Shark Hunting: With Shark Night 3D, The Quest For A New Jaws Continues

Matt Cross remembers discovering Jaws early in life and wonders whether anything, including latest effort Shark Night 3D, will ever come close to tapping 'shark fear' so effectively.

When I was ten-years old, I stumbled upon a film in our living room VHS collection entitled Jaws. With no-one around I examined the box, unsure what the huge triangular creature was on the cover. Ever the fearless youth, I popped it into the player and began watching. Several high-pitch screams later I was rescued by my Dad.

I have never to this day seen another shark film that has scared me in such a way. I've seen Jaws again uncountable times since, and its timeless action still retains the edge-of-you-seat fear that I look for in all shark-themed films. It is a fear that is so rarely delivered.

Like so many others, I like to feel uncomfortable, awkward and ultimately, scared. People like me pay money for the sensation and we’re quite content to jump out of perfectly well-built planes and ride dubious-looking rollercoasters, just to get the thrill of surviving something that should actually kill us. This love for danger has made Horror films the huge industry it is today, offering a release to the lazy adventurer by bringing the nightmare to the cinema or living room. And given the huge success of Jaws, a flurry of shark-themed flicks have attempted to cater for the fear-craving majority. Few have gotten even remotely close to delivering the same impact of Steven Spielberg's film, which I and many others so eagerly crave.

So you’ll understand why my heart stopped when I wandered past Shark Night 3D, directed by David R. Ellis of Final Destination fame. As the chap also responsible for Snakes On A Plane, I was tempted to return Ellis' film to its designated shelf space, but this movie didn’t claim to be a Horror film, rather – as the man in Blockbuster explained – 'a B-Movie-styled action flick with Horror elements'.

'But as a shark movie, it is almost guaranteed to scare me, right?', I asked.

'Yes' he said. In hindsight, had he ever watched the film this would have been the point where he would have launched himself across the counter and slapped me in the face for even touching it.

The general concept of Shark Night 3D is that a series of mostly unrecognisable (and for the entirety, scantily clad) actors, take a weekend break on a rented speedboat to a hidden villa by the lake. Within what appears to be about an hour of their arrival, one character decides to go wake-boarding. After a few minutes of underwater pursuit footage, said character is pulled from the board and swims to shore, minus an arm.

After passing out on the beach, the remaining teenage posse then need to decide how to get him back to the mainland for medical assistance, with each attempt resulting in more and more characters being eaten as boats are tipped over, people are snapped from jet skis, and the unluckiest of characters gets pulled from a tree. Yes, you read that last one right.

The lead male character is typically reckless, signalled by him diving into the water to retrieve the previously reported severed arm for no explainable reason. He does of course survive the dive despite being chased to the shore, severed-arm in tow, the event instantly distancing the viewer from the concept of realism which dissipates further as the movie progresses.

Shortly after, the unlikeliness persists when the character missing an arm miraculously wakes up from a ten-minute coma and goes looking for the shark that tried to eat him with nothing more than an antique tribal spear, which we can only assume he made himself. Remember, at this point, he's only got one arm. Within seconds of entering the water a fin breaks the surface, speeds towards him, and with a single calm thrust he is able to not only kill the creature but also drag it to the shore. Yes, with one arm.

From here on the character deaths get more and more laughable, welcome though they are in removing the flurry of naive, vain and annoying people from the story. I recall turning to my girlfriend as the film began and highlighting that I was struggling to keep track of all the characters introduced in the opening few minutes. Obviously they make for great shark food but the deaths themselves offer very little blood and almost no relishable gore. Ellis goes for the 'get pulled underwater and then watch the water go still' method for most of the deaths which means there's little underwater action of people struggling to get free. Perhaps it's deranged to want to see this sort of thing, but regardless, it's not there.

There's a few late twists and turns in the story, all of which leave you increasingly disconnected from caring about what’s going on. The inevitable subtle love story ensues between the two main characters though never actually goes anywhere, whilst a later reveal, hinted at in the trailer, fails to make sense on several levels. A key question as to the film's recognition of its own logic is raised but never answered: how do saltwater sharks survive in a freshwater lake?

The movie's human villains all seem too disconnected from the mayhem happening in front of them. Two are not well cast and one goes through an inevitable 'confess all' moment with the lead male instead of getting on with the killing like any leading bad-guy should have learnt to do long ago. Clearly, 'originality' is not a word the film's writers have grasped yet.

With the addition of the 3D – which would be quite good in places if it weren’t for the thoroughly poor CGI - you’d think there might be something on offer to get your heart racing, but no. The biased reviews on the front of the box were encouraging, and massively misleading, many of the animated creatures were quickly, and cheaply, put together.

The music - far from Jaws' theme, the thought of which has emptied many a local swimming baths - doesn’t attain an ounce of suspense, worry or nervousness. You might as well have had Pixie Lott score the thing.

The only salvageable moment of the whole film resides in a 3-second slow motion shot of a Great White leaping from the water to devour a jet ski rider. This is amazing, and actually made me shout things. But for a typical ninety-minute movie, three-seconds isn’t really worth the rental price, let alone the consideration of a purchase, nor did the two seconds of shouting positive things erase the different kind of shouting that had gone before.

Like parts of Jaws, Shark Night's writers have used the concept of shark attacks to remove the necessity for a properly developed backstory. This worked in Spielberg's film because the anticipation of the next kill kept you hooked: it was almost unbearable. As we saw from the Jaws' sequels though, this model alone isn't sustainable. In Shark Night 3D the swift, frequent and poorly-acted shark attacks leave you craving something more interesting, only to be disappointed when it is never delivered.

Would I ever buy this film for my collection, to add next to Jaws? No. Would I watch it again? No. Shark Night 3D offers a single memorable kill, balancing it in a plot that makes little sense, populated by a collection of characters that the viewer neither empathises with or cares much about. The movie equivalent of an empty popcorn bag.

The search for another fantastic and engrossing shark movie of equal calibre to Jaws continues, with no end in sight.

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