Film Reviews: IMAX Great White Shark 3D and Hidden Universe 3D

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 21st January 2014.

The IMAX format continues to grow in popularity with filmmakers. More and more mainstream features are being presented on the eye popping huge screen, including the latest chapter of The Hobbit trilogy. Darling Harbour is the home to the world’s largest IMAX screen and whilst the evening is saved for the blockbusters, by day it remains the domain of tourists and school groups, drawn to the gargantuan cinema and its short form documentaries.

Mostly focusing on nature and history, these cinematic attractions pose a problems for a film reviewer. They are definitely well crafted movies but are they the drawcard or simply fodder to present to tourists so they can experience IMAX on the hour? I checked out the latest two IMAX documentaries and the good news is that they both offer considerable bang for your buck. Or if you are taking your whole family, quite a few bucks.

From the marketing material, I fully expected Great White Shark 3D to be a gorefest of huge teeth and helpless sea lions. Now I realise that you are more likely to be killed reading this review than eaten by a shark but that didn’t stop me from feeling a little anxious about man eaters on the big screen in 3D. Damn you Steven Spielberg.

Narrated by the incomparable Bill Nighy, GWS3D is an entertaining and beautifully shot doco which sets out to change our attitudes towards the great white shark. Jumping across numerous locations which are home to our fishy friends, the film features scientists and activists who are working to ensure that the shark stays off the endangered species list (and out of shark fin soup).

From tour operators in South Africa who attract them to their boats so tourists can have close encounters in steel cages (dubious in my books – surely this is only teaching the great white that humans equal dinner) to free divers who simply tag the predators in the open water off the Mexican coast (OK, so the cage people have a point), we get a glimpse into the lives of those dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the great white shark.

GWS3D was surprisingly bloodless with a cute sea lion becoming a buffet lunch scene only being hinted at. Instead, the money shot was footage of a wooden sea lion lure being attacked from below by a gigantic shark leaping out of the water. In slow motion, the perfect killing machine soars through the air. Perhaps the makers of Sharknado were onto something.

Hidden Universe 3D, an Australian production, is a much drier feature (pardon the pun). The film focuses on deep space astronomers who venture out to the Atacama desert in Chile to peer into the universe using the European Southern Observatory’s VLT (that’s the Very Large Telescope for the non-astronomers out there).

Narrated by actress Miranda Richardson, I could take or leave the human storyline component. Instead, I would have been more than happy to just sit back and enjoy 45 minutes of the beautifully 3D rendered pictures of planets, nebulas, moons and super luchadore midgets (I may have made that last one up). Those scenes are fantastic. It’s like being immersed in the opening credit sequence of Star Trek, which in my book is not a bad thing.

Great White Shark 3D and Hidden Universe 3D are now playing at IMAX Darling Harbour.

The Return of Jaws

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd July 2012.

As a child I thought that whenever I went to the beach, I’d know if a shark was coming because I would hear the Jaws theme first. Da dum, da dum. I definitely had not seen the film at that time, but I still knew what those two simple notes played on a tuba represented: a primal, relentless man eater.

In fact, it actually represents a disobedient, rubber, hydraulic shark named Bruce. The stories of Steven Spielberg’s shoot for Jaws, his second feature film, are stuff of Hollywood legend. Shot on location on Martha’s Vineyard, production was hampered by delays and glitches. Platforms sank, boats took on water when the actors climbed aboard and Bruce never worked properly out in the open sea. Over budget and one hundred days over schedule, Spielberg thought he would never be given the Director’s chair again.

Of course, Jaws went on to be a box office smash, the first true summer blockbuster. As for Spielberg, well, you know what happened.

My first experience with the Jaws franchise was completely out of chronological order. Somehow, I managed to convince my grandmother that seeing Jaws 3-D at the now defunct Hoyts Roxy in Parramatta was a good idea. This was in 1983, so 3D movies involved a pair of cardboard old school glasses. I’ll never forget the terror I experienced witnessing a severed arm floating out of the screen at me. I screamed when the mother shark silently approaches the underwater control room window and then shattered the glass towards the audience.

I know now that the true horror of Jaws 3-D is actually Louis Gossett Jr. and Dennis Quaid’s acting. Actually, the whole film is an abomination.

You would think that my next step would be to seek out the original film. Unfortunately in 1987, I found myself at the Greater Union drive-in at Blacktown with my aunty, to witness Jaws: The Revenge in a double feature with Summer School (starring a pre-NCIS Mark Harmon).

Even at the age of 12, I could tell that this movie was a stinker. Star Michael Caine admits he did it to pay for a new house and have a great holiday in The Bahamas. The storyline is ridiculous. After the introduction of sharks as silent primal killers in the first film, we are supposed to believe that they are actually vengeful family minded creatures that will follow the wife of the original protagonist to the tropics to seek retribution for the murder of their fishy relatives.

The ending of the Jaws: The Revenge is a classic. The shark is impaled on a boat’s bowsprit and explodes. That’s correct. There are no combustible materials involved. The shark just explodes.

Despite my initial experiences, I did go on to appreciate Spielberg’s original masterpiece and its serviceable sequel. And that’s why I am very excited that Jaws will finally receive a high def makeover for its release on blu-ray in August. In celebration of Universal Studio’s 100th Anniversary, there will also be several one off screenings of the restored print around the country.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Jaws returns in stunning blu-ray to scare the pants off a new generation of fans. And make sure you keep an ear out for that theme tune next time you hit the surf. It may save your life.

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 02:30  Leave a Comment  
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My column has jumped the shark

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th March 2010.

Have you ever been watching your favourite television show and thought that it didn’t seem to be as good as usual? There’s a good chance that it has jumped the shark.

“Jumping the shark” is a popular term used to describe a TV series that has peaked and has begun to decline. This is often when the creative forces behind a show have run out of ideas and are starting to use desperate measures to regain their once loyal viewers.

The phrase refers to an episode from the fifth season of Happy Days which was filmed in 1977. In this episode, to prove his manhood, Fonzi (Henry Winkler) jumps over a deadly man-eating shark, complete with stock footage, on water-skis. Looking ridiculous in his budgie smugglers and trademark leather jacket, Fonzi’s stunt is widely regarded as a sure sign that the popular TV show was beginning to decline creatively. Of course, Happy Days continued for many years following that infamous episode but it never quite had the same magic.

There are several indicators that a show has jumped the shark. Here are a few.

One of the lead actors departing from a series is a significant clue. Actress Valerie Harper left her eponymous 80’s sitcom in a dispute with the producers, who promptly renamed it “Valerie’s Family”. After threats of litigation from Harper, it was then re-renamed “The Hogan Family”. By this time, the audience had lost interest and the show was cancelled soon after. John Ritter’s tragic premature death in 2003 also brought an early end to his sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. It stumbled on for another 2 years as “8 Simple Rules” and his character was deemed to have died also from a heart attack between seasons.

Shows built around the sexual tension between characters also tend to lose their appeal and audiences once the writers make the mistake of having those characters marry or sleep together. This is another sign that a shark has been jumped. A great example of this is Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which was axed soon after its lead characters were married. Other examples include Moonlighting, Who’s The Boss? and The Nanny.

Bringing in a cute child character is another red flag that a shark is circling. Remember the little fat kid from Hey Dad? Annoying Arthur MacArthur, played by Sorbent ad child actor Matthew Krok, was added to the cast to ensure that the cute factor remained as Mr Kelly’s youngest daughter Jenny grew up. By the time the show ended a few years later, only Betty the Receptionist (Julie McGregor) remained as an original cast member. In fact, even the dad in Hey Dad abandoned the show before its eventual demise.

Complicated storylines which confuse viewers also tend to result in a drop in ratings, particularly when it becomes clear that a resolution may not be on the cards immediately. Whilst there may not be an actual jump the shark moment, TV shows with convoluted plots which move at a snail’s pace such as Flashforward, Heroes, The X-Files and Lost were certainly shining up their skis pretty early on for the majority of viewers.

Keep an eye out for these signs and you’ll be sure to know that your favourite show has jumped the shark and it’s time to change the channel.

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 20:15  Comments (4)  
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