Tuned In

Perfect Storm: The Genius of Sharknado

This exquisitely ridiculous Syfy movie was the most delicious social-media chum, and we are merely creatures of instinct.

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Syfy

A scene from the original Sharknado

Note: I have been on vacation and was not planning to return to blogging until next week. There are certain times, however, when a journalist cannot ignore the call of duty. Assassinations. Acts of war. And sharknadoes.

One of the greatest legacies left behind by the late film critic Roger Ebert–who celebrated some of the movies’ greatest artistic triumphs and also wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls–was that a work of art needs to be approached critically on its own terms. A movie like Syfy’s Sharknado, say, should not be judged on how well it fulfills the standards of Band of Brothers. It should be judged on how well it fulfills the standards of a movie with the title Sharknado.

So we must ask different questions of this movie. We must ask: Does it entertain? Does it make us squirm while laughing while reconsidering our commitments to a pescatarian diet? Does it, we must ask above all, give us sharks in a tornado?

Yes, yes, and hell yes. Like so many things, The Simpsons expressed this critical principle best: “Barney’s movie had heart, but Football in the Groin had a football in the groin.” And Sharknado, bless its skeleton made of cartilage and brain made of cheese, is maybe the closest thing television has created to 80-odd minutes straight of footballs in the groin.

Really, it’s a deceptively tough feat that the makers of Sharknado pulled off: making a movie that’s shlockily and campily hilarious without seeming to try too hard to make something shlockily and campily hilarious. (While I don’t want to make too many assumptions about the cast and crew’s intent, this delightful io9 interview with screenwriter Thunder Levin suggests they went in with tongue in man-eating cheek.) Oh sure, you’d think it’s as easy as casting Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, hiring a hobo to do the CGI, and letting the magic make itself. But it’s easy to see where a title like this could become self-serious or smirky.

Not Sharknado. From the opening moments–an almost non sequitur high-seas showdown between an evil shark-fin buyer and more-evil shark-fin peddler that ends with both swallowed by balletic sharks–the movie signals its determination to efficiently get you the balls-out-crazy mayhem you want and not let narrative, budget constraints, or the laws of science get in the way.

Sharknado spends about as much time setting up its premise and getting down to action as does a porn movie. Sharks are massing along the Pacific Coast because, um, science and global warming and crap. There’s a newsflash on TV, a storm whips up in front of Ziering’s bar, and soon the Pacific Ocean is selectively flooding L.A. while people are cold-cocking sharks with barstools like that’s just a thing that happens.

And it happens, and it happens, and it’s an awesome, immersive thing. Maybe all you really need to know about Sharknado–and God help me, but I will spoiler-alert this for people who haven’t seen it yet–is that in the climax, Ziering’s character faces a flying shark, gets swallowed whole, then chainsaws his way out of its belly, freeing a character who was just eaten by the same shark while falling from a helicopter. The perfect closing title: “fin.”

Now, you could argue whether Ziering’s character could really go down a shark’s gullet on the fly. You could argue how many minutes said shark was falling through the air before hitting the ground, as if circling L.A. in a holding pattern. You could ask whether the filmmakers have ever seen footage of a hurricane, or even been outside sometime when it was raining. (We’re in a city, after all, that is being inundated by a massive hurricane, and yet at some points the ground is bone-dry, I’m guessing because the production’s hose broke?) You could ask whether, let’s just ignore the sharks for a second here, this group of barflies and their kindred could actually solve tornadoes by determining that you can fly up to one in a helicopter, throw a bomb in, and stop it spinning. You could ask, after watching a few reaction shots, whether any scene for this movie was shot in more than one take.

You could ask all this, indeed you can’t resist it, because you are part of the movie. Sharknado may not know meteorology or biology or physics, but it damn sure knows social media, and it is an experience that practically begs for the second screen of a Twitter or Facebook hangout. By 9:30 last night, my Twitter feed–not just pop-culture junkies but political pundits, average folks, and Mia Farrow–was a Sharknado-nado. This brilliantly executed concept–the title, the casting, the squiggly tornado CGI–was the most delicious chum, and we are creatures of instinct.

We’ll see whether the ratings reflect that engagement, though I’m guessing Sharknado doesn’t need that many viewers to make its money back. But whatever you think of it as a movie–and Great God Almighty was it a fun movie–it really seems to have unlocked the connection between a TV event and a social-media event.

Which means I expect to see more efforts like this, inviting the audience to create their own Mystery Science Theater 3000 and think it was their own idea. And I totally expect to see a Sharknado sequel. Though I’m not sure that this franchise can possibly top last night’s perfect storm simply by making Sharknado 2: 2 Shark 2 Nado. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place very often, nor, I expect, do sharknadoes.

34 comments
CyndiDouglas
CyndiDouglas

I want this movie in 3-D  I mean seriously, how fun would that be. The chain saw scene was the crème de la crème of laughable theater.  Please, I beg you, 3-D.  Sell the glasses with the DVD, I will stand in line.

KylieHopkins
KylieHopkins

My 11 year old son suggests Sharknami as a sequel. With sharks in a tsunami. Though I think that might already have been done. Lol.

MikeAtencio
MikeAtencio

Denny goes air surfing would make a great SyFy movie. It's a dragon that uses a jetliner to air surf. I saw the animation of this back in 1989 at an animation convention in La Jolla, CA. Totally great animation.

DawnHavard
DawnHavard

It is a ridiculously stupid movie.  I loved every minute of it.  Most movies Syfy makes are merely terrible.  This one was terribly funny. 

I watched it last night on on-demand and will watch it again.

bellaluna30
bellaluna30

But, but, but, what about Sharktopus?

RyanQuattro
RyanQuattro

Nothing beats Monsturd for sheer absurdity.

nwjerseyliz
nwjerseyliz

Just two comments to your article:

1) Syfy has movies like this every week. Maybe not this spectacularly funny but there is a group on Twitter that watches their Saturday night movies about crocodiles or piranha or dinosaurs or whatever and keeps up a running commentary online. And the company that produced Sharknado? They put out 2-3 movies every month for Syfy and Lifetime. I recommend you diving into their back catalog of masterpieces. ; )


2) I have a Twitter list called Media that follows journalists and media critics and I was seeing Sharknado Tweets all week long. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. But somehow, the buzz got started days ago and just grew. It didn't spontaneously explode, it's been building, primarily by journalists who were taken with the  movie concept/title and just couldn't stop making Sharknado remarks. I, too, have found it hard to stop. 

HéctorF.MartínezRodríguez
HéctorF.MartínezRodríguez

Im proud of my channel!!! I'm so proud of SyFy!! SHARKNADO RULED!!! this is what tv is for, this is why movies are made, to entertain us, not impress us, yeah we like Blockbusters, but we like simplicity also, and this is an example, a movie to make you sit on a couch and lay back and forget the rest, just watch, laugh and appreciate the horror/science fiction elements they put together to give us a good time. This review it's the best ever written for something like this, the author James Poniewozik, really understands the intention of this movie, the right intention, the intention every person should embrace to watch this film, this is not for comparisons between let's say a movie theater film like Jaws or Deep Blue Sea or a sci-fi like Starship Troopers or whatever, Sharknado works alone, this is SyFy code for evaluation, and it passed with flying colors!! I'd say even better than some disappointing movie theaters, cause is all about the expectation, and last night we expected to be entertained, and entertained we were!!

tom.litton
tom.litton

I suspect i'll find this review far more entertaining than the movie.  I'm sure the movie is awesome, but the review almost got me into trouble from laughing out loud at work :)

shandec
shandec

Or how about Sharkano about prehistoric fire-breathing sharks that come flying out of an erupting volcano! I'd watch it

shandec
shandec

As said on accuweather.com - next up:  Sharknami

BradFoley
BradFoley

Surely the sequel would be Sharknado: Tuna?

SoCalCarnivore
SoCalCarnivore

Was I under a rock? This sounds too awesome to miss. Now I have to go on a pilgrimage to get a copy of Sharknado. This is why television was invented. The only thing that could make it more awesome would be Bruce Campbell. He better star in 2 Shark, 2 Nado (which I would line up for, opening day, IMAX 3D). 

MattRitchey
MattRitchey

They need to make 2SHARK 2 NADO immediately and pay you royalties on that title.

RunningWriting
RunningWriting

Syfy aired another cinematic classic just before Sharknado: 2-Headed Shark Attack. Yes, there was a 2-headed shark. And yes, the shark did attack. Most fiercely, I might add.

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

Even the still pictures are hilarious and fantastic. God Bless America!

justmama
justmama

Just when I was sure "Killdozer" was the Citizen Kane of schlock, along comes this masterpiece and totally jumps that shark.

StephendeJong
StephendeJong

There is no doubt that this is the best movie review ever written.

RevDJEsq
RevDJEsq

Attention Pulitizer Prize Committee. The competition for 2013 is now over. James Poniewozik wins.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

i'm turning this movie into a drinking game and having a grand old time this weekend

DirectorRick
DirectorRick

@tom.litton Same here...an exec walked by then asked if I was crying...and if everything was ok.

jakospence
jakospence

@RunningWritingDid it attack, like, twice as much, or did it take on the synergistic arithmetic of 1+1=2.5?

mpsquared
mpsquared

@cjh2nd Just don't make it "drink every time you see a shark".

garoud
garoud

@mpsquared @cjh2nd Of course it has to be be "drink every time you see a shark" and a double when you see the sharknado!