The Asylum and killer sharks are like peanut butter and jelly- an American classic. And that delicious pairing continues with Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, the latest output from the studio that never quite understood the concept of “shame.” Once more, enlarged marine life emerges from the seas to threaten all mankind. Once more, common sense is thrown out the window, as the military decides the best course of action is to fight stupid with stupid and build an equally gigantic robot shark. Once more, the cast is dotted with minor celebrities trying to keep their careers afloat- this time, it’s singer Debbie Gibson and actor Christopher Judge (better known as “that dude with the thing on his head from Stargate SG-1).
Yet the biggest difference between Mecha Shark and this summer’s superhit (as far as cheap shark movies go) Sharknado, is that this time, no one really cares. A handful of news sites have tossed out the trailer for any who may be interested, but there’s no hype; no hubbub; no eager anticipation. Mecha Shark’s trailer holds a paltry 120,000 hits on Youtube, which pales in comparison to Sharknado’s 6.5 million. No contest there.
Mecha Shark’s lackluster reception isn’t the odd one out here– it’s Sharknado that bears closer scrutiny. The Asylum’s movies come and go, and they’re always regarded with a similar response, a chuckle and a “maybe I’ll watch that if it’s on the Syfy channel late at night and I have nothing better to do.” Yet people cared about Sharknado. People lined up to see it in theaters. Film sites (this one included) wrote article after article about this sudden shark-nomenon. Perhaps the most baffling result of them all is that Sharknado, a film made by The Asylum, holds an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 84%. The Asylum. It boggles the mind. A few months and a new quick-to-be-forgotten shark flick later, it may finally be time for a Sharknado postmortem.
Was it the Twitter buzz that propelled Sharknado into the public eye? Perhaps. It certainly played a part- not only was the film a massive Twitter hit, but real, honest-to-God celebrities were tweeting about the mixing of sharks and ‘nados. That had to have upped the hype levels. That’s the same kind of internet buzz that made Snakes on a Plane briefly famous, and it’s that same internet buzz that Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark sorely lacks. Yet Twitter isn’t the be all and end all of movie marketing. Pacific Rim had celebrities far more famous than Damon Lindelof (no offense to Mr. Lindelof) tweeting its good name, and that didn’t push it past third place at the box office on its opening weekend.
Was it the name? The Asylum has put out scores of shark films, yet most of them bear cumbersome titles (often with that unpleasant “versus”). Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark is a mouthful, and the cute little mega/mecha thing becomes word salad if you actually try to say it out loud. Brevity is still the soul of wit, even when dealing with Mega Sharks, and no other giant shark title captures The Asylum’s affable dumbness in as neat a package as Sharknado. Names still mean something- the initial success of Snakes on a Plane was all a product of that ridiculous title. Samuel L. Jackson admitted it: “That’s the only reason I took the job: I read the title.” And Sharknado’s reviews mention the very same thing.
From Alan Sepinwall of HitFix: “The title and premise of this one was so ludicrous that it became a draw for me and other looky-lous.”
To Scott Meeker of ThisIsInfamous: “It’s a genius title, isn’t it? It sums up the movie’s beyond ludicrous plot in three little syllables.”
To Thomas Vitale, executive vice-president for programming and original movies at SyFy (via Vulture, in what’s not technically a review but still a valid quote): “If we don’t have a good title, we’re not going to make the movie.”
Clearly, what you call a monster shark film is a big deal. But it also matters when you release it. Part of Sharknado’s sudden pop culture boom may have come from the fact that it debuted in summer, when movie anticipation is already insanely high. For the most part, these movies tend to get an autumn/winter release. Your Mega Sharks vs. Mecha Sharks, your Sharktopuses, your 2-Headed Shark Attacks– all were released from September to January. Sharknado premiered on July 11 of this year, putting it in prime position to snatch up blockbuster-hungry audiences. Mega Shark vs. Mega Shark, meanwhile, is slotted to make waves on January 28. The January-February season is often seen as a graveyard for Hollywood’s least marketable films, and a similar effect may occur even in the made-for-TV movie market. It’s also worth noting that the only other Asylum shark flick to release around this time, Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, became somewhat of a viral sensation in its own right. It may not have hit Sharknado heights, but its masterfully edited airplane attack sequence still makes the rounds every once in a while.
Ultimately, the success of Sharknado and the relative (at least for now) failures of Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark are likely a product of all these influences. There’s no better example of lightning in a bottle than this. A number of factors, none of them huge in their own right, all coming together at just the right moment to propel an Asylum film to a successful theatrical release and a bafflingly high Rotten Tomatoes score. One thing’s for certain, however- don’t expect it to happen again anytime soon. Not for Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark. And, in all likelihood, not for the uninspired-sounding Sharknado: The Second One. A true Sharknado happens but once in a lifetime.