Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Last Shark (1981)

Steven Spielberg's timeless classic Jaws has inspired so many films since it's 1975 release. Given anytime you have a huge success like this, you are opening the flood gates for countless imitations. Deadly Piranha, a killer Orca whale & a gigantic mutated Alligator. Of course numerous Shark knock-off films followed suit after Jaws and it's direct sequel. So many of these came from Italy: Bruno Mattei's Cruel Jaws, Joe D'Amato's Deep Blood, and the ultimate Jaws rip-off, Enzo G. Castellari's The Last Shark (aka Great White).

If you have never seen The Last Shark, you might ask yourself just what makes this the defining Jaws inspired knock-off. Very shortly after the 1982 theatrical release of The Last Shark, it was quickly pulled from U.S. theaters. Universal Pictures (the distributors of Jaws) sued to have the release of The Last Shark blocked from North American distribution. Universal's claim was that the makers of The Last Shark were guilty of plagiarism. Needless to say, Universal easily won the case.

Just how blatant is that plagiarism? Well let's examine it. The Last Shark takes place in the community of Port Harbor. In Jaws, it was Amity Island. Ok not a huge deal but let's continue. Back to The Last Shark, after a young teen dies from a deadly shark attack, our main characters Author Peter Benton (James Franciscus) & the grizzly shark expert Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow) look into the case. They discover the community is under attack by a man-eating Great White Shark. With no help from the greedy, ignorant governor they are left to...well you can guess where this is going. It feels as though Castellari literally took Spielberg's script and simply switched a few things around.

Where do I possibly start?!  Our main player, in other words our Chief Brody, is named Peter Benton. Who just happens to be a writer. Let's connect the dots: the author of the novel for Jaws was Peter Benchley. Benchley...Benton...I can certainly appreciate if that was a nod to the book. As cheesy as it may be. Oh and the fun fact of it all, actor James Franciscus was the guy that stepped into Charlton Heston's role in the first of many sequels to the original Planet of the Apes. Now he's The Last Shark's Roy Scheider. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Enter Quint, the old professional who knows everything that...I'm sorry I mean, enter Ron Hamer. The old professional who knows everything that is going to happen before it happens. With an epic name like Ron Hamer, he should know what type of shit is about to go down. I have nothing against Vic Morrow. He was a fine actor and certainly tried his best to live up to Robert Shaw's incredible role. Despite failing miserably.

The governor in The Last Shark, the mayor in Jaws, it's ultimately played out the same way. Though comparing the believability of both actors is day & night. Replace Richard Dreyfuss with an Italian actress/model. Throw away any bit of suspense, production value and a memorable film score. That in a nutshell is The Last Shark. The filmmakers even managed to imitate a few memorable scenes from Jaws 2.

So where does this rank on the Shark film list? Well it's certainly no where near the top/best. However I can't claim that it's the worst either. It's not in the 'so bad-its good' category (Ex: Deep Blue Sea). It's not even in the 'embarrassingly awful' category (Ex: Jaws: The Revenge). The Last Shark is just sort of stagnant. It's a cheap film who's only intention was to capitalize on it's predecessors success. Certainly no worse than what Universal did with the later Jaws sequels.

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