APRIL 24, 2011
To most people, “Better than Sharktopus” would mean absolutely nothing, but to the folks who enjoy these movies, that might inspire them to check out Dinoshark, which is more or less the exact same movie on a structure level (complete with a climax that arrives with as much fanfare as any of the other scenes in the movie in which the title monster eats people in the water), but with slight improvements across the board and an Eric (Balfour instead of Roberts) who isn’t slumming but is instead right in his element.
One improvement is of major importance: the FX. There are a few more close-ups that use a real monster head instead of CGI, and even some of the wider shots of the whole shark are at least on par with what I’d expect from a Syfy movie (as opposed to Sharktopus, in which they seemed to be much worse). And director Kevin O’Neill has the good sense to flood the screen with blood during the attacks, drawing the eye away from the shark – there’s an amazing bit where he bites a girl in half, but she hasn’t died yet, so her top half “swims” toward the surface as blood and entrails cloud the frame – it’s hilarious and awesome. However, they still can’t figure out how to properly keep the damn thing at the same size throughout the movie - in close-ups it seems to be of normal shark size and thus just takes a good bite out of its victim, but then in at least one wide shot it seems to swallow a small boat whole.
It also actually has some tension, as hero Balfour is ostensibly out to get the thing for revenge. You see, in a rare case of the monster eating someone we know instead of a random extra we just met, it makes a meal out of one of his friends pretty early on, and thus he springs into action at around the half hour mark. But he isn’t trusted by the local cops for some reason (something about drug running), so he has to go off on his own and spends a good chunk of the movie driving around in a boat out at sea. This allows the “proven” formula to work as it always does, with the shark killing someone every ten minutes – no one is ever warned to stay out of the water anyway. As usual, no one seems to notice all the missing folks (except for his friend); Dinoshark racks up at least 20 kills over the course of the movie but it never seems to make the news. They also have one of the better kills in these movies, delivering a kill without even bothering to introduce the victim. Usually they will cut to someone trying out their new boat or going for a swim with a comely lass or whatever, and they’ll have 30 seconds of dialogue before getting offed, but early on they just cut to some surfers doing their thing, which just seems like more of the “local color” cinematography that makes up about a third of the movie anyway, and then BAM! Dinoshark jumps out of nowhere and eats one of the anonymous surfers. Awesome.
The humor actually worked better too. Unlike Sharktopus, this one is played largely straight (which makes it funnier), and the jokes are a little more witty and wise-assy, like when our resident blond scientist does one of those “google the information and find out something shocking” exposition scenes, and then caps it off by stripping down to her bra, as if it was our reward for sitting through a dull, non Dinoshark scene. And when Balfour delivers the obligatory Jaws reference (“You’re going to need a bigger chopper”, he says, after Dinoshark snatches one out of midair – another standard scene for these movies), he actually sounds like a guy sarcastically making a Jaws reference in character, not something the actor is saying because the screenwriter thought it would be cute.
And you gotta love that Corman’s cameo isn’t a winking, silent bit – he plays an actual character (his biggest role ever, he says on the commentary). He’s the doctor who knows about this thing’s existence (it’s an actual prehistoric shark that has been thawed due to polar ice cap melting, not an experiment gone awry), and has lines and everything, plus pops up in 4-5 scenes. In one, he inexplicably shushes a mariachi group, which I have to assume is some injoke or reference that is just over my head.
It feels a bit sloppier than the other movies though; particularly in matters of continuity. The heroine is talking on the phone while she drives around in one scene, but in the reverse angle (where we see her in the rearview mirror) she has one hand on the wheel and the other is brushing her hair (she also has sunglasses on despite not having them on in the other angle). Though to be fair, you can’t blame her for her poorly timed grooming session, since her hair alternates between curly and relatively straight throughout the movie. The boom mike also makes at least one hilarious cameo, and when the chopper is snatched, the actors keep looking up in the sky even though Dinoshark brought it down to the water. Minor things, sure, but they’re a consistent distraction. And I cannot forgive the fact that they have a parasailor with a video camera, but when it comes time for Dinoshark to eat him, the guy doesn’t film his own demise. Why bother setting up the video camera if there’s no payoff?
There are also an inordinate number of terrible performances from minor characters, but as you’ll learn on the commentary, many of these awkward “actors” that stood out like sore thumbs weren’t really actors at all. It’s one thing to give Corman a little role – that’s fun. But the production manager, 2nd unit DP, various producers... these guys simply look out of place, and you won’t even need the commentary to tell you that they were all various crew guys taking a turn in front of the camera instead of hiring an actor (or just cutting the scene – they all just play various townsfolk who exist on land and thus are not in danger of Dinoshark – who cares about them?). Apparently the movie has to be 90 minutes long to air on Syfy, and they probably didn’t have the money to do too many more kill scenes (they DID add one, with some kayakers, and it’s noticeably shot in a different area), so I guess these things couldn’t really be cut, unfortunately. But I can forgive some padding when it’s a movie that is made to air on television with commercial breaks; it’s the DTV movies that run odd lengths anyway where padding really pisses me off.
The commentary is pretty entertaining; it’s one again Roger and Julie Corman, plus the director, but it’s also one thing that DOES pale in comparison to Sharktopus as they talk more about this specific movie than they do movie making in general. Roger still offers up some fun anecdotes and his rather valuable advice and thought process behind making films, but he’s not in it nearly as much as O’Neill, who is enthusiastic and very supportive of his cast and crew, but I’d gladly trade 2-3 of his stories about how nice and accommodating the locals in Mexico were to their production for some more time with the Cormans. On Sharktopus, they were wise to be more general and just sort of address the movie every now and then to illustrate a point about modern low budget filmmaking. This is, for the most part, an actual commentary on the process of making Dinoshark.
I just wish that they could do something different with these movies. I’m not going in expecting Jaws or even Deep Rising, but the fact that they are all so identical just rubs me the wrong way; as if they were being more cynical than they had to be. I get that they need to keep delivering the kills in order to keep folks from turning the channel, but why not borrow a page from Jaws 2 and set it up almost like a slasher movie, where you have a group of characters getting picked off one by one, rather than just constantly cutting to random people who die without anyone noticing? They worry about people tuning out – wouldn’t someone mistakenly thinking they had already seen the movie (let’s face it, there is NO replay value to any of these movies, even the ones I enjoy) be a bigger problem than someone tuning out just because no one had died before commercial? Let’s think outside of the box, folks.
What say you?