THE FILM 3.5/5
“There are no sharks here! ::CHOMP:: “
In the taut thriller The Shallows, Nancy (Blake Lively) is surfing alone on a secluded beach when she is attacked by a great white shark and stranded just a short distance from shore. Though she is only 200 yards from her survival, getting there proves the ultimate contest of wills. It’s Jaws for a new generation.
During 1999, there was one title in particular at the Sundance Film Festival that had people abuzz: The Blair Witch Project. The cheap and independently produced film made by a bunch of kids with very little experience managed to scare the hell out of attending critics and set off a bidding war by several major studios before mini-distributor Artisan Entertainment (now defunct and owned by Lionsgate Films) became the victor. The rest, as they say, is history. Not only did The Blair Witch Project change the way filmmakers approached the medium, but it also added a new kind of film for which potential distributors should look — the cheaply produced that, with clever marketing, had the power to be immensely profitable with little risk.
Every year following, people were on the lookout for the next Blair Witch.
In 2003, the same thing occurred at Sundance, only this film was Open Water, another cheaply and independently produced film made by inexperienced filmmakers with no-name actors. Based on a true story (unlike The Blair Witch Project, which only pretended to be), Open Water depicted a couple left behind in the middle of the ocean during a vacation scuba-diving trip, only to be slowly surrounded by sharks. While it didn’t capture the attention of the masses in the same way its witchy predecessor did, it still managed to make a splash with critics, who praised the film’s ingenuity and creativity in the face of budgetary restrictions. (Real sharks too, by the way — in the same water as the actors.)
And then along came The Reef several years later. The Australian production was a slicker product with a slightly higher budget, but also basically the same thing: shipwrecked people surrounded by sharks, each dying off one by one. It was an effective little number, even if the concept was a little less novel. (If we want to credit a sole inspiration for all of these sharks vs. people conflicts in modern cinema, maybe we can point to Quint’s stirring and still-famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue from Jaws.)
And now we have The Shallows, which, again, explores the concept of one person being trapped in the middle of the ocean by a monstrous shark that WILL eat her, even IF there’s a giant whale just a few feet away that it could eat instead. (Literal shark orgies have broken out during mass dead-whale feedings, I’m serious — whale meat to sharks is like chocolate to humans.) But instead of the independently produced version of this concept with a realistic and downbeat finale, The Shallows is very Hollywood, sticking the beautiful Blake Lively in a tight wetsuit, tighter bikini, and pitting her against an unrealistically-behaving CGI shark. Along the way she becomes friends with a bird, talks to herself a lot, and, well, manages to pull off the impossible, which I can’t expound upon without getting into spoiler territory.
As dumb as that all sounds (and it is kind of dumb), The Shallows is easy entertainment. What that means is it’s exactly the kind of film it set out to be. The film’s marketing is quick to liken it to this generation’s Jaws and that’s kind of accurate, except it’s essentially a feature length version of Jaws‘ final five minutes made for the instagram generation. When theaters were flooded with multi Saws and Hostels, the term “torture porn” was coined (but used incorrectly as often as “hipster” is today); spinning off from that, The Shallows is basically shark porn: camera close-ups of Blake Lively’s flawlessly toned and tanned body, intercut with ominous underwater shots or dark silhouettes housed in waves signifying the presence of a shark. “Did you see that?” audience members likely asked and pointed to the shadow in the wave. But no, the glimpse is gone; now it’s back to a close-up of Lively’s bikinied bottom, or side-breast, or tropical ocean water dripping off her blonde hair. It’s absurd and not exactly subtle; again, it’s easy entertainment. And sometimes that’s okay. Director Jaume Collett-Sera excels at popcorn entertainment. Vaulted into the game following his better-than-expected horror film Orphan, this is the kind of playground where he’s best utilized. Amidst all the unnecessary and already dated speed-ramping, there are moments of genuine effectiveness — generally when Blake Lively’s Nancy is getting beaten up by the ocean. And this sounds like mockery, but it’s not; as she’s taken by the tide and rolled over sharp choral on the ocean floor, or during the first shark attack sequence, you imagine you’re feeling her pain. You cringe at the sight, you tense your body as if you’re about to feel shark teeth in your leg. Collett-Serra knows what he’s doing, even if he chooses to do it for concepts that are about 90% close to being real, actual films. And sequences like these are strikingly realized — especially the before mentioned initial shark attack.
Despite all the back-patting that goes on during the supplements included on this release as they pertain to the special effects, the shark looks terrible. The dummy version is obviously a dummy, and the CGI version is more obviously CGI. They must know this, as the shark only features on screen for maybe less than a minute, with the usual fin and shadow shots doing much of the heavy lifting. But every appearance of the CGI shark is distracting. Because the audience (hopefully) knows the filmmakers didn’t use a real great white shark (they don’t take well to animal training, in case you never knew that), they immediately look to deduce “the trick” — to determine the “how did they do that?” of it all. Well, the answer is easy: computers. And from the looks of it, quickly, and on the cheap.
The Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel, especially their grating and brainless Sharknado films, have done enough damage to the killer shark sub-genre that The Shallows actually manages to leave a not-so-sour taste in your mouth as the credits roll. It’s popcorn entertainment at its truest definition, but sometimes a little popcorn is okay. Lively actually puts a lot of effort into what must have been a physically strenuous role, and the crew deserves accolades for filming almost exclusively on the ocean, which is extremely difficult just from a logistical standpoint. The Shallows won’t make you forget Jaws or Open Water, but it’s certainly better than Deep Blue Sea and Shark Night, and in the age of Sharknado and Mega-Shark versus Roger Corman, I’ll take it.
THE PICTURE 5/5
Stunning. The video presentation for all of The Shallows looks flawless. Even if you’ve only seen just the trailers for the film, then you likely have an idea of how beautiful a picture Collett-Serra has created. Even the sequence during which Nancy is attacked by the shark and her blood begins to paint the tropical waters around her manages to look beautiful. The shooting location, Lord Howe Island, looks like paradise, and that comes across in this tremendous picture.
THE SOUND 4.5/5
Also stunning. The audio presentation provides a pretty good workout for your home theater system. The loud, crunchy, and mindlessly enthusiastic soundtrack during the early non-shark sequences does admittedly sound pretty good. There is constant environmental ambience, as there should be. Lively spends most of the film talking to herself, and a bird, but it’s all easily understandable and well presented. Shark carnage sounds SCARY, which it was meant to. (At least this one doesn’t growl.)
THE SUPPLEMENTS 3/5
The bulk of the supplements on this release consist of four mini-featurettes, each running between five and eight minutes in length. “Shooting in The Shallows” presents a broad look at the production, from how they filmed both on location and in an enclosed tank, as well as Blake Lively’s preparation for the role. It’s especially amusing when one of the producers talks about Lively’s physical training for the role, “but it wasn’t about making sure she looked great in a pink bikini,” even though during the actual film, the camera made sure to capture every inch of her looking great in a pink bikini. “How to Build a Shark” and “Finding The Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island” take dedicated looks to the creation of the puppet and CGI shark, and the shooting location, respectively. Lastly, and the most important featurette to watch, is “When Sharks Attack,” which, thankfully, is a more rational and educational look at sharks — what to do when you encounter one in the wild and/or you find yourself being attacked, and finally, why much of the shark action you see in the actual film is the stuff of Hollywood. I was hoping Sony would include something like this to remind people that sharks — especially great whites — aren’t monstrous killers, but just animals doing what they were always meant to. It’s Hollywood that keeps insisting they’re evil, but they’re not. They’re just bigger than you, and when you go swimming in their home, sometimes you get bit. Them’s the rules. “Share the waves,” as an expert says during this featurette.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
— Shooting in The Shallows
— How to Build a Shark
— Finding The Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island
— When Sharks Attack
— Deleted Scenes
STUDIO: Sony Pictures
DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Home Entertainment
THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2016
VIDEO STREET DATE: September 27, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 2.39:1
AUDIO: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
SUBTITLES: English; English SDH; Spanish
RUN TIME: 87 mins
DVD COPY: N/A
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Ultraviolet
The Shallows is perfectly reasonable entertainment, and within the pantheon of modern killer shark movies, one of the better titles. (Keep in mind there hasn’t been a “good” theatrically released shark film since 2003’s Open Water.) Like all of Collett-Serra’s films to date, The Shallows is an enjoyable watch, with some effective direction, but the way the material is handled prevents it from being truly great. But fans of the film should not hesitate in picking up this excellent blu-ray release; stellar PQ and AQ and a nice collection of supplements make this an easy purchase.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE’s global operations encompass motion picture production, acquisition and distribution; television production, acquisition and distribution; television networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies.