Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sharknado (2013), Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014), and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)

The Asylum has been a big part of watching bad movies.  Though they’ve only been a big presence for the past ten years, they’ve released many bad movie classics.  They put out Snakes on a Train.  They had Abraham Lincoln fight zombies, and they had Snow White hanging with elves instead of dwarves.  But their biggest success has been a series of movies that they teamed up with SyFy to make.  These movies, the Sharknado movies, made The Asylum into a household name.

I first heard about Sharknado through social media.  Leading up to the airing on SyFy, people were constantly talking about it.  They were amazed that someone would produce something about a tornado made of sharks.  It was the craziest thing they had ever heard (which, let’s be realistic, there has been much crazier).  The hype machine was rolling through Twitter and Facebook with people foaming at the mouth to see this thing.  When it finally came out, the talk was explosive.

The movie was what people had hoped for.  It was actors who had fallen from grace, fighting off a tornado filled with sharks.  It was both an animal attack movie and a disaster movie.  It was poorly made.  People ate the movie up.  It was so popular that it became one of the most talked about television movies in Twitter history.  A movie about sharks in a windstorm was a huge social media event.

Before I move on, let me give you my thoughts about Sharknado.  I’ve seen it far too many times.  I watched it when it first came out.  I don’t think I saw it the night it aired, but I watched it sometime within the following week.  I would rewatch it right before the second movie aired.  When I found it on blu-ray in a bargain bin, I watched it again, forcing my brother to watch it with me.  Leading into the third movie’s airing, I saw it again.  Then I rewatched it for this blog post.  That’s five times, at least.  I may be forgetting one or two.

Sharknado is not good.  I don’t particularly like it.  In terms of bad movies, it isn’t enjoyable.  It’s one of those movies that only became popular out of irony.  People wanted to make fun of the movie.  It was never their intention to find any good.  Luckily for them, there wasn’t much to be found.

Let’s start with the story.  Sharknado is primarily a road trip movie, as are the sequels.  Like any road trip movie, it follows a group of characters travelling from one location to another, with stops for major setpieces along the way.  The problem with the road trip aspect of Sharknado was that the driving didn’t look realistic.  It’s as though director Anthony C. Ferrante didn’t even try to make it look like the characters were driving when they were in the car.  The background was white.  There were no streets, no cars, no landmarks… It was just a bright white background surrounding the car.  The exteriors at least showed the vehicles in the locations they were meant to be.  A little effort could have gone a long way with the interiors.

The setpieces were also lackluster.  For a movie with such a ludicrous concept, it was a strange contrast to have the setpieces be so small scale.  The main group of characters saved people from a tunnel before a wave rushed into it.  Fin (Ian Ziering) rappelled from a bridge to bring a group of kids up from their half-submerged school bus.  A house was flooded with water and the characters had to escape while a shark swam around.  There were only a few action scenes (rolling Ferris wheel, helicopter bombs) that matched the insanity of concept.  It felt like wasted potential.

Yet the movie got one thing right.  It nailed the casting.  Steve Guttenberg was reportedly up for the role of Fin before Ian Ziering was cast.  There is a good chance that Guttenberg wouldn’t have brought the same persona.  Ian Ziering plays the situation straight.  He doesn’t act like he’s in a comedy.  Even in the sequels, when the movies shift their tone into being a comedic disaster, he plays his role like a serious action hero.  He knows how to make the most of the role.  Tara Reid isn’t anything special in the franchise.  But the movies wouldn’t feel the same with anyone else as April Wexler.  It needed to be her.

Soon after the premiere of Sharknado, SyFy and The Asylum announced a sequel.  It was going to be released one year after the first movie.  The hype was just as big leading up to Sharknado 2: The Second One, as people contemplated how it could live up to the success of the first.  Would social media explode in the same way?  

Half of the main cast was killed off in the first movie, leaving only Tara Reid and Ian Ziering to return for the sequel.  Part of the hype build for the sequel was to add more cast members who could work their movie magic alongside the two stars.  Vivica A. Fox was added as Fin’s high school ex-girlfriend, Skye.  Kari Wuhrer came into the franchise as Fin’s sister Ellen, and Mark McGrath was Fin’s brother-in-law Martin.  Other people who came into the franchise were Judah Friedlander, Judd Hirsch, and Richard Kind among cameos from many different celebrities of many different fame levels.

Sharknado 2: The Second One improved upon its predecessor in almost every way.  Most notable was the change in tone.  The first movie took itself far too serious for the loony situation that unfolded.  The sequel, which brought back director Anthony C. Ferrante and writer Thunder Levin, had more fun with the material.  Instead of downplaying the absurdity of sharks in tornadoes, they amped it up.  They built upon the foundation that the first movie set.  Everything was heightened and it became much more fun to go along for the ride.

The new cast brought a new life to the franchise, particularly in the cameos.  Since SyFy is owned by NBCUniversal, they were able to bring The Today Show in as a running news update for what was happening.  Al Roker and Matt Lauer were given their own mini-arc as Roker attempted to get Lauer to call it a sharknado instead of a shark storm.  Yes, there were also cameos from Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan of ABC’s Live with Kelly and Michael, but it is The Today Show segments that would return in Sharknado 3.

Also helping to make the sequel more enjoyable was the way that the road trip played out.  First and foremost, it looked like the characters were driving.  There was a real background in the interior shots.  Whether they were driving or not, the effort of having a background that wasn’t just a white screen makes a big difference.  The other aspect that was improved as the characters were transported through New York City was the locations.  Sharknado was very generic in its locales as the characters travelled.  They went to a house.  They were in a tunnel.  They ended up at a retirement home.  Nothing stood out.  With the New York setting of Sharknado 2, many New York landmarks were brought in.  They utilized locations like Times Square and Citi Field, and landmarks like the Statue of Liberty.  It felt important to have these specific locations in the movie.

Sharknado 2: The Second One ended up earning more than double the live viewers of the first movie.  It wasn’t many viewers, being only around four million people, but compared to the 1.2 million that the first movie got, it was a big improvement.  SyFy touted the movie as the most social television event in history.  There are no statistics to back this claim up, but the movie did manage to trend on Twitter during its airing.  That’s something.  There aren’t too many television movies that manage to do that.

Before the premiere of Sharknado 2, the producers had already announced a third installment.  Three Julys in a row, there would be a movie about sharks caught in tornadoes eating people.  The third installment would be called Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  It got almost as much hype as the first two movies, though it was helped by the existence of a movie called Lavalantula (directed by Big Ass Spider! helmer Mike Mendez), a movie about lava spewing spiders attacking Los Angeles.

Much like the second installment, Sharknado 3 would be filled with new actors in major roles as well as many cameos.  Nova (Cassandra Scerbo) returned after not being in the previous movie.  The Sharknado team was joined by Mark Cuban as the president; Frankie Muniz as Lucas, a man working with Nova to hunt sharknados; Bo Derek as April’s mother May; and David Hasselhoff as Fin’s father Gil.  More actors of the “former stars” ilk were being brought into the fold.

The third Sharknado was the culmination of the three movie trajectory.  It managed to take what had been set up in the first two and take it even further to the extreme.  The locations were as memorable as the second movie, and with Nova, the movie managed to pay off story from the first movie that felt wasted.  She had been attacked by a shark prior to the beginning of Sharknado, and never got to exact her revenge.  The first movie ended with Nova being swallowed by a shark and saved by Fin.  Sharknado 3 saw her return as a shark killing badass.  It was a big change that worked for the character because of her history.

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! followed Fin as he journeyed from Washington D.C. to Orlando in order to save his family from an apocalyptic sharknado storm front that was covering the east coast.  It began with Fin receiving an award from the President for saving New York City.  When sharks attacked the capitol, he and the President teamed up to fight the storm while Martin got the Vice President to safety.  It was an action packed opening that led into a road trip as Fin travelled to Universal Studios Orlando so that he could find April, his daughter Claudia, and the rest of their group.  Eventually, Fin had to go into outer space with his father to stop the Sharknado front.

The way that the ante was upped with the third installment helped to make it as enjoyable as the second.  Again, the movie didn’t take itself seriously.  It had fun with the concept and allowed the audience to have fun too.  Ferrante and Levin let the audience genuinely enjoy their time watching the action adventure instead of enjoying it through irony.  The franchise had gone from “Oh this is great because it’s terrible” to “This is actually kind of fun now.”  The franchise had come a long way since the first movie and the third was a perfect level of over-the-top action.

This over-the-top nature was aided by blatant product placement.  There was a lot of product placement.  Let’s start with one of the main settings.  April, Claudia, and May spend the majority of their time in the movie experiencing Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.  This is company synergy.  As I’ve already said, SyFy is owned by NBCUniveral.  The Universal part also owns the theme park.  It’s the company selling its own product in one of its products.  Another case of product placement was the return of The Today Show.  After being such a successful part of Sharknado 2, they brought back Al Roker and Matt Lauer for the third installment.  With them, they brought more of The Today Show’s personalities.  There wasn’t a story to them this time around.  They were just there to be there and were gone as quickly as they arrived.  NASCAR was in the movie.  NASCAR airs on both FOX Sports and NBC Sports.  NBCUniversal is trying to get advertising for their airings of NASCAR into a television movie that they know people are going to watch.  Oh yeah, and Chris Jericho is in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  He’s a wrestling personality from WWE, who airs their shows on USA Network, which is owned by NBC.  That’s a lot of synergy.

The thing is, none of this managed to make Sharknado 3 less enjoyable.  The setpieces were great, schlocky fun.  The movie started with sharks breaking into the White House as the government has to team up with Fin and Martin to fight back.  It moved to an air force base that got attacked while Fin and Nova attempted to fly to Orlando.  In Orlando, sharks attacked the amusement park while patrons ran in every direction, leading to a shark on a roller coaster, and the Shepard/Wexler crew finding safety in a metal Universal logo globe.  All of this was before Fin and Gil went into space, which led to a Gravity like situation with sharks instead of random space debris.  It’s a balls-to-the-wall insane ride that is buckets of fun the whole way through.

The last thing I need to write about when it comes to the Sharknado movies is the ending of the third movie, which leads into the soon-to-be-released fourth installment.  The third movie ended on a cliffhanger as April was about to be crushed by space debris.  More specifically, a piece of the destroyed spacecraft sped towards April while she knelt on a beach.  The movie ended before impact, asking the viewers to go to Twitter and vote on whether April would live into the fourth movie or die on the beach.  This was both an announcement of a fourth movie and the producers finally capitalizing on their social media following.

Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens comes out on July 31st.  A lot of the cast is the same.  Ian Ziering is back.  Tara Reid is listed as coming back.  Ryan Newman is returning from the third movie as Claudia.  David Hasselhoff is set to return, though I don’t know how based on the end of Sharknado 3.  And Nova is returning.  Add in a slew of new cast members including Gary Busey, Cheryl Tiegs, and Tommy Davidson, as well as numerous cameos, and we’re set for another great sequel in this surprise franchise.

When I saw the first Sharknado, I hated the fact that it was the movie to put The Asylum on the mainstream map.  It was a mid-range Asylum movie.  Better movies had been produced before that point that deserved the audience and fame that Sharknado had.  However, with the release of each sequel, I’ve come to appreciate the franchise.  The sequels are fun and among the best work that The Asylum has put out.  I now look forward to anything Sharknado that comes out.

Before I go, let’s discuss some of the merchandising that has come of the Sharknado movies.  The movies aren’t the only Sharknado related stuff to hit the markets.  Funko makes many collectibles.  The have Wacky Wobbler bobbleheads.  They have the strange looking Dorbz.  But it’s their Pop! vinyl figures that get the most recognition.  One of the many figures in that line was a sharknado figure, which I own.  Other than that, the most notable tie-in merchandising I can think of was a series of Archie comics where the Riverdale teens fought a sharknado.  I never read it, but feel like I should.  It seems like my sort of thing.

Sharknado will leave a legacy on movies, particularly bad movies.  It is the mainstream bad movie franchise of recent times.  It is still going strong.  People will look back on the Sharknado movies to figure out how they gained popularity.  There isn’t really an answer for it.  The hype for the first movie just kind of happened and it hasn’t subsided.  The movies will hold a place in my heart for years to come.  I enjoy the hell out of them.  That’s all that matters with bad movies.  If the movie is going to be bad, at least make it fun.  Make it enjoyable.  Make it transcend bad movies and become something special.
Here are some notes to end this long post:

  • I mentioned Big Ass Spider! in this post.
  • Tara Reid has been in all three of the Sharknado Movies.  She was also in a movie called Alone in the Dark.
  • Ian Ziering and a dog named Petunia were in all three Sharknado movies.
  • Jared Fogle (yeah yeah, he’s a bad guy) made cameo appearances in both Sharknado 2: The Second One and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  He was also in Jack and Jill.
  • Derek Caldwell and Cassandra Scerbo were in both Sharknado and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
  • Nine people appeared in both Sharknado 2: The Second One, and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  They were Benjy Bronk, Anthony C. Ferrante, Mike Gencarelli, Robert Klein, Matt Lauer, Thunder Levin, Mark McGrath, Al Roker, and Avalon Stone.
  • David Hasselhoff made his fourth appearance in the Sunday “Bad” Movies with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  He was previously in Starcrash, The Christmas Consultant, and Anaconda III: Offspring.
  • Robbie Rist has now been in three Sunday “Bad” Movies with the inclusion of Sharknado.  He was also in Iron Eagle, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.
  • Diana Terranova returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! after previously being in 8213: Gacy House, and Leprechaun in the Hood.
  • One of the actors in Sharknado was David Dustin Kenyon, who was also in A Nanny for Christmas.
  • Another actor in Sharknado was Faith Craig, who could previously be seen in Rise of the Zombies.
  • Sun Jae Kim from Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 made an appearance in Sharknado.
  • Diane Chambers (not the Cheers character) was in both Sharknado and The Coed and the Zombie Stoner.
  • The last actor from the first Sharknado to have already been in the Sunday “Bad” Movies was Jason Simmons from 3-Headed Shark Attack.
  • Gerald Webb was in Sharknado 2: The Second One.  He was also in 2-Headed Shark Attack.
  • Sharknado 2: The Second One featured Melody Garcia from New Year’s Eve.
  • Kari Wuhrer was in Sharknado 2: The Second One.  She was previously in Anaconda.
  • An actress who appeared in Sharknado 2: The Second One was Tiffany Shepis.  She was in Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.
  • Who else was in Sharknado 2: The Second One?  Vivica A. Fox.  She was in Batman & Robin as well.
  • Kelly Ripa had a role in Sharknado 2: The Second One.  She also had a role in Delgo.
  • Then there was Judah Friedlander.  He appeared in Sharknado: The Second One after having a role in Date Movie.
  • Finally, let’s finish off Sharknado 2: The Second One with a double header of both Don Castro and Lyman Chen.  They were previously in The Happening.
  • Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! had Ray J in it.  He was also in a movie called Steel.
  • Then there is Bo Derek, the last of the actor connections.  She played April’s mom in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  Many years before, she was in a movie called Orca.
  • Have you seen any of the Sharknado movies?  What did you think about them?  Use the comments section.  Let me know.
  • Are there any movies that you think I should see for the Sunday “Bad” Movies?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.  All suggestions help me to schedule future weeks for the blog.
  • I have a snapchat account (jurassicgriffin) where I sometimes post stories that are clips of the bad movies that I watch.  Feel free to add me and follow the fun of bad movies.
  • Next week’s movie is going to be DOA: Dead or Alive, a tournament fighting movie based on a video game series that upped the level of boob physics for the medium.  Hot women fighting.  Eric Roberts being Eric Roberts.  What’s not to like?  Come back next week for more of my writing.

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