In the world of exploitation, it doesn’t really matter who came up with the original concept of a ridiculous monster hybrid – what matters is who did it right, regardless of how many familiar ingredients are re-heated into another mish-mash.
Veteran producers Roger and Julie Corman were re-approached by SyFy after the moderate success of their prior TV movies (such as Dinoshark), and challenged to come up with a project based around the title Sharktopus.
That’s basically all the network gave them, along with a promise to air the thing if and when it was good on the printed page.
To his credit, Roger Corman’s background in high school science always mandated some kind of reasoning for every step in a film’s plot (um, 1963’s *The Terror excepted), so while the idea of successfully fusing the genes of a shark and an octopus is blatantly absurd, why it was created (a private firm contracted by the government for a new bio-weapon), how it goes berserk (propeller damage to control harness), and why it eats people (it likes them) are fleetingly rational.
Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts) is the creature’s designer, aided by daughter / “pumpkin” Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane). When said monster realizes it likes our kind of white meat, Nathan reluctantly sends trusted aide Santos (Julian Gonzalez) to find and drag former colleague Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin) back to the firm. As the efforts of Santos, Andy and Pumpkin / Nicole to apprehend the creature alive are fubared by increasingly silly blunders, Nathan imbibes in tumblers of neat malt, and eventually goes rogue, taking control of the hunt himself.
Roberts becomes more fun as he drinks, and the bulk of the fresh-faced cast either play their roles as much as their limited abilities can carry, or they manage a perfect balance of utter sincerity in spite of silly dialogue and scenes of ridiculous trauma.
Bursin is a bit young for devil-may-care Flynn, but he’s in on the joke of playing a buffed corporate soldier who never tires of removing his shirt under the perfect Puerto Vallarta sun. Lane is appropriately pouty, and Gonzalez is nicely wooden up to the point when he’s about to be devoured head-first by the creature.
The film’s scene-stealer isn’t the creature, the PG-13 CGI kills, nor the ample bikinied butts and boobery, but the goofball CNN-type team of sleuth reporter Stacey Everheart (Liv Boughn) and cameraman Bones (comedian Hector Jimenez). As a thespian, Jimenez isn’t very good, but his eye rolling and massive mane of jerry-curls is a perfect compliment for Boughn’s natural comedic timing.
Writer Mike MacLean (who penned the Cormans’ Dinocroc vs. Supergator) pretty much pulled off a Corman miracle – building a movie from a concept, which Corman himself had done during his early years, such as Not of This Earth (1957). The big difference is Sharktopus had a decent budget, and the production team benefitted from more time and further advances in CGI software to create their creature. The monster isn’t perfect, but it’s much more fluid than the creature designed for Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009), and the blocky, choppy Atari-style lizard Tobe Hooper had to settle for in the el cheapo Crocodile (2000).
MacLean's script balances the various story threads until everyone converges at the jungle resort, but it is an 85 mins. screenplay capped with the one of the slowest end credit crawls in recent years - blatant filler material to bring the film as close to 90 mins. as possible.
Shooting in Mexico may have offered the Cormans extra production value for the U.S. dollar, but the location and piercing sunlight also give Santiago Navarette’s cinematography incredibly vivid colours. Sharktopus is a ridiculous film, but on Blu-ray, this 35mm-to-digital production really pops from the screen. White levels are sometimes blown out in a few jungle and rushing water scenes, but it’s not irrational to claim Anchor Bay’s BR is a great test disc for high contrast, deeply saturated colours.
The extras include a trailer (cut by Corman, and a hit on YouTube), and a running audio commentary with the Cormans, as moderated by journalist Perry Martin, who met Roger Corman in his teens at an awards ceremony in the early seventies.
The track is less scene-specific and more of a loose conversation about moviemaking, with a balance of comments from both parties. Subjects span various aspects of low-budget film production, the merits of CGI, casting, and the locations (of which the most intriguing is the jungle retreat -a real resort built where Predator was filmed in 1987). The trio also describe the requirements of making a production for SyFy, and Sharktopus being the network’s most successful TV movie.
Roger Corman makes an amusing cameo as a beach bum who enjoys some eye candy and makes off with a valuable token, and his daughter Catherine appears as the ultimate bait at the end of a fishing line. Director Declan O’Brien’s prior Corman film, Cyclops (2008), starred an embarrassed Eric Roberts, and many American actors sounding absurd in an ancient setting.
Other Corman recent creature features in the vein of genetically preposterous creatures include Dinocroc (2004), Scorpius Gigantus (2006), Supergator (2007), and Dinoshark (2010).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan