Long Gone Wild, directed by Bill Neal, is a new documentary that picks up after the iconic exposé Blackfish left off. Although it never manages to live up to the captivating allure of the aforementioned hit, this is still a challenging and enlightening film about an industry that has a lot of dark secrets.
Whereas Blackfish was focused primarily on exposing the unethical activities at SeaWorld and (successfully) trying to enact change, Long Gone Wild serves as an unofficial sequel of sorts, exploring the effects (or lack thereof) that the first documentary had on the captive animals industry. For a majority of the movie, we watch as the filmmakers evaluate the “changes” that SeaWorld has claimed to be making. However, the more compelling portion of the film is that which takes us internationally, showing us how aquatic parks across the globe are retrogressing to worse levels than before.
One of the main challenges this movie faces is trying to live up to the cultural phenomenon that was Blackfish. That film was so well-received and seen by so many people (including audiences who typically don’t see documentaries) that it was the force of change that caused SeaWorld to alter its practices. Because this movie is so well-known by so many people, it is hard not to make comparisons, and frankly, Blackfish is more entertaining.
The main reason why Blackfish caught on was that it was a horrifying exposé that altered the public perception of an institution that was a part of many childhoods. Since this knowledge is already out into the public, it no longer feels as horrifying or affecting. Sure, it is still heartbreaking to see these animals being treated in this way, but it isn’t shocking or new anymore.
Additionally, this film lacks the human element that made Blackfish even more resonant. That movie focused heavily on the story of Dawn Brancheau, the trainer who was tragically killed by one of the orcas at SeaWorld during a show. This film attempts to address some of the safety issues that the trainers face, but it isn’t able to do so with as much depth or emotional nuance.
The story is told predominantly through interviews with experts in the field. For obvious reasons, SeaWorld didn’t really participate in this movie. However, the interviews that the film does have are pretty effective at conveying the message and story. The story of one animal rights activist who attempts to infiltrate an orca holding compound in China is particularly fascinating.
On a technical level, the film is mostly fine. You can tell that the filmmakers had much less money at their disposal in this case than the filmmakers of Blackfish did, but nonetheless, the movie still does what it needs to get done. There is just enough variety in the type of footage used to keep the audience interested in the story.
For the most part, Long Gone Wild is a pretty good documentary. Is it likely to catch on and cause the same amount of change as Blackfish? Probably not. Still, it serves as a nice companion piece and follow-up to the groundbreaking exposé.
Long Gone Wild is now available on VOD.