9 Steps Towards Understanding Why There Is a Film Called Shark Hunter that Just Happens to Star Antonio Sabato, Jr.

Shark Hunter (2001)
Dir: Matt Codd
TC4P Rating: 4/9
Species: the extinct Megalodon [C. megalodon]

1. First, WATCH Shark Attack, Shark Attack 2, Blue Demon, Deep Blue Sea, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws 4: The Revenge, Blood Surf, Megalodon, and Spring Break Shark Attack. In fact, watch just about any film released since Jaws, outside of Jaws, that has even the faintest trace, like blood in the water, of shark footage in it. Pay especial attention to Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. Then get around to watching Jaws once again, not just to remind yourself of what a great shark movie is (as if you needed reminded that really there is only one), but also because it is still just that damn cool.

2. Then, SEE Shark Hunter. Fight your way initially through the horribly produced "flashback" footage of the lead character's "happy" childhood (this footage occurs over the far too ponderous credit sequence; I'm not sure which one makes the other seem even longer than it would originally), and get to the opening attack. No, there's nothing special to it, but you do get the fleeting sight of a dorsal fin the size of William "Refrigerator" Perry and the top quarter of the starring Megalodon's body as it crashes through the water at the lead character's family yacht, that we just naturally assume was smashed into splinters as the kid's parents disappeared into the Meg's tummy. We assume this because we don't really see any of this happen. The next sight we see is in the aftermath, with the kid, who will grow up to be played by Antonio "Calvin Klein Underwear Model" Sabato, Jr., bobbing helplessly in the ocean inside a floatation tube, which giant sharks apparently don't go for, even though it just took down an entire yacht. Baby Sabato (played by a non-Baby Sabato) is left whimpering and shivering, and presumably with far more despicable filling his underwear than just his junk. This never goes over very well when you are out on the catwalk.

3. DEAL immediately with the fact that Sabato's character becomes a super-brained submersible expert and college professor. If you can't, then you must stop watching NOW! Sabato's emotional range in this flick runs the gamut from grimacing while grappling with internal angst to outwardly pissed-off at everyone in his path, but if you just simply accept he has thoughts outside of whatever pose he strikes next, and "Boy, those girls on Melrose Place were way hotter than the blonde I'm stuck with in this one," then you will go far in watching this film. Well, not far exactly, but you will get considerably more enjoyment out of the experience.

UK DVD cover.
4. SETTLE into Shark Hunter as it transforms into The Abyss with a seventy-foot prehistoric shark instead of benevolent Day-Glo aliens. Watch Sabato as he enters the bathysphere that he designed, only to be met predictably by the usually wary and too impatient crew members, every one of them with the same exact chip on their shoulders, as if they popped a can of Pringles Personality Cliché Chips and passed them around the ship. (They stick best to your clothes if you get the ones with ridges.) As these things go, they have wedged themselves into the ship, considering it their home, and not so eager to hand it over to the guy who built it. Watch Sabato prove over and over again that he knows more about the ship than they ever will combined, and watch as they battle him over this every time. Hello? He's the friggin' designer! Cut him some slack and pass along a heapin' helpin' of hospitality and reverence, if you don't mind. After all, he managed to design and build the thing while still having the burden of being portrayed by Antonio Sabato, Jr.... RESPECT, people, please!

5. ADMIT to yourself that for relatively low-budget CGI effects, the ones used in this film are, in their modest way, actually far better and more effective than the ones used in bigger productions like Deep Blue Sea. Sure, everything is all murky-looking, but then look at 300. You could say, "Well, 300's murkiness was by design," but why can't that be true here as well? Certainly the brown-and-gray color palette of the overall film is intended on some level to match the output of the animators. It's a different approach to intentional design than 300 (where they attempted to replicate the look and feel of the graphic novel source material, to great success), but it works in the context of the film. And for one of those rare moments in modern movies, a CGI creature actually seems, for the most part, to have some sense of weight to its body and earthbound speed limitations, as opposed to being far too fast to be even remotely believable. Yeah, it still doesn't feel fully like the shark inhabits the same universe as the actors, but that would be a hard sell anyway, because...

6. ...One has to ACCEPT the fact that hardly any actors actually get wet in this shark vs. submersible fight to the death. This is because of the dry-for-wet underwater sequences used in much of the film, shot to make it seem as if the deep sea participants are actually submerged in thousands of feet of water when they are actually studio-bound and drier than your Grandma's panties in an Easy-Bake Oven. (Ask your older brother why they are there...) It is a noble attempt, and works to some degree here and there, but most people who have signed up to watch a shark flick are going to be disappointed, wanting to see shark teeth sinking into human flesh over and over. To do this, the shark and the people generally have to get in the same element. To actually get a shark attack in this film without dropping some bodies in the soup, our Meg does a one-up on the biogenetically jury-rigged psycho-sharks from Deep Blue Sea and comes up through the submersible's moon-pool, scarfing down one of the crew members, who may as well have been wearing a red shirt from the moment the film started. If anyone was going to get it, besides the Eurotrash bossman of this expedition, it would be this guy. Unfortunately, the humongous shark can (or needs to) only fit the front half of his head through the tiny moon-pool opening, so that we get a badly jarring image of a fake shark attempting to jam his head through the hole, which matches horribly with everything else in the shot.

German DVD version.
7. However, take the rest of the film to CHERISH the good things that Shark Hunter brings us. While brimming with some character clichés (though what movie doesn't? It is a very rare thing...), this film does have enough gumption to try and not follow the well dog-paddled shark movie path for much of its length. It is not a kill-by-kill flick, which turns the majority of the sharks in these films into nothing more than a slasher with a lateral line. I sympathize with those who might get this disc because that shark-slasher vibe is precisely the thing for which they are looking, but shouldn't filmmakers learn to use this creature from far more than just one angle? Yes, the mighty Jaws also had that serial killer approach, but it really started that trend as far as shark movies go (and sadly, didn't end it). So, give the producers of Shark Hunter credit for trying something a little different, even if they had to coerce another underwater sub-genre over to morph together with the shark attack one to do it.

8. GIVE THANKS to whatever deity or nothingness you purport to believe in that there isn't a mad scientist trying to mutate the shark into a government weapon or some such nonsense, a residual effect of shark movies ever since Deep Blue Sea. (I suppose this gene-splicing bent also owes itself to real-word timeliness as well.) This movie is very direct. It's basically, "Hey, there's a Megalodon!" "No, there isn't -- oh shit! There is!" "We have to kill it!" "No, we have to study it -- oh shit! We have to kill it!," several times over. Pretty straightforward, and played mostly straight -- except the film doesn't want to finish it straight. As much as I hate to give away that there is a twist ending, there is... and the people that will like it are the type that swing that way, and the people that won't... well, they live in a constant fairy tale world anyway. There's no fixing these people. If they were fit to wear Antonio Sabato's shorts (and who is, really? Probably not even Antonio now...), they would know what has to be done, and that this movie has to go the way that it does. It's what actually makes the film watchable in retrospect, giving it a little more Oomph! than it would have if it played completely by the sub-"B" movie rules.

9. Lightly, but only lightly, since the film is not that good, BLESS the DVD gods that this film is available on disc. This way, if you must put yourself through seeing it, don't do it on the Sci-Fi Channel. Not because there is really anything except for a word or two that gets cut out of the TV version, but because the channel puts in so many commercials, the two hours you spend to watch 94 minutes (which are actually edited to far less) feels like three hours and twenty. And no one has figured out how to get around that plot device, except by renting or buying it. I insist that you do the former, but be warned that this is no classic in hiding -- not even close. But the film overall is far above the usual output in these things, at least from a dramatic standpoint and somewhat from a technical one. You could do worse, and there is far, far, far worse out there. 

It's sad when someone can look at a film of the level of Shark Hunter and proclaim that it is arguably in the top ten fictional shark-based films around, maybe even top five. I am not going to make that argument -- I know better -- but it is not out of bounds that someone out there could. Or has already. But that's what happens when a sub-genre has so little going for it outside of its most famous progenitor. 

Except for having sharks in the films, of course. Even the worst shark movie has that going for it.

RTJ

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