also has a built-in curiosity factor for those captivated by its critically acclaimed predecessor.
Miniseries’ first hour quickly recaps the major points of “The Cove,” including O’Barry’s transition from former trainer for TV’s “Flipper” to passionate anti-captivity activist, utilizing some of the film’s key footage of horrific dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Japan. Part of the doc’s mission was to bring these practices to light, specifically in Japan, where the media had mostly turned a blind eye.
O’Barry’s return to Taiji for “Blood Dolphins” suggests that, at least in terms of raising awareness, the film was a success. Even though “The Cove” had not yet been widely seen in Japan, its reputation clearly preceded it. O’Barry’s latest visit was documented by swarms of journalists and media outlets, a stark contrast to the covert operations captured in the doc.
The harsher spotlight seems to benefit the dolphins — O’Barry and his team, including son and fellow activist Lincoln, for the first time witness dolphins being released from the so-called “blood cove.” But any hope that things have changed entirely for the better proves short-lived.
The links between “Blood Dolphins” and “The Cove” provide an obvious opportunity to evaluate the differences between a topnotch theatrical doc and the act-break-driven structure of cable television. “Blood Dolphins,” with its overt and omnipresent musical score and nakedly dramatic act breaks (will O’Barry get arrested by Japanese police in the premiere’s first 15 minutes?), comes off more crass by comparison.
The film’s balance of artful infotainment and pulse-quickening stealth missions gives way to the smallscreen’s emphasis on building as much excitement as possible to keep viewers from channel surfing. Think of the compromises as necessary evils of a reality-TV world.
“Blood Dolphins” receives a special preview two days ahead of Animal Planet’s basic cable premiere of “The Cove.” Miniseries’ second and third hours won’t air until after Labor Day in its regular 9 p.m. timeslot. Those subsequent installments will follow the O’Barrys as they leave Japan for the Solomon Islands, a hot spot of dolphin dealing, where this unexpectedly ongoing documentary saga continues.