Review Date: October 12, 2008
Released by: Studio-S Entertainment
Release date: 5/14/2008
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Oh boy, here it is, the poster child for Italian copyright infringement, Enzo G. Castellari’s The Last Shark
, a production infamous for seemingly no other reason than the fact that when it hit American theaters Universal successfully mounted a legal challenge to the film for its similarities to Jaws
and it was unceremoniously yanked from theaters. For twenty-five years since then the movie has built up its own mystique, an almost mythical status that has persisted in spite of the fact that it has always been readily available from bootleggers and is no mystery to Eurocult fans who have always found ways to see it.
Since the dawn of DVD many of those fans have taken it as a foregone conclusion that The Last Shark
would never, ever find its way into legitimate release because of those legal issues, an assumption that was shattered earlier this year when Studio-S Entertainment of Sweden released this disc, a fully licensed, remastered release. Is it legal? Will Universal take action? So far it’s still on the market, and I doubt very much the old problems associated with the movie will be an issue. For one thing, the legal action that resulted in the Great White
version being suppressed (which, interestingly enough, is a case that is now cited in several legal textbooks) technically only applied to the North American marketplace and its distributor there, Film Ventures International, and did not prevent the film from playing theatrically in other parts of the world, or getting home video releases in places like Greece and Japan.
It also is worth noting that in 1982, the year FVI put it into theatres, the entertainment market was a very different place than it was now. Home video was still in its infancy, and Jaws
was not only a relatively new film, but it was still an active theatrical franchise that Universal was still making money from, with Jaws 2
in 1978, a theatrical re-release of the first film in 1979, and Jaws 3
in 1983. It’s also worth remembering that Film Ventures International was almost begging for trouble by giving Great White
a huge advertising budget that saturated TV and radio, thus ensuring that Universal couldn’t help but notice something was up.
Strange things are happening in the tiny coastal town of Port Harbor. First a windsurfer disappears while practicing for the town’s annual regatta race, with the only evidence of what happened to him being his grotesquely chewed-up board. Then, while out searching for the missing youth, the Coast Guard discovers an abandoned and wrecked boat floating aimlessly, the only evidence of its owner being a severed arm. Could it be that there’s something in the water attacking people? As in, a shark? Local maritime writer Peter Benton (James Franciscus
) and crusty old fisherman Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow
) think it is a maneater, but local civic leaders don’t want to hear it, even though the evidence forces them to take steps to protect the upcoming regatta.
Local mayor and gubernatorial candidate William Wells (Joshua Sinclair
) has an expensive shark net installed over the entrance to the harbor and hires men to patrol the area with boats. Unfortunately this is no ordinary shark – this a thirty-five foot long great white, and it manages to break though the netting and turn the regatta into a bloodbath. Benton and Hamer set about trying to kill the beast, but time is running out for them, for the tourist season, and for the mayor’s political career.
The Last Shark
is an incredibly derivative film that is good for the occasional laugh but is more or less useless as entertainment, even from a “so bad its good” perspective (those looking for a seriously enjoyable and cheesy rip-off should track down Bruno Mattei’s Cruel Jaws
, which lifts quite a bit of footage from this production). It is neither good enough to stand on its own merits, nor is it quite funny enough to be enjoyable for more than one viewing. Had it not been for the Universal/FVI problems its likely that the movie would be no better remembered than any other generic Italian horror rip-off. What the film essentially does is steal enough elements from Jaws
that it comes to resemble the film from a cosmetic standpoint, but despite its derivative nature the similarities are only skin deep. What Castellari does is take the plot of Spielberg’s movie with several of its core conflicts (man vs. nature, greed vs. civic duty), copy its characters on a superficial level and rip off a bunch of scenes. The movie looks like Jaws
without any of the suspense, intelligence or wit that allowed Spielberg’s production to become one of the most successful films of all time.
The problem here is that Castellari is unable to copy what made Jaws
good, and fails to improve upon the concept the way an exploitation film should. Spielberg shot a film that was full of breathtaking action and excitement. But he had the funding of one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, who backed him up when shooting went far past the scheduled wrap date. He had a budget and a crew that allowed him to shoot on the ocean, and a fairly realistic mechanical shark (when it worked). Castellari did not have those resources. His action scenes are elaborate, but often built around a land location where the crew could be set up, such as the town marina. When Spielberg needed real shark footage for a scene that could not work with the mechanical shark, a crew was sent to Australia to film. When Castellari runs into those same problems, he has to rely on stock footage and some painfully inadequate miniature work. And where Spielberg had well-crafted melodrama in his script that kept the film moving even when it wasn’t at sea, Castellari only has overplayed dialogue scenes and poorly drawn characters that stop the film dead in its tracks.
The logical thing to do with these limitations would have been to pump up the exploitation content of the film, but even here it fails to surpass Spielberg. It should not be forgotten that Jaws
was a fairly grisly movie for something that was rated PG, with dead bodies popping out of boats, limbs being bitten off and blood spurting out of people’s mouths. The Last Shark
is not appreciably more gruesome. So then, what exactly was the point of the film, if it could not equal surpass Spielberg even on the gore meter? For the studio the point was apparently to make money, and I’m sure it did that. Just not in America.
The Last Shark
is presented in a PAL transfer that is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays. Overall image quality is not perfect, but still more than acceptable given the rarity of this title. Colors are well saturated but their hues seem to be ever so slightly off, resulting in some overly reddish flesh tones. Most scenes are sharp and crisp enough, but it does look like some excessive digital noise reduction was applied to the image and some shots are marred by very noticeable digital artifacts. There are a few scratches to mar the film elements (all the great white shark stock footage looks more beat up) but overall the film elements appear to have been in very good shape.
The only audio option is an English-language soundtrack in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Unfortunately audio quality is highly variable. There is little in the way of distortion or abnormal hissing and popping, but the track has other problems. In particular, dialogue is of a highly variable nature. Some scenes are dubbed in their entirety, other scenes seem to use live production audio (there are more English speakers in the cast of the film than you might expect for one of these Italian productions). The dubbed scenes come across okay most of the time, but the scenes that use live audio suffer from mediocre dialogue recording and an abundance of ambient noise that makes it hard to understand what the characters are saying at times. Optional Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are included.
An effort was clearly made to get supplements for this release, even though there’s not too much here. We get a brief still gallery of lobby cards and poster art, a trivia page dealing with the film’s aborted American release, a list of shark “facts” that were listed on the film’s poster at its American premier, bios and filmographies for Enzo G. Castellari, James Franciscus and Vic Morrow, and trailers for Tentacles
, Inglorious Bastards
, Battle Force
, The Key
and Two Evil Eyes
, all of which seem to be available on DVD from Studio-S.
The Last Shark
is an anemic rip-off that has neither much technical skill nor much humor. But for a generation of Eurocult fans who enjoy The Last Shark
(you know who you people are), this movie is a treasured symbol of the heyday of Italian exploitation cinema. Studio-S has put together a decent quality official release that will please most fans. Although it’s unlikely that this release will run into legal trouble (as far as I can tell Universal never did anything to block the film’s distribution outside of North America), fans should still probably rush to pick this up. It could disappear before you know it.
Movie – D+
Image Quality – B
Sound – C-
Supplements – C+
- Running Time – 1 hour 24 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Danish subtitles
- Norwegian subtitles
- Finnish subtitles
- Swedish subtitles
- Still gallery
- Great white shark facts
- Movie trivia