The Very Strange Story of Those Killer Dolphins

Slate's Culture Blog
March 12 2013 3:46 PM

Day of the Dolphin Is Real?

dolphinposter

This morning, BoingBoing flagged a strange story out of the Ukraine: Military scientists in that country have been training dolphins to kill enemy divers (and also detect mines), and three of those killer dolphins have escaped. It’s worth reading everything you can about this story, of course, but this is also a good time to ponder an extremely unlikely question: How prescient was The Day of the Dolphin?

Loosely based on a novel by the French writer Robert Merle, the 1973 film was directed by Mike Nichols, of all people, and starred George C. Scott. (Roman Polanski was set to direct the movie, supposedly, but pulled out after his wife was murdered by the Manson family.) With a script by Buck Henry, who co-wrote The Graduate and adapted Catch-22, The Day of the Dolphin had a surprisingly strong pedigree for a film about a scientist who teaches dolphins how to talk only to see them turned into trained assassins set to kill the president of the United States.

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Less surprisingly, perhaps, the results were not well received. Pauline Kael called it “the most expensive Rin Tin Tin picture ever made,” an “elaborate exercise in anthropomorphic tearjerking, which turns the dolphins into fishy human babies.” Apparently the movie ends with—spoiler alert—one of the dolphins “protesting love for Pa,” the Scott character, as he “forces the whimpering babies to leave their home forever.”

Still, after today’s news, it is time to add The Day of the Dolphin to my Netflix queue. If you prefer a nonfiction take, you can look up the History Channel’s Inside the Soviet Military Machine: Dolphin Soldiers.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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