MARCH 13, 2011
The other day, someone on Formspring asked me what my five favorite Syfy movies were, and I almost held off answering the question until I saw Sharktopus, because I assumed it would make the cut. First of all – there’s the title, which is awesome in its purest form. Secondly, unlike the bulk of Syfy Original Movies, it was produced by the king of monster movies – Roger Corman himself. With that pedigree, I figured it would be the one to beat.
But what I WASN’T aware of until the credit flashed on-screen, was that it was directed by Declan O’Brien, who couldn’t even make a decent Wrong Turn movie (and yet he’s directing the fourth film). Worse, he clearly has no idea how/when to use CGI, ruining nearly every kill in WT3 with bad CGI on kills that could/should have been done practically. So I got nervous, and fast – if he couldn’t even have a mutant (played by a real person) eviscerate someone on the woods without overusing CGI, what would he do when he had a goddamn sharktopus (not played by a real sharktopus) whipping people around or swallowing them whole? On a Syfy channel budget no less?
Well, what he did was overuse CGI and botch every single kill in the movie. I’m not expecting WETA-esque realism on shots of the sharktopus, but more often than not he employs the use of CGI tentacles even on close-ups, when a practical arm operated by a guy off-screen would have been a lot easier and looked a lot better. Plus, if he wasn’t stretching the FX budget so thin, perhaps every shot that used a practical effect instead of a CGI model could have resulted in improved effects on the shots that could NOT have been done with real-world models and the like. As a result, the sharktopus looks like a PS1 cut-scene cartoon in every single shot, of which there are far too many.
But I can forgive them on that one. As Corman explains on the commentary, in a theatrical feature you’re allowed to tease the audience with glimpses, because they are a “captive” audience. However on TV, if the audience gets bored, they can flip the channel, so they have to deliver a money shot every couple of minutes, even if they don’t have the money/resources to do so in an adequate manner. I have to remember that I’m in the minority of folks who don’t give up on a movie no matter how bad it is. The only times I’ve ever walked out of a movie (that I can recall) were at Screamfest, during horrible movies that started late when I had something else to do after. So maybe I’m not the target audience for Syfy Original movies.
However, even the least discerning audience in the world would probably be appalled by the shockingly bad acting in this one. I’ll never put in one of these movies expecting great performances, but even by those lowered standards and expectations the acting in this was awful pretty much across the board. You know the drill for these movies – you have like 4-6 core characters that are driving/boating around looking for the monster, intercut with scenes of folks who are “introduced” and then killed moments later (usually right before a commercial). Usually, the main ones are fine and it’s just these random shark(topus) fodder types that are lousy, but here it’s pretty much everyone. The two leads are particularly painful, because unlike Eric Roberts (who disappears for most of the film’s second half), they don’t seem to be in on the joke. It’s bad enough watching bad actors in any movie, it’s worse watching bad actors taking it serious in a movie that’s intentionally silly – they ruin the fun. And then some of the anonymous folks can’t even deliver lines like “I’m thirsty!” with any conviction. Corman’s cameo as a slightly pervy old man (who casually watches a girl get eaten, and then takes the money she had just found on the beach) is as good as the movie ever gets – they should have given him a real role to play.
The climax is also incredibly lackluster. For starters, the movie is STILL in “let’s cut to some new folks in danger” mode, sidelining our heroes’ involvement. With ten minutes or so to go, Sharktopus finds himself inside a resort of some sort, with a zipline and a little waterfall and such. And the destruction of Sharktopus comes down to setting off a virus in the computer tracking chip he has inside him, which means we just get a lot of shots of our terrible lead actress trying to make it look like she’s frantically doing things on her computer, none of which match up to the graphics they show (I love that she’s hammering away at the keys when the display just shows the mouse cursor slowly floating around at random). Hell, they don’t even offer us a tease of a sequel, with a sharktopus egg or something laying in the bottom of a lake or whatever. LAME.
O’Brien also tosses in some tricks that don’t belong in the movie, such as 24-esque split screen scenes that show phone calls from multiple angles. Who the fuck cares? Unless it’s Sharktopus swimming toward them while they are distracted or something, there is no need to show the faces of people taking a dull phone call. He’s also in love with tossing digital blood on the camera; literally throwing the film’s shortcomings in our face in the process. Also, he foolishly sets an early scene in a room with a bunch of bright green “windows” behind the actors, which just makes it look like they forgot to add in some greenscreen plates in the background. And if anyone can explain the “film grain” effect in this movie, I’d love to hear it. Several shots have this thick layer of grain over them, but the grain isn’t animated – it just sits on screen. But it’s clearly not a dirty lens or something, someone obviously put it over the footage. Speaking of image quality, there is no reason to spend the extra money or effort on the Blu-ray for this; apart from a few shots of water spraying, the image does NOT look high-def in the slightest, and anything that can downgrade the sound quality can only be considered a good thing, since the score is one of the worst I can recall in recent memory.
In fact, you might as well just skip the movie’s audio entirely and start with the commentary, in which Roger and Julie Corman discuss the specific movie only fleetingly and focus more on their general approach and theory behind making low budget movies. The only thing in the movie you might not understand just from looking at the images is why Sharktopus was created, but Corman explains it better on the commentary than it comes across in the movie anyway (it’s actually kind of admirable how insistent he was on coming up with a plausible reason for the thing’s existence). But for the most part, it’s a wonderful chat that could have played over any of his movies, filled with terrific anecdotes (including the sweet story of how they got involved romantically – they’re about to celebrate their 40th anniversary!) and lots of helpful information for would-be low budget filmmakers. Tellingly, Corman says that he was overruled by O’Brien on some of the decisions regarding the design and use of CGI – I would have loved to have been at the meeting when the guy who directed Wrong Turn 3 essentially tells Roger Corman that he’s wrong about something. He also stresses that CGI should only be used for long shots, and any close-ups should employ practical effects, a mantra O’Brien would have been wise to follow (the few practical shots are incredibly quick and almost never involved with the actual kill shot). Maybe then we’d have fewer shots of actors pretending to be getting tangled up inside some tentacles.
Again, I really wanted to have fun with this one, but there’s only so many times I can see a poorly animated sharktopus eat someone whose name I don’t know – I need a little meat on the bones. Mega Piranha did this sort of thing far more successfully, I think - the acting and FX were just as bad, but they kept the pace up and more importantly, offered a lot of variety to the proceedings. Here, you can watch any 20 minute chunk and pretty much see everything the movie has to offer. The title deserves better than the result.
What say you?