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There’s more to say about “Sharknado”

Former surfer Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) uses a chainsaw to fight a giant CGI shark.
Former surfer Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) uses a chainsaw to fight a giant CGI shark.

The B-movie phenomenon that started a six-film saga in 2013 screens at Memorial Union Terrace on July 11.

The theme of WUD Film‘s outdoor summer 2022 series at the Memorial Union Terrace is simultaneously “Hot Girl Summer” and “Surfin’ Thru Summer.” The unforgettable made-for-TV experience Sharknado (2013) could be included under either prong, as it includes both stunning, empowered women and surfing. Like any great film title, the portmanteau of “shark” and “tornado” succinctly captures its plot and essence. 

The first entry in a series of six(!) directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, and screening on the Terrace after dusk (approximately 9 p.m.) on Monday, July 11, Sharknado features Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard, a surfer who owns a seaside bar in Los Angeles. Tara Reid plays his estranged wife, April Wexler. Cassie Scerbo plays Nova, a bartender who has a melodramatic backstory as to why she really hates sharks, akin to the deep-seated reasons Phoebe Cates’ character in Gremlins (1984) hates Christmas. The film opens with a shot of schools of different shark species swimming in a formation like geese. A tornado forms and scoops them up before the illustrious title is revealed. This movie lets you know immediately what the deal is, and what you can expect. 

As someone who has seen every volume in this cinematic universe (that includes outer space and time travel), I can say that the first film is probably the least ridiculous. But don’t think that implies this is a realistic depiction of one of the ocean’s greatest creatures or of weather patterns. Can tornadoes even form over an ocean? The film decides that is not important. The barely existent plot is essentially about sharks being in the air instead of being confined to water (where they belong) and wreaking havoc on the Los Angeles area, the most famous coastal city.

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If you are arriving at this film hoping for a stimulating plot, you have chosen the wrong movie. Sharks are falling from the sky and swimming through flooded streets. That’s basically the whole movie, which doesn’t spoil anything. Our heroes use guns and explosives to “fight” the sharks and nature, which is also not a spoiler. It is possible that former President Donald Trump was inspired by this film when he suggested “nuking” hurricanes to get rid of them.

The Shepard-Wexler family is always at the core of the Sharknado franchise, and the many films follow Fin and April as an on-again, off-again couple. Spoiler alert: they eventually get back together and have another kid! In the riveting saga’s finale, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (2018), Fin travels through time. Like that one all the way back to this first film, they all contain fun cameos from actors who probably thought, “That sounds absolutely nuts, why the heck not?” (Apparently, Ian Ziering only took the lead role in the first film to secure Screen Actors Guild health insurance for his family.) In one of the later films, The 4th Awakens (2016), Tara Reid gets turned into a cyborg! Obviously this turns her into a shark-fighting machine.

While film is an art, it is also a form of entertainment, and watching terrible movies is important for a well-rounded media diet. But the first time I tried to watch Sharknado, I turned it off after a few minutes. After the initial shot of the eponymous Sharknado, there’s a scene with shark poachers harvesting fins to sell on the black market. Don’t worry, though. These poachers are our film’s first victims, in what could be seen as poetic justice or nature taking revenge.

This movie is so silly and so poorly made that, with the right company, it can be a blast. And I think that’s what helped me endure the film a second time around, which I thought was my first (because I had forgotten that I already tried to watch it). And it also seems like a great movie to watch on the Terrace, because you can decide if you would like to actually pay attention to this cinematic feat, or simply have it in the background to make fun of the CGI sharks or corny one-liners you might catch.

Some of the highlights of memory are how terrible the sharks look, groaning at the abysmal dialogue with my friends, and the chaotic editing style. Because almost all of the sharks are CGI, there are very few establishing shots to show us any of the “action.” The conventional 180-degree shot/reverse shot is nowhere to be found in this film. Our main characters will be shown in a car, and then the film will suddenly cut with random footage of possibly(?) Los Angeles or even a random city during a thunderstorm.

Little about this film makes logical sense, and once you accept that, you are likely to enjoy the very strange ride. It’s kind of a film that needs to be seen to be believed, and to be seen with others, so you can know that—like so many sharks swept up in the cyclone—you have shared the collective experience.

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