Written and Directed by: Ace Hannah
Starring: Lorenzo Lamas, Debbie Gibson, and Vic Chao
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Donít love the ocean too muchóit doesnít love you back."
The above quote from Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus might as well extend metaphorically to those who consider themselves shark movie aficionados (if not fans of monster movies in general). Truly, we are a broken people led to the water over and over, only to be fed to digital monstrosities by filmmakers with no intentions of sincerity. Itís fair to ask why we keep coming back, especially since it would be more productive to highlight the films that actually do work; in my case, I can only chalk it up to a compulsion to see every single shark movie (to be fair, this goal was much more realistic when I set it six years ago).
Tackling this particular Asylum effort seems especially fruitless: by now, that studioís mantra is well-known, so much so that you could probably judge this film without even seeing it. You donít need me to tell you itís full of cheap effects, a weak script, and bored actors. Rather, Iím considering it more of an anthropological exercise to track down the infection point and discover just how this genre got so out of hand. Future generations will need to know that someone accounted for our hubris in titling films like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus with the expectation that they will suck out loud.
If Mega Shark is to be treated as a sort of Patient Zero, then the overriding question is whether or not the Asylumís brand of shark inanity has always been so bad. The answer is surprisingly more complicated than you might expect: sure, itís bad, but it isnít Sharknado bad. I would never accuse The Asylum of trying or anything, but you donít see the same dumb glibness on display here; this is a film that knows deep down that it is not up to par, but it doesnít boldly announce it in the same way many of its contemporaries have. Little things such as actual footage of hammerhead sharks and helicopters instead of digital recreations are almost shocking to behold; less shocking is the immediately unsightly shots of CGI glaciers melting, so that tiny bit of good comes with the expected badness.
But there is the tiniest bit of effort here thatís even apparent at the script level. Compared to similar films, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is remarkably focused; rather than skip between body count fodder completely ancillary to the plot, it sticks with a trio of marine scientists (Debbie Gibson, Sean Lawlor, and Vic Chao) researching strange phenomenon after a glacial meltdown. It turns out the two titular monstersówhich had been entrapped since the Ice Ageóhave been unleashed, so a government official (Lorenzo Lamas, surly as hell, but who wouldnít be?) drafts them to help destroy the beasts. And thatís pretty much itóyou wonít see any random scenes of bikini babes or dumb tourists being devoured by the two creatures. Whatever carnage is seen is of course terribly rendered, but at least itís all threaded through the main characters. Itís not exactly Shakespeare, though some of the cast does recite lines from Julius Caesar.
Iím not sure if I can talk myself into believing in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus beyond that very small amount of baseline competence, though. Nearly everything else about it is awful, naturally, especially the effects that have no capacity to deliver on the promise of the title. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that these effects havenít been improved during the past six years: I would not be surprised to discover if the same models are still in use. Beyond that, the film is just downright ugly: cast in a stale direct-to-video mold, its flat, sickly digital aesthetic is broken up only by chintzy editing flourishes. The entire film is just a dire eyesore, including the climactic battle between the two creatures, which takes place entirely in the murky bowels of the ocean; later Asylum efforts indicate that the studio certainly has no shame in reveling in bad digital work, so itís doubtful they would obscure this showdown out of any sense of shame.
Frankly, thereís little excuse for blowing this headlining boutóyou had one job, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. When the characters propose the showdown, they compare it to the Thrilla in Manila, but Iím pretty sure the Araneta Coliseum had ample lighting. In completely botching this, the Asylum squanders what modicum of goodwill they might have built (most of it being ďwell, itís not quite as bad as later effortsÖĒ anyway). All things considered, itís actually difficult to declare this early attempt to be all that much better: maybe itís not as broadly played or as much of a glib invitation to be mocked by its audience, but itís arguably just as boring nonetheless.
Looking back on it is only interesting in the sense that the blueprint had practically already been set: rustle up some recognizable C-list personalities and let them rummage through some poor dialogue and interact (well, ďinteractĒ) with laughable digital monsters without worrying too much about quality because no one should really give a shit about something called Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Clearly, itís working out for them: not only did this put the studio on the path to Sharknado success, but it also kick-started a Mega Shark franchise that is about to debut its fourth entry later this month. But, for me (and other like-minded fans), this feels like the point of no return, the moment when the killer shark genre became a complete and utter joke: if the preceding few decades were a long process of shoveling dirt over a grave, this was one of the finals pat.
Hope at least lies in the distance, with both Eli Roth and Jaume Collett-Serra both set to helm future projects; if anyone can revive this genre, itís those two. Meanwhile, Iím sure The Asylum will soldier on, confident in the knowledge that they can keep churning out the same old junk because they have ascended to a plane beyond critic-proof. Indeed, theyíve made a cottage industry out of practically thumbing their nose at criticism by giving the impression that weíre all in a jokeóeven though they didn't quite begin to tell it with Mega Shark, you can already sense they must have felt little recourse than to go that route eventually.
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