Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cineaste's Corner: "Raging Sharks"

"Raging Sharks" (Nu Image, 2004) is one of the most widely acclaimed examples to have emerged from the shark film movement of the 2000s. The film was produced and directed by Danny Lerner and stars such silver screen luminaries as Corin Nemec, Vanessa Angel, Todd Jensen, and Simona Levin, who plays Simona in the film. The lead shark won the year's best actor Oscar, and the supporting sharks sang their own operatic arias for the film's soundtrack.

Plot Synopsis:
The film begins with two different species of aliens chatting inside of a foggy spaceship. A collision with another spaceship sends a cylindrical container flying with enough momentum to travel millions of miles, eventually landing on earth in the middle of an ocean. The cylinder contains glowing orange crystals, later described in the film as "cold fusion" that can "power the planet for the next 500 years". Sharks begin eating the crystals, evidently causing them to become murderous. They kill divers, attack boats, and wreak havoc on an underwater lab (called "Oceania" on the DVD case, and "Oshona" on the caption in the film). The sharks also appear to gain the ability to cause huge explosions upon contact with any surface.

Dr. Olsen, his wife Linda, Simona, and other crew members are in the Oceania/Oshona lab to conduct deep-sea research. Most of the film is set in the lab, although at one point, Dr. Olsen is inexplicably shown driving around a city the filmmakers attempt to pass off as Boston. The lab crew is in constant radio contact with the Roosevelt, a submarine; the film never reveals the connection between Oceania/Oshona and the Roosevelt. A ship called the Paradiso is shown frequently in the film, but it seems to have no relationship to the lab, the submarine, or any other plot elements of the film. The ships and lab frequently flood and explode, but the damage is always gone within two scenes.

Halfway through, the film becomes a political thriller when the character Ben Stiles, initially thought to be a safety inspector, turns out to be an undercover Black Ops agent. Without warning, he starts to shoot a machine gun all over the lab, chase various female crew members down corridors, and fight with Dr. Olsen. After being stabbed, pummeled, body-slammed, and shot, Stiles finally seems to be dead and Dr. and Mrs. Olsen, the only survivors of the sharks' and Black Ops agent's attacks, leave the lab. Dr. Olsen dons a scuba suit and swims all the way from the ocean floor to a submarine inches below the surface, pulling his wife with him. Although she does not have an oxygen tank, she survives the entire swim without breathing. Neither of the Olsens shows any sign of suffering from decompression. Just before boarding the submarine, the presumed dead Stiles shows up again, having also swum the entire depth of the ocean without oxygen, but when he swims up to the Olsens, he is killed by a shark. The Olsens board the submarine, and the film ends.

Lerner's opus features a number of special techniques that enhance the film. Among the most common are slow- and fast-motion sequences; frequent use of stock footage (most of the underwater scenes, establishing shots of various vessels, shark images, and explosions are stock footage); and repetition of various shots (we see some of the same explosions five times, and some of the characters' reaction shots are reused). In some cases, the filmmakers reuse the same shot, but flip it horizontally to make it seem as though it is new footage.

Film Highlights:

Above: here, Dr. Olsen runs down a corridor at an astonishing speed.

Above: the film relies almost entirely on under-lighting.

Above: fine quality special effects, such as this depiction of an underwater explosion, are common in "Raging Sharks"

Above: in order to make Dr. Olsen seem as though he can defy physics by falling upward, the filmmakers took footage of Dr. Olsen tumbling down and placed it in the film in reverse.

Above: the aliens' spaceship, crafted by the special effects department from old Polaroid cameras.

Above: opening scene of aliens in a foggy spaceship.
Above: during a shark attack, a ship's crew defies gravity.

Above: the man in red chest-high trousers becomes so agitated he is only able to utter unintelligible gibberish.

Above: the sharks in this film make lion noises that are audible underwater.

Above: an unidentified old man, who never appears in the film again, mourns the death of a diver.

Above: Linda Olsen and a colleague have been conducting research in the lab for 10 years; in this clip, they discuss advanced aspects of marine biology.

Above: analysis of the sharks. On close inspection, these "lab results" turn out to be the HTML code for the Google homepage (visit Google and select "view source" from your browser's menu and the same text as above will appear).

Above: during a life-or-death moment, the submarine captain takes a coffee break.

Above: the submarine's high-tech computer alert.

Above: as Dr. Olsen attempts to help Simona, she inexplicably clings onto a bar and flaps her right hand (possibly an allusion to Ted Danson's classic hand flap in "when the BOUGH BReaKS")

Above: clip and still of one of numerous examples of abstract imagery placed in the film.

Above: a typical montage: a shark attacks a boat, causing an explosion (stock footage)

Above: the film's penultimate scene; after a harrowing swim from the ocean floor to inches below the surface, Dr. and Mrs. Olsen were fortunate to find clean clothes in their sizes on the submarine they boarded. Dr. Olsen also had a chance to wax his chest and shave.

Above: Stiles is revealed not to be an accident inspector but in fact a murderous undercover Black Ops agent; here, he jumps to the floor in slow-motion with an accompanying "whoosh" noise.

Above: Stiles utters one of the film's most memorable and oft-quoted lines: "Yeah, you better run...'cause I'm comin' lookin'!"

Above: montage of Stiles stills; notice his demonstration of the expressive male eyebrow.

Above: the film's final scene, made with stock footage of a submarine.

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