“Sharkenstein”

small_1645952The art of movie making essentially is a sleight of hand trick. The filmmaker’s craft is convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real, in a limited sense. What works in filmmakers’ favor is that they only have to make what’s directly in front of the camera seem real. The movie screen creates a very thin slice of reality that only exists as light and sound. By carefully selecting the evidence and manipulating it in front of the camera, a filmmaker can make an audience believe in something, even if that belief is fleeting. For example, Steven Spielberg knew the robotic shark built for “Jaws” wouldn’t be as convincing to an audience as he had hoped. But, by carefully choosing how much of that shark to show and when, coupled with John Williams’ music, Spielberg made an entire generation scared to even dip their toes into a swimming pool.

On the other hand, “Sharkenstein” begins with a prelude set during World War II. Nazi thugs are on their way to a secret laboratory where a rogue scientist is using Dr. Frankenstein’s notes to unlock the secrets of bringing the dead back to life. These Nazis kick down the door and demand that the scientist turn over the results of his research so Hitler can use it to win the war. The scientist refuses, not so much because he’s not a Hitler fan, but because he’s in the middle of surgery and these Nazis are kind of distracting. In any event, the doctor and his assistants are gunned down in cold blood for their integrity, and the Nazis gather up whatever they can to serve the Nazi cause.

It’s very apparent that “Sharkenstein” was made with a limited budget. That’s not the filmmakers’ fault – it’s very difficult to get financing to make a movie, especially when you don’t have the support of a major studio. It’s also not the filmmakers’ fault that they may not have had access to a major studio’s costume department, where World War II-accurate uniforms would have been easier to get. These are the types of limitations every filmmaker has to work with, and even Spielberg had to work with his malfunctioning shark.

But although filmmakers can be forgiven for having limitations, that forgiveness can only go so far. The makers of “Sharkenstein” couldn’t afford to put their Nazis in period-accurate costumes, so they had to get as close as they could. That’s forgivable. Without authentic-looking combat boots for the actors, black New Balance sneakers were as close as they could get. That’s forgivable.

But as we’ve already discussed, making a movie is like playing a trick on the audience. Filmmakers can only show the audience what they want the audience to see. If it’s not within that thin slice of reality the camera carves out and presents on the screen, the audience doesn’t have to know about it. That’s why while it may be forgivable to have actors playing Nazi soldiers in World War II wear 21st century shoes, it is unforgivable to film those actors running up stairs at an angle that puts those 21st century shoes directly in front of the camera, directly in that four-cornered block of light and sound where the filmmaker presents all the evidence he or she uses to convince the audience.

To put it another way, the people who made “Sharkenstein” were challenged with limited resources. They most likely had far fewer resources than the vast majority of filmmakers even within the modern creature-feature community. What they did have, however, was the same ability Spielberg had to control what the audience could see and when they could see it. They may not have been able to afford a summer of filming on the open ocean, but they did have the ability to tilt the camera up a few inches. It is the most basic tool a filmmaker has to decide what goes in front of the camera, and the people who made “Sharkenstein” declined to use it.

Now, you might be wondering at this point if this is a lot to say about a single moment in a movie that is more than 75 minutes long. You would be right, this is a lot to say about a single shot out of the many hundreds that make up a movie. The answer for this is simple. That shot, which I have now spent hundreds of words writing about, happens within the first five minutes of “Sharkenstein,” and that’s as far as I made it into the movie before I turned it off.

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