Tag: shark

Jaws


Jaws (1975)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Many of today’s horror movies, especially those with bloated budgets, have proven one too many times that there is nothing particularly scary about people being killed on screen. They may be gruesome, ugly, bloody, or especially violent—perhaps all of the above—but real scares, those that crawl their way into the mind and attach themselves there, are often confused with evanescent jolts or shocks. They can learn a thing or ten from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” based upon Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel (who also penned the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb), not because it is the granddaddy of summer blockbusters nor due to its reputation as being one of the all-time scariest movies. The reason is far simpler: It is pure craft from top to bottom.

When we finally lay our eyes on that great white shark, we do not see a mechanical, malfunction-prone prop. We see a living, breathing, eating machine—teeth the size of shot glasses—a real threat to those living and vacationing on Amity Island during the Fourth of July weekend. On the surface, the shark “appears” (we do not actually see its full body until late in the picture) every fifteen to twenty minutes to eat—or try to eat—people. But really look at what’s happening. These suspenseful and thrilling expository sequences are designed so that Spielberg can feed us information about the twenty-five foot, three ton creature.

For instance, the first scene involving a teenage girl who goes skinny dipping at night tells us the creature’s level of stealth. Although it is quiet out there in the ocean—minimal wind, no boat or planes passing by, and the girl herself isn’t even madly splashing about—she is not able to detect the shark coming… until its jaws are latched onto her leg and she is being dragged to and fro. Another example: the scene involving two fishermen at the jetty who think they can catch the shark nilly-willy. This sequence is meant to show the shark’s sheer power. I can go on. Later, we are forced to appreciate the shark’s intelligence. Then much later, its tricky instinct. We learn why it is an apex predator. Then it gets real scary: The second half combines all of its traits (supported by John Williams’ unforgettable score), and we watch spellbound.

There is another monster in the film—human greed. Despite pieces of human body parts being washed ashore, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) insists that the beaches remain open. He pretends to care about the local business owners and yet he is often surrounded by men in suits, men in power, men who have a stake on the local economy, perhaps men also elected in local office. Our hero is Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a recent transplant from New York City who wishes to do the right thing for his new community. Not only does he need to face bureaucracy, he must also wrestle against ignorance.

Scheider is wonderful in the role. His interpretation of Brody reeks of goodness at first glance, and he is a good person, but the character’s more complex layers are revealed during quiet moments with his family (sometimes with a drink in hand), when he listens closely to the expert opinion of enthusiastic oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss—terrific), when he looks at the cantankerous shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw—a scene-stealer) and try to make sense why the man in front of him is the way he is. This trio of vastly different personalities and temperaments is great entertainment—take away the shark and there is comedy a-brewing.

“Jaws” is the kind of work that one can visit every year and it never gets old. It is timeless precisely because it gets the island setting right, from the streets where vehicles are mere inches from one another… yet there remains a positive feeling in the air, inside establishments where people can be heard talking over one another (notice how some lines of dialogue do not have anything to do with the plot), down to how it is really like simply sunbathing at the beach—the gleeful screaming of children, adults gossiping and cackling, sloshing of the water, revving of motorboats, when the wind picks up just a little. “Jaws” is entertainment of the highest order not just because elements that make up a genre movie are present; it actively works to transport us into a time and place as if we live there.

47 Meters Down


47 Meters Down (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Occasionally unintentionally funny, shark attack picture “47 Meters Down” offers a good time for those simply wishing to turn their brains off and watch a pair of American tourists attempting to avoid becoming fish food prior to being rescued. With a short running time of less than ninety minutes, it provides enough solid suspenseful moments and thrills even though it delivers exactly what is expected out of the sub-genre. In a movie like this, either one slowly pulls one’s limbs closer to one’s torso or one is bored by the usual beats.

The picture might have been improved upon had the screenplay by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera amplified the competition or tension between otherwise close sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt). There is a wonderful exchange, when both are forty-seven meters at the bottom of the sea, when Lisa admits to Kate that she often feels not good enough when they are compared side-by-side. Lisa is the elder, boring sister while Kate is the more exciting of the duo, one who gets the attention of all the boys without effort. Although a terrifying situation bringing people closer than ever is a standard move, it might have paved the way for deeper character development. Both Lisa and Kate are likable.

The shark attacks are swift, commanding a sense of urgency in an enclosed space or otherwise. Similar films tend to excel at one or the other. I enjoyed it most when either sibling decides to get out of the cage either to get signal for the transmitter so they can call for help or acquire a critical item for survival. One cannot help but to squint a little harder at the background due the possibility of the shark appearing right behind the heroine. At times certain familiar camera angles are utilized to create false alarms and we exhale from relief. But comfortable moments do not last long.

I found it rather impressive that the leads must act underwater for more than half the picture. Since their faces are covered with oxygen masks, they must express their emotions in other ways, such as employing body languages that are exactly right for the situation—while swimming—and providing a balance between subtlety and exaggeration in voice acting. More observant viewers will recognize these difficulties or challenges while others may simply ignore them altogether because it is a shark movie and it is supposedly all about the buckets of blood and body count.

“47 Meters Down,” directed by Johannes Roberts, provides a daring ending that is certain to divide viewers. Although it takes some scientific liberties, I enjoyed that it is willing to provide final ten minutes that is different, darkly comic, with a whiff of irony. Awful films within the sub-genre simply end in silence with no survivor, blood painting the screen red.

Shark Night


Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★

A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.

Deep Blue Sea


Deep Blue Sea (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

As campy as this movie was, it had genuine thrillers and horror. Director Renny Harlin tells the story of a group of researchers who breed genetically engineered sharks in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks’ genes had to be altered because their normal size did not produce big enough brains to store more proteins–proteins that activate inactive Alzheimer-ridden neurons. The researchers consisted of Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgård and Jacqueline McKenzie. Thomas Jane was the person who wrestled with sharks in order to incapacitate them so the researchers could extract brain matter, Samuel L. Jackson was the funder of the project, Michael Rapaport as the physicist, and LL Cool J as the god-fearing chef. I liked the fact that this picture used humor in order to relieve some of the tension on screen. There were a plethora of very funny one-liners, especially from LL Cool J as he tried to fight off a shark in the kitchen. But the one character I had a big problem with was Burrows. For such an intelligent person, she made such stupid decisions, especially toward the end. It was as though the film wanted to note a sort of evolution in her morals, which really wasn’t necessary at all because, as a scientist, she must be objective and be able to weigh the pros and cons of situations. If I were in her position, I would not have felt as much guilt for creating very intelligent, giant sharks if it meant saving millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As a person who works with people who are ravaged by the disease, I can understand how serious it is and losing a few lives in the process would not have impacted me as much if I were to consider the big picture. Also, this might be a minor complaint, but the movie implied that one can “bring back” those who were in severe stages of the disease. In reality, it’s not possible because the memories have been lost. Stopping the degeneration and even prevention, on the other hand, are entirely possible. But granted, this movie was released in 1999 and we didn’t understand the disease as well back then. Overall, this is a thrilling film with several clever ideas but does suffer with a weak first few minutes and ending. “Deep Blue Sea” is simply a story of survival–a cross between “Jaws” and “Daylight.”

Thunderball


Thunderball (1965)
★★★ / ★★★★

It’s interesting to me when I look back on how the “James Bond” franchise changed over several decades. I can understand why many people consider Sean Connery as the best 007 because he can be dangerous and charming at the same time–and looks like he’s having fun. “Thunderball” is the fourth Bond picture and it’s different from the first three because it has so many cheesy but (sometimes) amusing one-liners. I consider this movie to be uneven because even though rousing action sequences are still present, they are immediately followed by tedious dialogue that only occasionally push the story forward. It’s a shame because the picture truly shines when the audiences are actually seeing SPECTRE’s plan in action, all the while knowing that Bond will somehow keep them from succeeding. It’s hard for me not to recommend this Bond installment because the femme fatales are interesting (Claudine Auger as Domino and Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe). The audiences know their motivations but that doesn’t mean their goals are predictable. Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo (also known as SPECTRE #2) is a good villain because he can go head-to-head with Bond. Celi’s character has been parodied many times such as in the “Austin Powers” franchise. And there are many memorable scenes such as the underwater battle scenes in the ocean, when the wounded Bond evades his enemies during a parade, the scene where Bond is trapped in a swimming pool infested with sharks… I just wish that the script would’ve been written better. When it’s time to take a scene seriously, it falls apart because someone would say or do something unintentionally funny. Still, I say go see it for the gadgets, interesting use of color, realistic fight scenes, and memorable side characters.