It Came from Netflix: Sharktopus (2010)

OK, I’m so late to the party on this one that there’s little reason to join it, especially since I doubt I’ll add anyone to what Scott Foy and others have said a long time ago.

On the other hand, that never stopped me before….

Sharktopus, produced by the legendary Roger Corman (and wife Julie), is generally considered one of the better SyFy “Original” Movies the network’s show over the last several years. Talk about setting the bar low; in this case, they must have dug a little trench in the ground to sit the bar into. Sure, it has its moments, and it’s got a pretty fun monster in an age when we don’t get a lot of monsters anymore (although it’s beastie is really just an update and CGI elaboration on Italy’s Devil Fish).

But as usual, despite a noble and largely successful effort to spread the monster action out, the film does ultimately wear out its welcome. If there’s one drum you know I’m going to beat, it’s the “things were better when movies like this were shorter” bongo. Or maybe it now sounds like a bass kettle. Even so, the fact remains that golden era Corman junkfests like It Conquered the World and Attack of the Crab Monsters ran, respectively, 71 and 62 minutes. Sharktopus runs a tad over an hour and a half, thrifty in today’s market. This is the problem, though. That 91 minutes is 50% over again the length of Crab Monsters. In this case the bloat doesn’t cripple the movie. It does hobble it, however.

We open on what’s not just the bazillionth riff on the opening of Jaws (albeit a fairly decent one), but even better, a riff on the opening of Orca. (Which itself was a riff on the opening of Jaws. The Morton Salt Girl holds a salt canister with a picture of the Morton Salt Girl, which features a picture of the Morton Salt Girl holding a salt canister with a picture of the Morton Salt Girl, which…) Even so, Corman is canny enough to just go ahead and introduce the monster in the first scene. It’s not like we’re sitting there going, “Sharktopus, eh? What’s this about, then?”

The film stars, by default, Eric Roberts, although he’s not the lead actor. He’s the scientist who’s created Sharktopus, which is, and I hope you’re sitting down, meant to be a bioweapon for the US Navy. This plot was creaky but in 1978 when Corman produced Piranha, and in the three plus decades since then it’s been even further beaten to death since then.  But anyway.  In any case, Roberts doesn’t phone in his performance here, he sends it in a wire via Western Union. I don’t know what he’s complaining about; at least he’s not starring in his sister’s crap like Eat Pray Love.

So Navy representative Commander Cox has come to see on update on the beast’s progress, which of course is filling an order for a “killing machine.” Roberts shows him footage of Sharktopus from the opening scene, which is supposedly captured by a camera actually on the shark, although it’s clearly somehow filmed said action from a good long distance. Actually, that magic camera technology sounds like it would be more real world military applications than a kill-crazy shark monster, but there you go.

So Roberts’ daughter Nicole, a highly original mousy scientist type who’s actually pretty hot when you get past the glasses etc., is piloting Sharktopus via a prototype remote control helmet. Cox demands it follow after a nearby civilian speedboat (!), and over Nicole’s protests Roberts orders her to do so. Needless to say, a mishap occurs, Sharktopus loses its control helmet, and the first of many, many people die. All because of mad science and the sort of eeeeevil complete morons who are officers in our military. When will they learn? Anyway, all this happens in like the film’s first six minutes, so at least it’s moving along.

Immortal Dialogue:

Apoplectic Commander Cox: “You just unleashed an eight-legged man-eating shark on the world!”
Blasé Mad Scientist Roberts: “A minor set-back.”

Anyway, we leave the scenic beaches of California (babes, boobs, butts and bikinis) and travel after Sharktopus to the scenic beaches of Mexico (babes, boobs, butts and bikinis). As always, Corman is unafraid to put the ‘exploit’ in the ‘exploitation.’ And why the scenic beaches of Mexico? To allow for a free vacation on someone else’s dime, of course! Indeed, to augment his justification to be on-set as a (these days, usually hands off) producer, he bolsters his excuse by appearing in an admittedly pretty funny cameo appearance, one that plays off his most famous personality trait.

At this stage of things, the movie mostly becomes a series of what are essentially gags based around ‘cool ways to get kacked by Sharktopus’. Going bungee jumping? Oops, up comes Sharktopus! And so on. This serves a couple of purposes. One, it obviates the need for actually surprising the audience with a kill scene, since the set-ups are the thing. Indeed, they don’t just telegraph the deaths, they send notice of them by Pony Express. This means you don’t need as good of a director or editor, or even have to worry about logic at all. (One death scene in particularly is just hilariously convenient in a “What is Sharktopus doing there?’ fashion.)

The other advantage is that this course Second, it allows for very brief appearances by Sharktopus, usually as he momentarily leaps out of the water. This allows them to stretch their, as you’d expect, pretty tiny budget. Still and all, and despite some (as you’d expect) shoddy CGI work, on the whole Sharktopus is a well designed and executed goofy monster.

Usually the worst such moments involve people getting wrapped up with CGI tentacles, as the interaction of the two elements looks consistently pretty fake. Only at the end with some of the bigger players do they resort to (yay!) actual prop rubber tentacles, which also look fake, but still have the charm that physical props usually grant. Indeed, I would have built a physical Sharktopus head to interact with the actors, but I guess they didn’t want to spend the money.

It’s funny what you will and won’t call shenanigans on. I just laughed at the scenes where Sharktopus walks over land (!) on his tentacles, and was amused when we see him (like both sharks and octopi) growl underwater.* On the other hand, I remain bemused by the serial Syfy movie conceit that tentacles are a razor-sharp stabbing weapon, and just was disgusted by the fact that Sharktopus proved to be, for no reason at all, apparently bulletproof.

[*Amusingly, the scientists consistently predict what Sharktopus will do by saying either “sharks do that” or “octopi do that,” and always proving correct. Apparently there is no behavioral conflict between the two sets of genes, nor do hybrids bring new instincts to the table.]

Sadly, as noted before, the film does start wearing out its welcome between the numerous attack scenes and the movie’s amusingly high death count.  That’s because the interstitial material revolves around the inevitable and grossly perfunctory burgeoning romance between the film’s incredibly dull Savvy Hunter Guy (the guy playing him is plainly miscast, being much too young and callow to be credible in that role) and the equally blah Nicole, Roberts’daughter.

You eventually start groaning whenever you return to these two, which is not aided by the idea that we’re supposed to care that Nicole feels slighted by her father. Indeed, she never really seems that put out that they’ve together been making a ridiculous assassination monster for the *gasp* military, or even the ever-mounting civilian death count as the beastie’s rampage continues.

Finally, what gets her to change sides is not even so much the revelation that Roberts further dickered with the Sharktopus to make it even more kill-crazy than you’d expect such a thing to be (!!!)*. No, it’s not the morality of the thing, so much, as the fact that he did this behind her back and she feels slighted. Needless to say, the fact that we’re supposed to even remotely care about Nicole’s feelings in this I actually found pretty hilarious.

[*I’ve noted this before, but all these made for TV or video or even the occasional theatrical feature seem not to notice that the decades-long trend in U.S. military weapons hasn’t be towards weapons of mass destruction, but rather towards increasingly precise and targeted ‘smart’ weapons. I realize this is because we’re just supposed to see the military in these things as eeeevil. Still and all, you’d think they could make them eeevil in a more realistic fashion, if that’s the route you feel hellbound to pursue. In any case, making Sharktopus more likely to go on randomized, uncontrollable killing sprees just struck me as counterproductive.]

A few more random notes. First, the monster seems to change size quite a lot, unless my eye was tricking me. Second, I’m not sure whether it’s the shark genes or the octopus ones that allows it to tear apart a yacht in nothing flat. And lastly (and this isn’t even a spoiler; pretty much everyone you expect to die does so), I had to laugh at Eric Roberts’ death scene, where he chats with his daughter for a bit after having his throat torn out.

In the end, Corman’s firm hand at the pillar has this better than your run of the mill Syfy Original.  As we all know, though, that’s not saying much. In the end, Sharktopus remains a decent rental, and one with a better than usual and generally loveable monster. Even so, you might still find your hand straying to the remote control button now and again to move things along.

  • Ericb

    What would the military actually do with the sharkopus? Wouldn’t missiles and torpedos be more controlable and probably cheaper to boot?

  • fish eye no miko

    A word about the running time: Sharktopus was a tv-movie. So unless they were gonna put it in a 1.5 hour time slot, or put in a fuck-ton of ads, the 91 minute run time is pretty much to be expected.

    I will say: At least this movie featured a lot of scenes of the sharktopus killing people, which is pretty much what people watch movies like this for. Compare this to something like Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus, where the monster appearances are few and far-between, and I’ll take Sharktopus any day of the week.

    BTW, good point about tentacles being sharp, stabbing tools, when they’re so not Hee… oops!

  • roger h

    and ericb, a bigger question is whether or not sharktopus needs union representation ;)

  • Fish Eye — You are correct, of course. And really, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a call for shorter movies. I think Syfy would be smart, however, to put at least some of their movies in an hour and a half slot (which means cut down to 60 to 70 minutes minus commercials), and then maybe append a short subject to fill in the other half hour.

    Of course, the fact that these movies are obviously successful (or at least are as successful as the station requires them to be) means this will not happen. Syfy clearly has little concern that these movies actually be good, as long as people will watch them in any case.

  • Rock Baker

    Pass. I’d rather see Larry Buchanan’s gillman in action than another cheesey cartoon. I’m just not as taken with the critter’s design as everyone else seems to be. At least I can find the dime-store fish monster rather charming.

    I’m also a little put off by the idea that a monster movie needs to have so many death scenes (that occur on screen at least). I guess Piranha 3D did plenty of damage on me, because whenever I see a death in a modern movie, it never seems tragic, just mean-spiritted. (Actually, I’d felt that way since the remake of The Posiden Adventure.)

  • BeckoningChasm

    I haven’t seen it, and am not likely to, so I don’t know if they addressed this point, but maybe they specifically bred the Sharktopus to have razor-sharp, stabbing tentacles? I don’t know how strict the scientists would be about combining the beasts: “No, no, of course it can’t have a frickin’ laser, we can only use their natural traits!”

  • BC — Nope. Anyway, ALL SyFy movies about octopi or squids or whatever have them impaling folks on them.

  • roger h

    I do not know much about CGI but, I am guessing impaling effects are easier to do than wrapping tentacle effects.

  • fish eye no miko

    roger h said: “I do not know much about CGI but, I am guessing impaling effects are easier to do than wrapping tentacle effects.”

    Except there’s plenty of that, too. Honestly, I think the impalement stuff was put in to provide a little gore.

  • sandra

    Re “the Syfy movie conceit that tentacles are a razor-sharp stabbing weapon”. Well, if the monster was a Shark-squid hybrid, instead of Shark/Octopus, the suckers on the tentacles would be razor-sharp and capable of inflicting nasty cup-shaped wounds if they wrapped around someone. But I guess ‘Sharquid’ just doesn’t have the elan of ‘Sharktopus’.

  • The Rev.

    To be fair, stabbing tentacles goes back at least as far as Octaman.

    I’m pretty much on board with Ken’s assessment. I found it a pretty fun time-waster, at least on the Siffy movie curve. It’s probably, in objective terms, a better movie than Mega-Piranha, but it wasn’t nearly as batshit crazy or fun, numerous kills notwithstanding.

    My favorite moment is the guy on the scaffold who, as the tentacles come for it, moans in an oddly deadpan voice, “Oh no! Not like this!” Because, you know, “death by Sharktopus” is high on so many people’s lists of deaths to avoid. His obvious “scoot-jump” off the scaffold (since the CGI tentacles couldn’t pull him off) had me laughing quite hard, as did Sharktopus’ subsequent playing with his food.

  • Rev. — I think I forget to mention it in the review, but I thought exactly that, too: That Sharktopus was technically better than Mega Piranha, but not as much fun. Even that movie, though, would have benefited greatly from being 10 minutes shorter.

    Still, if Sharktopus was more of a baseline of the SyFy original movie instead of a highpoint, we’d all be better off.

  • The Rev.

    Yeah, if they’d cut some of the stuff between the piranhas getting into the ocean and the nuke attack (which was the only time it slowed down and made me restless), and that last kiss which just pissed me off, I think it would have been just about perfect as far as bad movies go. The rest of the time I was just laughing and hooting and having a grand time. It might be a good one to consider for a future Fest showing. We’ve definitely shown much worse…

    I agree on the baseline comment. Of course, we’d be even better off if the baseline was, say, Splinter; even the lady of the house liked that one. Sadly, the baseline seems to be something like Ice Giant or Megafault.

  • Sharktopus

    What WOULDN’T the military do with a Sharktopus is a better question. lol