Ace Hannah, "Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus" (2009).

Jun 06 2009

mega-shark-vs-giant-octopus

After seeing the viral trailer, a co-worker of mine said, “I’m just glad this movie even exists.” I understand his point. Conceptually, at least, the premise was promising in and of itself: an homage to monster B-movies of old, two lead actors who were footnotes of the ‘80s, and most important, a clear-eyed view of its own ridiculousness, beginning with the happily transparent denotative title. (Yes, it really does culminate in a dragged-out, mano-a-mano beatdown – or more appropriately, jaws vs. tentacle and tentacle and tentacle and tentacle and tentacle and tentacle and tentacle and tentacle.)

Unfortunately, only Lorenzo Lamas seems to have gotten the memo about the movie’s absurdity. Clad entirely in black, his hair swept up in a ponytail and his skin rather scarily tanned — a distant echo of his “Falcon Crest” days — Lamas swaggers and blusters his way throughout the movie as a smarmy government type, even if he’s confined in a control room the entire time. (He also gets the best line, which he addresses to Debbie Deborah Gibson: “And you, little lady, you got a mouth coming from someone whose career is all washed up.”) He looks like he’s the only one having fun. I certainly wasn’t.

It really has all to do with the unexpected blessing that lowered expectations for a movie bestow, the point when you willingly leave your critical faculties behind and surrender yourself to the idiocy unfolding before you. I saw Snakes on a Plane on its premiere show at the Metreon, and laughed till my Diet Coke came out of my nose. (The rubber snakes pelting my head – thrown in heaps into the air by the audience every time a snake appeared on-screen – are still on my car’s dash.) I saw Death Race, I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D (sorry, no review), I’ve trawled through a good amount of Something Weird’s DVD releases, and enjoyed them immensely. The point is, if you folks were hoping for some MST3K-style fun, or even Showgirls-style camp, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is simply dead in the water. I don’t think a raucous, mostly-drunk or stoned audience like the one I saw Snakes on a Plane with could have saved this.

The premise – and, quite frankly, all the good bits — are all in the trailer already: a mega-shark and a giant octopus are unthawed from their frozen slumber by brain-addled whales (it’s complicated), and the two critters proceed to wreak watery havoc on an airliner and oil refinery, respectively. Luckily for us, Emma MacNeil (Gibson), renegade oceanographer, is there to the rescue, though initially no one believes her – “There’s something big out there. Something really big” — except for her kindly retired professor (Sean Lawlor) and her renegade oceanographer counterpart in Japan, Dr. Seiji Shimada (Vic Chao, who I see from IMDB has played two other Japanese in his filmography).

Gibson’s actually a competent actress (and in the right light looks rather hawt, especially those cheekbones), but she, and the rest of the cast except for Lamas, deliver their flat dialogue with such poker-faced seriousness. It’s simply the wrong tone for this movie. (Asianspotters – and by that I mean those bloggers and magazine writers who squeal with joy every time there’s an Asian American in a TV advertisement or a walk-on role in a sitcom destined for cancellation – may be pleased by an interesting twist here, which I won’t spoil, except to write that it involves sex with Debbie Deborah Gibson in a broom closet.)

I’m not a big CGI fan necessarily, but I do expect a little more effort from the special effects in this film, which wouldn’t look out of place on a Bryce 3D demo CD from 1997. There’s charm in that, for sure. But to have the same scenes looped and reused like a porn film from the late ‘80s is simply cheating, like the way the close-up insert shots don’t even feature Gibson’s real hands. (Barb will probably write about this; I’m sure she can explain this better.) [EDIT: okay, Barb has her write-up here, but she didn't mention how the closeups of Gibson's hands twiddling the bathysphere knobs show her having black nail polish on -- something she definitely was not wearing. Oscar weighs in about this "new low in American cinema" here.]

Oh, there are sly little in-jokes, deliberate or not – the same armed guard in aviators and his prop rifle reappearing in every other shot, or the fact that the different submarines, the control room, the bathysphere, and the laboratory are all clearly filmed in the same room – but there just aren’t enough of them. The problem is that the film, especially for a straight-to-video B-movie thriller, is totally inert, a victim of lifeless pacing and its technological limitations. Murky underwater scenes are difficult enough to film or watch, but most of the “action” is confined to jittery close-up shots of the cockpits and a quick glimpse of a tentacle or two.

Turds float, but even this one sinks to the depths with the (mega) shark and (giant) octopus, clinging to each other in their fatal embrace.

6 responses so far

  1. I did not even know until I read this post that Lorenzo Lamas WAS STILL ALIVE.

    Wow. What a great picture. Shark chomps Golden Gate. Love it!

    By the way, what do you think of the fact that in both the new “Star Trek” and “Terminator” movies, the Golden Gate is used to situate the characters in a specific landscape? Is San Francisco the actual center of the sci-fi universe?

  2. Lamas has apparently been working pretty steadily (at least according to the unreliable IMDB) since “Falcon Crest”. It’s Ana Alicia I’m wondering about, since she hasn’t done any film/TV acting since 1997.

    As for Mega-Shark, it’s really all about that trailer.

    I do love the fact that Starfleet Academy and Skynet are both in SF. Weren’t the Mutants from X-Men III hiding out on Treasure Island as well?

  3. The best part of this movie was watching it with you and Barb. Next time let’s catch something more intellectually stimulating, like a Japanese exploding ring barbed wire match.

  4. Yes to both of you re: the Golden Gate Bridge and setting sci-fi films in SF. X-men III did some damage to the GG Bridge, and the anti-mutant research was being done on Alcatraz. Also, as far as I know, Starfleet Academy has always been in SF. Something about SF is so very last frontier, no? So why not confabulate sci-fi futures there.

    Anyway, I just posted about Mega-Shark Vs. Giant Octopus too.I want those 90 minutes of my life back.

  5. I just realized my review was a little too restrained (though I did stoop to calling it a turd). I’ve seen many bad movies — a lot this year, come to think of it — but this one commits the unforgivable crime of being dull. Thank goodness we had “Star Trek Cribs” and “Dick in a Box” to cleanse our palates afterward!

  6. They were no fools for casting Debbie Gibson in this movie — she was very big in Asia at the beginning of her career even before the US and continues to have a fan base there today. This is probably being marketed more heavily outside the US to Asian Gibson fans.

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