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Way back in 1954 Roger Corman put together one of his very first films for somewhere between $12 and $25 thousand dollars. It was about a tentacled Monster from the Ocean Floor that preyed upon various unlucky beachgoers. The show was quite a gamble, as Corman could only hope that a distributor would pick up his picture and pay him a profit. Cut to 55 years later, and Corman has found a ready customer in the SyFy channel. 2010's Sharktopus is a silly monster movie about a tentacled creature that preys upon various unlucky beachgoers, especially ones wearing bikinis. This 'generic monster product' hasn't a single original idea or innovative gimmick and most of its acting doesn't even try to be interesting, yet it's compulsively watchable. Mike MacLean's script is jaded hokum made to specifications for SyFy: ninety minutes of goofy monster gore, suntanned victims and dopey humor. The hybrid shark - octopus monster is the whole show.
No sooner does the corner-cutting bioengineer Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts) demonstrate his secret Navy weapons project S-11, than it breaks free of its remote-control restraints and proceeds to chow down on bathers, boaters, and water sports enthusiasts. Nathan is forced to re-hire danger man Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin), who tracks S-11 down the coast to Mexico. The plan is to tranquilize it with a dart and attach a new control device, so Nathan can continue to rake in defense contract dollars. Flynn must cooperate with Nathan's daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane), who bioengineered the sea beast. The first attempt to bring the monster back to heel is a failure. Nicole discovers that her father has lied to her -- behind her back, he has re-programmed S-11 to go against its natural instincts and attack people at every opportunity. As the death toll mounts, Andy and Nicole realize that they must alter their plan and simply try to kill the monster in any way they can.
Sharktopus can't really be called a dumb movie, as it's far too carefully crafted to fit into its commercial pigeonhole. Corman gives us a monster show engineered to specifications. Scenes are brief and always end with a joke or someone shouting. Every four or five minutes the story shifts to a new location accompanied by a montage of tourist scenery. Unlike classic-era monster shows, the Sharktopus is seen immediately and continues to make appearances at regular intervals. Make a modern viewer watch a real dramatic scene first? You must be kidding.
Corman sidesteps the necessity for multiple versions by giving Sharktopus no nudity, no profanity and no extreme gore -- lots of makeup and CGI blood, but no lingering on bloody innards and hacked-up limbs. The CGI animated monster helps in this respect, as it always looks artificial. The design is arrestingly good-silly, but the effects that integrate the beast into the live action backgrounds aren't trying to win any awards. What does work well are some of the cynical, cartoonish monster attacks, most of which are in the trailer. It is amusing to see an enthusiastic bungee jumper drop away and fall down, down down -- only to be snapped up in mid-air, as if the Sharktopus were a salmon leaping up to nail a dragonfly.
The monster can slaughter people in numerous entertaining ways. It can bite them like a shark or spear them with the barbed tips of a couple of its tentacles. Not only do tentacles emerge from below to drag people off the beach or the decks of boats, the Sharktopus can use them to amble about on dry land. Presented with a little more finesse, Sharktopus might achieve the surreal grandeur of something like the Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab from The Angry Red Planet -- an equally goofy but charming monster idea.
The competent Declan O'Brien also directed SyFy's Corman-produced Cyclops, a real dog of a show that makes Sharktopus seem like classic moviemaking. Given the story parameters the script isn't terrible; it's the film's tone that's off-putting. Since all involved know that the movie is a one-joke goof, few of the actors bother to give their lines any kind of conviction. Halfway lively banter is thrown away, apparently because investing anything into it would imply that the filmmakers are trying to make a real movie, and nobody wants to embarrass themselves. Leading players Kerem Bursin, Sara Malakul Lane and Liv Bougn (as Stacy Everheart, a venal videojournalist) do make an effort at times, but even they treat their roles as an audition for a real job: here I am -- I'm good looking and can say the lines! In this movie, not even a high position on the cast list can exempt one from becoming an appetizer in the Sharktopus menu plan. The show introduces an amusingly obnoxious disc jockey (Ralph Garman) and a funny, hygiene-challenged fisherman (Blake Lindsey, uncredited), only to kill them off to fulfill the requirement of a monster victim every 4.5 minutes. Corman chooses his bright looking and attractive players so well, one really expects to see some of them move on to more rewarding work.
"Star" performer Eric Roberts makes a fairly miserable appearance, selling his name cred and going through the motions. Corman has clearly organized the shooting schedule to minimize Roberts' participation. He mostly stays on his yacht away from the action and relays his orders over the phone. For Cyclops Roberts went to the effort to don a toga and sandals, but here it looks like he just showed up in his street clothes.
Sharktopus is unfortunately a reminder of the state of genre filmmaking today, where special effects unheard of thirty years ago can be bought cheap if one isn't too picky about quality. I'm sure that critics in 1954 wailed that cut-rate movies from freebooters like Roger Corman were going to drag the business to certain doom. But both the business and Corman survived. I would imagine that the elderly (and Academy-honored) Corman is amused that so much of today's industry subscribes to his precepts -- do it cheap, hire ambitious talent for next to nothing, and keep all the money. Corman's amusing cameo in Sharktopus proves that he has a sense of humor about his reputation. Beachcomer Corman comes upon a bikini'd scavenger with a metal detector. He stares at her behind as she finds a gold doubloon in the beach sand, and then watches calmly as the hungry monster drags her screaming into the ocean. He then picks up the discarded doubloon, puts it in his pocket and walks away.
That scene pretty much sums up Roger Corman's secret of success!
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray of Sharktopus is a good HD encoding with attractive color. A few isolated shots have a strange matte texture overlay, which may be a camera flaw or a post-production wrinkle. The special effects by the company Dilated Pixels are always energetic, with the title critter given little personality but lots of dynamic action. Sharktopus looks terrific cruising underwater and less so under direct sunlight. Whenever it exits or enters the water, things look dicey. More time and money could probably have made its tentacles throw appropriate shadows onto objects and people, and help the monster fit better into his environment. But, remembering how awful the effects were for Cyclops, I have to say that Sharktopus is a massive improvement.
Anchor Bay's disc contains a trailer for TV and a feature commentary with Roger and Julie Corman. They're generous with praise for their filmmakers and actors, and point out cameos by a family member or two. One Corman is listed as the Bungee Jumper Girl. If she's the one I'm thinking of, she will always have a fun "career blooper" scene of herself being gobbled up like fish bait.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sharktopus Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.