A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 155 – Sharks in Venice

Sharks in Venice – August 2nd, 2010

We had a dilemma this week. It’s Shark Week, of course, and we’d planned a number of simply fantastic shark movies. And then we found out that our seventh anniversary would fall on the second day of Shark Week. And we thought “Do we want to interrupt Shark Week for our anniversary and watch something meaningful to us? Or do we watch a shark movie?” And I voted for a shark movie. Because I think it really does say something about our relationship that we’re not only willing but enthusiastic to watch something like this (that’s an Amazon.com link). We bought this on purpose. Andy said the title and I said “We have to have that.” And so, after a day spent on roller coasters, we are capping off our anniversary with a Stephen Baldwin vehicle about sharks in the canals of Venice. Happy Anniversary, Andy. I hope you don’t regret marrying me after this one.

This movie so wants to be Jaws in Italy. Desperately. I don’t think I have to tell you that it fails miserably. But it tries, down to the soundtrack and the initial deaths being attributed to a “propeller accident”. There are countless little nods to Jaws. Lines, plot points. I guess some of it is inevitable, given that Jaws did the whole shark-attack-no-one-wants-to-admit-happened thing so well. But this is so blindingly obvious. I almost feel bad, watching and reviewing it just after Jaws. It feels a little mean. But let’s face it, we knew going in that this movie would be bad. That was the point. What’s really impressive is that it’s trying as hard as it is. It’s got a plot and everything!

Archaeologist David Franks goes to Venice (yeah right) when his father goes missing during an illegal dive in Italy to try and recover some hidden treasure secreted away under the city. Two other bodies were found after the dive, chewed up by a shark (of course the local authorities refuse to acknowledge that last, not wanting to start a panic). So David and his fiancee, Laura, head to Venice. David finds the treasure, gets attacked by a shark, offered a whole crapload of money by the mob (who were financing his father’s dive until that turned into a whole lot of chum), and then beaten up by said mob. Laura gets kidnapped in order to force David to recover the treasure and in the middle of it all there’s this giant shark leaping up out of the water in the canals, attacking people.

I should take a moment here and just wax rhapsodic about the shark. Oh my goodness, the shark. The shark(s) in the canals are represented by a combination of documentary footage of sharks eating, more documentary footage but sped up really fast and cut into fast-paced bits, and effects that I will describe as special, but only because MST3K has made me a connoisseur of stinky cheese. And as cheese goes, this is quite the rind. The effects are only part of it, really. I mean, they’re bad. They’re hilarious. When the CG shark leaps out of the water and chows down you can’t help but laugh. But then there are things like the boat that’s obviously on wheels, and the plot twists that practically put on their turn signals a mile ahead of time. There are continuity gaffes and major goofs. There’s a yacht that I swear had its name photoshopped on in post.

This movie should, by all rights, be thoroughly unwatchable. And yet somehow it’s not. The acting’s not cringeworthy, but it’s not like the acting saves the movie or anything. It’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. My personal favorite part is the mob boss, Clemenza. The man playing him, Giacomo Gonnella, seems to have known exactly what sort of movie he was in and what sort of part he was playing and set about chewing plenty of scenery. So it’s not the acting that makes it watchable, and it’s not the effects. It’s not the scenery, which is made up of some establishing shots of Venice (one notably with a shark fin edited into a corner) and then a whole lot of scenery that’s very much not Venice. Apparently it’s Bulgaria. Whatever. It’s not Venice and that’s what matters.

What makes the movie watchable is the hilariously awesome convergence of all of these things. The continuity issues, the acting, the shark(s), the very premise of sharks tearing up gondolas in Venice. It’s not good, I’ll grant you that. But it is fantastic.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Sharks in Venice

August 2, 2010

Sharks in Venice

Amanda and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary tonight. And how do a couple such as we, who were brought together by many an evening with Mystery Science Theater, celebrate an anniversary? With a skin-peelingly bad movie of course. And in keeping with our personal Shark Week we’re watching a shark movie as well. Sharks in Venice. Take a look at the cover:

Sharks In Venice Cover

Check it out! There’s an enormous shark smashing buildings and upsetting a gondola! This movie is bound to be full of amazing shark effects and Venetian scenery! Or maybe not. In fact this movie is exactly what you would expect. Amanda and I have been looking forward for weeks to reviewing this based only on the cover and the title. It’s like Snakes on a Plane – you really don’t need to know anything more – it is about sharks. In Venice. There’s no doubt that this is going to be bad. The only real question when you put this disk in your player is just how cheesy it will be. What kind of bad will it bring?

The “plot” involves a young archaeologist (heavily modeled on Indiana Jones) named David (played by Stephen Baldwin – the only known actor in the whole film.) When is father is killed by sharks deep under the city of Venice David must travel there to find the treasure that his father had been hunting for. Of course he finds the treasure (defended by sharks) and gets mixed up in some kind of Mafia scheme. It turns out that an insane Mafia don had unleashed the sharks in the first place because he thought that David’s father was wasting his money on this foolish expedition, but now that he knows the treasure exists he wants it for himself.

I say that the character of David is heavily influenced by Indiana Jones. Here are a couple examples of why: He is introduced lecturing a class, much as Dr. Jones is after the prologue of Raiders of the Lost Arc. He evades a number of primitive traps while searching for the treasure – such as spikes from the walls. Then his fiance is abducted in a crowded market place. When does it stop being homage and start just being lazy writing?

I’ll admit that the biggest source of suspense for me going into this was just how much of the movie was actually filmed in Venice. I mean, there’s a promise made in that title, and knowing full well that this was going to be an ultra-low budget movie I was curious to see just how they were going to accomplish it. The answer is that they actually did do a whole bunch of establishing shots in the canals of Venice – or at least had a lot of stock footage of them. They even have one scene where a supporting character is driving a motorboat through the city (hilariously inter-cut with a rear-projection of the back of the boat where the lead actors are.) But none of the leads were ever in Venice or even in Italy as far as I can tell. Through a combination of green-screen and editing they are made to appear as though they are in Venice, but not very well. (My favorite example is when David leans out of a window to retrieve his father’s notes from a canal. It’s a hilariously poor special effect. Not only is the window he’s leaning out of digitally inserted into a model of a Venetian building, but the water below him is digitally generated as well. It looks laughable.)

The whole movie is filed with such moments – when its non-existent budget is made frightfully clear. In a couple of moments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie there are actual shark attacks in Venice (perhaps added late in the film’s life when people pointed out that no sharks in the canal were ever actually seen.) These are comically out of place, and they look like cut scenes from the early days of DVD-ROM games. If you’ve ever played Zork Grand Inquisitor or its ilk you might know of what I speak. These were games with live action poorly melded with cheap computer graphics, just like this. I was frequently laughing out loud watching these bits of the movie.

The movie also exhibits one of my favorite bad-movie devices: extensive parts of the film dubbed in post. (See the MST3K episodes for Creeping Terror and Beast of Yucca Flats for some great examples of this.) All of the diving footage is accompanied by supposed “radio communication” between the divers and the surface – this in spite of the fact that they all have breathing apparatus clenched in their mouths and are completely unable to speak. The film makers didn’t even try to disguise this by shooting, say, the backs of their heads. You just have actors delivering dialog without moving their lips. It made it seem as if all the divers are somehow psychically connected and talking with their minds. There are also some great shots of extras holding walkie-talkies up in front of their mouths above water and having their dialog magically delivered, even though their mouths clearly never move.

As for all the shark attacks seen underwater – well they’re a great kind of special all their own. It looks as though the makers of this film didn’t even have a rubbery mechanical shark like the one seen in Jaws. They have a very small model of a shark’s mouth – used in close up shots of people being bitten – and they had a whole lot of stock footage. The stock footage doesn’t even match up, since the sharks are all seen at the surface of the water, and the divers are all seen deep under the city.

More than anything else this movie reminds me of Bride of the Monster – the classic Ed Wood film. The shark attacks are quite reminiscent of the octopus attacks in that movie with the stock footage that doesn’t match and the people attacking themselves with a shark mouth model in close-up. There’s just more fake blood. If Ed Wood had had access to the digital effects of about fifteen years ago this is the kind of movie I would expect him to produce. It’s simply too beautiful for words.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment