Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Purposely the Worst: SHARKNADO


To call Sharknado, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD today with the distinct feeling of having already missed its expiration date, the worst movie of the year is to give the filmmakers what they want. It's a movie cynically and tiresomely calibrated for maximum mediocrity, more a long chain of GIFs punctuated by agonizing boredom than anything even remotely adequate as cinema of any kind. In the list of things wrong with Sharknado - an uncommonly long list including such taken-for-granted technical details as color timing and sound mixing - none is more important to understanding its soul-sucking shoddiness than the mere fact that it doesn't even seem like a movie. This Syfy channel production – from the so-called mockbuster studio The Asylum – caught a wave of Twitter frenzy and rode a so-bad-it's-good storm to becoming a fad buzzword of the summer. I bet more people have riffed on the title, a clip, or the poster than ever actually sat through the whole thing. Sadly, that constitutes success in this case. Syfy has been up to this ultra-low-budget giggling for several years now – Sharktopus (2010), Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009) – but only this terrible thing truly took off in the most viral mainstream way.

So when I say that Sharknado is the worst movie of the year, know that I do not mean that as some sort of backwards praise. I do not mean to say that it did exactly what it wanted to do as if that were worth some begrudging admiration. This is not simply filmmaking at its most purposefully inept, but rather a blight on culture, a cynically intentional chunk of indigestible stupidity. To see once-somewhat-popular celebrities (Beverly Hills, 90210’s Ian Ziering, American Pie’s Tara Reid, character actor John Heard) shuffle through a storm of mid-90’s screensaver-quality chomping sharks flying through the air provides not a bit of entertainment or energy. It's simply sadness and boredom as disconnected bits of halfheartedly photographed nonsense, usually a shark falling from the sky and biting someone in a storm of CG blood, trade screen time with dialogue of the worst kind.

It's all so overdetermined and over-under-produced. If you have to try this hard to make a dumb, goofy, inept movie, you're doing it wrong. The thing is, making a movie is a challenging endeavor, let alone making a movie that's good or great. Why set out to make a terrible Sharknado on purpose? The premise is so inherently silly, what with its pack of sharks improbably alive and hungry swirling around in a tornado of astonishing longevity, that even a mediocre Sharknado would've been some kind of dumb fun. Look at Snakes on a Plane, which turned a jokey premise and a pre-release ironic online embrace into a reasonably diverting bit of creature feature fun simply because director David R. Ellis was making a movie first, a meme second. Here, director Anthony C. Ferrante and writer Thunder Levin had the potential meme in mind and proceeded to subtract from there.

Just look at the tagline: "Enough said!" I don't know what's worse, that the filmmakers believed their own hype or that a certain section of the population was ready to go along with it. When you look at the most notable so-bad-it's-good movies of recent years, you have such films as The Room and Birdemic. What makes those movies worth appreciating on some level is the degree of heart and purpose the filmmakers behind them clearly display. They come by their incompetence earnestly, honestly, accidentally. With something like Sharknado, the attempt to prefabricate a so-bad-it's-good aura around a project stinks of rank desperation. It's hard to get any movie made. Why settle for living down to the low expectations of your audience? Watching a tornado of sharks rain toothy danger on a town is not inherently dull or inherently unworkable, but what we have here is interminable and self-congratulatory in its excessive, purposeful incompetence. It leaves an awful aftertaste. Give me a movie that tries but fails over a movie that tries to fail any day.

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