As the short film opens, Pemba the fish narrates via voiceover about her new home in an aquarium. Hiding in a sea shell suspended above the bottom of the tank (but still submerged), Pemba must move from her comfort zone to make her way down to the bottom of the tank where more, different shells are waiting. Once she makes that leap, she is able to get a better grasp of where she is and what that means.
And Pemba’s self-narrated journey is exactly what we see, as days go by and the fish explores the tank, eventually making new homes. Things don’t change very much over the course of the journey, however, as Pemba is alone in the tank, going about her day even as she talks about how her species is a social one that doesn’t really work well with isolation. It is both slightly moving and educational at the same time.
On the surface, the idea of Battle of the Shells – Chapter 1 – She Sells Sea Shells By The Sea Shore as a new form of Nature documentary, one where the creatures on display are given backstories and their different characteristics and environs are explained via voiceover as a narrative experience, is a good one. To that end, this slightly experimental film works. Unfortunately, at over 20 minutes, the positives of the endeavor are overshadowed by the negatives.
Now, I do not necessarily have a short attention span; I think I’m more patient than most (though attention spans can be so small nowadays, that’s not saying very much). Still, this film challenged even my endurance as very little happens beyond watching a fish do the same things over and over. Even with the voiceover explanation of the fish to let me in on the innermost thoughts of Pemba as ideas like isolation and fear are pondered, the short still lost my attention over the duration.
At 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer, there’s something to be said for the experimental style of this newform Nature film. At a shorter length, you’d get the education and some philosophy without necessarily noticing that you’re getting said education. But at its current running time, at worst it’s self-indulgent, though I’m optimistic enough to hope that this is more like an art installation piece, or a looped video to be played at a public aquarium somewhere. As a short film for audiences to sit down and watch, it lingers on for far too long.
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