Sunday, November 19, 2023

Planet of the Sharks (USA, 2016)

It pretty much goes without saying that when one pops in a film produced by The Asylum or SyFy, one knows that one is not going to be watching an Oscar contender. Which isn't to say that one does not at least hope for a certain level of "quality" entertainment — "quality", like "entertainment", being an extremely latitudinous term — because, as many a contemporary film purveyor is able to attest, something "bad" can indeed offer quality entertainment.
Planet of the Sharks is definitely not a five-star movie, indeed, it undoubtedly a "bad" one — but, for that, it is a wonderfully quick-moving slice of intentional ridiculousness that does entertain. When it comes to a typically cheap-ass Asylum cum SyFiy flick, it is unquestionably quality Asylum cum SyFiy garbage and fun to watch — much more so, in all truth, than its subsequent sequel from 2017, Empire of the Sharks (2017 / trailer), a flick somewhat marred by both its uninteresting shark-whisperer plot and the almost saddening presence of former top-liner John Savage in what is, basically, an almost pity-inducing role as that film's big baddie. How low one can fall...
Trailer to
Planet of the Sharks:
In Planet of the Sharks, however, there are no names of note or former renown, so instead of constantly being reminded how far one can fall, one is able to simply enjoy the film for what it is: an entertainingly stupid flick full of laughs, made by obvious genre fans, that not only offers a fun 86 minutes of mindless amusement but passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors and totally fails the Sexy Lamp Test. 
Rest assured: the acting is bad, the story idiotic, and the CGI horrible — it is, after all, an Asylum/SyFi flick. But if you like bad films, this one goes extremely well with a joint and some beers and makes for some true fun. And that despite the total dearth of naked flesh of any gender. (Though we would hazard to guess that Stephanie Beran [of Big Kill (2019 / trailer) and Killer Party (2014 / trailer)], as the brainy and brave and extremely capable Dr Shayne Nichols, was cast less for her acting talent than for how she fills her tank top.*)
* Okay, we understand that exploitive, gratuitous nudity — unlike exploitive, gratuitous violence — is not exactly permissible in American TV productions, but let's be honest: are the support bras really necessary?
Director and scriptwriter Mark Atkins, who also wrote and made the subsequent Empire of the Sharks (not to mention the less laudable Haunting of Winchester House [2009]), who obviously enough gives a nod to the title of Planet of the Apes (1968 / trailer and/or 2001 / trailer), cribs the core setting of his film from the massively budgeted and massively derided (but nevertheless entertaining and, contrary to popular lore, financially successful) Kevin Costner movie Waterworld (1995 / trailer): a future world in which the Earth's ice caps have melted and submerged all land, leaving the survivors to fend for their lives on isolated, floating villages. 
And while there are manly men in Planet of the Sharks (Brandon Auret, the film's main male good guy Dillon Barrick, could be manly with us any day he wants), the planet — unlike in the sequel — is not a patriarchal horror ala Waterworld. Here, men and women are equals; they work together to do what they can to save the situation they find themselves in — and considering that the movie's narrative transpires virtually in real time over the course of a day, they experience and (mostly) conquer a lot of situations. All of which occur on the eve of sending, up into space, a rocket with a transmitter that should alter the world's weather patterns (and thus possible cause the water to recede and land masses to reappear), beginning with a massive school of man-eating sharks suddenly decimating the villages and munching on the residents. (The melting caps means less salt in the water, which means less plankton to feed the normal prey of the sharks, which means a lower amount of traditional prey, which means they are now turning their attention to making humankind their main source of nutrition.) Oh, yeah: a mutation means that the sharks now follow the telepathic commands of an alpha shark...
From the moment the film opens with a ridiculously funny shark-attack slaughter of a small water village, Planet of the Sharks barrels along at top speed, interspacing Star Trek-like, plot-driving techno babble with action scenes and moments of sublime ridiculousness until, after the requisite number of violent deaths and last-minute saves, all occurring as the clock is ticking, all's well that ends well. We know that at the latest when we are treated, in the film's final scene, with a Statue of Liberty visual reference to the better Planet of the Apes film (that from 1968) and smiling, shiny happy people. (Going by the sequel, however, nothing was actually mended, as in that film only the patriarchy is smiling.)
Highpoints include a wonderfully ludicrous drum and dance sequence led by the oddly accented neo-pagan Joanne D'amato* (Angie Teodora Dick of Zombie Tidal Wave [2019 / trailer]) followed by a mass slaughter of ineffectual shark hunters, a oddly thrilling wind-surfing race against time and sharks, some nifty swordsmanship by a South African, and the unexpected heroic death of a lead female. In between, the photography is crisp and clear and the fistfights realistic enough.  
* A name, like that of Dr. Caroline Munro and Dr. Roy Shaw, meant to consciously call to mind genre favorites — in this case, the trash-film emperor Joe D'Amato (see, for example: Erotic Nights of the Living Dead [1980]).
As said earlier, Planet of the Sharks is definitely in no way an Oscar contender. It is a consciously bad film that wants to have fun and be fun, and as such, it fully succeeds.

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