Wednesday, Rifftrax’s live take on “Sharknado” from July will be available for download and streaming on their website. It was a damn good show (as all of their live ones typically are), and I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Of course, this Rifftrax release gives me a fantastic excuse to talk about the burgeoning franchise of centrifugal carcharadons, and whether these “Sharknado” flicks are worth the attention that they are garnering.
For those unaware, The Asylum, who creates the Sharknado movies, has been around since the late 90s, distributing and producing B-features. Over the past few years, they have made a name for themselves making two specific kinds of B-movies. First, they do a wide array of monster flicks: the “Mega Shark” movies, “2-Headed Shark Attack,” “Shark Week,” etc. Second, they have essentially created their own quasi-genre of the “mock-buster”: films designed to resemble current Hollywood releases as closely as possible, in order to parasitically feed on DVD sales. These have included such titles as “Snakes on a Train,” “Transmorphers,” and “Atlantic Rim.” Unsurprisingly, this has gotten them into a little bit of legal hot water here and there, particularly with 2012’s “American Battleship,” whose name was eventually changed to “American Warships.” “Sharknado” obviously follows in the vein of the first type, clearly drawing inspiration from the outlandish “Mega Shark” series, which saw success similar to “Sharknado” a few years back, though not on the same scale.
Most of the movies put out by “The Asylum” are of pretty low quality by Hollywood standards, but are certainly leagues above Troma movies as far as production qualities go. They have particularly relied on cheap CGI in recent years to carry their films, which doesn’t enthrall today’s hardcore horror fans by any means. I mentioned in my “Lake Placid” review that I felt like the CGI used there really set the precedent for these Asylum monster movies, for better or worse. “Deep Blue Sea,” also from 1999, deserves some credit/fault as well for the first major modern CGI showcase of sharks on the big screen.
It is worth noting that while The Asylum’s movies are all of similarly low quality in regards to production values and CGI, they are not all equally entertaining. “Sharknado” is without a doubt one of the most genuinely entertaining products that they have put out, and I don’t think many would argue otherwise. Most of their movies are poorly paced, dull, and unmemorable, all of which are criticisms that I don’t think are valid to level at “Sharknado.” I will say that one of my favorite Asylum movies (maybe more so than “Sharknado”) was “Sherlock Holmes,” a mock-buster which was released just after the first Robert Downey Jr. / Guy Ritchie blockbuster. However, instead of just being satisfied with taking on a Holmes story, Asylum managed to wedge in an Iron Man suit, hologram dinosaurs, robots, and a hot air balloon battle. Really.
There is a really good video that circulated a bit last year that ruminated on the concept of good-bad (“nanar”) movies, and whether one could be made intentionally, a question that was clearly aimed at “Sharknado.”
The video did get me thinking, and I responded to it last month with a lengthy analysis of “The Producers” and “Springtime for Hitler,” in which I posit that there is a way to intentionally craft a bad movie. But, right now I want to dig into something that the video neglects to cover: the long tradition of intentionally made bad movies, which I believe deserves its own classification.
I mentioned Troma earlier in this post: in a lot of ways, they operate the same way that the Asylum does, but with a more tongue-in-cheek disposition and fondness for practical effects. They definitely have a cult following, and some of their films are regarded in the highest echelon of good-bad movies, but I don’t think anyone honestly believe that Troma goes into any of their movies aiming to create something conventionally “good.” “Surf Nazis Must Die,” “The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo & Juliet,” etc. are all clearly intentionally made bad movies, yet they have a loyal following of people who swear by them. They are still undoubtedly a divisive entity in the B-movie world though, so lets look at another example: Roger Corman.
Roger Corman is the undisputed King of the B-movies. Even beyond that, he is one of the most renowned fosterers of filmmaking talent in history, giving first breaks to people like Peter Bogdanavich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Jack Nicholson, and James Cameron, among many others. His career has spanned the better part of a century, and he, without any doubt, creates intentionally bad movies that are often widely adored. Recently, his producing credits have included the “Sharktopus” movies, the next of which is slated for 2016. On the other end of his long list of credits is 1955’s “The Beast With a Million Eyes”: he’s been doing this for a long, long time, and I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would claim that Corman movies don’t deserve recognition in a “good-bad” movie discussion.
When it comes down to it, I think this video misses the category that “Sharknado” really belongs in. Here is a Venn diagram shown at 1:32:
I think that this diagram merits another circle. As he mentions, there are a few different definitions of what a “B-movie” is out there, and not all of them are made with the same sort of intentions of a Troma or Roger Corman film: to be outlandish for the sake of outlandishness. I’m going to include this category as a green circle on a modified version of the above graph, with the acknowledgement that not all of these intentionally made bad movies are “nanar”-style enjoyable, but some definitely are.
So, I would claim that “Sharknado” gets the rare distinction or being in the intersection of the green and blue circles, alongside a handful of the more enjoyable Corman movies, treasured B-movie flicks like “Chopping Mall,” and a debatable selection of Troma’s filmography.
Getting back to “Sharknado,” I do not think is as bad as it is by design alone. Particularly after seeing it on a big screen for the Rifftrax event, I believe that this is an incompetently made film beyond just the outlandish concept and writing. I think “Sharknado” is kind of like someone laughing at themselves to try to cover up a genuine weakness. As we all should know, laughing at it doesn’t make a flaw magically go away.
The CGI sharks and, more noticeably on a big screen, CGI weather effects look damn awful throughout this movie, and are probably the biggest weaknesses to the whole thing. Given how often the sharks and weather need to be shown on screen for this film to work, it is a pretty big issue that they look so poorly done. To be fair, they aren’t “Birdemic” birds, but they still look pretty awful.
Something else that stands out more upon re-watching is the cinematography of “Sharknado,” in the sense that it is just god-awful. The camera movements are frankly nauseating, far more so than is ever justified. It isn’t like there are people out there who find bad cinematography hilarious, this is just honest incompetence in the film-making showing through.
So, I suppose my point with all of this is that “Sharknado” 1) follows in a long tradition of outlandish concept films, 2) is incompetent beyond just the concept, and 3) is still an entertaining film. I understand the detractors that aren’t fond of The Asylum’s brand of B-movies, but I do think that the success of “Sharknado” isn’t an accident: despite being an incompetently crafted movie, it is fun, and is almost certainly the result of a boiling down of The Asylum’s past successes. It isn’t the same kind of fun that “Troll 2” or “The Room” offers, but it is definitely similar to the old Corman-esque tradition.
“Sharknado 3” is slated for debut in July 2015, and it looks like it will mark yet another change of venue for the franchise, this time to the nation’s capital. After the second film’s location of New York, NY, I hope there are some more twists in store for this third flick apart from new monuments to level. It is going to be hard to compare with a shark assault on the Big Apple.
And, again, Rifftrax’s take on Sharknado will be available on Wednesday, February 18th at Rifftrax.com. It was a fun show to watch, and if you enjoyed Sharknado, it is sure to enhance the experience for you.