Tuesday, December 05, 2006

From "Jaws" to "Deep Blue Sea"

I'm currently watching "Deep Blue Sea" again on the DVD-drive of my computer while I'm writing this. And looking at the really terrifying and very realistic sharks - and with the fact firmly settled in the back of my mind that Sunday night I didn't even get to see a little bit of the first "Jaws"-movie, because the public channel it was scheduled to be on didn't keep it's own time-table - I've started thinking about how much those 'shark'-movies, as I call them, have changed since "Jaws".

For somebody like me who has read a lot about sharks, most of those 'shark'-movies which portrait them as either some sort of underwater demonic force or feeding-machine with sharp teeth and no brain are just laughing stock. I like watching them, but I don't believe what they tell me about sharks.

The way sharks are portrait in those movies hasn't changed a lot. They're still killer-machines with or without a grudge against mankind or individual humans (the latter serves as an explanation why the Great White in "Jaws 4" follows the widow of the Roy-Scheider-character from Amity somewhere along the American east coast to Hawaii). They can be more intelligent than the usual creatures roaming the seas, as in "Deep Blue Sea" where their brains have been tempered with. Or they just seem to have a non-human cunning that serves them well against all kinds of technological means mankind can throw at them.

I won't go into detail about the reasons why people fear sharks, because that's obvious: sharks are the most well-known predators underwater; and with their sharp teeth and fast movements they look terrifying and not at all cuddly to us. You can cuddle with a stuffed animal in the form of a tiger or wolf, but not with a stuffed animal in the form of a Great White - though I would, actually.

It's not important for the movies which revolve around a mystical shark anyway: the man-eating and man-hating beast. Statistically your chances of being struck by lightning while playing golf are higher than your chances of being attacked (not even killed) by a shark. But this mystical creature many filmmakers have created since Stephen Spielberg made "Jaws" does obviously considers anything beneath human flesh unworthy to be eaten. It's waiting right in front of the beach for anybody stupid enough to go swimming - especially late at night while not many people are watching. It's even following a woman over thousands of miles - and theoretically the shark in "Jaws 4" must have swum around all of South America, as it couldn't fly and surely couldn't use the Panama Channel either - just to kill everybody she loves. In other words: it could be swimming right up to the next fishing boat with a sign reading "I want to be killed, so please gut me and take me to the shore to gloat about the big fish you got", the results would be the same.

So what has changed over all those years?

Well, first of all the sharks have become more visible. While the more or less life-sized model of the Great White used for "Jaws" (called 'Bruce' by the film crew) was only visible for four shots in the entire movie (all other shots which show sharks were actually taken from real life footage on those animals), the Marco Sharks in "Deep Blue Sea" are visible quite often, interacting with humans or just with structures or other sharks. With the combination of life-sized, computer-controlled and actually free-swimming ('Bruce' couldn't have moved an inch without any additional equipment) models and 3D-animated, computer-created sharks it's possible to keep the dangerous and toothy animals 'on-screen' one way or another almost constantly during the second half of the movie ... and to keep them in close contact with their human colleagues.

The second point which has changed is that the sharks themselves have changed. Nobody ever claimed the first three Great White ones in the "Jaws"-series were something special - although a shark following people as far as the one in the forth movie is something special -, they just had swum into the vicinity of Amity and started feeding on humans. There were suggestions about the second and third shark wielding some kind of revenge on humans for the killing of their mate/baby, but nothing clear. And by the way: sharks don't have any long-time mates, they just mate and swim away; they don't care about their babies either, the little ones even have to take care of not being eaten by their own mothers. Later on there was quite often some kind of human remodelling behind the shark's vicious behaviour. In "Shark", a TV-movie after another novel by Peter Benchley (the creator of "Jaws"), the shark actually was a mixture between a shark, a dolphin and a human ... it even changed into a humanoid creature able to live on land as well as in the water halfway throughout the movie. And in "Deep Blue Sea" the sharks were treated to enlarge their brains so more of a special protein could be harvested from them. As a side-effect they became more intelligent - and vicious, it seems.

But why have those changes happened?

The first change has a lot to do with the changes in horror-movies as a such. Today violence and danger are far more visible than in the past. Just suggesting that there's a shark swimming nearby isn't enough any longer. And with the technological means for it, there's no excuse not to show them any more.

The second change also fits in with a development in horror-movies. Audiences today expect a reason for the things happening. It may be a stupid reason like "they created a monster and now it wants revenge", but it's still a reason. Just telling the audience "there's a large shark around who just happened to swim to the beach of Amity" does no longer work.

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