WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!
Summer is winding down Vault Dwellers, which means it’s time for our annual Summer of the Shark celebration! But this year we’re doing something a little different. With the impending release of THE MEG (based upon a novel by Steve Alten), yours truly decided to focus entirely on films featuring enormous prehistoric sharks. Prepare yourselves for…. MEGALO-MANIA! To kick things off, I’m going to take a look at what is (technically) the first Megalodon film ever made: The aptly-titled MEGALODON (or SHARKZILLA if you’re living outside of the United States).
Invited by Peter Brazier (Robin Sachs), the CEO of Nexecon Petroleum, news reporter Christen Giddings (Leighanne Littrell) journeys with her cameraman Jake Thompson (Fred Belford) to an enormous oil rig dubbed “Colossus” in the North Atlantic. Brazier is proud of his technological marvel and wants some media coverage as his crew drills deep into the sea bed in search of black gold (aka “Texas Tea”).
Amid the countless trips to the ocean floor via elevator, Christen and Jake meet the rest of the crew which is made up of: Rig manager David Collen (Steve Scionti), medic Mitchell Parks (Mark Sheppard), pervy chief engineer R.P. McGuinness (Evan Mirand), submersible pilots Grady Harper (Gary Tunnicliffe) and “Maz” Zablenko (Jennifer Sommerfeld), and dive chief Ross Elliot (Al Sapienza). Though everyone acts hospitably towards Christen, she seems rather combative and awfully eager to paint Brazier and his crew as environmental “rapists.”
But none of that matters once a living fossil is discovered within one of the hoses of Nexecon’s drilling equipment. After bringing a section of clogged pipe back onto Colossus to be investigated, David suffers a nasty bite from a hidden Dunkleosteus: An armored fish that was thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago. Ninety-six stitches and a lot of antibiotics later, his condition begins to worsen due to an infection caused by some pesky ancient bacteria. Brazier then has David safely removed from the rig via a “drop boat” before returning to his quest for fossil fuels.
Shortly after that another tragedy strikes as the drill breaches the ocean floor. The newly-made crater swallows the drill and thus creates a vacuum effect that sucks Maz’s sub deep into the abyss. After a legion of Dunkleostus(es?) pours forth from the opening, Ross ventures into the unknown to find Maz in an enormous cavern that is teeming with prehistoric life. But this wondrous discovery is quickly forgotten when a very large blip appears on the radar and turns out to be an impossibly huge shark! The Megalodon has finally arrived! (Almost a full hour into the movie….)
Carcharadon Megalodon turns out to be extremely aggressive, and quickly becomes a nuisance. Attracted by the vibrations of the Colossus’ generators, the mighty fish attacks the oil rig, but eventually turns its attention to the tasty humans. It repeatedly slams into the underwater elevator, and chomps on any submersibles that are foolishly still in the ocean. This leads to multiple characters being stranded and/or killed until Ross steps up with a suicidal plan to defeat the prehistoric monster shark.
Filmed in early 2002, MEGALODON failed to find distribution for nearly two years. Even after a small theatrical run in Japan in October 2002, the movie found itself shelved until Monarch Video quietly released it to DVD on July 13, 2004. At that time, I was working as a general manager (in an unofficial capacity) for a video store, and I actually recall getting a copy of MEGALODON in stock. I definitely watched it fourteen years ago, but aside from having a fig bucking shark, I didn’t remember anything else about the film before revisiting it. This prompted the question: “Is my movie memory getting bad, or is MEGALODON just that forgettable?”
Penned by Gary Tunnicliffe (an accomplished makeup f/x artist) and Stanley Isaacs (a b-movie Producer turned documentary filmmaker), MEGALODON pretty much rips-off the plot of DEEPSTAR SIX (undersea miners attacked by a prehistoric terror), but fails to build tension or create any memorable imagery and sequences. Plus it takes forever to get going! Roughly sixteen minutes of MEGALODON’s run-time is comprised of the opening and ending credits, so that leaves seventy-five minutes to tell the story. Unfortunately, half of that time is spent with PEOPLE HANGING OUT IN AN ELEVATOR!
The cast of MEGALODON is surprisingly good, particularly veteran actors Robin Sachs (who was still working regularly until his untimely death in 2013) and Al Sapienza. Sachs portrays Brazier as a sort of altruistic businessman who is compassionate and eager to make sure that he doesn’t leave behind a tainted legacy for his children. He’s clearly not the bad guy that the visiting reporters hoped he would be, which is actually kind of refreshing.
Al Sapienza brings a bit of grim levity to the film as sardonic sub pilot Ross Elliott. He respects the natural world, and believes that environmentalists are wasting their time. In his eyes, the global damage humanity has caused with its pollution is too far gone and there’s no turning back. Also I have to give a nod to Mark Sheppard, who you all probably know best as Crowley on TV’s Supernatural. Here he plays Mitchell Parks, the chief medic on the Colossus. Though he isn’t given much to do, he does turn in a solid performance and aids greatly in the eventual defeat of the hungry Megalodon.
At the helm of this production was first (and apparently last) time director Pat Corbitt, who spent most of his career as a visual effects supervisor, cutting his teeth on films like WITHIN THE ROCK, RAVAGER, and MEGIDDO: THE OMEGA CODE 2. Pat proves to be a capable director and mostly plays it safe by relying on lots of static shots. Corbitt does get a little more creative in the final act during the Megalodon’s rampage, but that could very well be the handiwork of Gary Tunnicliffe who is listed as secondary director in the opening credits.
Aside from the Dunkleosteus puppet that attacks actor Steve Scionti, everything else in the film (i.e. the “Colossus” rig, boats, helicopters, submersibles, etc.) was created using computer generated effects, including the film’s star attraction. What’s surprising is that the CGI is relatively well done and looks like a step up from what you would typically see in a SyFy Original Picture or an Asylum flick. The only major downside is that there are a lot of reused shots, particularly those involving that damned elevator everyone keeps hopping into.
Watching MEGALODON was a frustrating experience Vault Dwellers. On one hand, I feel bad that it took two years for its creators to find a distributor, and that this film ultimately never found its audience. (Which allowed SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON to supplant it as the first “Meg” film ever released.) On the other hand, I wish it was a better movie so that I would feel compelled to help it get rediscovered. Because when it comes down to it, MEGALODON is not a criminally underseen film but a criminally generic one.
In prepping for this review, it took me four attempts to sit through this movie. Granted I was very tired during the first couple of tries, but that doesn’t change the fact that the first third of MEGALODON bombards you with a half-hour of character introductions, exposition, and trips up and down an elevator. (Seriously, the elevator has so much screen time that I’m shocked it didn’t get a screen credit, like “Special thanks to Al E. Vator.”) There is just so much wasted potential here Vault Dwellers, and it is exasperating!
But if your curiosity about MEGALODON must be sated, just make sure you approach it with low expectations. It does have decent direction, a good cast, and above average CGI for an indie production, but the film squanders two-thirds of its running-time before finally getting to the good stuff. While I certainly didn’t hate MEGALODON, I will not defend its inherent mediocrity and therefore can’t give it a higher rating than: