Saturday, May 1, 2010

Colin's 2010 Movies #5 & 6: The Last Shark and Jaws 5

It’s been said that for filmmakers in Italy, studios don’t ask you what your movie is like, they ask you what movie is your movie like. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of 1981’s The Last Shark by Enzo Castellari (who also directed the original Inglorious Bastards). Castellari’s film tells the story of a coastal community terrorized by a monstrous great white shark, following a writer and a grizzled sea-dog determined to kill the shark and a stubborn mayor who refuses to close the beaches until it’s too late. The film’s similarities to a certain 1975 shark attack movie and its 1978 sequel were so conspicuous that Universal Studios successfully sued the filmmakers and had it pulled from American theatres.

For those able to look past the glaring similarities though, The Last Shark is really entertaining for a movie of its type. The catchy dance music that kicks in from the first minute, playing over a doomed sailboarder doing tricks in the surf before getting eaten perfectly sets the tone for the fun energetic proceedings. We find out there’s a big windsurfing regatta coming up, which inevitably turns into a spectacular shark smorgasbord, leading to various groups sailing out to hunt the beast. The film alternates between using a decent animatronic shark mock-up that rises out of the water and grainy stock footage of sharks (there’s an awesome scene where two TV news reporters are complaining that they didn’t get nice enough shots of the shark attacking the regatta and then decide to just cut in some stock footage since no one will know the difference). In the film’s best setpiece the shark drags down the mayor’s helicopter by the hook and line he’d suspended from it.

One of the things about the latter two Jaws movies that always bothered me was how much time they wasted with the human characters. They seemed to think they had to live up to the original Jaws by being a heartfelt human drama first and an entertaining genre movie second (if at all). The Last Shark has no such compunctions, being comfortable to just be a cheesy fun shark attack movie, with a lean well-paced script always building to the next thrilling action sequence.

Not so for Bruno Mattei’s 1995 Italian TV-produced Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. Mattei, master of cinematic plagiarism, made an almost scene for scene remake of The Last Shark, just with the addition of eye-pealingly obnoxious unlikeable characters and tedious boring subplots. All the shark sequences are either recreated with new actors or consist of footage ripped directly from Castellari’s film. Only Bruno Mattei could make an even more shameless rip-off of an already shameless rip-off of Jaws. We’re probably lucky this movie didn’t make the universe implode.

And just in case the general premise wasn’t blatant enough, the script throws in such lines as ‘It probably is the shark, it’s very rare for these waters; but this jaw-span just doesn’t convince me!’ and ‘All it really knows how to do is swim, eat and make baby sharks’ and ‘We’re gonna need a bigger helicopter!’ It’s hard not to admire the guts of a filmmaker who’d steal so much from Spielberg as recently as the mid-90ties. The film’s score also borrows from Star Wars just for good measure.

While I can’t really recommend Jaws 5 as an entertainment, since it’s virtually the same film as The Last Shark but with more annoying characters, it is kind of impressive as an achievement in low-budget editing wizardry. Here sixty-four year old director, Bruno Mattei was given a presumably meagre budget from an Italian TV network and managed to turn out a Jaws sequel somewhat better than the last one (Jaws 4: The Crackdown) without filming a single new frame of underwater footage or any footage of a robotic shark. There’s even a few scenes in the heroes’ SeaWorld type facility where crowd noise is heard applauding the dolphins, where no crowd is seen and the set is obviously too small to seat a crowd anywhere around the pool. Take that, restrictively small budget!

So, for fans of shark movies, The Last Shark is well worth checking out. And for fans of Italian rip-off artists, Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws is a one-of-a-kind example.

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