Thursday, April 29, 2010

Film Critique- "Hai Alarm auf Mallorca"

What's German for, "Warning: Spoilers?"

Never mind.

My "Stay Out of the Water" film critique series comes to its conclusion with this nugget I found by accident via impulse shopping while at Best Buy. It's a shark movie with a killer shark on the cover. So I bought it, expecting crap. Before viewing, I found that it was originally made for German television, so I didn't know what to expect: crap or giddy goodiness. I was pleasantly surprised afterward when I found myself saying aloud to nobody in particular, "Hey, that wasn't bad at all." No, my avid readers. This film is actually pretty frigging sweeeet.

Once again, ripped from the flotsam & jetsam floating around Karmacritic and Operation Orca circa December of 2007, I give you---

Hai Alarm auf Mallorca (2004)
starring: Ralf Moeller, Julia Stinshoff, Gregor Bloeb, Katy Karrenbaur
written by: Jorg Alberts and Roland Heep
directed by: Jorgo Papavassiliou

It always baffled me; the gall that movie producers have sometimes. Specifically, those that produced Shark Movies after Jaws never gave co-writing credit to Peter Benchley or Carl Gottlieb. What baffles me further is how this trend of plagiarism continues to this day.

In the fifteen or so years since Steve Alten penned the magnificent "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror," Hollywood took it upon themselves to "super-size" the shark genre the same way I do my french fries and gave us the likes of Shark Hunter, Shark Attack III: Megalodon, and the lazily titled, Megalodon. All of which were not so much homages as they were blatant ripoffs of Alten's "Meg," and yet he received no credit, save for the insulting "Special thanks" occasionally.

Oh, Hollywood, how much I loath thee...

Not to be outdone by Hollywood's scum, German Television Executives wanted to take a bite of their own out of the shark genre and clone one that they could call their own; much in the same fashion that the Italians did with George Romero-Zombies and the shark genre itself. (See Tintorera: The Tiger Shark and Le Ultimo Squalo if you don't believe me.)

So, in 2004, German beefcake Ralf Moeller was paired with wunderbar hottie Julia Stinshoff and audiences of Deutche TV regailed over Hai-Alarm auf Mallorca,

or, as American DVD audiences came to know it as of July 10, 2007, Shark Attack in the Mediterranean.

Now, it is entirely possible that I am the only person on an English speaking continent that has seen this film, so I take it as the highest responsibility to write this review.
There are two things that separate this motion picture from the aforementioned others; first, it has the unique distinction of being the only movie in my memory to blatantly ripoff both "Meg" and Jaws in the exact same scene, (more on that later) and second, it can be watched in its entirety without a single wave of nausea overcoming the viewer. That's right; this movie isn't really that bad.

I pulled a tooth the size of a beer stein out of the wrecked hull of a boat out there.

Not as witty as Shark Hunter, yet not as goofy as Shark Attack III and not as visually deficient as Megalodon, Mallorca, when you get passed the wafer-thin characters and sub-par acting (which may be Brando-esque for German TV for all I know), has a slightly plausible plot right in the middle of an absolutely exquisite locale (shot on location on Spanish Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands). The characters are believable and relatable, albeit uber-beautiful, which can be expected on a Mediterranean Island, but surprisingly none come across as overly-annoying, which is usually a requisite for a film like this.

The special effects are the real star of this movie. Mallorca obviously had a bigger than usual budget for German prime time, because the FX, specifically in the action sequences look like something that would make George Lucas cream his pants and Stan Winston cringe in jealousy. (You may have seen the scenes I'm writing about for they have been on the Net for the past five years. More on that later.)

When are toothpaste commercials gonna wise-up and use stuff like this?

Our hero is Sven Hansen (Moeller), a freelance helicopter pilot en route to whatever airport this tiny island has to pick up Dr. Julia Bennet (Stinshoff), the new Marine Biologist at the Mallorcan Institute for Studying Sharks for the Purposes of Cancer Research, or whatever it's called. The name is not as important as the fact that this computer-generated, backlot-aquarium has at least a dozen or so fully-grown Great White sharks in captivity!?!? (Boy, Monterrey Bay has nothing on this place!) The largest of which has been named Hannibal by Institute Chief, Dr. Verena Brandauer (Katy Karrenbaur), the film's obligatory eeeeviiiil scientist.

Apparently, the titular beastie roaming the waters off Mallorca was cloned by the not-so-good Dr. Brandaur from a Megalodon egg she found in the Antarctic!?!? (yeah, right) And it escaped from the institute when the tank waters flooded over from a storm four years earlier!? (yeah, right, part II).

Spielberg should have hidden his shark so well.

Okay, so the suspension of belief and bogus science may be a bit much for even a Meg to swallow, but don't worry; eeeeeeviiiiil Dr. Brandaur gets her come-uppins by way of the Great Chomping before the film even goes into its endgame. Speaking of the endgame, I promised a comment on the FX and how Mallorca rips off "Meg" and Jaws in the same scene...

First off, the FX during the action sequences are truly superb, and shark movie enthusiasts may have seen them before on the Net. For the last four years, these FX scenes have been floating around Cyberspace under various guises; most notably:

1) The advanced FX work for the upcoming Meg movie, a project that has mistakenly been shitcanned recently by the gerbils in charge over at New Line Cinema.* (I don't care how many Freddy and Jason movies they spew out now, New Line will forever be the biggest turd in the Hollywood toilet for never making the Meg movie).

2) The teaser/trailer for Jaws 5. (By the way, Universal is mulling over a bunch of scripts for a straight to DVD, fifth Jaws installment.)**

3) The teaser/trailer for a Jaws remake to be helmed by James Cameron!?!? (Which by the way, was complete bullsh*t from day 1.)***

So let me set the record straight; said scenes on YouTube and the like came from Mallorca, case closed, elementary, my dear Watson.

Achtung! Vee vill now reeep off Steeef AAAltin! Heil us!

As for the endgame and the duality of plagiarism, this is how our Megalo-beastie buys it...

In a helicopter scene practically written ver-batim from Alten's pages with a Martin Brody plug in from Jaws, Sven pulls off his best "smile you son of a bitch" moment by shooting an explosive-laden jetski that the Meg has been swimming around with in its mouth!?!?

Yes, Sven planted the explosives on the jetski before sharky-shark decided to use it for a toothpick.

No, I won't tell you how, I leave that to your imagination. ---

The bottom line? Rent this movie and watch it. It's no Jaws (but what is?) and it's not even Deep Blue Sea. But the beauty is, Mallorca never even tries to be such. It's as if the film knows its place in the genre and accepts it. The end result is, something that can be said with certainty, this is not the worst shark movie out there. Which, when you consider it's peers within the genre, is the highest of compliments. Hai-Alarm auf Mallorca is surprisingly pleasant and painless if you don't expect too much.

Authors Note: Footnotes have been added now, 3 years after original publication.

* New Line Cinema closed its doors for good, after the box office failure of Rush Hour 3, the film that supposedly boosted Meg to the back-burner of production. GOOD RIDDANCE, ASSHOLES! YOU DESERVE IT!

** Needless to say, Jaws 5 never saw fruition because...

*** Universal Studios is still trying to piece together a remake and the rumor was it would feature an all African American cast including Tracy Morgan and Malcolm Jamal Warner !?!?!? Just kill me now, please!

I hope you enjoyed this sharky stroll down memory lane as much as I did. I will be transferring all the older Turzman Critiques to this site, as well as some new material in the near future. Until then, stay well my friends, and of course-

Stay out of the water.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Film Critique- "Sharkwater"

Part deux of my "Stay Out of the Water" film critique series is another old review I found bobbing along the surface at Operation Orca. It's a breath-taking documentary combining the brutal practice of shark finning with some exquisite and beautiful shots of sharks doing what sharks do best; swimming around and looking good doing it. Originally posted at OpOrc and KarmaCritic May 1, 2008...
Sharkwater (2007)
written and directed by Rob Stewart.

The barbaric practices of the shark-finning industry are criticized in this award-winning film that combines hidden-camera footage of the atrocious treatment of sharks with glorious underwater footage of the predators from first time documentarian Rob Stewart.

Biologically speaking, there's nothing new here. The intro offers a rudimentary description of sharks not uncommon with your basic Discovery channel doc, but the focus is on the degredation of shark populations and its effect on aquatic eco-systems. Specifically, shark fishing is targeted here, and Stewart teams up with a Greenpeace-like organization that motors around the world's oceans, making life difficult for fishermen with less than moral scruples.

The term, "in-depth" isn't quite correct here, because only the surface of the fin industry is scratched. Stewart was able to sneak a camera into a Costa Rican shark fin "holding area," and there is ample footage of the act itself out on the water. But how, exactly the fins get from waterfront warehouses to restaurants around the world is still unknown, despite being illegal in 16 countries.

But there is brutality aplenty, as we see the bodies of finless, tail-less sharks being dumped back into the ocean, still alive, to die (probably of) suffocation before they are picked apart by every little nibbler in the sea. Stuff like this, simply put, defines "cruelty."

But this yin certainly has a yang, for Sharkwater isn't just a bloody orgy of shark-f*cking. No, there is some majestic underwater footage of sharks doing what they do best, showing that Stewart has a very keen eye when looking through a viewfinder. Coupled with the fact that it is underwater, free swimming with sharks, even the most established of DP's must appreciate the fruits of this labor.

This is a film that can be appreciated even if you're not a shark freak like me. Anyone who enjoys a good doc will love this film. And it wouldn't hurt a non-shark freak to get a little education about the ocean's top predator. When seals hunt for fish, they are just as predatory and implement similar tactics as sharks, yet they are protected. Herman Melville depicted the sperm whale as a monster, but with a little observation and understanding, it became clear that whales are hardly dangerous (to humans) so they are protected. What Sharkwater suggests is the same thing for sharks. A little bit of observation, education and understanding may lead humans to believe that "just because they're scary" is not reason enough to slaughter sharks to the brink of extinction.

Warming up in the bullpen is the third and final installment of my "Stay Out of the Water" film critique series, Hai Alarm auf Mallorca. in the interim, go get some knowledge for yourself. It doesn't matter what, just teach yourself something new by reading a book or watching something educational. Or read some of my older blogs.

Internet addict Pornocat says, "I'd like to see a review of the film, Catwater, which is about the brutally barbaric and deplorable act of forcing cats to take a bath. Everyone knows that a cat's tongue is better than any scrub brush. My ex-wife can attest to that, but it doesn't explain why she left me."