The makers of Otter 501 have taken what could have been a fine documentary and, in an ill-conceived attempt at innovation, framed it with an amateurish fictional “story” about a young woman who volunteers working with sea otters in Monterey Bay, California. The result scarcely qualifies as a movie.
Katie (Katie Pofahl, the film’s only actor) doesn’t interact with other characters in anything resembling a scene, but instead relates everything (and I do mean everything) she learns about otters via voice-over narration and confessional videos on… Facebook. This device is designed to supplant traditional narration, but the embarrassing ineptitude of its execution cancels the points it tries to make. Meanwhile, the rudimentary tone suggests that the film is targeted to a young audience, but only the most fanatically otter-obsessed child will have the patience to endure it.
Otter 501’s sole but significant virtue is its stunning nature cinematography, which tells the story of the otters and their endangerment far more eloquently than its clumsy fictional trappings. Here’s hoping the filmmakers, having completed this misbegotten experiment, come to their senses and recognize their strengths, which lie firmly in the world of documentary.