Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rare Flix: Great White aka Italian Jaws

Copyright infringement is a very serious thing and shouldn't be taken lightly.  That said, it's so funny that this movie made Universal so angry!  Considering all of the many killer shark movies made in the wake (no pun intended) of Jaws, why would they pick just one?  Was Bruno Mattei's Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws too different for them to care?  The funny thing about this whole situation is that the successful lawsuit and rarity of this film have made it a more valuable film to some than Jaws itself!  The only way to officially get a DVD of the film is to buy an out-of-print Laserdisc version released only in Japan or by the recent re-release DVD by Sweden.  Of course, the good people over at Google either don't know or care about this movie being on their free streaming service.  Thankfully, my sight is not all that popular or I might inadvertently lead to them pulling it!  So what is the film about?  It's about a killer shark- duh.  Seriously, the film features many American actors & has James Franciscus and Vic Morrow in the lead roles.  Vic has a mustache and hunts sharks- guess who inspired his character?  The big question is this: is it good?  Get out your flank of meat on a hook for my review of...

The film begins in broad daylight and has its credits playing over a man wind-surfing.  We get talk from a local DJ and others to provide color.  After about five minutes of this, some shark stock footage kills the man in the water, leaving no blood.  That's not quite as interesting as in Jaws, is it?  After this, we are introduced to one of our leads: a novelist played by Franciscus.  He's married and has a teenage daughter, who turns out to know the young man who was killed on the board.  Well, they actually made the random death at the beginning count- points for their side.  Back to aping Jaws, the film introduces the local government representative character.  Gee, I wonder how he is going to react to the 'shark situation' when it arises later?  Our hero stumbles across the remains of the young man's board, which is full of many jagged, bite marks.  It's those damn Snakehead Fish again, I know it!  Out on the water, we are introduced to our other lead: a mustachioed shark hunter played by Vic Morrow.  Could you make it a little more subtle, guys?  Hell, don't give him a mustache or something!  We get an early fake-out when the daughter falls into the water, but is pulled away before the 'Evil Dead'/shark-cam can get to her.  Drat.

The shark plot and the human plot come together when the politician talks about expanding the area.  Shockingly, he thinks that the shark thing is nothing to worry about.  For some reason, they do actually steal the 'girl killed at night on the beach' scene, but play it roughly 25 minutes into the film- odd.  Speaking of ripping off Jaws, we get a big sports exhibition in the water.  Sure, it's not the same as the beach scene, but it's close enough.  The racing fun is interrupted by the shark's arrival, as showed by a red buoy that it has gotten stuck on.  Guys, you're getting your Jaws scenes in the wrong order!  The shark finally makes an appearance at over 35 minutes into the film, popping his head out in a silly manner.  Was he trying to catch butterflies or something?  After nobody gets killed, we get a pair of scenes of groups setting out to catch the shark- our heroes in one and the 'teens' in another.  Naturally, the 'teens' find the shark and have a run-in with it.  This thing does show up a couple more times, but mostly does action by way of stock footage of sharks biting meat on nearby reels.  I could almost believe that the scenes were connected if their footage was relatively-clean and the stock footage wasn't dark yellow!  After a lot of build-up, the girl falls in the water and gets bitten...but not killed.  How does that work again?

This turn of events makes Franciscus very angry and he goes to hunt down the shark.  Meanwhile, we actually get a decent scene where a pair of men lure the shark out from their helicopter and...get pulled close to the water.  What was your plan again?  After the amusing death of the one man, we get to see our heroes back in action.  They go out into the water and...swim around.  It's convenient how full-body wetsuits and masks allow for stunt doubles, huh?  Apparently, their plan involves a dynamite belt (really) and blowing up the damn thing, which seems like a dangerous way to do it.  Now, if those guys in the helicopter could have dropped it from the air, that's a different story.  Back on the land, a group of people get too far out in the water to film something and attacked by the shark.  One of them is Franciscus' wife, so we're supposed to care.  Our hero arrives in time to save his wife, but not the evil politician- too bad.  The final showdown occurs as Franciscus stands on the floating debris and...waves a stick at the shark, which...just sort of floats up next to him.  Thrilling action!  Thankfully, the body of Morrow floats over, allowing our hero to activate the dynamite belt on Morrow as the shark eats him.  Amazing how a 35-foot shark can explode and leave no blood, by the way.  The End.

Unlike Jaws, this movie is pretty crappy.  The plot is about as close as you can get to being Jaws without being a shot-for-shot remake.  They flip some scenes around and actually take some bits from Jaws 2, just to mix it up.  It's odd to see them steal a scene like the famous intro and put it in a different place in the film.  How does the acting match up?  Well, Franciscus and Morrow are certainly no replacement for any combination of Scheider and Dreyfuss or Scheider and Shaw.  They aren't terrible here, but the language barrier between cast and crew doesn't help matters.  Incidentally, the Google version is from the Laserdisc version, which means that I got to watch it with 'burned-in' Japanese subtitles.  Well, that's one way to learn a language.  Okay, so if the plot is the same and the acting is not as good, how are the effects?  Well, most of the shark footage is simply stock footage that is choppily-edited with all the care of carrots thrown in front of a sous chef!  The actual shark is decent, but is used in silly ways.  Do sharks randomly pop out of the water face-up, float around for a minute and do nothing in the wild?  My favorite moment comes when the shark eats Morrow and slowly floats down like an elevator.  If you are a film freak like me, it's interesting to see a film this rare and controversial.  If you're not, just watch Jaws- it's awesome, while this one is not.
 Next up, we talk about an '80s horror film that can't agree on whether it is supposed to be funny or scary.  At least it has an old cowboy film star in it.  Stay tuned...

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