Thursday, March 14, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Day of the Dolphin (1973) **½

PG, 104 min.
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers: Buck Henry, Robert Merle (novel)
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver

“The Day of the Dolphin” is a film with a somewhat silly premise handled with utter seriousness and sincerity by a director/writer team most well known for satire. This science fiction, not-quite thriller takes its premise from the notion that dolphins are just as intelligent, if not more so, as man. It follows a scientist whose research is centered on the communication skills of dolphins. He has secretly trained one of his dolphins to speak English.

Stay with me now. A terrorist group, to enact an assassination plot against the President of the United States, kidnaps the dolphins. So, you can probably understand why I thought director Mike Nichols and writer Buck Henry might have crafted some sort of satire or farce before I watched it. Turns out Buck Henry’s involvement with the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live, didn’t mean he was only capable of comedy scripts. Still the movie is no “The Graduate” in terms of being a masterpiece from the pair.

It is, however, a surprisingly touching portrait of a father and son relationship between the doctor and his dolphin. The film takes a great deal of time building the relationship between the dolphin and the doctor, much more time than it spends building its assassination plot. It doesn’t mess around with over explanation or idiot monologues by the villains. The fact that the assassination plot is handled with subtlety and the science of the film is what is focused on is quite a refreshing approach. Unfortunately, I can’t help getting stuck on the silliness of its premise. They do their darndest to make the talking dolphin realistic, but it’s still a talking dolphin.

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