Shark Night (US - BD RA)
Gabe watches a movie so bland even a starving great white shark wouldn't eat it.
When I heard that David R. Ellis, the director of Final Destination 2, was making a 3D schlock-fest about sharks eating co-eds conspicuously titled Shark Night 3D, I was positively brimming with enthusiasm. Despite my luke-warm feelings toward Ellis’ previous 3D picture, The Final Destination (aka: Final Destination 4), I had a vested, some might even say ‘frothing’, interest in this proposition. Then I discovered that for whatever reason (likely misguided monetary assumptions) Fox was aiming for a PG-13 rating with the film. At this point I decided to wait for the inevitable ‘unrated’ DVD/Blu-ray cut. Well, it didn’t come. Fox chose to keep the PG-13 rating for this release. Readers that aren’t fans of B-grade cheese might not understand why an R or un-rating would make or break a movie like Shark Night, but trust me, it makes a night and day difference in cases like these. These days even made for television schlock runs on R-rating level violence, and for decades T&A has been one of the key element in bad movie greatness. This PG-13ness will not stand. Now that I’ve actually seen the film, I can verify that if it was released in the mid-‘90s it probably would’ve received an R for its gore, but following the gratuitous glory of something like Alexandre Aja’s Piranha remake, or even Ellis’ Final Destination films, this is anemic in the worst way, especially when the human characters go to surprisingly dark places (attempted rape being a good example). There’s also a definitive sense of Ellis censoring himself (obvious cut-aways from violence and breasts), which fuels my assumption that there is a harder cut out there somewhere.
Shark Night essentially uses the slasher movie template for its very basic story. A cast of nubile twenty-somethings/late-teeners (all somewhat famous, I’m sure) are quickly laid out in front of the audience. The co-eds are then defined by basic character traits, and their degree of sluttiness/guiltiness is established early on. The meat is set loose in a rural party area (no cell phone coverage, natch) for slaughter, which occurs after the genre standard half-hour of bickering/flirting. The faceless killer is then replaced by a series of sharks doing their thing (there are also plenty of Jaws references, specifically the opening scene that rips off the opening of Spielberg’s film wholesale). The value in such a project – a PG-13 shark slasher project – is found entirely in the quality of the characters, and the treatment of the clichés, since we all know the quality of slaughter will be lacking. The characters are surprisingly relatable for the most part, and the acting is just fine, but they’re definitely made up of overused tropes, and the tropes are never inverted. The conflict and drama between shark kills and dumb motivational speeches is awkwardly pushed, sitting somewhere between tedious and tolerable. The plot is wafer thin, similarly ridiculous to Ellis’ other not-very-good high concept critter flick Snakes on a Plane in the fact that it’s almost impossible to care why the sharks are in the lake, even with several minutes worth of proper explanation. There are attempts at social and pop-culture commentary, and the rednecksploitation angle sounds good on paper, but the film (if you’ll excuse the pun) lacks the teeth to deliver on either premise.
Ellis, who continues to prove himself a capable filmmaker even at the worst of times, does very little to impress with his directorial choices. There are oodles of production value in the handsome HD photography, and overall pacing is sharp enough to keep the film’s blandness from overstepping into boringness, but there’s very little more separating this film from the average made for Syfy fare. The digital shark effects are continuously shoddy, the narrative is awkwardly timed, and Ellis’ choice of montage shorthand, which consists of Benny Hill like frame-rate speed-ups set to loud pop music, is embarrassingly dumb. The action scenes, Ellis’ speciality as a former 2nd unit stunt sequence director, are expertly put together, but there’s next to zero suspense, and the shock scares never once land a genuine jump, or even a giggle (it wasn’t good, but Snakes on a Plane had some good scare-based giggles). The rhythm of the scares is consistently wrong, which just doesn’t make sense given the utter perfection of the jump timing in Final Destination 2.
Shark Night 3D comes to Blu-ray in the form of a 1080p, 1.78:1, non-3D disc. The film was shot using top of the line digital HD cameras, and the Blu-ray doesn’t show any major signs of compression or ghosting effects. The film looks the best when Ellis and cinematographer Gary Capo are exploring the bounty of nature in full, wide shot glory. Detail levels are brilliantly captured with only minor edge haloes in the ocean ripples. The quality and clarity of the general details maintains throughout the film, which features some pretty deep focus for a made for 3D film. There are some night sequences that are too dark for their own good, but otherwise there’s very little that goes missing in every frame. Colour quality is also consistent and vibrant. For the most part Ellis and Capo opt for a relatively natural palette, though as the film progresses sickly greens represent the lake, amber represents inside night, and blue represents outside night. Reds are often made to pop sharply against these hues, but I’m left more impressed with the soft and natural blends in highlights. Black levels are brilliantly deep and pure, despite rather subtle contrast levels. I can definitely see what the filmmakers were going for in terms of 3D enhancements, and unlike several recent 2D versions of 3D films these elements don’t look painfully out of place, though still, the blends are a bit lacking.
Shark Night comes fitted with the Fox standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. I wouldn’t consider this a particularly incredible mix, but there’s very little to complain about. The mix comes to life early thanks to a lightly toned speedboat chase set to loud pop-rock music. Here the front channels are full and vibrant, the LFE rumbles heavy with roaring motors and drums, and the surround channels feature both subtle echoes and directional nuggets. Speedboat sequences remain relatively consistent aural standouts, until the boat explodes, which leads to some pretty great directional influence. Underwater sequences have a nice bass hum about them, and feature a full surround field of basic effects. The centered dialogue is clear, but the volume level pops around a bit, especially during pointedly ‘moving’ parts (whispers don’t fare well, shouting does). Graeme Revell’s musical score is appropriately bombastic, but is easily forgotten in favour of the loud, boisterous pop tunes that slather the first act and a half of the film.
The rather brief extras begin with Shark Attack! Kill Machine! (5:40, HD) a montage of most of the film’s shark attacks (the ones where the shark is hard to see are not included). Shark Night’s Survival Guide (4:10, HD) is a EPK/extended trailer for the film that pretends to contain actual warnings about shark attacks. Fake Sharks, Real Scares (5:20, HD) features a look at the animatronic and CG sharks with Ellis, animatronic supervisor Walt Conti, who runs us through the production and mechanics of the non-CG sharks, and visual effects supervisor Gregor Lakner, who runs us through the process of creating digital sharks. Ellis’ Island (4:20, HD) features the cast discussing the merits of director David Ellis, who is also given a chance to talk up the merits of his film (which is apparently super scientifically accurate). Things end with a trailer, and sneak peeks of other Fox releases.
Shark Night 3D (here in 2D) is more or less a total failure due to its terminal blandness, but never bad enough to outwardly dismiss. It has merits, they’re just difficult to find. Interestingly enough, after the credits there is a full-length hip-hop song staring the major protagonists in the cast rapping about their parts in the film. It’s actually pretty cute, but implies that the film itself was a lot more dumb fun than it actually is. In all honesty I had more fun with the Syfy Channel’s dumber than nails killer shark movies. The disc looks fantastic, even though it’s missing the 3D enhancement, and sounds fine, but the extras are basically a series of short ads for the film.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 3rd January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Shark Attack! Kill Machine!, Shark Night's Survival Guide, Fake Sharks, Real Scares, Ellis' Island, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: David R. Ellis
Cast: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Donal Logue, Joshua Leonard, Joel David Moore
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 90 minutes
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