Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Sharksploitation

Describe This Movie In One Raising Arizona Quote:
PAYROLL CLERK: Government do take a bite, don't she?
Brief Plot Synopsis: In the beginning was the Shark, and the Bruce was with Spielberg, and the Shark was Movies.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 Zigs out of 5.
Tagline: "A documentary that goes into the jaws of Hollywood."

Better Tagline: "Just when you thought it was safe to make another SyFy ripoff."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Sharks in film existed before the 1975 release of Jaws, but Spielberg's first blockbuster would create the template for aquatic horror for decades to come.
"Critical" Analysis: Stephen Scarlata's Sharksploitation doesn't break a lot of new ground on the subject of shark movies. In tying together the history of shark folklore with our current state of bad CGI efforts, however, he does provide a few insights as well as some choice interviews from some elder aquatic horror statesfolk.

Example? Roger Corman, producer of Piranha and Sharktopus, opines on the sinister allure of the ocean (he also recalls one review of Jaws that called it 'a Corman film with a budget'). Meanwhile, Johannes Roberts (the 47 Meters Down "saga") give his two cents on the "realistic" depiction of supernaturally large great whites.

My personal favorite is Professor and "Monster Expert" Dr. Emily Zarka (a Shudder regular), who provides the definition of "sharksploitation" (cinematic depictions of sharks only loosely tethered to reality). But seriously, where does one obtain their "Monster Expert" certification? I must have missed that course on LinkedIn.

Sharksploitation tracks these aquatic predators in movies from the early years of cinema, where they were mostly depicted as natural hindrances to treasure seeking, up through the immediate pre-Jaws era in which James Bond villains employed sharks as accomplices. Followed by the likes of Shark! — the Burt Reynolds movie in which a stuntman supposedly (and erroneously) died of shark attack while filming — to Blue Water, White Death, which featured camera work from Valerie and Ron Taylor that revolutionized underwater shark photography.

Similar to the Gregorian and Julian calendars, shark movies can effectively be split between two eras: BJ (Before Jaws) and AB (After Bruce). Scarlata doesn't spend a ton of time on the 1975 classic, but its influence is felt from that year on.

The best interviews are with the likes of horror insiders like Joe Alves (who built the original Bruce), Corman, and Dante. Wendy Benchley, widow of Jaws author Peter Benchley, also echoes the concerns of several marine biologists over the demonization of sharks as a result of the movie and the damage still being done to the shark population today by overzealous anglers.

But it's not all an ecological bummer. The "Jaws Rip-Off Era" is a lot of fun, and thanks to Scarlata for reminding me of the childhood trauma I suffered when the giant octopus ate that baby in Tentacles.

Scarlata also examines some famous misfires, such as National Lampoon's abortive Jaws 3, People 0, which producers Daryl F. Zanuck and David Brown insisted on being PG-13. Then you get Jaws 3-D, including Alves' interesting explanation of why they couldn't effectively portray the shark in three dimensions (that damn dorsal fin).

I talked about this some myself back when I wrote up Deep Blue Sea for Do-Over Cinema, but the late '80s/early '90s were pretty barren when it came to shark flicks. DBS gave a boost to everything from Open  Water to The Reef to The Shallows, for better or worse.

The "worse" unfortunately outweighs the former by a factor of 50. Sharksploitation chronicles the complicity of SyFy and the rise of Asylum, including the likes of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (starring my BFF Debbie Gibson), the dubious popularity of the Sharknado series, and the zero budget CGI crapfests it spawned. And kudos for calling Discovery out for their Megalodon bullshit.

And thanks to Scarlata for acknowledging the greatest line in cinema history, improvised by John Barrowman, from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.

Sharksploitation offers little that shark cinema obsessives don't already know, but for the non-weirdos out there, it gives a decent overview and recollections from some genre heavy hitters. It's a fun watch.

And Why Did You Review This Instead of Meg 2: The Trench? The producers of Meg 2 decided not to screen it in advance for the media, which is always a good sign.

Sharksploitation is now streaming on Shudder.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar