A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 156 – Megalodon

Megalodon – August 3rd, 2010

Last night’s movie was so magical, so full of amazing cinematic cheese and fake shark ‘special’ effects, there is no way anything can compare. Still, it is Shark Week, and so we persevere with yet another bad shark movie, this aiming for The Abyss more than Jaws. It sort of comes off as if SyFy had attempted The Abyss but done away with the aliens and tossed a shark in instead. Which I could totally see them doing.

Anyhow, like I said, this takes a couple of cues from The Abyss, what with a deep sea oil rig and all. What’s interesting (though I use that word loosely here) is that what one character says in the beginning is true: There are no bad guys. Misguided guys, sure. Annoying guys, oh yes. But bad guys? Nope. Nary a one. The rig’s crew and chief are decent folks who just happen to drill for oil off the coast of Greenland for a living. One, Peter (the guy in charge) has a deep voice and a British accent, usually sure signs of villainy, but no, he’s okay! He’s even played by Robin Sachs, who played Ethan Rayne in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, so really, you’d expect some evil there, right? Nope. There’s another Whedon alum in there too. Mark Sheppard, better known as Badger from Firefly (or Romo Lampkin if you’re more of a BSG fan). He’s not a bad guy either. In fact, he’s the one who gets the line about there being no bad guys.

The lack of tension within the crew isn’t a choice I’ll argue with too much, given the length of the movie. It’s only an hour and a half long and we certainly don’t get much of a chance to get to know most of the characters. I can’t even remember most of their names. I know Christen is a reporter who’s gone to the rig to get a story on the project and I know she had a cameraman but I can’t remember his name. I know Peter (Robin Sachs) is the guy in charge who would be evil in a movie that wanted to give us human tension. I know Ross is the badass diver who got stung by a jellyfish. I know Maz is the hotshot sub pilot who might be involved with Ross? I don’t know. It’s implied that she is but then it’s implied that she was close to Mitchell (Mark Sheppard), the medic on the rig, as well. Maybe she was involved with both. Who cares. It’s not really important to the plot and like I said, we barely get to know any of these people. The rest of the crew? Um. There’s another sub pilot who wears headphones all the time, an engineer who cracks unfunny jokes, I think there were other people? Maybe? Some of them die, I’ll tell you that.

We spend an hour getting the plot down. Big oil rig, underwater drill, submarines: Check. Of course the rig is having some problems just as Christen arrives, but the crew all assure her it’s nothing to worry about. Until a hose clogs and they find what should be an extinct species of fish inside – yes, it bites someone. That plot goes nowhere, by the way. Then they hit an air pocket and a whole swarm of the nasty little not!extinct fish swim out. This paves the way for the titular megalodon, but we don’t really see it for a little while longer. The movie is too busy not really getting to know the characters and not really advancing the plot. People chat over coffee, Maz and Ross go down into a big cavern they’ve opened up and look at jellyfish, then there’s more chatting over coffee and a little bit of talk about the environment. Oh yeah, Ross cares about the environment and how humans have fucked up the planet. That, um. I guess that matters later. Not much though. It’s sort of like the environmentalism theme was tacked on after the fact.

So an hour goes by and no sharks. There’s a shadow, but I don’t count that. It does nothing. But once we pass an hour the movie makes up for the lack of shark-related deaths in a big way. People drop like flies. We lose a sub pilot, a couple of crew members, then a couple more. The shark bangs up a lot of equipment and seems to be mad at electricity. But then I guess it gets sick of trying to bust up generators and goes to get a snack by bursting up through an ice floe. This all happens in about 15-20 minutes. There’s a lot of buildup to a very quick climax. We don’t even get much of a payoff. There’s a big explosion and then we’re on a sailboat with one of the main characters narrating a letter to another main character, talking about some environmental foundation they started in the memory of the people who died in the last twenty minutes. There’s a teaser for a potential sequel and then. Nothing. That’s it.

I get that the movie was probably made on a shoestring budget. I get that they likely sunk a good portion of said budget into the effects and getting a couple of actors people who watch cult tv shows might recognize. And really, it was nice to see some semi-familiar faces and the effects, while very noticeable, weren’t nearly as laughable as the ones in Sharks in Venice. But it’s so damn short. There are bits and pieces that just sort of happen and then go nowhere. Were they meant to play into the big plot? Was I supposed to care? What happened to the dude with the fish bite? Was the wonky sonar that big a deal? What about Maz and Ross and that little worry stone Mitchell had? Did that mean something? I have no idea. It’s messy, and not in a cheesefest way.

Honestly, if I’d watched this before Sharks in Venice I might have been more taken with it. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad in an unwatchable way. I’d stop on it if I surfed past it on television because it was fun enough for what it was. But it almost succeeded too much. It was never going to be a great movie, but it didn’t embrace its nature enough. It tried too hard and managed just enough to be decent without being good.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Megalodon

August 3, 2010

Megalodon

I like to know where I stand with a movie. When I sit down to spend ninety minutes of my life watching something I want to know what I’m setting myself up for. With yesterday’s movie I was expecting just what I got – pure low budget cheese. Within the first few minuted of today’s offering I quickly got a sense of how this film stacks up in comparison. Whereas Sharks in Venice had a sort of Ed Wood level of bad to it, and gave the impression of having been made for pocket change (I’d say less than $100,000) tonight’s movie is a giant step up. It has a wealth of digital special effects. It has a number of actors who can speak English. It has a whole lot of sci-fi inspired sets. Overall it gives the impression of a made for TV effort with the budget of, for example, an episode of the Stargate TV show. Say somewhere between one and two million dollars.

The plot involves an enormous prototypical oil rig called Colossus off the shores of Greenland. It’s the baby of industrialist and billionaire Peter Brazier. I think he’s inspired by Virgin Air CEO Richard Branson – sort of a pioneer and adventurer. Mr. Brazier invites television reporter Christen to visit Colossus so she can document his efforts to make oil drilling more environmentally sound and efficient. It’s a largely automated rig, so in spite of it’s vast size it only has twenty-two crew members. We meet about seven of them. There’s Renascence man, spear fisher, and dive chief Ross. His girlfriend Maz, who drives one of the rig’s submarines. There’s the chief engineer and the chief medic and a few red shirts besides. Brazier seems like a pretty hands on CEO in that he’s right there on the rig the whole time and doesn’t seem to have to do anything but run things there. I guess the rest of his company must pretty much run itself.

It takes a long time for the movie to really get going. There’s a lot of time spent introducing characters and showing us the rig and its workings. We get to see the underwater elevator that can be used to shuttle essential personnel to the sea bed (though for what purpose is never really explored. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get out of the elevator once you’re down there and it has no manipulating arms or anything. I suppose it’s a sort of mobile command center or observation deck or something, but mostly it’s just a plot device for putting characters in peril.)

Eventually, about halfway through the movie it seems, the rig’s drill penetrates a vast underwater cavern and disappears into the murky depths. This cavern is apparently some kind of deep underwater land that time forgot, and all sorts of prehistoric beasties get unleashed when the drill breaks in… including (finally!) the giant forty-foot long uber-shark: the Megalodon. From then on the crew are in a battle for their lives as the giant shark menaces submarines, traps a bunch of characters in the aforementioned elevator, and generally rams the rig a whole bunch because it just bugs him.

Overall I found the movie to be inoffensively entertaining. It’s not great cinema, but for the most part it’s competently made and it feels like it mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do, in a bland sort of made-for-TV way. Some might complain that the effects are not quite up to the vision of the film, but I found them perfectly serviceable. You’re never going to mistake any of the vast majority of the film for real, because it has a very computer-generated feel to the whole thing, but if you can suspend your disbelief you can mostly enjoy it. (This is the Dr. Who fan in me speaking I know.) Somebody put a lot of effort into modelling the Colossus rig and the elevator and the submarine (there are three subs, I think, but they’re all the same computer model) and the sci-fi feel of the whole thing is pretty cool. My one complaint about the effects would be that the Megalodon itself lacks mobility and generally comes across as a lumbering mechanical monster and not an agile and threatening beast. This leads into one of my general complaints about the whole movie, which is that there is very little tension to the whole thing.

Even when the shark finally came on the scene I never really felt that the characters were in any peril. I’m not sure why this is, but although I wasn’t really disappointed in the acting or the effects or anything neither was I ever really engaged. The few characters I didn’t particularly like met their untimely ends, but I didn’t really care what happened to the rest of the crew. Except perhaps for Maz, who seems like a kind of cool woman except when she’s greasy and meditating… that scene kind of threw me. I think that I’m supposed to care about Ross, who seems most of the time like the most intelligent person on the rig and is kind of the main hero, but the performance of Al Sapienza who plays him is kind of monotone and grating. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to come across as brooding and intense, but it just didn’t work for me. As for Peter and Christen and Mitchell and all… meh. Nobody really stood out for me, they were all inoffensive and bland. Adequate. Like the effects.

The other problem I have with the movie is that it ends so abruptly. I know this might sound odd, that I’m saying “this movie was so bland, and there was too little of it,” but I felt in the end like there was a headlong rush to bring things to a quick conclusion. Perhaps they had budgetary problems or time restrictions or something. But after they spent so very much time introducing the setting and the characters it felt odd that once the actual story got going there was so little to it. There was little sense of danger, little action and little emotional investment, and then it was just over.

I should also mention a couple other small gripes. For one, the movie starts out with a wholly unnecessary news cast that sets up the plot. I can’t figure out why this bit was there at all, since just about everything in the newscast is later re-introduced more organically by characters in the film. Maybe they needed to pad it out to a full hour and a half or maybe the news anchor was a girlfriend of the producer? It mystifies me. My other complaint is that the version of the film we have (which is apparently the only version that was ever made) is clearly cropped from widescreen to the 3:4 aspect ratio of an old TV. I say this because some of the closing credits and bits in the unnecessary opening news broadcast are cropped off the sides of the picture. Why on earth would you make a direct-to-video production and have as its only release this defective version where you can’t even read all the actor’s names because they go off the edge of the screen. It made it feel as though perhaps the movie was not really intended to be released but was somehow leaked to DVD from a pirated copy or something. Very odd.

The movie was, for me, like a big bowl of luke-warm plain oatmeal. Filling but not satisfying. It wasn’t awful enough to be bad, but it wasn’t interesting enough to be good. It’s just kind of there.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment