The Shark Film Office: Malibu Shark Attack (2009)

Malibu Shark Attack (2009)
Dir.: David Lister
Cinema 4 Rating: 3/9
Shark species: Goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni), but a prehistoric version, so it's OK that they do things a goblin shark can't. Right?

The goblin shark has a face that only a mother goblin shark could love. Or an ichthyologist. Or me...

With a long, flattened snout that looks like it was daddied by Jimmy Durante himself, jaws that stretch out forward to an improbable length, and a strange pinkish skin tone, goblin sharks seem like a nightmare scenario when seen in the light of day. But it's our light, not theirs, for the goblin shark goes largely unseen by human eyes. I suppose you could say, technically, such a thing about a great many sharks, since they live in the deep, and we only detect the slightest traces of their oceanic omnipresence from our surface world. But goblin sharks tend to live in the real deep deep, dining on fish and other sea creatures in the relative darkness of deepwater canyons and the seabeds of continental slopes. It's also a rather sluggish swimmer, and maintains its standard diet of fishes and crustaceans by use of ambush techniques. Such techniques are somewhat easier to do when it is fairly dark around you.

What goblin sharks don't do is attack man. Human interaction of even a glancing sort is remarkably rare with goblin sharks, and even in big fishing operations where sharks aren't the main target but still get pulled in certain numbers, goblin sharks are very rarely caught or even seen. Just a few here and there. Likewise, they are even less frequently captured on film, though much of what we know about them, outside of direct scientific expedition, is due to photos or film of specimens that have been accidentally caught (and often released) or from casual observances by divers.

But, because of the goblin shark's nightmare appearance, the impulse was bound to spooge out of sleazy Hollywood producers eventually that these sharks would be perfect for a horror film. Kind of like what they did to the cookiecutter sharks in Shark Night. And so, without the slightest thought given that they might damage the reputation of a mostly reclusive and non-threatening species, they gave us Malibu Shark Attack. In this 2009 direct to video feature, a 5.5. magnitude tremor off the coast of California, thought to have caused no damage initially, opens up -- in a manner that probably replicates the way such visions spring from the minds of low-rent moviemakers -- a deep sea rift. From a crack in this rift, a very convenient squadron of abnormally fast prehistoric goblin sharks were just waiting to make a direct beeline (or is it sharkline?) for the beach at Malibu, to start munching on swimmers in a manner that no goblin shark ever has. It's like they were all hanging out just under the rock, itching to get right into swallowing human beings in what is shown to be a natural instinct for them. While the film barely mentions the detail except briefly, Malibu Shark Attack plays hard off of the "prehistoric" angle, in order to give us goblin sharks that would display such an immediate impulse to destroy and devour non-stop (as opposed to their modern descendants). And, of course, swim in a relentlessly speedy manner ill-fitting to the natural physical limitations of their species.

The squad of sharks finds a diver who has the worst timing in the world, and they make quick bloody work of him. Then they munch some blonde nebbish free swimming off the side of a boat. The attacks are quick, and accompanied by a strange, short roaring noise, for whatever reason. (Sharks cannot roar, so knock it off, Hollywood...) While the violence builds as the sharks speed towards the coast, we are subjected to dull romantic business and infighting amongst the team of lifeguards patrolling the beaches at Malibu, including a post-La Femme Nikita (and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) Peta Wilson, looking fairly uncomfortable throughout the film. Wilson's character, Heather, has had an affair with the foreman of a nearby construction crew (Jeff Gannon), much to the chagrin of her lifeguard lover, Chavez (Warren Christie). We are supposed to care about this love triangle, but since both guys are assholes, why even start?

All of this filler, however, gets ignored pretty quickly once the sharks reach the beach area, which is about twenty minutes into the film. A pair of parasailing beachgoers are attacked when they dip briefly into the ocean, and when they are pulled back up into the sky, there is a pretty gruesome shot of the torn away flesh of one of the pair. Some of the blood drips down on the boats below, including the rubber lifeguard raft being driven through the surf by Heather. The blood splatters her, and Peta Wilson had to be thinking, "What has come of my career in such a short time?" Her raft is then bumped by one of the goblin sharks, and when she looks up, there are dorsal fins above the water coming from separate directions at her. Heather gets knocked out of the raft by the goblin sharks, but before they can collect their tasty prize, she is pulled from the water by Chavez, who is patrolling around on a jet ski.

At this point early on in the film, as the lifeguards call everyone out of the water, it seems that it would be pretty easy to end the film right here. With nobody in the water, and the sharks kept in it, how can there be a shark attack film? Unless the sharks turn out to be land sharks or something else ridiculous. 

Well, there is that bugger of a tremor I mentioned earlier on, and it turns out the early reports of "no damage" will have to be amended. The tremor has triggered a tsunami, which gets reported by the Coast Guard just as the sharks are starting to zip at ridiculous speeds for goblin sharks towards the beach. We then see some terrible CGI animation of what is described as a "100-foot high" wall of water heading towards the coast. Meanwhile, Heather and Chavez are headed back to the beach, with a particularly nasty goblin shark coming up fast on jet ski. As they reach the shore, one of the other lifeguards fires a rifle into the surf, first clipping a bit off the dorsal fin of the shark, and then sending a second shot straight through its head. The shark glides to a stop in the sand at the feet of the assembled lifeguards, and coughs up blood and some human remains to their great disgust. Barb (Sonya Salomaa), also a marine biologist, recognizes the species as a goblin shark, but says they were thought to be extinct. This means either she is a terrible marine biologist, because goblin sharks have been known to be with us in the modern age for a very long time, or she meant a prehistoric variety. (She never specifies... I am banking on the shitty scientist part...)

While all of the tourists seem to depart in time to escape the monster waves, the lifeguards decide the best course of action is to hole up in their lifeguard shelter in the middle of the beach. The wave hits, Malibu is flooded, and the lifeguard shack sits by its lonesome in the middle of the water, its office floor sticking up barely above the surface of the water. (This itself is annoying, since news reports have the area as being "under 30 feet of water"; the shack, at the edge of the ocean itself, seems to under no more than eight to ten  feet.)

The remainder of the drama will occur in Malibu Shark Attack on two fronts: first in the stranded lifeguard shack, and secondly, at the equally stranded construction area, where Heather's construction foreman lover and his co-workers will try to find a way across the water to safety. We get horribly match CGI where a goblin shark breaches fully out of the water in a manner that is mostly confined to great whites, where it grabs a construction worker bodily and pulls him down into the water depths for lunch. We get scene after scene of a couple of goblin sharks using their huge noses to smash their way through the bottom of the lifeguard house, forcing the lifeguards to climb to the roof. Everyone makes their escape, meets up with the construction guys, and it builds to a climax where much of the main cast both separately and together face off with each remaining goblin shark in a power tool versus serrated teeth battle for the ages. Or at least for 2009.

I guess my chief problem with the sharks in this film is that they seem compelled to just merely kill, not feed. You would think their hunger would have been sated pretty quickly, no matter how long they may have trapped in that underground rift or channel or whatever was opened up the earthquake. But, if they had survived down there since prehistoric times, there must have been a steady food supply to allow this species to propagate and make it to 2009 (the year this film was released). So why are they so goddamned hungry? And if they aren't hungry, were prehistoric shark just more murderous by nature? Maybe the filmmakers are suggesting that these individual goblin shark are millions of years old each and haven't eaten, literally in eons? Then the filmmakers are dumber than the biologist in their own movie.

Look... I get it. I understand the B-movie impulse, perhaps better than most people. Something happens in the news, and you figure out how to exploit to make a quick buck and to give your film an exciting angle at the same time. The goblin shark parallel seems to have been inspired by a 2003 tsunami off of Japan, where scores of goblin sharks allegedly washed up onshore. Not attack people, not eat lifeguards... just washed up onshore. But it seems that when they designed their villains for Malibu Shark Attack, they simply looked at a picture of a goblin shark, and didn't ask any questions related to how a goblin shark might actually behave. And because such filmmakers are only interested in dwelling upon the most notorious aspects of shark behavior -- namely, that a tiny handful of species will occasionally, and mostly by accident or curiosity, taste human flesh -- they tend to ascribe that behavior to all sharks automatically, from great whites down to cookiecutters. In this case, they wanted a scary-looking shark, nothing more, and goblins fit the bill. And so we get films like Malibu Shark Attack, where they try to get novel by giving us a species we never see as a beach villain in other films, but never use logic to figure out there is a reason why we never see this. Because the goblin shark, despite its appearance befitting a Halloween haunted house setting, is simply not that kind of shark.

Frankly, it is amazing that film producers haven't gotten to other more well-known sharks first. They haven't figured out a way crossbred a whale shark (a filter feeder, mind you) with an orca yet. Yet, that is.

Coming to a theatre near you... Killer Whale Shark!! And Sea World thought Blackfish was trouble...

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