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Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre Unrated DVD Review

Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre Unrated DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre
Movie & DVD Details

Iceland Theatrical Release: September 4, 2009 / Running Time: 84 Minutes (Unrated Version) / Rating: Unrated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Director: Júlíus Kemp / Writers: Sjón (story & screenplay), Torsten Metalstein Hvas (story)

Cast: Pihla Viitala (Annett), Helgi Björnsson (Tryggvi), Nae Yuuki (Endo), Miranda Hennessy (Marie Ann), Stefán Jónsson (Siggi), Guðrún Gísladóttir (Mamma), Terence Anderson (Leon), Aymen Hamdouchi (Jean Francois), Gunnar Hansen (Captain Petur), Snorri Engilbertsson (Anton), Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson (Bjorn), Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir (Hannah Traschle), Carlos Takeshi (Mr. Nobuyoshi), Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (Helga), Hanna Maria Karlsdóttir (Signy), Guðlaug Ólafsdóttir (Asa), Miwa Yanagizawa (Yuko), Kristinn Ágúst Friðfinnsson (Larusson)

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English/Icelandic)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 7, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $27.97
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in R-Rated DVD ($27.97 SRP) and Unrated Blu-ray Disc ($29.97 SRP)

Buy Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre from Amazon.com: Unrated DVDUnrated Blu-rayR-Rated DVD

I watch a lot of movies, but I've got to admit that the vast majority of them are American ones. It's not that I don't appreciate foreign films, but most titles available for and worth reviewing are domestic or UK productions (the latter don't really count as "foreign" to me). Movies I see without reviewing tend to be chosen to strengthen my reviews.

If you're going to be authoritative on modern cinema, there is no question as to what country has the widest and most prominent reach. (It's America.) As an illustration of my lack of worldliness, let me tell you right off that I don't believe I have ever seen an Icelandic film. Until now.

My introduction to Icelandic cinema comes on a movie called Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre in its homeland). Though it's accumulated just 414 user ratings at IMDb, it presently ranks as the 12th most popular Icelandic title there, no doubt from all that buzz you can't go anywhere without hearing. I kid. In all seriousness, the film is just as ridiculous as its title suggests.

After establishing one character, the movie gets to its foundation: a group of travelers from around the globe go on a whale watching trip in Iceland. The passengers include a chauvinistic Japanese man, his wife, and their assistant; three German women who produce children's television; a drunk French jackass; a black man with a secret; a newly-widowed blonde woman on what was meant to be her honeymoon; and another blonde woman from Germany. Their boat is called the Poseidon, but despite the cinematic legacy of that name, it doesn't capsize. Still, tragedy befalls it when the drunk man falls on the boat's captain (Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface from the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre), putting a harpoon through his chest in the process. The accident isn't immediately a fatal one, but the second in command, who is interrupted whilst trying to rape the German blonde, hops in a raft and takes off.

With the captain dying, the boat stranded, and still no whales in sight, the would-be watchers are not having a good time. But things quickly get worse when they are rescued by another boat and taken aboard a ship. This one belongs to two brothers and their mother. They are xenophobic, racist, fanatical, and psychotic. Naturally, the passengers begin to meet unpleasant ends, some by the titular spear and others by gun or fire. Who will die? Who will survive? Who will care?

With the boat stopped and the captain incapacitated, Annett (Pihla Viitala) seeks to raise the would-be whale watchers' spirits in Icelandic fashion, singing Björk over the radio. Tryggvi (Helgi Björnsson) is kind of the ringleader of the familial rescue boat from hell.

You've got to wonder how and why something like this gets made. I guess it's not all that different from one of our slasher or disaster movies, but it's just so short on class, taste, and intelligence. According to the always-accurate Wikipedia, the film was originally advertised as "The First Icelandic Thriller", then revised its claims to state "Should only be seen if you have a sense of humor." I'm pretty sure I have one, although Harpoon did nothing to confirm that. Broad stereotypical characterizations, a variety of accents, and semi-grisly deaths are supposed to make you laugh? I guess you would say that if no one will take your film seriously as horror.

Not that the filmmakers themselves take it seriously. It is played straight and without real jokes, but you can't miss the fact that they are trying to send up movie conventions.
They're just not doing it as cleverly or entertainingly as they think. The "they" in this case includes Sjón (that's Icelandic for "Sight"), a.k.a. Sigurjón Sigurðsson, a Nordic Council prize-winning novelist and poet who is more famous for writing lyrics for Björk, including the songs she sang in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark (for which he was nominated for a Best Song Oscar). Sjón shares story credit and alone is attributed with the screenplay. I'm going to assume (and hope) that he isn't foolish enough to think that assigning anti-American and pro-whaling stances to the villains will make anyone think more of the film and its progressive values.

Sjón and Hansen aren't the only two people involved here that anyone outside of Iceland might know. Nae Yuuki, who plays the resourceful Japanese assistant, had a role in Clint Eastwood's highly regarded Letters from Iwo Jima.

Nearly half of the film is in Icelandic, including all of Mamma's (Guðrún Gísladóttir) lines. The savory dialogue is translated to English in burned-in subtitles. American characters played by British actors, Marie Ann (Miranda Hennessy) and Leon (Terence Anderson) look like they might be our heroes and fall for each other, but looks can be deceiving.

Fifteen months after opening in Iceland, Harpoon makes its US premiere this week from Image Entertainment in an R-rated DVD, an Unrated DVD, and an Unrated Blu-ray. Having received the Unrated DVD for review, I can't be sure what makes up the reported 2-minute difference (I'm just glad I don't have to try to compare two cuts), but nothing here would seem unable to secure an R rating. The gore isn't really over-the-top or realistic and that is by far the most objectionable element. It's probably just a sales tactic, as numbers have shown "Unrated" editions sell much better than standardly rated counterparts. Amazon's current sales rankings of these editions reflect that, with the R-rated DVD widely trailing the unrated discs of each format.


While the movie is full of problems, DVD picture quality isn't among them. Harpoon isn't a handsome film, but it looks fine (if a little soft and big on interlacing) in the disc's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is adequate as well. Par for Image, neither subtitles nor closed captions are found here, but most of the movie's Icelandic dialogue (which is about half of all the film's speech) is translated with burned-in subtitles on the image.

Gunnar Hansen may not be in the film very long, but he played Leatherface 36 years ago, so he gets pre-title billing and the main focus of behind-the-scenes featurette. A harpoon serves as a cursor over the bloody listings of the DVD's main menu.


The DVD contains just two bonus features: a Harpoon trailer (1:32) and the featurette "Behind the Scenes of Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre" (15:39). Perhaps not so strangely, the latter centers on the briefly-seen Gunnar Hansen, who has high praise for the production and the people behind it.
I don't know how much stock you'll put into someone who made Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers his comeback film. That movie and this one are two of four with "Chainsaw" or "Massacre" in their titles that Hansen's made following his iconic contribution to cinema.

The DVD opens with trailers for The Lost Tribe, Bangkok Adrenaline, and Damned by Dawn.

The main menu places bloody listings over a screen-filling montage, often covering the focus while a ridiculous song plays.

In what is probably the film's most striking shot, a victim of the titular spear conveys the madness of "Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre."


Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre doesn't really work on any level; it's not amusingly bad and it's definitely not any good. Obviously, there must be a market for somewhat knowingly schlocky B-movies such as this, but it's not one I can understand or support. Though Image's Unrated DVD is adequate, it just isn't worth your time. You're 0 for 1 in my book, Iceland.

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Reviewed December 6, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Icelandic Film Centre, KISI, Film & Music Entertainment, Solar Films, Kvikmyndafélag Íslands ehf.,
and 2010 Image Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.