Category Archives: The Asylum
And here we are, the last day of Shark Week and the second and final entry for this installment of Franchise Week. It’s been quite a week, and I never thought I’d say this about a Shark Week review, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about sharks. Of course, the reason for that is because I’ve already discussed sharks at great length throughout the week, and I’ve got a lot to say about crocodiles, so we’d best begin.
Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus is the second in The Asylum’s movie series about a gigantic shark fighting some other really big thing. This time, the megalodon’s opponent is none other than the crocosaurus, a gigantic prehistoric crocodile that for some reason was hibernating in a mountain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only to be awakened by diamond miners. (Of course, we all already know the history of mega shark. And before you say anything, it was never confirmed killed! The giant octopus is gone, sure, because how could three giant baddies survive, but no shark body was ever found! Look over there!) Upon the release of the crocosaurus, the mining company hires Nigel Putnam (Gary Stretch, Savages; Alexander), an expert crocodile and monster hunter, to kill or capture it. He succeeds, but as he’s transporting it back to the US (for some entirely unexplained and presumably King Kong-esque moronic reason), his ship gets attacked by the mega shark, sinking the ship and setting the crocosaurus free. Meanwhile, after the sinking of his ship at the fins of the mega shark (and the death of his fiancée), Dr. Terry McCormick (Jaleel White, Dreamgirls; Family Matters), an acoustics expert researching the effects of different sound frequencies on sharks, gets commandeered by Agent Hutchinson (Sarah Lieving, Lakeview Terrace; The Beast of Bray Road) to help track down the megalodon. She also enlists Nigel’s help in finding and killing the crocosaurus, and together the three of them go off on a merry adventure, jaunting all around the world in search of killer monsters.
Top left – Nigel Putnam; top right – Jaleel White; middle left – Agent Hutchinson; middle right – Crocosaurus; bottom – hand-puppet Mega Shark
So you remember how I said that the CGI in Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus had some artistic style to it but seemed unfinished? Well, in Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus, I think they shifted the balance a bit too far the other way, ending up with effects that definitely looked more realistic, overall, but also looked decidedly CGI and cheesy. If only they could find a way to get the perfect mix… The acting was acceptable but not outstanding, as expected. The dialogue was boring but sufficient. But what was noticeably missing was a tight, well-planned plot. It was straightforward enough for the first half or so, but as the movie went on, it seemed like the writers had a bunch of ideas they wanted to include, so decided to put them all in rather than leave out those that just didn’t fit. That doesn’t really work so well, from what I’ve seen. So, for example, when it looks like the mega shark and the crocosaurus are going to kill each other, all of a sudden baby crocosauruses start hatching from eggs that had been laid; but rather than go on too much of their own warpath, the babies are drawn to their mother as she wrestles with the shark. Of course, when they find the battle, the shark promptly eats many of them, and so they end up serving very little purpose. Similar sorts of things happen throughout the whole movie, making it feel rough and erratic as they jump from one thing to the next.
“My babies will assist me! *Gulp* Curse you, Mega Shark!”
But really, none of that’s the point. The point is, how’d they do with the science?
“There was science?!?”
First of all, this movie suffers from what I always think of as “Anaconda syndrome”, wherein the monster, in this case the mega shark, seems to change size, sometimes drastically, as best suits the desired shot. So when the shark jumps over a battleship, for example, it looks to be not much longer than the ship; but in the next shot, the guns are pointed at a fin (just a fin, mind you) that towers over everything and looks to be attached to a shark that doubled in size, at minimum. Likewise, at one point, the crocosaurus is swimming away from the shark, which in turn is being followed by a submarine, and the relative sizes estimate the shark at about the length of the sub, maybe somewhat longer. Not too much after this moment, though, the shark turns around and swallows a (nuclear) submarine whole (causing Terry to exclaim that “it’s a nuclear bomb now!”). Which I suppose is perhaps plausible; but still indicates to me that the shark maintains an inconsistent size throughout the movie, always frustrating to a viewer.
Either that, or its fin is just huge
I said above that I don’t have a whole lot to say about sharks in today’s entry, but that’s not to say I have nothing. For a start, Terry’s research involves using different sound frequencies to attract or repel sharks, begging the question “how sensitive are sharks to sound?” As you can see here, the premise of his research is plausible, as sharks are known to be attracted to sound frequencies mimicking wounded prey. So, at least theoretically, a frequency could be found which would mimic, say, a danger to sharks that might help repel them.
“Danger? Ha! I eat danger!”
Next, great white sharks are known to regularly breach while hunting seals in some parts of the world (specifically off the coast of South Africa). However, this breaching behavior is entirely the result of striking their prey from below with such force that the sharks fling themselves out of the water in the process. At many times in the movie, the mega shark breaches, but never to attack from below; near the beginning of the movie, for example, it jumps over the battleship in order to whack it with its tail to help damage it. While this form of attack may seem (and in fact is) odd, it is also true that thresher sharks sometimes use their tail to stun prey. So I would say that breaching as a way of being able to attack something with the tail doesn’t make much sense for a megalodon; but attacking with the tail does fit in with some known shark behavior.
“I’m a whale!”
And now, on to crocodiles.
I’m no expert on cryptids, but it seems to me that the basis for the crocosaurus in this movie is a rumored crocodilian in the People’s Republic of the Congo known as the mahamba. Given that the best I can do for an actual basis is a generic crocodile, comparisons will jump around between several species or stick to crocodilians in general.
That looks real, right?
The crocosaurus in the movie lays several thousand eggs (explained by suggesting that she lays eggs faster when her offspring are in danger, as from, say, a mega shark) below the ocean’s surface. She then does her best to stop the mega shark (which, for some reason, is drawn to the chemical signature of the eggs) from eating the eggs or the babies (when the eggs hatch). It is also mentioned on multiple occasions just how intelligent crocodiles are. But what of all that is true?
“You callin’ me a liar?”
As it turns out, most of it. For a start, at least one species of crocodile is tolerant of saltwater, so an ocean-going crocodile, while perhaps unusual, is not impossible. More importantly, though, is that crocodilians are arguably among the smarter animals (also see here), and as the second link discusses have been known to collectively guard nests and young. So the idea that the crocosaurus goes out of her way to stop the mega shark from eating her eggs and offspring does seem to fit in with what has been observed in modern crocodiles. However, as far as we’ve seen (and as far as I can find), crocodiles are not known to lay their eggs under water, instead making burrows or nests on land and then covering the eggs to help protect them from predators.
Like the legendary rocket shark
And that’ll do it for Shark Week here at Jumping Sharks. It’s been a long week, but hopefully an enriching one. I know that I, for one, learned quite a bit about our aquatic friends. Stay tuned for a return to our regular updating schedule, beginning next week. Until then, take a breather, but keep an eye out for fins.
And as always, kill it with fire!
Day 5 of Shark Week brings a twofer, with the return of Franchise Week as well as a review of probably the best-known movie this week, with the possible exception of tomorrow’s offering. Yes, I’m talking about Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, the film from The Asylum with a plot so bare-bones the name alone tells you (almost) exactly what will happen. (Almost…)
(This. This is what happens)
Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus opens in the Arctic Ocean as Emma (Deborah Gibson, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid; Ghostbusters) and her assistant find a pod of whales in migration. Unbeknownst to them (but knownst to us), the military is simultaneously conducting tests using sonar emitters. As the emitters go off, ice starts cracking off of a nearby iceberg, releasing the frozen forms of the mega shark and the giant octopus, foes who had been locked in combat for millions of years. She doesn’t believe her eyes until a whale washes up dead on a beach in California, from which she extracts an enormous fragment of something. She takes it to her former professor, Lamar (Sean Lawlor, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Braveheart) and together, they deduce that it is a fragment of a tooth belonging to megalodon. Meanwhile in Japan, an oil rig gets destroyed by what the government deems an accident; but when Seiji Shimada (Vic Chao, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous; Pearl Harbor), a world-renowned marine biologist, interviews the only living survivor, he gets a description of a gigantic octopus. Emma and Lamar call up Seiji to ask for his help, and when he arrives, he learns about the shark and they learn about the octopus. Before they can take action themselves, they get arrested by government forces to consult on defeating the creatures, under the supervision of Allan (Lorenzo Lamas, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Grease), a military commander with little imagination or tolerance for monsters. Then a mega shark and a giant octopus fight.
Top left – Emma and Lamar; top right – Lamar; middle left – Seiji; middle right – Allan; bottom – natural accident
Being a movie that relies heavily on CGI, one would think that a good deal of effort would have been put into making the images of the shark and the octopus pretty decent, overall. However, one would be wrong. While the CGI in this movie definitely has a certain artistic character to it, as well as a consistency not always found in these sorts of movies, I couldn’t help but feel that it also had a certain unfinished quality to it, as though the designers had intended to go one step further to make everything look real, until someone higher up stepped in and said “good enough”. The acting was hit-and-miss, but overall not a huge problem. The dialogue was more miss than hit, but certainly was sufficient to the task.
“You’d better pray I miss!”
So how was the science? As I promised here, this is another movie that would have us believe that all kinds of monsters and terrible creatures are frozen in the ice at one of the poles, just waiting to be unleashed upon a world completely incapable of handling them. Additionally, Emma suggests that the destruction caused by the mega shark and the giant octopus are possibly humanity reaping the rewards, as it were, of global warming, making this the third movie this week to feature the idea that the oceans need to be saved from the plague that is humankind, as well as the umpteenth movie in general to say the same. Now, while I can’t dispute that we as a species really do need to take much, much better care of our planet than we currently believe, I also cannot believe that the ice at either pole could possibly cryogenically freeze any sort of macroorganism (although there are all kinds of microbes that have been found living in glaciers, the rate of freeze that (I imagine) would be necessary to put something as large as a shipping vessel into suspended animation without causing massive tissue damage to my knowledge does not occur naturally, at least not on a large scale).
“Global warming? Is that still a thing?”
The species of shark starring in this movie is given as the megalodon, so that’s what I’ll use for shark facts; as for the octopus, the largest known is the North Pacific giant octopus (certainly, the Pacific giant octopus is a contender for that title, competing with the seven-arm octopus; but given that Wikipedia discusses unreliable claims of Pacific giant octopi with armspans up to 30 feet, that’s the one I’ll use as the basis for the giant octopus). Also, last year, there was a claim by Professor Mark McMenamin that he had found a set of fossilized icthyosaur bones that had been arranged into the likeness of a kraken, presumably by that creature. As such, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and allow that a giant octopus could have existed at one point (though there has been no direct evidence yet found implying its existence, partly because octopi are really difficult to fossilize). So I’m not going to discuss whether or not a giant octopus once existed on this planet, but rather treat it as an enlarged, ancestral Pacific giant octopus.
For a start, do sharks and octopi fight? I mean, sharks are top predators and octopi are… well… not. Right? Except that they are. Not only are octopi pretty smart, but they’ve also been known to attack and eat sharks, as can be seen here. Likewise, many octopi have defenses to help them hide from predators, including sharks. In other words, the idea that a mega shark and a giant octopus would have fought, had they found each other, definitely fits what we see in modern sharks and octopi.
Or possibly consensual S&M
Also, this time, I’m not even going to dispute the likelihood of either a megalodon or a kraken attacking modern things at least a few times, as they would have no idea whether or not a submarine, for example, would be tasty, but they would definitely have the ability to find out. And the movie makes clear that the beast are attacking more than just metallic things, as Emma finds a whale with a piece of megalodon tooth stuck in it, which is good enough suggestion to me that they’re eating appropriately.
“Here comes the hug!”
Now. Sharks have been known to eat land birds, though the most likely explanation is that the birds die as they’re migrating south across the Gulf of Mexico (for example), and that the sharks eat the corpses. Likewise, octopi have been observed eating birds, at least on one occasion. However, it should be noted that in both these cases, the animal eats the bird after the bird has entered the water. As far as I can find out, neither animal goes to great lengths to pull birds out of the sky. On a seemingly unrelated note, and despite the fact that I want to rely mostly on megalodon facts, shortfin mako sharks typically grow to be about 10 feet long, and have been known to jump up to 30 feet or more into the air. Ignoring for a moment that this is the fastest known shark, let’s assume that an average shark can jump 3 feet for every foot long it is (yes, this is incredibly fuzzy logic). Then a megalodon, which is estimated to have been 52 feet long or more could jump somewhere around 150 feet into the air. Why all the talk of birds and jumping? Because at different points in the movie, each animal pulls a plane out of the sky. The shark jumps out of the water to do it, and assuming that megalodons could have jumped 150 feet vertically if they wanted, that scene is roughly accurate. As for the octopus, it decides to knock a jet fighter down using a tentacle. Between the two, the octopus attack strikes me as much less realistic; however, neither animal seems like it should really have that sort of behavior instinct, as when their modern relatives eat birds, the birds are already in the water and not typically in flight.
Prime examples of hunting techniques
The last big thing I want to talk about is not related to mega sharks or giant octopi, but rather the popular perception of science. As some of you may know, one of my biggest pet peeves is the ways in which science is portrayed – alternately as this monolithic thing that can only be understood after years and years of study; or as this thing that can give you all the answers you want in no time at all. Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus features two separate science montages that crushed a part of my soul. They show Emma, Lamar, and Seiji mixing brightly-colored liquids or looking through microscopes or mixing brightly-colored smoking liquids or what have you; I haven’t done much research in my life, but I have done some, and I’ve seen a good deal more being done, and nowhere were there brightly-colored liquids or instant answers (though there are plenty of colored liquids used in science, often in chemical reactions for various reasons). And while a microscope is a wonderful tool, it is in no way the decoder of cryptic samples that many representations would have you believe.
Look! They’re doing science!
The reason all this bothers me is that it spreads the idea that science doesn’t take a lot of work, and while I’m all for helping make science more accessible, there needs to be a realistic understanding of the limitations of research as well as the lengthiness of it. If a kid goes in to science thinking it’s all bright liquids and instant answers, he or she will be sorely disappointed in a hurry. The point is this – on this blog, I talk about the ways in which scientific facts get bent or distorted or completely ignored; and this movie came along and couldn’t even get right a representation of science itself. A pheromone cocktail should not glow green, for Pete’s sake! Let’s at least aim for a little realism, please! In other words, stop reaffirming the validity of this comic.
I don’t know what you put in there, and I don’t want to know
Okay. Rant over.
So that’s all I have to say about Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, except for this – the movie suffered from a severe lack of mega shark versus giant octopus. For a majority of the movie, the two creatures destroy things on opposite sides of the world, and even then only rarely. When they do finally fight, it’s for maybe 10 minutes, 15 at the most. I won’t say don’t watch it, but I will say that if all you want to see is the best scenes of the movie, just watch this trailer instead.
Oh, and this happens
I hope Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus does better…
Disaster movies form a special subset of the broadest definition of the horror genre. They tend towards one or both of two themes, namely flat-out survival or reunification with family, friends, etc. They also always, at least in my experience, include some of the craziest, most off-the-wall pseudoscience you will ever find in life anywhere.
Megafault focuses on five people. Amy Lane (Brittany Murphy, King of the Hill, Sin City) is a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey. After Charlie “Boomer” Baxter (Eriq La Salle, ER, Coming to America) blows up a mountain in Virginia, earthquakes shoot out east to Washington, D.C., and west on a path of destruction towards the Pacific Ocean, so Amy’s mentor and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Mark Rhodes (Bruce Davison, X-Men, Harry and the Hendersons) sends her out to investigate. Meanwhile, Amy’s husband Dan Lane (Justin Hartley, Smallville) takes their daughter Miranda Lane (Miranda Schwein, Megafault) to the family home in Denver, Colorado. Various things get destroyed, there’s a phenomenal amount of explosions and really bad special effects, and in the end, the earth is saved once more (duh).
Top left – Amy Lane; top right – Dan and Miranda Lane; bottom left – Charlie “Boomer” Baxter; bottom right – Mark Rhodes
I’m gonna say this once to get it out of the way now – the acting was bad. It was flat, it was uninspired, and it almost seemed like they had to try harder to be as bad as they were than they would have to be halfway decent. These people see whole cities getting destroyed, and just point it out to each other like they’re looking at a particularly interesting piece of art or something. And the special effects were worse – way too many fake explosions, images of fissures that looked like they had been Photoshopped over the film footage, and horrible CGI flight sequences. Awful, awful stuff. For instance, in the opening scene, as Boomer blows up a mountain, the explosions look like they lack depth, instead being two-dimensional. Moreover, somehow the mountain collapses (without sending debris and rubble flying every which way) despite the explosions seeming to come from the surface and not underground (ignoring the fact that at the very opening of the movie, trucks are seen driving out of an underground mine, presumably after having placed dynamite at various points in the mine). Then, once the ground continues shaking from tremors and such, Boomer quickly realizes that something’s wrong and spots fissures heading straight for the miners closer to the explosions. Predictably, however, all of them are oblivious to the way the earth is disappearing in front of them until it’s too late and they get swallowed as the surface splits apart. Because actually managing to see the earth fall away in front of you is too much to ask. Of course, the fissure continues on its course and makes straight for Boomer, who tries valiantly to outrun it before falling into the growing crater himself.
After the earthquake hits D.C., Amy and Mark are talking about how it’s a first-of-its-kind event for the area, reading 7.0 on the Richter scale; yet somehow, after she flies out to the apparent epicenter of the event, she’s the only geologist there. In fact, except for the helicopter pilot, she’s the only person at the site – there are no rescue crews, there are no excavation crews, there are no awkward bystanders trying to get a better look at what happened; it’s just her and the pilot, until they hear Boomer blowing his truck’s horn. But if there was such a large earthquake, and people knew where it was, why on earth were there only two people who went out to see what happened? Moreover, once Amy manages to rescue Boomer, aftershocks and more fissures send them running back to the helicopter. This time, however, despite the inability of Boomer to outrun fissures earlier while driving a truck, somehow the three of them manage to run back to the helicopter in time to get in and get it airborne, getting off the ground just before the place where the helicopter had landed disappears. So how is it that three people on foot can outrun what one guy in a car couldn’t?
Jumping now to Dan and Miranda, who were put on a military plane to get them back to Denver – en route, the C-130 Hercules they are in collides with another plane (air traffic control towers in Indianapolis having been destroyed, thereby eliminating all possibility of planes to ever know what’s going on ever again), losing an engine. Obviously, a plane that big can’t fly with only three of four engines working, right? Wrong. Now, had part of a wing been destroyed, then I could understand the thing crashing; but the movie only presents the damage as being to one engine, somehow causing the plane to crash. I’m not a pilot (nor do I play one on tv), but follow links here, here, and here to read more things supporting my statement, some of them from actual pilots.
I know I said that I wouldn’t say more about the acting, but there’s one scene in the movie that deserves special recognition. After Dan and Miranda crash land, they hitch a ride from a trucker (who, conveniently enough, is hauling a tank full of petroleum, which later explodes). As they drive, their path meets up with the earthquake racing across the United States, which leads Dan and the trucker to an exchange wherein they repeat each other and seemingly agree with each other while simultaneously arguing, all the while talking about the danger of their situation in the completely deadpan, unengaged tone that is ubiquitous in this movie. Somehow, despite the overall dismal acting in the movie, this scene stood out as substantially worse than the rest, and to me, that’s pretty remarkable.
“I can’t stop… That fissure’s right behind me…”
Back to Amy and Boomer – given the widespread destruction, martial law gets declared and all air traffic gets grounded, but since Amy has to get to her family, she and Boomer steal a helicopter, causing the military to arrest them. At the base to which they get taken, they meet a general and Amy ends up working with him to try to stop the earthquake. Here’s where the craziness starts. The earthquakes are so destructive because (somehow) the U.S. has a previously undiscovered fault running the whole length of the continent (leading to the movie’s title); therefore, if nothing is done to stop the quakes, the fissures will continue all the way to the Pacific Ocean, destroying the entire West Coast and sparking tsunamis that will then go on to destroy the rest of the world. Obviously. But there’s hope, because the military has a secret satellite weapon that was originally designed to cause earthquakes in enemy territory by freezing the water table with lasers so that when the water thawed, the release in energy would cause massive tectonic disruptions. Obviously. So they plan to intentionally start another earthquake that will cancel out the megafault, much in the way a controlled burn is used to help stop a wildfire. And here’s the key – if the second earthquake continues westward, it will just run into the Grand Canyon and then stop, because there’ll be no more earth for the quake to travel through. Obviously. (Keep in mind, I’m not making any of this up.) The movie fails to explain, of course, how it could be that the man-made earthquake would be stopped by the Grand Canyon but that the megafault would not be, but that’s such a minor point, it’s really unimportant.
The supposedly invisible beam from the ice-making death-laser.
Now, once the army freezes the water table to start another earthquake, it results in the weakening of the mantle underneath Yellowstone National Park, destabilizing the Yellowstone Caldera and causing magma to boil to the surface and melt everything in the area, literally starting the state of Wyoming on fire. But the megafault gets slowed and eventually stopped, which is good. But the earthquake caused by the space ice laser starts travelling towards the Caldera, threatening to unleash a fiery river of death upon the continental United States, which is bad. So Amy and Boomer head to Wyoming in the hopes that they can create a second Grand Canyon by blowing up a large part of the state, thereby causing miles and miles of coal mines to collapse and a canyon to form. (I repeat, I am not making any of this up.) Enter the seemingly-obligatory montage scene – five minutes of army guys in army trucks placing army explosives around the area, combined with images of Amy and Boomer setting charges to later detonate the explosives. What bothered me about this scene is that thirty-five or so charges were placed, and I felt like they showed us the placement of each and every one. To me, a good montage should demonstrate how much time has passed and work been done in a concise fashion. This always means that things get cut out, so that the placing of thirty-five or so charges doesn’t show the placing of each and every one. So not only did this movie fail at acting, special effects, and science, but it also failed at montages.
Because Wyoming doesn’t have enough problems as it is…
Finally, during the climax, Boomer and Amy have to drive past each charge to set them all off via an infrared transmitter in their Jeep. Ignoring the fact that they, again, have to outrun fissures, and ignoring the fact that the charges supposedly have a delay of three seconds yet seem to cause explosions before the Jeep has actually passed them, I was unable to ignore the fact that, of the fifteen or twenty scenes of explosions going off all around the Jeep, only four or five looked to be unique shots. Although I wasn’t counting, I do remember seeing the same scene (literally) at least three or four times within an eight- or ten-minute segment of the movie. And there were a couple scenes like that. So add “original film footage” to the list of things at which this movie fails.
Two more lists for you – things that were used to chase people – earthquake fissures, power lines, gas line explosions, magma, and avalanches. Places that were destroyed just for the purpose of destroying them – Louisville, Kentucky; Vail, Colorado; Denver, Colorado; and the entire state of Wyoming.
“Look out! A CGI avalanche is about to destroy a CGI chalet!”
Final thing this movie failed at – dialogue; said as Amy and Boomer try to outrun fissures and explosions – “Drive harder!”
So did this movie do anything well or right? Surprisingly, yes. At one point, Amy says that there are up to three thousand earthquakes a day (presumably worldwide). As you can see here and here, that one fact is supported by actual evidence. So good on them for getting that right.
Until next time, keep an eye out for flying sharks.