Tag Archives: sharks

PBS Beats Shark Week At Its Own Game: OPERATION MANEATER

OPERATION MANEATER on PBS


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(4/5)

Pros: very compelling information; more hard-hitting than anything on Shark Week…


Cons: but humans still don’t seem to get it that going into the ocean puts them at risk of a shark attack

Sheesh! Just when I thought it was safe to watch educational TV again, a little over a week removed from the 2014 edition of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, what does PBS do but air a program that not only was as or more interesting than most of the shows seen on Discovery Channel, but one that addresses issues that in my opinion, should have been the focus of Shark Week in the first place.

Evans spotting sharks
Host Mark Evans testing new technology for spotting sharks from the air.

Following in the footsteps of the Sex in the Wild documentary series that aired earlier this summer, Operation Maneater which premiered on August 27th seems to again indicate that PBS is striving to find a new audience with more hard-hitting nature-related programming. Hosted by veterinarian Mark Evans (who also featured on Sex in the Wild), this three-part series details the efforts of scientists to keep various endangered animal species from posing a threat to humans, which as might be expected, isn’t an easy task. The first episode dealt with none other than the great white shark. As shark attacks surrounding the city of Perth in Western Australia continue to increase (seven fatal attacks since 2010), the Australian government has enacted a policy of running drumlines in the surrounding waters. These lines are designed to catch sharks of the great white, tiger, and bull varieties greater than three meters in length, which upon being snagged on the line are killed via a gunshot to the head and dumped back in the drink. Needless to say, hasn’t been very popular with Australian citizens and seems downright barbaric and (to say the least) misguided in my estimation. Evans’ goal throughout this first episode is to examine possible alternatives to the ecologically damaging, wanton extermination of random sharks.

humane
A sensible manner of dealing with the shark problem


First off, let me say that shows like this which focus explicitly on issues relating to shark conservation are what Discovery’s Shark Week should have been presenting all along. I realize that the dozens and dozens of programs which feature shark attack victims recounting their “terrifying ordeals” get viewers to tune in, but these shows seem to have precisely the opposite effect on viewers of what I would hope Shark Week would provide. Certainly, the block of shark-related programming shows the majesty of these ultimate underwater predators and reaffirms to the reality-show devouring public that yes, sharks still exist and they’re still scary. Undoubtedly though, the constant presentation of “worst case scenario” shark stories and images of gnashing teeth only confirms many viewers’ prejudices about these animals.

yes
Don’t understand it?  IT MUST BE KILLED!

Let’s not forget that in that same period where seven Australians lost their lives by entering an ocean that is very much the domain of the shark that human beings killed millions upon millions of sharks– often in about as horrific a manner as possible by de-finning the creatures and dumping them – still alive – back into the ocean. Terrible as any loss of human life is, at some level, the human race is experiencing what I would be inclined to call some payback.

WARNING! THIS VIDEO IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

Allow me at this point to quote Evans himself when examining a device which emits an electric “pulse” underwater around a person wearing the unit: “…rather than rely on such a deterrent, it would be better to avoid such encounters in the first place.” The only way to completely avoid shark attacks is to stay the hell out of the water in the first place. The sooner humans come to terms with the implications of that statement, the better for everyone and everything concerned.


stay out

Let me get down off my soap box and back to the matter at hand: Operation Maneater examines the process by which Australia is fairly effective in warning the ocean-going public that large sharks may be patrolling their beaches by using helicopter surveillance in conjunction with a tagging program and social media updating. Literally, within a few minutes of getting either a visual confirmation of a shark or a sonic tag pingback, Australian beaches can be cleared. Still, as the program reveals, helicopter observation has been proven only to spot twenty percent of sharks that may be in the area, and one of Evans’ main goals in this episode is to investigate ways in which those numbers can be improved.

shark spotting
Shark spotting from the air can be a sketchy proposition.

Though various, sometimes outlandish methods of deterring sharks are discussed in the program (including use of sound waves, electronic field generators, and even a dive suit designed to resemble the deadly sea snake), a large amount of time is spent examining the possibility of utilizing multi-spectral imaging to identify sharks as they cruise underwater. This military-grade technology, consisting of a multiple-camera rig that filters out various colors and uses computer software to point out targets (i.e. sharks), is practically evaluated during the program through a series of tests and does seem to show some promise. Clearly, more research into its effectiveness is needed, and the cost of the equipment would probably be prohibitive at this point, so at best it’s an option that may be practical down the line.

rigs
Rigs such as these could be the next step in early shark detection.


Typical with PBS programming, Operation Maneater features a well-rounded discussion of its topics and a ton of straight-forward, factual information. As expected, there’s a sort of crash course in shark behavior and physiology, the most interesting part of which deals with research into shark brain functionality. The program also includes some wonderful underwater images of sharks in action during an operation to tag large great whites, and the use of slow motion footage and visual effects ensure the episode is visually stimulating. Future episodes in the series (which air over the next two weeks) deal with the polar bear and crocodile, so I would expect nothing less than for the overall quality of the program to remain at this very high level.

No sir
This doesn’t look like a good situation…

The most surprising thing to me about this opening episode of Operation Maneater was how fired up it made me. Frankly, it’s sickening to see sharks being killed for no other reason than existing in 2014 – even more so when you consider that many shark species are in real danger of extinction largely because of the creatures having been demonized in the years since Jaws hit movie theaters. The bigger picture question in my mind is why Discovery Channel in their week-long block of shark-related programming barely touched on the issue of the Western Australian Shark Cull – one would think that if the motivations for Shark Week were related to issues about shark conservation that this very real, obviously prescient issue would be discussed rather extensively. Instead, Shark Week offers up fake documentaries and sensationalism to put most reality shows to shame while avoiding any sort of real world, real life issues. It’s a good thing then that public television exists to tackle the difficult subjects that aren’t convenient in the context of publicity-oriented television. Anyway one looks at it, Operation Maneater is top-notch and those who think PBS nature programming is boring should probably check this show out.

Series Preview:

SHARK WEEK 2014 FINAL WRAP UP – MEGALODON: THE NEW EVIDENCE // GREAT WHITE MATRIX // SHARKSANITY

MEGALODON: THE NEW EVIDENCE / GREAT WHITE MATRIX / SHARKSANITY


(2/5)

Pros: One worthwhile show

Cons: …and with that, Shark Week stumbles across the finish line.

As might be expected, Shark Week 2014 started off with a bang, then started to run out of steam around midweek. Though I was even willing to buy the “speculative documentary” Shark of Darkness for what it was (i.e. a phony documentary designed to create social media buzz), Shark Week 2014’s most questionable move in my book was its inclusion of Megalodon: The New Evidence on Friday, August 15. This program acted as a sort of follow-up to 2013’s Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, another pseudo-documentary in which a team of actors …er scientists in South Africa attempts to prove that the gigantic prehistoric shark that has seemingly inspired dozens upon dozens of Syfy Channel made-for-cable movies still roams the earth’s oceans. Unfortunately, in focusing even more attention on an iffy original “documentary” that not only was instantly called out by any and all respectable scientists but also drew heavy criticism from viewers not all that enamored with the fact that Discovery Channel would pass something so blatantly phony off as being real, it appears that Shark Week as a whole is more a publicity-generating machine rather than a unique opportunity to educate viewers about the ocean’s ultimate and most fearsome predators.

boat attack
This just in: the boat attack at the center of the Megalodon documentary still didn’t actually happen.

Megalodon: The New Evidence
took the same format as the equally ridiculous that turned up on Animal Planet a few years back. Set up as a roundtable discussion between Collin Drake, the “scientist” who ran the Megalodon expedition, and interviewer Emmett Miller, The New Evidence went on to provide more sketchy video footage purporting to document the existence of sixty-foot sharks prowling the high seas. As much as anything seen in the original documentary was not at all convincing, watching “new evidence” showing a huge but obviously computer-generated shark attacking a pod of sperm whales is absolutely preposterous, as is listening to various “expert testimony” about the creature – most of which revolves around (you guessed it) a government conspiracy to hide the truth from the public. Groan! If the information (term used loosely) featured in the show wasn’t bad enough, the news program format seemed very corny and forced – with the actors doing their best but failing to add much credibility to the discussion.

holy cow
Recreated Megalodon jaws. With a little photoshop, this could be more “evidence” proclaiming the creature still exists.

I think anyone who would have watched The New Evidence (or the “extended cut” version of the original Monster Shark Lives documentary that preceded it) would know by this point that the whole thing was made up. Hell, if he was paying attention, a viewer would have seen the (purposely) very fleeting admission that “certain events and characters presented in the program have been dramatized.” Still, the whole of The New Evidence program not only seemed like it was beating a horse that died a painful death last year, embroiling the Discovery Channel in all sorts of controversy, but also served absolutely no purpose: to devote a whole night of Shark Week 2014 to the Megalodon considering this already was done the previous year is just absurd. A program like this speaks volumes about the level of incredulity that’s a prerequisite going into any program featured on the Discovery Channel these days.

yeah
think?

Thankfully, Saturday night’s Great White Matrix got back to basics, focusing on the efforts of longtime Shark Week contributor Andy Casagrande and Australian navy diver and shark attack survivor Paul de Gelder (who lost both his leg and arm to a bull shark attack) to photograph the bite of adult great white sharks using a “Matrix-style” camera rig. This curved assembly of some twenty cameras would allow researchers to study how the physics of a shark bite works from a variety of angles simultaneously, and also enable them to determine the difference between mature shark attacks and those that would be perpetrated by juvenile animals. This footage would be important since Great White Matrix devotes a decent amount of its hour-long duration to examining the possibility that juveniles are responsible for the majority (and an increasing number) of attacks on humans due to the fact that they are sort of “testing the waters” of potential prey items as they transition from feeding on fish (as they do in their adolescent period) to devouring large sea creatures like seals and sea lions once they reach full adulthood.

little too close

During this program, Casagrande and de Gelder consult various scientists studying the mechanics of the shark jaw, revealing how adult sharks are able not only to inflict heavy damage on their prey but also utilize a sort of vacuum action to capture them. I found this information to be pretty interesting as it explains the very distinctive jaw action in the typical white shark attack – namely, the jaw seeming to protrude from and almost separate from the structure of the head. Juvenile sharks are unable to fully accomplish this action, thus although they are able to inflict severe damage on humans, attacks from juvenile sharks are somewhat more “survivable” than those committed by mature adults.

yikes
Yikes! Casagrande photographing white sharks sans protective cage.

Typical with honest Shark Week documentaries, Great White Matrix had some amazing underwater footage, including truly otherworldly images taken in the Neptune Islands region showing less aggressive sand tiger sharks swimming amidst large schools of bait fish. There’s almost a dream-like quality to some of these images, but the program “gets real” during the climactic scenes in which Cassagrande attempts to photograph the bite of a large white shark nicknamed “Sidewinder.” In the “probably not the safest thing in the world” department, we also get a few jaw-dropping moments in which Cassagrande and de Gelder (who dives with the use of a special prosthetic fin attached in place of his missing leg) swim in shark-infested waters without the use of a protective cage. Though divers can get better camera images without the cage, it seems very dangerous to swim unprotected even around relatively small (i.e. twelve foot) juvenile white sharks.

insane
There’s insane, then there’s Paul de Gelder insane – the man still dives even after all losing his arm and leg to a shark.

The final original and feature program of 2014’s Shark Week was Sharksanity which aired on Saturday night: just judging by that title (which makes it sound like the next shark-related monster flick playing on Syfy Channel), one can get a pretty good gauge of what a viewer is in for here. Easily the least worthwhile program I saw during this year’s Shark Week, this program was hosted and narrated by “Bob, The Shark,” i.e. the would-be comedian dressed up in a shark costume. Acting as a sort of recap of the entire week’s worth of programming as well as a chance for viewers to vote on their favorite Shark Week moments from this year and past, this show was both completely unnecessary and obnoxious – viewers who had watched the week’s programs would have no reason to watch this “greatest hits” sort of program, and its sole purpose seemed to be to attract large amounts of social media buzz.

bob the shark
When Bob the Shark popped up onscreen, I knew I was in for a barrel of laughs…

With lousy attempts at humor put forth by the narration, Sharksanity simply replayed various segments from shows that aired earlier in the week while offering up some fan-voted clips that showed the best moments from the 27-year history of Shark Week. These clips fell into various categories – best bite, best “cage rattle,” most fearless filmmaker, best “close call” moment, etc. – and there were some unbelievable moments chronicled. In my mind though, Sharksanity played like one big pat on the back for Discovery Channel – which may be deserved considering the fact that Shark Week has been around for three decades. It also however indicated to me that the motivations for this week-long block of shark-related programming has gotten increasingly questionable over time. In an era where sharks are being hunted almost to the point of extinction in some areas, shouldn’t Shark Week maybe focus more on real issues instead of embracing the fact that some people will prattle away incessantly on twitter and facebook throughout the whole week in an attempt to see their name on TV?

seriously
Seriously people…

Maybe my biggest problem with Shark Week anymore is one that filmmaker Andy Casagrande mentioned himself during the week when he seemed to question whether making specials that focus on gnashing jaws and stories of shark attack victims narrowly escaping death is really having the desired effect on viewers. Jaws author Peter Benchley made it his life’s goal to increase shark conservation efforts despite being the one person perhaps most responsible for defining the shark as the ultimate predator and source of fear for many people. I guess my hope in the end is that Shark Week would turn out to be more than just a high-profile week of sensationalized programming designed simply to create a social media firestorm. Judging from the past few years in which the Discovery Channel has tossed education aside in favor of entertainment though, it seems as if such a proposition is unlikely, and we can probably expect more hit-or-miss programming in the future.

More Like This, Discovery Channel:

Jaws, Italian Style: THE LAST SHARK

THE LAST SHARK (a.k.a GREAT WHITE)

(3/5)

Pros: It’s better than films like Tintorera, Up From the Depths, and The Jaws of Death

Cons: …but this blatant ripoff of Jaws simply isn’t exciting or fun enough to truly hold a viewer’s interest

Notorious as the film that was so similar to 1975’s Jaws that Universal successfully sued the production and got the film pulled from its US release, 1981’s Italian-made The Last Shark (also known under the title of Great White) probably is one of the better shark-related films that followed in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that this film rips off many key elements from both the Jaws movie and book: taking place in a small, seaside community, the film details the efforts of writer Peter Benton (RIMSHOT PLEASE) and surly old sea dog Ron Hammer to track down and kill a monstrous great white that’s terrorizing the local community. After the shark interrupts the town’s big windsurfing regatta, thus making a mockery of the planned political fund-raising opportunity for local businessman William Wells, numerous efforts are made to destroy the creature. A group of kids set out with a bunch of steak and a shotgun while Hammer and Benton patrol around with a bunch of explosives, and all the while, an ambitious but pesky television producer tries to get the perfect shot of the shark without becoming its next meal.


OK OK, so these guys AREN’T Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. That doesn’t necessarily doom the movie, does it?

Without revealing any additional story details, most viewers would already know how this one’s going to play out. In the hands of writer Marc Princi, The Last Shark not only frequently seems ridiculous (throwing around a few too many subplots and being mostly incomprehensible at times), it also incorporates all the iconic moments of the original Jaws in such a manner that they aren’t so much borrowed as flat-out stolen. It’s no wonder that Film Ventures International (who distributed The Last Shark in the United States) was forced to pull it from theaters: this film doesn’t even make the slightest attempt at being inventive or unique. If a viewer can get past the familiarity of the material though (and honestly, what monster movie made post-Jaws really hasn’t utilized the basic formula established by that film), then he could simply appreciate The Last Shark for what it is: one of the most-accomplished of the Italian ripoffs of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

yeah
Yeah, I hear ya…“I could do better in my bath tub with a rubber shark and soap bar…”

Italian producers were well-known for their tendency to rapidly develop their own low-budget versions of various hit movies, and in many cases, these films were quite successful in their own right. Mad Max, for instance, led to an astonishing number of post-apocalyptic action flicks filled with colorful and bizarre characters, while George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead inspired a never-ending string of crude but hideously gory films dealing with undead cannibals. Take my statement for what it’s worth though: saying this film is “good” by Italian genre movie standards isn’t necessarily a flat-out general recommendation. Most viewers would regard this film as utter trash that not only is poorly-made, but also is utterly unoriginal. My standards tend to be a bit more lax: I regard this film as being perfectly enjoyable as a b-movie.


The mock-up of the shark’s head seen here is surprisingly decent – nearly as “good” as the one created for Spielberg’s film.

Enzo G. Castellari (perhaps one of the better Italian genre film makers) handled the direction on The Last Shark and does a capable job though he’s in no way able to achieve the level of tension from the story that Spielberg was able to. The bottom line here is that a viewer has to take into account that Castellari’s film was made in 1981 using low budget techniques. While the main shark model (consisting of the head and first half of the shark’s body) is actually pretty amazing, rivaling “Bruce the Shark” that was seen in the Jaws films, it’s not all that convincing. This prop mainly just pops out of the water and “smiles” for the camera; it’s never frightening and it never is seen actively pursuing human victims, thus it seems lifeless. Still, I’d call this shark mockup a job well done and yet another example of how Italian film crew ingenuity could make up for budgetary constraints.


This scene, shot from above, is actually pretty impressive with regard to not revealing the FX work going on behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, the full-size shark model used to show the beast swimming around beneath the surface doesn’t fare as well: it’s quite clearly a rubber miniature, seen jerking around awkwardly in murky underwater shots. I should point out that stock footage of real sharks is frequently intercut with glimpses of the fake one, making the offending creature even less believable as a whole. Finally, even if there are a couple of relatively gory shark attack sequences (including a few scenes where the shark literally rips a human victim in half and one where the shark is seen devouring a man whole), none of these shark attacks are remotely as memorable as the corresponding ones in Jaws. Personally, I’m pretty OK with the special effects in The Last Shark: sure, they’re undeniably imperfect and hokey, but they also make the film (at least somewhat) fun to watch.

whoops
Hey, effects like these have made many a piece of cinematic junk extremely watchable.

The cast in this film adds some credibility to the production, even if they’re not all that exceptional in their roles. James Franciscus (perhaps best known for his appearance in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) stars as the writer Peter Benton, who (quite obviously) occupies the Roy Scheider role from Jaws. Franciscus certainly comes across as the everyman, trying to kill the shark to protect both his family and the community he loves, and his determination only intensifies after his teenaged daughter is maimed by the creature. Still, having to watch him have a heart-to-heart with his daughter (played by Italian actress Stefania Girolami Goodwin) is painful and indicates a major problem with Italian films starring American actors. Though these familiar American actors can turn in some decent work, they’re incapable of making up for foreign performers who simply can’t reciprocate with any of the emotion they bring to the table. The lack of communication between these actors is glaring. Therefore, the scene between Benton and his daughter is just an emotional void, and the same is true for any of the scenes in which the writer and his wife (played by Micaela Pignatelli) have to interact.


I feel your pain, Vic Morrow. That mortgage ain’t gonna pay itself…

In other roles, we have Vic Morrow playing Hammer (the Robert Shaw “Quint” character) as a surly but somewhat lovable man o’ the sea. The most amusing part of Morrow’s performance is listening to him alternately pick up or lose an Irish accent throughout the film. I have to imagine that the Italian director and crew wouldn’t have even noticed this, but it certainly makes for some comical viewing for American audiences. Aside from this flaw, Morrow’s performance is actually decent, even if he basically just does the ill-tempered fisherman routine for the entirety of the film. Finally, we’ve got Joshua Sinclair in the role of the would-be gubernatorial candidate who’s faced with a dilemma of trying to first hide the existence of the shark, and then exterminate it before his political aspirations sink faster than the Titanic. Sinclair comes across as much less of a scumbag than the corresponding Murray Hamilton character in Jaws, but still, with that mustache, he nonetheless is clearly the human “villain” of the story, even if a relatively minor one.

don't get
C’mon now…this ain’t so bad…

Ironically, after suing Film Ventures for how similar The Last Shark was to the original Jaws, the script for Universal’s Jaws 3-D seems to borrow several plot elements from Castellari’s film – including the way the shark is eventually defeated. Coincidence?


Told ya.

The ultimate problem with The Last Shark is that Jaws was/is just so damn good: there’s no way a cheap Italian film could compete on a level field with a outright masterpiece. Castellari never ratchets up the tension in writer Princi’s script effectively, and Princi for his part, throws several toolboxes full of wrenches into the main ongoing narrative. The subplot about the television crew, for instance, is positively gratuitous and troublesome. Even if this low-budget production quite honestly turns out way better than it should, grooving along to a classic soundtrack by Maurizio and Guido De Angelis, I believe the only way that the film would have been truly outstanding is if the writer and director strove to make this film as outrageous as possible. As it exists now, The Last Shark is actually somewhat dull, which is not only the worst thing imaginable for an obvious ripoff, but also plain inexcusable – why would any viewer choose to watch this imitation of a classic film instead of the real deal? Play up the sex angle, go overboard with the violence, do something to give this ripoff some distinction. Since the film fails in that regard, I’d have to call it an agreeable time-waster and nothing more. Fans of shark movies would almost have to see this infamous (and frequently, unintentionally funny) film, but The Last Shark is nowhere near as good as any of them would probably like.


After being sued for its similarity to Jaws, this film disappeared for decades. Nowadays, it’s available streaming on Amazon…or can be viewed in its entirety for free on Youtube. The link at the bottom of this review is about the best quality rip of the film that I was able to locate, in English, without those pesky Japanese subtitles (long story…).


4/10 : A handful of eye-opening scenes which contain brief but glimpses of strong gore effects. Still, this film is nothing compared to the level of unsettling violence in the original Jaws.


1/10 : Franciscus and Morrow occasionally pepper their dialogue with colorful language.


1/10 : Perky, bikini-clad female running down the beach in slow-motion: that’s as good as this one gets.


7/10 : Notorious for its legal history and for being almost laughably bad, this is very nearly a must-see for fans of killer shark movies.


“Damn…you can hardly make the shark out…Use a little stock footage. Nobody’ll know the difference.” Sadly (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), this film proves otherwise.

Catch the Trailer…

…or get “the head, the tail, the whole damn thing…”

SHARK WEEK 2014 NIGHT FIVE: I ESCAPED JAWS 2 // SHARKAGEDDON

I ESCAPED JAWS 2 and SHARKAGEDDON

Copy of Copy of Copy of fb-thumb-sharkweek-norev

(2/5)

Pros: An attack by a cookiecutter shark? GET OUTTA HERE!

Cons: Nothing too exciting in either one of these shows

Five nights in and Shark Week 2014 seems to have hit a brick wall. Though I wasn’t altogether blown away by the previous night of shows, the two featured on Thursday, August 14 didn’t much excite me in the least. Could part of this simply be that, as a viewer, my tolerance for shark-related programming is wearing a little thin after watching four days of Discovery Channel’s annual celebration of underwater predators? Possibly, but I think that, considering that the two hours of premiere shows on Thursday dealt mostly with the tried and true formula of examining shark attacks, there’s a case to be made that by this time Shark Week 2014 has simply run its course and mostly exhausted its supply of exciting and original ideas. Either way, the two shows on Thursday were relatively unexciting and perfectly skippable.


Even the sharks were sleeping come Thurday night’s Shark Week programming block.

Thursday kicked off with the ho-hum I Escaped Jaws 2. Just the title alone is enough to have me rolling my eyes in disgust; going in, I expected nothing more from this show than a parade of gruesome photographs of shark-inflicted wounds and a series of talking heads giving the usual “I can’t believe I’m alive” speeches. OK OK – so I know these kinds of shows are Shark Week’s bread and butter, but how many times can Discovery Channel produce pretty much exactly the same show? As if the tiresome formula wasn’t bad enough, this program in particular seemed to have more commercial breaks than most of the previous Shark Week specials, as if the producers couldn’t even put enough of a quality show together to stretch it to the normal 48-minute range. Whatever the case, this program wound up being a case of something that’s already been done.


I Escaped Jaws 2 actually made me want to watch Jaws: The Revenge so I could again witness the truly horrific death of Sean Brody. There’s got to be something SERIOUSLY WRONG with ANYTHING that actually gives me a desire to watch Jaws: The Revenge

Traveling around the world in search of new but painfully familiar shark attack stories, I Escaped Jaws 2 shows off the usual batch of recreated attack scenes, punctuated by “hard-hitting” witness testimony and bits and pieces of (generally unremarkable) actual video footage of the incidents. You’ll hear about a wakeboarder whose arm was more or less destroyed by a great white, a Brazilian man who watched as a shark devoured his foot, hear from the first man attacked in Massachusetts waters since the 1930s, and shudder to think about the extremely unfortunate Australian Abalone diver who found himself the victim of shark attacks not once but twice in the last decade. This last segment is the only one that (for me) was somewhat shocking – though mostly for the fact that this guy, performing one of the most outright dangerous jobs in the world, has continued diving even after his face was torn to shreds in the mouth of a large white shark. Any viewer who’s watched any amount of shark-related program already would get the gist of I Escaped Jaws 2 long before sitting through it: when sharks attack people, bad things happen. As such, in my opinion, the show was mostly a waste of time.

greg pickering
Greg Pickering – the man attacked twice in a decade by sharks. Sheesh!

The second show of the night entitled Sharkageddon was marginally better, following a native Hawaiian surfer named Kala Alexander as he attempts to determine the causes of a recent hike in the number of shark attacks reported around the island state. Though Hawaii had previously had an average four shark attacks per year despite their miles and miles of coastline, as recently as 2013, that number had jumped to 22, leading marine biologists to start looking for answers. As was the case in I Escaped Jaws though, a viewer vaguely familiar with sharks wouldn’t gain much from watching this show since any knowledgeable person would be able to tell you the reason that shark attacks in Hawaii are increasing are because human beings enter the ocean. Period. At some point, speculating on the specific reasons behind shark attacks is absolutely ridiculous: sharks get hungry and eat things…many different things…and almost any thing. If people happen to be in the area where a hungry shark is prowling and looking for food, said people are as likely to be devoured as anything else. That’s how nature works.

hawaii
Most of the attacks in Hawaii intriguingly weren’t blamed on the Great White, but rather somewhat smaller species like this, the tiger shark.

Anyway, Alexander winds up consulting local experts who each offer up potential reasons for the increase in shark attacks. These reasons range from humans being mistaken for sea turtles (apparently, a once-endangered variety of Hawaiian sea turtle has made quite a comeback in recent years, leading to them being a favorite food source for the local tiger sharks), to the idea that sharks are beginning to associate human activity with free and easy access to food. This last idea is not at all surprising considering that most if not all fishing operations result in large amounts of fish waste being casually dumped into the ocean, providing a smorgasbord for any nearby sharks to chow down on. Additionally, spearfisherman and Hawaiian dinner cruises that routinely throw leftovers over the side serve as additional easy access to food for sharks. It’s really no wonder that animals like the tiger shark (creatures that are notorious for being not at all picky about what they eat) would equate humans with food – even if that food source is the human being themselves. Again, many viewers would be able to come to a rational conclusion to the problem facing Hawaii just by using common sense. Do we really need a drawn-out, hour-long program to explain this to us?

oceanic white tip
The Oceanic Whitetip Shark – notorious for devouring ship and plane wreck victims and in some people’s mind, the shark responsible for the most number of human deaths.

Sharkageddon, like several other shows airing during this year’s Shark Week, took a more dramatized approach to presenting its story, playing more like an ongoing narrative than a straight-forward documentary. It was certainly more interesting to me than was I Escaped Jaws 2, partially due to the more impressive production that Sharkageddon was afforded. Still, nothing could quite make up for the fact that neither of these two shows really had a ton to offer the viewer: after some of the programs earlier in the week blew me away with their underwater photography and level of new and exciting information, both of Thursday’s shows seemed a rehash of information that most viewers probably already knew. It’s almost like Thursday night should have been labeled as “Sharking for Dummies:” though “newbies” might have enjoyed the two shows featured, this block of programming simply wouldn’t be all that interesting for viewers not on their first Shark Week rodeo. Given that the next two days of Shark Week look pretty lousy (a reexamination of the blatantly phony Megalodon documentary on Friday and a “let’s pat ourselves on the back” wrap up show on Saturday), it appears that the best of Shark Week 2014 is behind us; Discovery Channel (and maybe most of the viewers as well) seem to be cruising to the finish line at this point.


Decent but Dated, GREAT WHITE DEATH is Mostly Forgettable

GREAT WHITE DEATH

(2.5/5)

Pros: Some incredible and/or shocking scenes

Cons: Tone of the narration is all over the place; very dated and of little interest today

Even if it does contain some pretty wild footage – including the aftermath of a great white shark attack, the 1981 Canadian production Great White Death plays today as the dated and somewhat sensationalized documentary that it is: a film that’s quite possibly more similar to the many outrageous (and heavily staged) mondo films than the typical National Geographic special. Slow-moving and fairly redundant, this program offers up precisely nothing for the viewer who is at least vaguely familiar with sharks, serving mainly as a platform by which writer/director Jean-Patrick Lebel (speaking through the mouth piece of narrator Glenn Ford) can propose his theories about how the shark as a species fits in the bigger scheme of life on earth. As this program tells a viewer (again and again and again…), the shark is the “ultimate exterminator,” cleaning up the refuse in the ocean – Ford’s narration repeats this catch phrase or another similar one multiple times throughout the film. The piece as a whole could possibly be subtitled as The Many Faces of Shark since according to the film, sharks are (among other things) demons, gods, pirates, scavengers, villains, and heroes. Eventually though, one of the few things a viewer is likely to take away from this production is that circa 1981, damn little was known about sharks in general, but particularly the great white.

as expected
As expected, there’s plenty of footage of sharks in action – at least once the documentary gets going. It takes awhile.

Playing somewhat similarly to the types of educational film strips high school students are shown in science class (are these goofy things even shown anymore?), Great White Death is a rather comprehensive examination of what was known about sharks in the years immediately following the release of Jaws. This examination starts off with (what else?) a(n ill-advised and ridiculous) fifteen minute “history of mankind” section, just in case there was any question or confusion about where mankind’s relationship with the world around him and specifically the oceans came from. Through the rest of the picture, there’s some description of shark behavior and biology (segments that prove just how primitive mankind’s understanding of these creatures was at the time), and a discussion about how sharks are viewed by different cultures. While most humans have some innate fear of the creatures (I dunno – that whole “they could eat me alive” thing tends to ruin the appeal of large predatory animals), sharks are idolized both as gods or as demons in some cultures – cue the staple footage of nearly naked native people engaging in some sort of “ritual.” Later on, the documentary details methods used to deter sharks from coming in contact with people in the first place and documents a camera crew’s attempt to capture footage of large white sharks in their natural environments.

white pointer

The fact that this production didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know is something I was willing to overlook with regard to its overall quality – this film was after all made nearly three and a half decades ago and science has learned quite a bit over that period of time. What is not so easy to ignore was the fact that this film’s tone is wildly inconsistent. The film preaches conservationist ideals one second (for instance, the idea that sharks provide a valuable service to the earth’s oceans and should be left alone), then presented the creatures as dangerous “man-eaters” the next. I really wasn’t sure what the point of this film was: Lebel’s haphazard script could talk a big game of “save the sharks” all he wants, but if the next scene shows an angry Australian abalone diver talking about how sharks are evil and deserve to be killed while he describes his death-defying encounter with a particularly aggressive white shark, the message of tolerance is probably immediately forgotten. This whole documentary rambles, rants, and raves, all the while seeming to double back on itself numerous times in terms of the information and message it’s trying to get across. The sense of repetition in the narration is bad enough, but when the repeated messages aren’t even the same as what was being stated earlier, the whole of the film just seems like a mess.

she's got the look
If looks could kill…

As would be expected from any number of the rather dubious, Italian-made “mondo” documentaries of the 1960s (films like Mondo Cane which offered up a mix of authentic scenes with obvious fabricated footage), Great White Death showcases a phony sequence of a shark attacking a pair of female bathers right off the bat. This (hopefully at least) establishes that a viewer has to take everything he sees here with a grain of salt. A scene in which a human skull is retrieved from the gullet of a dead shark just “to prove to doubters” that sharks do in fact occasionally eat people is one scene where there seems to at least be some level of manipulation of facts going on in the way the film is constructed. Honestly, who in 1981 would have “doubted” that sharks do indeed sometimes devour human beings? Jaws alone would have reinforced that point!

ah the old
Ah, the old human skull in the shark routine…

That said, Great White Death does include some genuinely shocking, unnerving, and/or amazing scenes. One such sequence involves an attempt to capture a live white shark by using the Jaws technique of wearing him out with barrels. When this huge creature is finally lifted out of the water by use of a winch, narrator Ford triumphantly declares “we have conquered the great white,” but is this actually the case? I was rather astonished by footage of a great white caught on rod and reel being devoured by an even bigger great white as it’s being hauled in and footage that details the habit of some sharks to be “uterine cannibals,” i.e. literally eating their way out of their mother during gestation. More harrowing are scenes involving the positively brutal (for sharks anyway) net systems that have been installed around the beaches of South Africa. Though these nets have lowered shark attack numbers (the history of South African shark attacks is long and rather gruesome, culminating in the “” period of 1957-58), watching slowly dying sharks desperately struggle to free themselves from the netting is pretty awful and potentially upsetting. I’m honestly not entirely convinced that the “alternate method” of being stabbed to death in the head is all that bad in comparison – at least the sharks stabbed to death die quickly.

shark in netFootage of sharks desperately struggling in nets is rather distressing.

Finally, it’d be impossible to ignore this film’s obvious WHOA moment: authentic footage of a 1964 great white attack off the coast of Australia in which diver Henri Bource’s leg was taken off slightly below the knee. Though Bource survives and actually explains in the documentary his side of this story, this footage is incredibly graphic, showing efforts to apply a tourniquet to Bource (going into full-shock mode and twitching violently as he’s hauled from the sea) before he bleeds out all over the deck. Needless to say, Great White Death (which also includes for your viewing pleasure some goopy dissection footage) is not for the squeamish even if Amazon does label it as (inexplicably) being rated PG.

bource
Rescuers work to save Bource’s live – miraculously, he survived this attack.

At the end of the day, Great White Death would be only moderately interesting even for those who are fascinated with the ocean’s ultimate predators. Told from the perspective of an underwater photographer (which seems odd considering that actor Glenn Ford narrates the film), the documentary takes a LONG time to get going, is slow-moving and repetitious when it does, and really doesn’t include any information that most viewers wouldn’t already know. The underwater scenes deliver the goods, and there are some cool images of sharks in action – but footage like this can be seen almost anywhere anymore, and the entire picture looks very drab due to the soft picture quality of any surviving print of the film. Though the antiquated Great White Death is decent for what it is, viewers that want to catch a vintage shark documentary would be better off tracking down 1971’s excellent .


Though released several times over in different DVD packages (a limited edition disc from Troma as well as ones from Westlake Entertainment and CFS releasing), none of these offers anything other than a full-frame print of the film.


5/10 : Makes up for the relatively scarce glimpses of gore with some VERY intense scenes, including an actual shark attack and animal deaths. This film is not for the easily offended.

glennyounger
0/10 : Goofy narration – check! Anything offensive – nope!


1/10 : A few scantily clad women and glimpses of “tribal nudity.” Surely, you know what to expect there…


3/10 : This shark documentary offers up a wealth of information that most viewers would already be familiar with. Thus, it’s somewhat pointless today.


Pseudo-profound rambling galore: “…a world where the shark, as a god or diabolical wretch of the sea, has always been, throughout history, solicitor of death…and death of course has always been man’s ultimate sacrifice…”

Thanks Glenn!
glenn

Video: Henri Bource Shark Attack – Warning : THIS VIDEO IS GRAPHIC!

SHARK WEEK 2014 NIGHT FOUR: ZOMBIE SHARKS // SPAWN OF JAWS: THE BIRTH

ZOMBIE SHARKS and SPAWN OF JAWS: THE BIRTH

(3/5)

Pros: Typically fascinating factual information and wonderful photography

Cons: Neither of these shows lived up to the hype surrounding them

Featuring two of the (in my opinion) slightly more gimmicky programs thus far on the 2014 version of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2014, Night Four (i.e. Wednesday, August 13) didn’t really offer much that I hadn’t seen before (either on previous Shark Week programming or shows that I’ve caught elsewhere). The opening show of the night was the hour-long Zombie Sharks, a special which dealt with the topic of tonic immobility in various shark species. Basically, this condition (which also is called “playing dead” in various other animal species) is a defense mechanism in animals in which they enter a sort of trance-like state and seem to be either “sleeping” or paralyzed. In sharks, the tonic state is often prompted by flipping the animals onto their backs, and the Zombie Sharks program investigates the notion that ocean predators are exploiting this weakness in shark species in order to prey on them.

thresher
Thresher shark on its back and in a state of tonic immobility.

Following the appearance of dead white sharks in various regions of the world, marine biologist Eli Martinez travels the globe exploring the process of tonic immobility in sharks. Starting off by examining how smaller shark species like the silky shark can be prompted to enter this paralytic state, Martinez slowly moves up the ladder of shark varieties, attempting to instigate tonic states in larger tiger sharks and finally in sixteen-foot great whites. As might be obvious, Martinez’s investigation gets increasingly more dangerous as time progresses, and when he actually leaves the safety of a protective shark cage in an attempt to coax a “playful” great white into a tonic state, Zombie Sharks reaches a level of insanity that few shows during Shark Week would even attempt. Remember kids: pay attention to the warnings: Never attempt to “pet” white sharks!


For the love of all that’s holy, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME OR AT SEA.

As is the case with most television documentaries, Zombie Sharks is well-photographed and somewhat scary – especially towards the end. When a large male white shark is seen urinating in the water around the shark cage in an attempt to assert its dominance over the enclosure’s human occupants, it becomes clear that these animals simply aren’t to be messed around with. The program does a nice job of explaining the tonic state as well as some aspects of shark behavior and anatomy but at least for me, it has a major flaw. The script for this show almost is presented as a sort of mystery in which Martinez attempts to determine which sea creatures are responsible for the deaths of some large sharks which have washed up on various beaches around the world, but to anyone paying attention in the show (or with previous knowledge of sharks) the culprit isn’t a mystery at all. There have actually been several programs documenting the process by which orca (or killer) whales can prey on even the largest of great whites by turning them upside down in the water. Thus, even if this show is informative and well put-together, it simply seemed a rehash of known information “souped up” with a new title to capitalize on the recent zombie craze.

 

The second program of the night entitled Spawn of Jaws: The Birth also seemed gimmicky to me, though for a completely different reason. A few years ago, actor and shark enthusiast Paul Walker (of Fast and the Furious fame) featured on a Shark Week program in which he and marine biologist Dr. Michael Domeier attempted to tag and track an extremely large, pregnant female white shark nicknamed “Gill Raker.” Upon completion of the tagging operation, the program ended in a manner so as to be continued later on. This was mostly due to the fact that the 18 month white shark gestation period meant that the inevitable follow-up show would take a while to complete. In the meantime however, after having filmed some scenes to be included in part two of the ongoing Spawn of Jaws program, Walker died in a 2013 automobile accident. What this meant it terms of Spawn of Jaws: The Birth is that this show could (in some way at least) capitalize on the inevitable real-life drama that results when a personality in the program dies midway through production. Though I wasn’t privy to such advertising, apparently Walker’s appearance in this program was hyped by Discovery Channel leading up to this premiere: not necessarily a surprising eventuality, but one that (to me) seems to be somewhat in poor taste. It’s almost as if Walker’s death is being exploited to “get butts in the seat” to watch this program that many viewers might not otherwise have cared about.


Future Jaws at play.

To their credit, in the documentary itself, the producers don’t really harp on the Paul Walker connection too much. Though Walker’s Fast and the Furious costar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson introduces Spawn of Jaws and says a few words about his friend, during the show itself Walker shows up at one point, helps Domeier with some experiments, then vanishes. Next thing we know, Domeier is having to tearfully offer up a tribute to his now-deceased friend. Honestly, I was OK with Walker’s death being treated as one small aspect of the bigger story going on in this program: this is, after all, Shark Week, not a block of programs dedicated to celebrities in general, or Paul Walker specifically.

walker & domeier
Walker and Domeier sharing a moment at sea.

As Domeier attempts to keep track of Gill Raker, he’s surprised to find the creature seeming to stop for an extended period off the California coast. A closer examination of this area reveals that the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles does appear to be a white shark pupping area, and the program includes some really amazing glimpses of young white sharks swimming in California waters. More surprising – and potentially very unfortunate – is the fact that Gill Raker suddenly heads south into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, an area notorious for its extremely lax fishing regulation. Domeier fears that the shark he’s followed for almost two years will wind up being killed by Mexican fisherman who could expect to gain some $70,000 for hauling in a large white shark. At times, The Birth becomes quite tense as Domeier frets over the possibility of losing the opportunity to see where Gill Raker actually gives birth.

juvenile white
Juvenile white shark appears behind two California surfers.

Not much at all is known about shark gestation and the birthing process, so it was interesting to find out the details behind white shark litters that was provided by this program. Here, we learn that whites give birth to a dozen or so live, four-foot-long babies and that shark mothers may actually seek out the exact areas in which they themselves were born in order to pup. All the interesting facts aside though, Spawn of Jaws: The Birth may contain the single biggest letdown of 2014’s Shark Week: after a huge, suspenseful buildup, Domeier and his team never actually see the expectant shark mother or her brood for that matter – any glimpses of the shark were those acquired in 2012. The program ends with the research team merely speculating about where Gill Raker gave birth: quite a disappointment for a program which seemed to tease the fact that it would actually detail (and capture) the white shark birthing process. I can only imagine that the viewer who onscreen-tweeted that he had popcorn ready for the show’s finale was incredibly frustrated by a conclusion which accomplished precisely nothing in the bigger picture of the program.

heavily pregant white
A heavily pregnant white: something you won’t see much of in Spawn of Jaws

In the end, I was a bit underwhelmed by Wednesday’s Shark Week programming. The two shows featured here weren’t a complete wash out since both certainly presented a bunch of interesting information and some startling images. Still, neither Zombie Sharks nor Spawn of Jaws: The Birth quite lived up to the level of hype that had been built around them. Maybe the major problem is that I’ve come to expect better programs from Shark Week – and indeed got outstanding documentaries on the previous couple of nights. I guess then that the ultimate thing to take away from the worthwhile but hardly necessary shows seen on Night Four of Shark Week 2014 is that you simply can’t win ‘em all.

Sadly, Zombie Sharks is nothing like this:

“I Got Friends…They Depend on Me…” THE JAWS OF DEATH

THE JAWS OF DEATH

image-placeholder

(2.5/5)

Pros: Amusingly goofy; stunts are impressive since this film features real sharks

Cons: Confused tone; laughable script; iffy acting; pretty bleak and grimy looking

One of the first cash-in films produced in the wake of the success of 1975’s Jaws, the following year’s The Jaws of Death (also known under the title Mako: The Jaws of Death though no mako sharks are even seen in the picture) actually has more in common with the definitively 1970s genre of ecological horror and “animals strike back” films of the Willard, Ben, and Stanley variety than with Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster. Made in rural Florida by director/producer William Grefe who specialized in regional films designed for release in specific markets (and actually previously directed Stanley, the 1972 “my friends are snakes” movie), Jaws of Death tells the story of a loner named Sonny Stein who has become a friend to all sharks following an escapade in the Philippines in which the creatures saved him from armed pursuers. Years after the incident in which he was given a protective medallion by a Filipino shaman, Sonny lives in the Florida Keys as a sort of reclusive shark wrangler, but it seems all the locals have an interest in his sharks for one reason or another. A sleazy tavern owner wants to use a large tiger shark for an aquarium act at his establishment, while a sneaky scientist wants to observe a pregnant shark named Matilda giving birth. Though he initially agrees to allow these people access to his “friends,” Sonny quickly realizes that, amongst these snake-like characters, the only beings he can truly trust are the sharks themselves.

that's what you get
That’s what you get, Sharkhater!

Written by Robert W. Morgan from a story by director Grefe, Jaws of Death becomes one of the most downbeat and borderline depressing of the already dark ecological horror films of the 1970s. There isn’t even a glimpse of cheer or hope anywhere to be found in this picture: every human character aside from Sonny (who’s declared to be “a sickie” by all those around him due to his rather unhealthy relationship with predatory fish) comes across as a complete scumbag, liar, and cheat. One might think then that this film’s point would be to suggest that sharks are less ruthless than most people, but the tone of the film seems utterly confused. Part of the problem here is that Sonny is portrayed as the hero of the film, yet he has no problem ruthlessly killing humans who he believes are doing his friends the sharks wrong. In the end, there’s no sympathetic characters at all in the film: though Morgan seems at times to be arguing for shark conservation (albeit in a sketchy manner since sharks are actually killed onscreen in the picture), even these creatures are demonized and made villains by the end of the film. It prompts the question: Who exactly are we supposed to be rooting for here?


Richard Jaeckel as the FROGSUIT AVENGER!

Richard Jaeckel, who had a bit of a run in these types of movies – he also appeared in Day of the Animals and Grizzly, plays the role of Sonny in a dead serious manner and actually seems quite credible. Unfortunately, this also means that he recites some of the most goofy lines of dialogue imaginable with a straight-face, making for numerous unintentionally funny moments. Jaeckel’s muddled explanation of science and scientists is one thing (“it doesn’t make an difference what science thinks…whatever is, is. If they don’t believe it, it doesn’t change what is. Maybe it’s better they just don’t know…it makes them dumb” um WHAT!!?!), but listening to him angrily defend his “friends” the sharks is another (“HIS NAME IS SAMMY” he mutters angrily at one point; later he urges a scientist to treat Matilda with respect – “she’s very special to me”). Additionally, Jaeckel plays Sonny in much the same manner that Tom Laughlin portrayed the Native American ass-kicker Billy Jack in the film series of the same name. When any of the people around him start threatening Sammy or Matilda, Sonny…just…goes…berserk, leading to some of the most constipated and stiff fight scenes found in any film from the 1970s. It’s worth noting that Jaws of Death almost seems to predate some of the “anything goes” and gimmicky slasher films of the early 1980s in scenes where the frogsuit-clad Sonny viciously stalks human victims. These scenes aren’t at all effective as moments of horror in the hands of the dubiously talented Grefe, but still…


Jaeckel about ready to snap…

Smaller roles in the film are occupied by an iffy but nothing if not rather colorful cast of supporting players. Harold “Odd Job” Sakata (known for his role in the Bond film Goldfinger) plays a hulking but dimwitted thug hired by a weakling scientist as an enforcer, while the morbidly obese Buffy Dee plays Barney, the sleazeball bar owner who not only has no real problem if his wife Karen is raped by Sakata (“he’s one of my best customers!”) but also -gasp!- starts to antagonize the tiger shark recruited to appear in her aquarium act with high-frequency sound waves. This, or course, bumps him to the top of Sonny’s hit list, leading to one of the many deviously enjoyable kill scenes in this film (the human body being towed behind a boat is a keeper). Though a viewer winds up rooting for a character in Sonny who is definitely not a good, well-balanced dude, it’s hard to deny the feeling of satisfaction that occurs whenever Sonny knocks off one of the jerkoff characters surrounding him (usually by feeding them to hungry sharks).

Buffy Dee
Now that’s a meal fit for Jaws – the rotund Buffy Dee as the sleazy bar owner.

Jennifer Bishop is perhaps the most confusing character in the film, playing Barney’s wife Karen who initially comes across as a potential love interest for the generally likable if strange Sonny. Though she apparently is not entirely satisfied in her marriage (she flat out comes on to Sonny early in the film and has a rather angry outburst at Barney, finishing up with a plea for her husband to “beat the hell” out of the men who tried to rape her or “if [he] can’t do that, just sit on them”), as time goes on I just wanted this despicable woman to die a horrible death. When she demands that Sonny “get out of here, you sharklover” she finally went over the line, though I’m not sure if that declaration is supposed to be threatening or just ridiculous.


Movie gets bonus points for having real people in the water with real sharks…but that’s about it.

Technically speaking, Jaws of Death is pretty atrocious. Some of the problems may be due to the age and inferior condition of the print used in the version I watched, but this film (photographed by Julio C. Chavez) looks dreary throughout with an endless string of lousy day-for-night shots. It’s also just plain ugly in terms of its visual sense – though obviously filmed on location in Florida, it may as well have been filmed in the local mud bog for how lifeless the setting appears. There’s never an adequate build up of tension or any level of excitement in the picture; even if the film has nice underwater photography and scenes of actors interacting with real sharks (including some legitimately dangerous tigers), the entire thing is sluggish and dull, playing out to a gurgling and tedious music score.

if only
If only ANYTHING in Jaws of Death came close to being as memorable as this moment…

Though it could be argued that the oppressively downbeat mood of the film was intentional (and if so, it’s a job well done), I was ultimately left with a sense that Jaws of Death could have been something definitively unique in the history of rather listless shark movies – but that it simply was handled poorly by a cast and crew who didn’t seem to have their hearts in the production. Always the professional, Jaeckel tries his hardest (witness the absurd, tearful conclusion of the story) and even appears to do many of his own stunts with the sharks, but he’s let down by a director who plays this one by the book and a script that can’t get any sort of momentum going. At best, this flick is an intriguing curiosity that would be entertaining for fans of bad movies, however most viewers would be better off avoiding it altogether.


DVD from Legacy Entertainment is full-frame with soft picture quality. No extras are included.


3/10 : A few shark attacks and some brief violence: mainly, it’s a series of scenes showing blood swirling around in the water. There’s no explicit gore.


1/10 : Very brief, very minor profanity. Nothing much.


1/10 : Some minor sexual content and innuendo. No nudity.


goofy sharks
7/10 : Would be enjoyable for those looking for a laughably bad shark movie.


“You guys really kill me. Don’t you know no better’n’da swim out where people are fishin? No dang wonder ya’ll disappear. Gotta be pretty dumb ta swim out here.”


TRAILER:

SHARK WEEK 2014 NIGHT THREE: ALIEN SHARKS // LAIR OF THE MEGA SHARK

ALIEN SHARKS: RETURN TO THE ABYSS and LAIR OF THE MEGA SHARK

(4/5)

Pros: Weirdo sharks galore – and footage of extremely aggressive great whites in action

Cons: Nothing major

Day three of 2014’s Shark Week programming on the Discovery Channel featured a two-hour block of all-new shows that served as a sort of continuation of programs seen either earlier this year or last. After an opening two days which featured shows that were speculative at best, downright phony at worst, I was pleased to find that Tuesday, August 12’s lineup of shows showcased legitimate documentaries focusing on authentic footage and real creatures. Looking at the strange and potentially quite frightening sharks on display in both Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss and Lair of the Mega Shark, it’s difficult to understand why Discovery Channel’s producers would even need to really “invent” or fictionalize programming. There are more than enough fascinating, bizarre, and fearsome real creatures here to fill any number of documentaries.

Frilled shark
The snake-like frilled shark – is there really much question where legends of sea serpents came from?

The first of Tuesday’s shows was Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss, an examination of various incredibly strange and outrageous deep sea shark species. This program follows a marine biology grad student named Paul Clerkin who set out to examine these seldom-seen sharks by stationing himself on a deep sea trawler as it journeyed through the southern Indian Ocean. Whenever sharks would be hauled up in the vessel’s nets, Paul would be summoned both to examine the creatures and make an attempt to return them unharmed to the oceans. Many of these deep sea sharks have incredibly slow reproductive rates and appear to be relatively scarce, thus it’s important to try and save as many of them as possible from being killed in nets designed to catch other fish species.

Chimaera
The creepy-looking chimaera – the so-called “ghost shark.”

Though the basic framework of a story provided some structure to the program, Alien Sharks more had the feel of being an elaborate session of “show and tell.” Various species of bizarre sharks are examined by Clerkin, and a talking head scientist pops in to explain things about these creatures that Clerkin can not. This format seems a bit antiquated in 2014, not at all as flashy as other documentaries airing during the Shark Week lineup. Fortunately, as might be expected, the animals seen in Alien Sharks make up for the ho-hum presentation – this show provides glimpses of dozens of frequently unbelievable varieties of shark. These range from the comparatively more widely known sharks like the (that has a rather amazing protruding jaw), the (a large shark species that uses a luminescent mouth to attract krill), and the (which bores holes out of its prey using saw-like circular jaws) to incredibly obscure species like the (a species of bottom-feeding shark that almost looks like a carpet of seaweed sitting on the ocean floor), and the extremely elusive . This last species was one Clerkin explicitly set out to document: living at extreme depths it has glowing orange eyes (!) and needle-like teeth – a true weirdo even among the universally strange deep sea sharks, but unfortunately, one is never caught during the program.

megamouth
Megamouth – millions of years old, undiscovered until 1976. What else hides in the deep?

Despite the fact that the “holy grail” Clerkin is looking for is never found, I massively enjoyed the footage of all of the creatures that are seen in this program. It’s absolutely amazing to see how living at the bottom of the ocean ( seen in the show live at depths of 7000 feet or more) and in complete darkness has led to some incredible adaptations in these species. Many have crazy-looking eyes (look for the appearance of the poisonous – the so-called “ghost shark”), and a few have some form of bioluminescence to either ward off predators or attract prey. It’s worth noting also that some of the craziest animals seen in Alien Sharks aren’t sharks at all: it’s stunning to see and one unlikely species called the (commonly – and appropriately – called the “spook fish”) is nearly beyond description. I honestly can’t believe a creature like this exists.

barreleye fish
The positively unbelievable barreleye fish a.k.a. the spook fish. It’s entire head is transparent. See those “eyes” on the front of the creature? They’re nostrils – the creature’s eyes actually are those greenish “orbs” inside of its head. Talk about aliens…

In comparison to Alien Sharks, Lair of the Mega Shark is a bit more conventional and typical for what often features on Shark Week. This program follows a camera crew to Stewart Island, New Zealand in an attempt to photograph the largest great whites in existence. Reports of 20-foot-long monsters are common in this vicinity, and Shark Week veterans Andy Cassagrande and Jeff Kurr intend to film them using both some rather high and rather low-tech camera options.

cuban white shark
This white shark caught off Cuba in the 1940s was 21 feet long – the official record.  Nevertheless, rumors of monsters of at least this size  persist to this day.

In a somewhat similar manner to Monday night’s Monster Hammerhead program, Lair of the Mega Shark took a more dramatic approach to telling its story and it seemed more stylized than many Shark Week documentaries. This was especially true in scenes where Cassagrande finds himself underwater and surrounded by large great whites. Early in the episode, while swimming freely – i.e. without a shark cage – Cassagrande stumbles across an underwater kelp forest that’s not only stunningly beautiful but also seriously spooky. When a large white shark appears out of the cover of the tall vegetation, it creates an extremely dangerous situation for the horrendously exposed diver, but even later instances in the show, in which Cassagrande is protected within a steel shark cage, frequently get mighty hairy.

kelp forest
Does this kelp forest look like a good place to go looking for great whites? You gotta give it to these photographic crews – they very well may be nuts.

This program has a few moments of jaw-dropping bravery and/or stupidity – Cassagrande is forced to admit on more than one occasion that what he’s attempting to do here is simply “not smart.” One definitively “dodgy” moment occurs when Cassagrande, sitting in a small dinghy, attempts to deploy a “fin camera” on the dorsal fin of a 14-foot great white – by hand. This whole operation not only seemed very half-assed but mind-bogglingly dangerous. I’ve seen fin cameras being deployed before, but the procedure attempted this time around was ridiculous and I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit surprised that everything eventually worked out. Even this alarming moment couldn’t compare to the show’s finale, in which a dive team heads into a nighttime cage dive. Surrounded by huge white sharks that are in an aggressive feeding pattern, this may be one of the most out-of-control situations I’ve seen in a shark documentary. The cage is constantly being bumped and prodded by very inquisitive and bad-tempered sharks, and eventually the smaller (i.e. 14-16 foot) sharks scatter when an 18-20 foot behemoth shows up.

new zealand
Both Australia and New Zealand are known for their resident shark populations which, as you can see, come in close contact with people.

In some ways, Lair of the Mega Shark wasn’t nearly as interesting as the show that featured earlier in the night, but it was probably the more outright entertaining of the two programs. Certainly, the narrative seems to have been manipulated a bit to accentuate certain moments, but like most Shark Week programs, Mega Shark is awe-inspiring to look at. I also found it quite interesting to see really “amped up” and large great whites going into a feeding frenzy at night – night time dives involving sharks are always dangerous since these creatures behave completely differently after dark. The climactic sequence presented in Mega Shark is I believe one of the few that shows patently aggressive white shark feeding behavior – this is definitely some unique footage and speaks to the fact that these creatures may be naturally nocturnal.

thsi kinda
This kinda stuff right here…pretty damn ballsy.

All things considered, night three of Shark Week 2014 had a bit of something for everyone. The examination of odd shark species was pretty amazing, and the second program of the night also had plenty of educational value as well as enough action, suspense, and drama to fill a handful of hour-long specials. Thus far, I’ve been impressed by the lack of “I was attacked by a shark; listen to my story” type shows on this year’s Shark Week: maybe Discovery Channel finally realized that the same types of stories can only be told so many times before they lose their pop. In any case, I’m looking forward to see what the rest of the week holds – though not entirely enthused by the knowledge that last year’s Megalodon special gets regurgitated and “enhanced” come Friday night…

SHARK WEEK 2014 NIGHT TWO: JAWS STRIKES BACK // MONSTER HAMMERHEAD

JAWS STRIKES BACK and MONSTER HAMMERHEAD

(4/5)

Pros: Really amazing footage of white sharks engaging in stalking and predation

Cons: What would Shark Week be without at least one “monster hunt” show…

After an opening night that saw the broadcast of the two hour mockumentary Shark of Darkness, the obvious controversial piece in this year’s programming lineup, night two of Shark Week 2014 was perhaps more typical, with one outstanding straight-faced documentary and another hour that took a more stylized approach to the search for a twenty foot long great hammerhead rumored to live in the waters off Florida. Considering the attention given to shows like Mountain Monsters and Finding Bigfoot, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that Discovery Channel would choose to adopt the “monster hunt” formula for at least one of the shows during Shark Week. Monday, August 11’s premiere of Monster Hammerhead certainly fell in line with that genre of television program, but perhaps seemed a bit more credible than the average episode of a show like Beasts of the Bayou. For me, it was a good thing that the opening show in the day’s schedule delivered some of the best shark footage I’ve ever seen.

shark cam
Shark Cam in action, getting right up in the grill of various large great whites.

Jaws Strikes Back continues the adventures of shark researcher Greg Skomal who was featured in the 2013 version of Shark Week monitoring great white activity off the Massachusetts coast. This time around, Skomal and his crew headed to remote Guadalupe Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to continue the study of white shark behavior and feeding habits. The area around this island is known for its colony of large elephant seals and for a population of equally immense white sharks, and Skomal hoped to be able to document the manner in which these large sharks hunted down prey. Aiding in this process was the utilization of an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) known as the REMUS Shark Cam. This torpedo-shaped device is utilized in conjunction with acoustic tags, and software on the AUV allows it to literally hone in on and track down the tagged animal independently of an operator. Equipped with numerous cameras, this device allows for glimpses of underwater shark activity never seen before, and to say the footage acquired by this unit were breathtaking would be an understatement.

attack
In attack formation…Shark Cam better brace for impact!

Going down to depths of around 300 feet of water in the deep blue waters of the Pacific, the Shark Cam was able to record the hunting behavior of several large white sharks, including two pregnant females in the 18 to 20 foot range as well as a smaller and more aggressive male. Images of these creatures easing their way along – and nearly blending in against – the sea floor were simply stunning: I was absolutely shocked at the clarity of the images coming back from this sub. Possibly more unbelievable were glimpses of various large predators actually stalking and even attacking the Shark Cam device itself. At one point in the show, a large shark emerges from the blue darkness below the sub and, traveling at some 35 miles per hour, launches a so-called “vertical deep water strike.” This was the first time such a phenomenon was documented, and it really was scary to not only see the size of these animals (the Guadalupe white sharks are among the biggest in the world) but also see the speed at which these sharks are able to launch an attack on a prey item. Jaws Strikes Back, tightly edited and legitimately suspenseful in the manner it’s constructed, is one of the best Shark Week shows I can immediately recall: it would almost be a must for those viewers seriously interested in the behavior of great white sharks.

cam
…and that’s one way that undersea equipment can be lost.

Not quite as good was the subsequent program, Monster Hammerhead. Taking the guise of the typical “let’s hunt down a monster show,” this hour-long piece chronicled the efforts of two teams of researchers (one based in Florida, the other in Bimini, Bahamas) to track down and tag large great hammerheads. Since the 1940s (if you believe the narration in this program; I’d tend to take it with a grain of salt) there have been reports of twenty to twenty-five foot hammerheads sharks in this region, with the one reputed to live off the Florida coast being nicknamed “Old Hitler” due to the manner in which it was first reported: by military personnel scanning the waters for German U-boats. As a Florida-based fishing crew sets lures and attempts to catch this creature, a similar crew in the Bahamas is looking for their own monster-sized hammerhead nicknamed “the Harbormaster.” The Bahamas team, organized by a local shark research lab, is easily the more scientific: they have some unique ways of measuring large sharks, including the placing of a grid on the ocean floor and the use of laser sights. Though both teams certainly find some interesting specimens, can either one prove the existence of a boat-sized monster?

odd
The truly odd but nonetheless awe-inspiring giant hammerhead.

If a viewer has seen any of the Bigfoot or hillbilly creature shows, he’ll know what to expect here. These crews seem to more be clutching at straws in an attempt to find a large hammerhead than actually following established research procedure and like the typical episode of Mountain Monsters, it struck me as being comical that (according to the narration) the crews were always right on the heels of the monster shark without actually finding it. For me, it’s positively preposterous that a group of researchers would magically stumble upon a single, specific, legendary hammerhead in the vastness of the oceans virtually minutes after they began their investigation – this is, frankly, impossible or at least HIGHLY improbable. Still, I’ll hand it to this program that both groups featured in the show actually were tagging sharks in an attempt to learn more about these creatures and their habitat ranges: that alone gives this program much more legitimate scientific value than the entire first season run of the show’s obvious inspiration Beasts of the Bayou. In terms of its presentation, Hammerhead is much more stylized than the typical documentary, having almost a dream-like feel to it due to the heavy use of slow-motion cameras. Monster Hammerhead also feels heavily manipulated, adding to the problems I had accepting everything the gruff narration was telling me. There’s quite often a false sense of drama and/or tension added to various scenes, and the open-ended conclusion simply seemed hokey.


Large hammerheads have been caught over the years, but does a twenty-plus foot monster actually exist?

All in all though, I’d call night two of Shark Week 2014 worthwhile. Yes, the Monster Hammerhead show was the second phony special in as many days, but the exemplary Jaws Strikes Back made it easy to overlook Hammerhead’s imperfections and problems. As I mentioned when discussing Shark of Darkness, it’s almost has to be expected that Discovery Channel would sensationalize some of their Shark Week programs in an attempt to lure in viewers: some percentage of potential viewers simply wouldn’t stick around for honest documentaries, irregardless of how outstanding they were. Really, the monster-related shows are a tradeoff, giving Shark Week more appeal even as it lowers the credibility of the programming block as a whole. Nevertheless, two days in, I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed the original programming presented in this year’s Shark Week: hopefully, the strong lineup continues through the rest of the week.

A Soft Porn Interpretation of JAWS: ¡TINTORERA!

¡TINTORERA!

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(2/5)

Pros: Quite funny at times; sleazy as all get out

Cons: Many problems: overly lengthy; boring; minimal shark action; clunky construction and direction; the “artistry” of actor Hugo Stiglitz…

Directed by Mexican trash auteur Rene Cardona, Jr., 1977’s ¡TINTORERA! (a.k.a. Tintorera: Tiger Shark) plays like a mashup of Jaws and a soft porn movie. Loaded with scantily clad bodies and lots of free lovin’, this gloriously trashy film follows the (s)exploits of Steven and Miguel, two of the least likely Lotharios that the cinema has ever seen. Steven, an absurdly wealthy American businessman, has traveled to (a pre-Spring Break haven) Cancun to live on a rather lavish houseboat as an escape from the stresses of his job, while Miguel makes money by “exploiting” the local women. After feuding over the affections of the same woman, Steven and Miguel become buddies, working in tandem to bed any female in their vicinity – all of whom seem to be of the ditzy and/or skanky variety. Eventually, the two set their sights on an English tourist named Gabriella, setting up a “perfect triangle” in which Steven and Miguel get all the sex they want as long as they don’t fall in love with the plucky woman. Meanwhile, as the two guys struggle with what appears to be unfulfilled homosexual attraction for one another, a large tiger shark cruises the nearby waters, searching out human victims and building up (?) to a not-so epic showdown between man and beast.


From left, Andres Garcia, Susan George, and the man…the myth…the legend Hugo Stiglitz.

Written by director Cardona, Jr. from a novel by oceanographer Ramon Bravo (who also served as the cinematographer on the film and did a horrible job I might add), Tintorera hardly plays like a horror film at all. This picture is much more concerned with the romantic exploits of its leading male characters, and in doing focusing on these moronic, horn-dog characters, it very nearly becomes a comedy. While I could almost buy the athletic and confident Andres Garcia in his portrayal of Miguel as the type of man women might fawn over, the stiff-as-a-board Hugo Stiglitz is so awkward in his acting here that the film is quite often hilarious. Constantly in a cranky, surly mood and having the tendency to snap at the people around him, it’s impossible to buy this dude (who in the hands of Stiglitz, arguably one of the least talented actors ever to have some semblance of a career, comes across not only as a total creeper but as a complete jerk off and tool bag) as getting anywhere near the amount of tail he does in this film. I love the numerous scenes where Stiglitz stares blankly either directly into the camera or at the woman he’s supposed to be wooing – this man has the charisma of a barn door. The atrocious dubbing in this film doesn’t help matters either since none of the dialogue has any sort of emotion behind it. As a result any of the “drama” in the story (of which there is plenty) is pathetically ineffective; considering the film runs more than two hours long in its director’s cut version, this makes for an extremely drawn-out and boring film. I should point out that the 85-minute “Americanized” version of this film isn’t any better: it’s even less coherent and still tedious.

feel the angst
This, friends, is acting…FEEL THE ANGST

But wait: I know what you’re saying. There’s gotta be some shark action somewhere in here right? Indeed there is. Still, in the hands of Cardona Jr., a viewer shouldn’t be expecting much. Swimming along to a burpy and flatulent musical theme created by composer Basil Poledouris (a bigger talent than this film ever deserved), the less-than-impressive, murderous “Tintorera” is created through the use of an endless supply of stock footage showing normal-sized tiger sharks – ignore that character who insists the beast is twenty feet long…PLEASE! Occasionally, the creature attacks a swimmer or diver, leading to some of the most clumsy gore sequences imaginable. Brutal violence including images of gut-leaking human torsos sinking to the ocean floor or a scene in which a diver’s head is wedged in a shark’s mouth can’t make up for the fact that it’s difficult to determine what’s happening in any of these sequences due to the scatterbrained editing. Especially frustrating is the finale: one of the most inconsequential and muddy endings ever committed to celluloid. After a series of seemingly unconnected images, Tintorera just ends without solving anything. It’s unbelievable that any director (let alone one that, by 1977, had nearly fifteen years of feature film credits under his belt) would have ever believed that this was an effective way of telling a story: in comparison, Lamberto Bava’s 1984 Jaws-clone almost… almost… resembles a good movie.


Level of sleaze throughout the film is ridiculously high. You’ll need a cold shower afterwards.

I suppose given that the film mainly deals with a pair of promiscuous, unlikely man-whores that it’s not entirely surprising that this film is loaded with an astonishing amount of nudity and sexual content, but what maybe is shocking is the appearance of several actresses of note in this piece of trash flick. Susan George of Straw Dogs fame plays the fairly substantial role of Gabriella, demonstrating that her career truly had hit rock bottom by the late ‘70s. George looks great without a top on but can’t do anything to enhance the level of melodrama relating to her character. Also, like many of the characters in this film, her mood switches on a dime for no reason whatsoever: there’s no consistency to this story or the players in it. In peripheral roles, British genre actress Fiona Lewis and a pre-Three’s Company Priscilla Barnes are nothing more than eye-candy in a picture that’s remarkably sleazy and undeniably chauvinistic. Simply put, a picture that demeans women as much as this film does simply couldn’t be made today. It’s worth pointing out however that Tintorera offers up nearly as much male nudity as female. Garcia’s pasty white behind is probably seen more than the shark, and there’s even some brief full-frontal glimpses. Frankly, seeing Stiglitz paraded around in a Speedo (or having to glance upon his unclad can) was enough to make me wanna lose my lunch: presenting this buffoon as the ultimate stud muffin is just absurd.

shark
THAT’S A TWENTY-FOOT LONG SHARK, I SWEAR!

As questionable as this movie is as a whole, it’s most reprehensible for its presentation of positively gratuitous wholesale animal slaughter committed once Stiglitz decides to go on a one-man crusade against all sharks. Though perhaps not as rigorous as what the cannibal genre of horror movies would shortly unleash upon the world in terms of authentic onscreen death, I quickly grew sickened by scenes of sharks being killed either by “bang stick” (i.e. a sort of prod loaded with a rifle cartridge which is fired into the shark’s brain, causing a twitching ballet of suffering and death in the stricken animal) or by being beaten over the head with a club while being dragged out of the water. Some of these scenes are quite bloody – aside from the shark deaths, a turtle is also sliced open, allowing its entire blood supply to drain out – and while the deaths of sea animals isn’t as offensive to most people as watching land animals being killed (why exactly is that?), knowing that many shark species are now endangered precisely because of this type of behavior on the part of humans makes these scenes all the more disgusting and distressing to watch.

were it only
Were it only that Steven would have been killed early on, this whole film would have been much improved.

In the end, what we have here is one of the lousiest of the low-grade Jaws clones to come out in the late 1970s and early ’80s: a film that blows any opportunity it had to succeed by not only mismarketing itself as a horror film, but by giving us a script that is simply painful to sit through. One can almost imagine with some (or hell…a LOT of) tightening up and tinkering, this flick could have at least been watchable – the amount of gorgeous women willing to drop trou on camera alone should have been enough to maintain some level of viewer interest. As it is though, Tintorera is not only sloppy and ugly to look at despite it’s idyllic locations, it’s a outright mess. Full of jaw-dropping dialogue, preposterous story elements, crude gore effects, and wooden acting, it may be one that fans of bad movies would enjoy (I for one laughed a lot), but it’s not something most people would ever need to see.


ACTING!


“25th Anniversary Edition” from Desert Mountain Media presents a rather soft full-frame print of the film. Both Spanish and English are spoken during the film, and an optional subtitle track translates whatever is being spoken to the other of these two languages (i.e. if English is being spoken, it translates into Spanish). Aside from very brief cast and crew biographies, a selection of trailers to other Spanish-language films is the only bonus material included.


8/10 : Some graphic gore effects relating to shark attacks, but the real shocks are provided by authentic scenes of animal slaughter. This last thing makes the film all the more distasteful, but it’s very much a product of its time.


3/10 : Very isolated, rather minimal instances of strong profanity in the subtitle tracks. It’s really the overpowering stupidity of the dialogue that’s offensive.


8/10 : A ton of full nudity (both male and female) and sexual content, but this film isn’t at all titillating despite the presence of some good-looking women.


5/10 : Certainly one of the more bizarre Jaws clones out there, but also one of the most dull and boring of the bunch.


Dialogue, or description of the film: “It was horrible…HORRIBLE. This goes beyond anything.”

Click the picture below to watch original trailer -

WARNING! Trailer Not Suitable for Work!