OMG YOU GUYS!
If you were fortunate enough to catch the August 6 premiere of Sharknado 5: Global Swarming on SyFy, you were in the company of thousands of others laughing their asses off and screaming at the sheer unadulterated tongue-in-cheek cray and over-the-top WTFuckery that is always a Sharknado movie.
I, of course, had a giant-ass bowl of popcorn at the ready and live-Tweeted it with hundreds of other Sharknado aficionados and yeah, there were parts of this movie that had me laughing so hard I practically cried.
So…what precisely IS this Sharknado phenomenon? And not just the idea that there are massive tornado-ish storms filled with sharks? I will attempt to explain it to those who have lost all forms of communication with their 12-year-old inner fan-‘tweens.
The Sharknado made-for-TV movies are part of the SyFy Channel’s repertoire of ridiculously hilarious B-movie creature features. Somebody over there had the foresight to realize that there is a subset of viewers (including yours truly) who digs creature features — many of us probably grew up watching the ol’ skool Godzilla films from the 50s and 60s that were often shown on commercial TV on Saturdays. May we now have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of Haruo Nakajima, a stunt actor who was also the first actor to play Godzilla in a film…
Nakajima was 88 when he died, and here’s a factoid: that rubber Godzilla suit weighed 200 pounds. Nakajima was cast as Godzilla in the 1954 original release. In Japan, Godzilla is known as Gojira. Here’s a trailer with film clips from that 1954 Japanese movie, advertising its release on DVD:
Let’s ponder for a moment. 1954 was only 9 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Godzilla — a giant irradiated lizard/dinosaur-ish creature — was clearly a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear weapons. Nakajima would put that heavy-ass rubber suit on 12 times to play Godzilla, which became a huge success and ushered in the Japanese golden age of tokusatsu, or “special effects” movies. Basically, movies with actors portraying giant creatures in monster suits that destroyed scale-model sets designed to make it appear as if they were destroying actual cities.
Godzilla changed the genre of Japanese science fiction, by creating a uniquely Japanese vision in a genre typically dominated by the American film industry. Japanese kaiju (giant monster) films changed film history, thus, and were a staple of my childhood, as badly dubbed and acted as they often were. But for a sci fi fanatic like me, who was already haunting the edges of geekdom back in the day, I didn’t care about the bad acting or dubbing. I cared about THE IDEA of a giant monster from space or from some mistake here on Earth showing up and wreaking havoc. It tapped into my cultural and historical context (Cold War) and fueled my spec fic imagination.
“Creature feature” is a generic title that refers to cult and classic horror and sci-fi movies broadcast on TV during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. These original films from the 1930s-1950s included monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, but also Japanese kaiju movies like Godzilla and his numerous battles with other kaiju like Mothra. Some of these classic creature features include Them! (1954; giant ants), It Came from Outer Space (1953; creepy extraterrestrials), and Tarantula (1955; giant tarantula, obvi!).
Point being, it is this tradition that SyFy movies tap, and they do it with often sly wit and total over-the-toppery, which I love because I love the creature feature tradition. Those of us who get into these absurd flicks that SyFy churns out with astonishing regularity are basically tapping into our kaiju-lovin’ and monster-lovin’ childhoods and ‘tween-hoods, and what’s even more fun about some of these movies is that the cast and crew are in on the joke, too, and ride a line between taking the whole thing way too seriously and throwing little winks to the audience.
Witness the titles of some of these films: Piranhaconda (2012; a hybrid anaconda/piranha made for about a million dollars), Lavalantula (2015 big lava-fueled tarantulas), and Sharktopus (2010; you guessed it — a giant shark/octopus hybrid).
SyFy may be best-known, however, for its amazing run of shark-based creature features, including the five Sharknado films. And yes, I have seen them all at least once. HA!
Here is the trailer for Sharknado 5:
The basic premise of all the Sharknado films is that there are tornadic storms that include sharks and a variety of other things that terrorize various locations. The films always involve sharks flying around in the wind that end up virtually everywhere and chomp on assorted people, including more well-known actors who are hit up for cameos. More on that in a bit.
The main character is Fin Shepard (actor Ian Zierling), a virtuous, likable All-American kind of everyman with solid moral principles who steps up to the plate to deal with these terrible and terribly ridiculous storms. In Sharknado 1, Fin owns a bar on a California beach and he’s that hard-working bartender you can trust with just about anything. During the course of the Sharknado movies, he becomes the reluctant go-to hero, revered by people around the world as the guy who can save them from sharknados. This plotline develops after he successfully manages to stop them in the first movie along with his wife, April (Tara Reid; they’re estranged in the first movie, but get back together) and Nova, a waitress from the bar, and others who will be recurring characters throughout the series. As a result of his actions, Fin ends up an expert on sharknados and will be called upon to help save people and cities from them ever after. That’s a theme that plays out throughout the series.
Sharknado 1 (2013) took the world by storm (ha ha! See what I did there?) and became known for an iconic scene in which Fin demonstrates his badassery with a chainsaw. In the scene, Shepard leaps into the mouth of a big shark, chainsaw roaring, and cuts his way out. It’s absurdity of the highest order but so over-the-top that you love it for the sheer audacity of the filmmakers and writers.
My 13-year-old geek fangirl yelled “OH, HELL NO” at the screen when that happened, and then she laughed maniacally because seriously. WHO DOES THAT? NOBODY jumps into a shark with a chainsaw!
At any rate, the point is, the Sharknado films not only have a recurring theme of storms threatening everything, but they also follow the lives and losses of Fin and his family and friends, so they’re not only creature features. They’re high-octane super soapy soap operas and some of the films will totally leave you hanging about what’s happening with Fin’s family and friends until the next Sharknado installment, which is what happened in Sharknado 5. So they’re also pulp fiction, of a sort, and give you all kinds of fast-paced adventure (which are ridiculous, but still fast-paced), but may leave you hanging, a pulp fiction tradition.
And it seems that each installment seeks to out-do the previous in sheer lunacy and silliness.
In Sharknado 5, Fin and his associates discover that sharknado storms have been a problem since ancient times, and they have to figure out how to combat — of course — the global cray that will be unleashed in this movie. If you saw the climate change thriller The Day After Tomorrow (2004) with Dennis Quaid and Jake Ghyllenhaal, it’s like that only exponentially more ridiculous and with sharks and teleportation. This time, Fin has to try to save his young son Gil, who has been sucked into one of the sharknados (the one with teleportation capabilities, of course). Throw into this the “Sharknado Sisterhood,” a secretive group of women who monitor and battle sharknados, as well as April’s ongoing issues with her cyber-parts (from Sharknado 4…srsly…) and you’ve got so much cray. SO much cray!
So here are some of the reasons that I loved Sharknado 5:
1. Consistency in the main characters. I do still appreciate a solid infrastructure across a series of creature features, and the lovable, nutty posse Fin has with him always make for both highly ridiculous situations and also ups the stakes. Ian Zierling plays Fin with an earnestness that is really endearing for a creature feature, and he lends just enough gravitas to the cray that you’re invested in watching him succeed.
2. Global Swarming. OMG how can you not love that as a subtitle? And sure enough, the storms were all over the damn planet this time, and one included some kind of weird inner teleportation power so a character would get sucked up into the storm in one location then dropped halfway around the world. Absolutely, utterly absurd but oh, so delightfully cray. So in this installment, we experienced sharknado cray in London, Brazil, Germany, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. Obviously not filmed on location (that would be incredibly expensive) but one British person appears to have taken exception to the Sharknado tongue-in-cheek approach and listed all the things wrong/not true about the London and English settings.
To which I say: duh. If you’re looking for and/or expecting accuracy in representation in Sharknado movies, you have clearly jumped the shark, as it were.
3. The unstoppable epic completely ridiculous things that happen. Like when Fin rides a shark down stairs at Buckingham Palace.
You’ll see Gil (Fin’s young son) getting sucked up into that teleportation sharknado, too. That strange-looking artifact Nova is holding onto is a key to all of this; she and Fin “liberated” it from a non-existent cave near Stonehenge (this is a Sharknado movie; there aren’t giant underground caves like that near Stonehenge in real life, we know). And you’ll notice that the “queen” is not, in fact the Queen. Rather, the “queen” is a cameo appearance by Charo, which leads me to yet another reason I love Sharknado movies…
4. The cameos by other media celebrities. Weatherman Al Roker, for example, has made numerous appearances in Sharknado movies, and I love his “reporting” on these storms. You can see him in the trailer, above. Cameos in Sharknado 5 include Chris Kattan as the PM of England (omg…); Bret Michaels of American rock band Poison; Tony Hawk, world-renowed skateboard pro; Gilbert Gottfried reprising his role as stormchaser; Porsha Williams (Real Housewives of Atlanta); Margaret Cho; Nichelle Nichols; Olivia Newton-John; Fabio (as the Pope! OMG); and Dolph Lundgren as Fin’s grown-up son Gil. Long story. You’ll have to see how that comes about.
You guys. Fabio. As. The. Pope.
And some of these cameos involve getting chomped by a shark, as Judd Hirsch’s cabbie character did in Sharknado 2. Actor John Heard (Home Alone movies and The Sopranos) played a secondary role in Sharknado 1; the end of Sharknado 5 included a memorial statement to Heard, who died last month at the age of 72.
5. The sheer lunacy of the plots. Fabio as the Pope. Seriously? He presents Fin with a Vatican special chainsaw and Fin then pays homage to Hamilton:
Which brings me to another kind of cameo that Sharknado films are known for: easter egg plotlines, movie spoofs, and lines of dialogue that pay homage to other movies and TV shows. A few from Sharknado 5: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Fury Road (2015), James Bond movies (1964; Goldfinger) Star Trek (Nichelle Nichols was the cameo in this reference); Back to the Future (1985); Mission: Impossible (1996). In one scene, a giant energy ball of rotating sharks takes the form of a giant shark chomping Tokyo (don’t ask; just see the movie) and Fin and April are observing this with WTF expressions. April says, “A giant shark!” and the actor with them says, “no, SharkZilla!” (you can see that in the trailer), thus paying another homage to Japanese kaiju movies which brings us right back to where we started this “Fingirl” Friday.
The Sharknado movies are part of a long tradition of creature features. And yes, they are absolutely some of the silliest, most idiotic things you will probably ever see. But they’re also sly in wit, oh, so creative in over-the-toppery, and they provide endless fun as you try to suss out all the cameos and shout-outs to other movies via outright visual spoofs and clever lines of dialogue.
They’re not meant to be taken seriously, but they are serious fun and they are part of a tradition of movies that I loved as a kid and as a ‘tween. So don’t go watching these expecting deep meaning. Or any meaning, for that matter. Just get yourself a big ol’ bowl of popcorn, your fave drinkies, some friends, and sit back and enjoy the cray. And in these times, a good laugh is a good thing.
Happy Friday and may The FARCE be with you.