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.
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.