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Way back when, The Meg was just a book (entitled Meg). A film adaptation had been rumoured, discussed, announced - and trapped in development hell. But fans of the giant prehistoric shark itself had another refuge to run to: 2002's Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.
To many, cheapo shark films may seem like a modern phenomenon, defined by unwatchable dreck like Sharknado. But Jaws knockoffs - it all comes back to Jaws - started, well, right after Jaws came out in 1975. I've written before about this particular niche of films, and the subgenre is one of my favourites. It was only a matter of time before one of these movies tackled Carcharocles megalodon, the prehistoric beast whose mammoth fossilised jaws had long been highlights of many a public aquarium.
Shark Attack 3 may sound like the climax of a trilogy, but the series barely has any internal continuity. The first film launched on video in 1999, likely hopping on the Deep Blue Sea train, and the second and third films, directed by David Worth (Kickboxer, Warrior of the Lost World, Poor Pretty Eddie) in 2001 and ‘02, are sequels more or less in name only. What they share is a low-budget sharky madness, sandwiched in between the early decades of earnest Jaws ripoffs and the more recent self-aware SyFy bullshit.
Shark Attack 3, the best-known of the trilogy, is a standalone sequel that sets itself apart in an obvious way: it's about a goddamn Megalodon. The prehistoric shark resurfaces, terrorising beachfront communities, and it's up to lifeguard Ben Carpenter and natural history expert Cat Stone to stop it. Surprisingly, Shark Attack 3 actually kind of tries to tell a somewhat plausible and earnest story. Sure, it's the same lifeguard-researcher-mayor conflict we saw back in 1975, but it's a formula that works, and it commits. It doesn't go to the insane lengths of 2004's Megalodon to justify the existence of its giant shark - there are no interdimensional portals to be seen - and aside from the presence of the Megalodon itself, the story is mostly rooted in some semblance of character. It's not great or original, but at least it isn't willfully stupid or self-aware.
The cast of Shark Attack 3 is a motley collection of actors local to the Bulgarian shooting location and tenuously familiar faces. Jenny McShane, a veteran of the first Shark Attack, appears in a completely different role to who she played in the first film, while sadly, Casper van Dien and Ernie Hudson do not return. Most recognisable among the cast is Broadway star John Barrowman, who would become a nerd hero a few years later as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who. Barrowman gets the film's greatest line, allegedly improvised as a prank then left in the film. Saying goodnight to McShane's character, Barrowman tacks on a breathtakingly forward and bizarre sentence to the end of his scripted line. It's one of the few moments that seems truly played for laughs, but it's over so quickly, cutting into the next scene almost immediately, that the audience is left wondering if they actually heard it. (No pussy-eating is seen to take place, though who knows what happens offscreen.)
Aside from Barrowman's immortal quip, Shark Attack 3 is probably best known for its heavy use of stock footage for its principal visual effects shots. Though many shots of the Megalodon underwater were accomplished with a computer-generated shark, nearly every attack sequence is made up of actual footage of sharks feeding at the water's surface - composited against scaled-down shots of victims being gobbled up. Boats get munched; jetskis drive straight into the shark's mouth; people fall overboard into its maw. Thanks to the methods used, the shark even appears to change size from shot to shot. The gleeful silliness of these scenes - viewable in many a YouTube compilation - is a major contributor to the film's sense of fun. Surely, nobody on this production thought they were creating photorealistic effects; one can only imagine the grins on the compositors’ faces as they said “fuck it” and went with the most ridiculous effects techniques imaginable.
The most remarkable and endearing quality of Shark Attack 3 comes as a result of all its components combined. Between its silly concept, foreign location and cast (with a couple token Americans in the mix), and wildly overzealous use of stock footage, Megalodon feels like nothing more than one of the classic Italian shark ripoffs - just twenty years late to the party. A classic example of a sequel shot overseas for tax or budgetary reasons, Shark Attack 3 is almost adorable as a result - and was a heavy inspiration in the development of my own addition to the cheapo shark pantheon, Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws.
Shark Attack 3 ain't a great film, or even necessarily a good film. But it is most definitely a fun film. Spin it up as an appetiser for The Meg. Or as a post-Meg digestif.
The Meg releases on August 10th in wide release. In addition, the Alamo Drafthouse and Rolling Roadshow are presenting an early screening, on the water, on August 5th. Find out more and buy your tickets right here.
This article is part of B.M.D. Guide To: SHARKS!!!