I have written in brief about this film before on the site. This review was intended to be the first in a series of monthly posts on Australian horror films. That didn’t work out for a number of reasons, so I thought I would share this full review here. Enjoy.
Us Australians, we know animals that can kill you. Last week, I found a deadly redback spider living above the desk I am writing at right now. We have crocodiles, box jellyfish, innumerable deadly species of snakes, spiders, even generally placid chaps such as octopus or even frickin shells come packing a deadly dose of venom in Australia. People have even been killed by native tourist magnets such as kangaroos and cassowaries. It’s not all bad though. This proliferation of murderous beasts means there is plenty of fodder for rad horror films.
If you ask an Australian which deadly local they fear the most, nine times out of ten, the answer will be sharks. All of the above mentioned animals are pretty easy to avoid really. However given the incredible quality of our beaches, we are lovers of swimming in the ocean. And once you are in the ocean, you are in a shark’s domain. Every year there are, I would guess, three to five instances of people getting taken whilst swimming or surfing on our beaches. So sharks scare us a lot. Which part of what makes The Reef (2010) so freaking successful as a horror film.
The masterstroke of The Reef is that rather than CGI, the film relies on genuine shark footage and some of the finest editing you are ever likely to see in a horror film to have you swearing off a dip in the ocean forever. There are a couple of special effects shots and they actually don’t work well at all. What does work well are the seamless shots of real sharks edited against the shots of the actors. Or occasionally the shots are composites of some description, where you will see an actor treading water, their arm of leg coming into the frame, as the giant shark approaches.
Like director Andrew Traucki’s first film Black Water, The Reef is (loosely) based on a true story. The film sees a boat capsize, leaving the five people on board to choose between swimming for a nearby island or taking their chances staying with the boat. In the end, four of them opt to swim for it. And then the shark shows up and delightful carnage ensues. There are some definite dramatic failings in this early section of the film. Some of the dialogue feels a little forced, as does a rekindled romance. Also, the fact they even end up in the predicament in the first place relies on some woefully inept sailing by supposed professionals. But once the shark shows up and that masterful editing and slick shooting starts flying about, you will forget all about the earlier dramatic flaws.
If you intend on watching the film, do your absolute best to do so in HD. The blu-ray copy I watched was almost popping off the screen it looked so sharp. The incredible blue of the vast ocean expanses are a stark contrast to the chilling goings on in the water. Along with the editing, another stylistic choice that ramps up the tension is the repeated use of underwater point of view shots. As the main character looks out, you can sense the audience straining to see in the blue murk for a glimpse of the massive shark that is stalking them.
Of course you cannot talk about a shark film without discussing Jaws (1975). The standard approach is to state how the film is no patch on Spielberg’s masterpiece or if you want to praise one element of the film in question, mention how it nears the brilliance of that aspect of Jaws. The Reef is nowhere near as good a film as Jaws, which is close to Spielberg’s finest film. But The Reef is scarier. This film will make you genuinely fearful about going in the ocean and it definitely had that effect on me the first time I watched it. If you haven’t seen it, get on it.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
We lost another good one today. Richard Kiel, most famous for playing Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), passed away today aged 74.
This is quite a different loss to those of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. Hoffman was already one of the greatest actors of all time and we were looking forward to a couple of decades more worth of mind numbingly good acting performances. Williams was a once in a generation comedic force who brought incredible joy to so many lives and literally helped to shape childhoods like mine. But the death of Kiel affected me in a different way, as I tweeted about when I heard the news.
Just cause he was no Phillip Seymour Hoffman, does not mean Kiel was not a wonderful performer. He definitely was. And those talents of his, combined with some huge metal chompers, were a gateway for me into a life filled with appreciation for film. I might have come to this point in the end anyways. But for me, it was Richard Kiel as Jaws that brought me here, writing this little piece for you guys.
Mission Dossier: The Spy Who Loved Me
The Year: 1977
The Director: Lewis Gilbert
The Bond: Roger Moore
The Girl: Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova, the Soviets’ best agent.
The Baddie: Karl Stromberg, along with that coolest of all henchmen, Jaws.
The Spy Who Loved Me sees the finest spies from either side of the East/West ideological divide go head to head. On the Pommy side is our very own James Bond, whilst on the Russian side is Anya Amasova, otherwise known as Agent Triple X.
The film opens with one of the Brits’ nuclear submarines getting into trouble and going missing. In a really clever end to this little sequence, one of the sailors looks into the periscope and simply mutters “oh my God”, without revealing to the audience what they have seen. As a result of the disappearance, James Bond is dispatched to Egypt to establish what is happening. It turns out that the security of the British network of nuclear subs has been compromised. This sees the Russians enter proceedings. First as adversaries and then quite quickly as allies against the unknown enemy. There is so much scope for really clever things to be done with Bond and Amasova sparring with each other. Initially, the subjugation of and condescension toward the Russian are frustrating. Bond easily gets the upper hand, for the mere fact that he is a male. The filmmakers seemingly want us to forget that Amasova is the USSR’s finest spy, surely she would have a fair fight to put up, even against the great James Bond. Gradually though the filmmakers get to grips a little with the great opportunity they have on their hands and they do something rather clever. Amasova appears to fall easily to 007’s sexual charms which had me up in arms. But really, she is playing Bond and in fact utilises her seducing charms to get a big one-up on him. His smugness, believing that no woman on earth can resist his charms, comes back to bite him on the arse bigtime. So that was a nice moment, but the film is a mixture of doing the premise justice and coming up short. Most disappointingly, despite touching on it briefly, the film does not examine in great detail the ideological divide the two when they become allies and eventually lovers, which if done well could have really made the film really stand out from the Bond crowd.
The main villain of the film is Karl Stromberg, whose goal is the slightly Nazi-esque idea of killing off most of society so that he can create a new undersea utopia. Unfortunately though Stromberg is not a very strong villain, actually one of the more forgettable ones in the Bond films. As sheerly forgettable as Stromberg is, the film introduces the only henchman to go any where near matching Oddjob’s popularity in the series – Jaws. Seeing Jaws in Moonraker was one of the things that made me fall in love with the Bond films as a child. And even today, he is such a fantastic character. Richard Kiel is a huge dude, and conveys a lot through his physicality. Plus he has deadly metal teeth so that is pretty darn cool. Fully kitted out gadget laden cars have not really featured in the series so far except for Goldfinger. So it is great to see one of my favourite of all the Bond cars here, the Lotus Esprit submarine car. The car is awesome, on land it seems lightning quick and when it gets wet, it turns into a sub which comes in rather handy.
This is the best of the Roger Moore films thus far. I can’t help feeling that a little more could have been done with the phenomenal premise involving these two spies. But there are some fine moments and definitely a fine car. Plus for me, any Bond film featuring Jaws is a Bond film well worth seeing.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
- Thunderball (1965)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Dr No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- The Spy who Loved Me (1977)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Diamonds are Forever (1971)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
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