Thursday, July 20, 2023

Sharksploitation, on Shudder

It all goes back to Jaws, the movie that changed everything. It even has its own behind-the-scenes Broadway play opening soon (unless there is yet another strike). The idea of a summer “blockbuster” as we know it started with its release. On the other side of the spectrum, Jaws also inspired a whole school of cheap knock-offs. This documentary is all about the knock-offs. Filmmakers and critics celebrate shark cinema in Stephen Scarlata’s Sharksploitation, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

From time to time, you saw sharks in movies before
Jaws, particularly as the pets and executioners of Bond villains. Obviously, the Spielberg classic took them to a whole new level. Naturally, there is analysis of all three sequels, but a lot of viewers might wish for more dish on the notorious Jaws 4: The Revenge. Weirdly, it is almost like nobody who was in the film wants to talk about it anymore.

Scarlata’s coverage of
Jaws 2 gives the first sequel some of the credit it deserves. It really is a great film, but it gets unfairly lumped in with the next two sequels, which were dreadful. (However, it is hard to believe Murray Hamilton could still be the mayor. Honestly, Bill de Blasio must be the only other mayor who did more damage to his town.) It is also important to remember “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” was the constantly quoted tagline for Jaws 2.

Scarlata and company survey shark-specific imitators, as well as other sea predator rip-offs, like Joe Dante’s Roger Corman-produced
Piranha (both of whom off on-camera commentary). There is coverage of reasonably presentable films like Orca, Open Water, and 47 Meters Down. Unfortunately, the French film Year of the Shark might have been too recent and not widely enough screened to make the cut, but there is a good hard look at The Last Shark, an Italian copy-cat that was so shamelessly derivative, Universal successfully blocked its release. Of course, no films were more exploitative than the Sharknado franchise.

One of the good things about
Sharksploitation is the assembled talking heads seam to have varying degrees of affection for the films under discussion, so they do not always say the same things over and over. Still, the ratio of critic voices to filmmaker or actor voices is higher than a lot of fans would prefer. In addition to Corman and Dante, there is Johannes Roberts (47 Meters), Mario Van Peebles (U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Honor, hardly mentioned), Anthony C. Ferrante (Sharknado), Joe Alves (Jaws 3D), and Chris Kentis (Open Water), but there is no Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea), Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2), or Jon Turteltaub (The Meg)—not surprisingly, Spielberg couldn’t find the time either.

Sharksploitation moves along nicely and it will put viewers in the mood to revisit a lot of the films. It is fun and has little political messaging, beyond some noncontroversial advocacy for shark conservation and preservation. Recommended as a fun way to unwind in front of the television, Sharksploitation starts streaming tomorrow (7/21) on Shudder.