Avast, mateys! It’s me, Cap’n Klute (Editor’s note: Not a real captain!), back from diving with the sharks of Fiji’s Beqa Lagoon and Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay (True Shark Fact: In Vegas, there are two things you can’t touch: the strippers, and the sharks).
I’m back for another Summer of Sharks, I’d like to thank Nerdvana for asking me to review Hollywood’s latest attempt to get under the collective skin of shark scientists everywhere.
It should go without saying that the Sharks of Hollywood do not act like the Sharks of Planet Earth, and the sharks of 47 Meters Down are no exception. Having been on two expeditions to Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe, I can say with some certainty that great whites are cautious, inquisitive animals, and I’d say it’s almost statistically impossible that the scenario that plays out in the movie would ever play out in real life.
This is “Jaws goes to the Fyre Festival”, and where Hooper has a Woods Hole oceanographic team to prep his dive, we have uncertified partygoers taking their first dive and digital cameras, and instead listening to the tale of the USS Indianapolis, the question is asked: “Does my butt look good at least?” What can goes wrong, does go wrong, and at any moment I was expecting Ja Rule to send out a tweet stating that what happened aboard the shark diving boat Sea Esta (die, bad ocean pun, die!) was NOT HIS FAULT.
And as a shark diver, it’s not that I haven’t thought about what would happen if things go wrong. Submersible shark cages like the ones featured in the movie, are suspended by a single steel cable and at least at Isla Guadalupe, you’re at about 40 feet down (or 13 meters, since the movie wants to get all “metric” with us), with the a blue abyss of 150 feet (or 50 meters, because again, metric) to the sea floor beneath you. And you’re covered in about 50 lbs (22 kg) of weight to keep you from floating around the cage. Every cage diver has thought at least once: “What if?”
And this movie explores that scenario to terrifying effect. Now, let me be clear, if you know the science of diving, you’ll understand that our heroines (Mandy Moore’s Lisa and Claire Holt’s Kate) would have died 4 times over before the sharks even got into the picture, so this movie is emphatically not a lesson on the science of diving. I saw the movie with my friend and fellow shark diver Mark, and we ticked off some of the problems that would have killed them before we see tooth one (and these are no spoilers – you already know from the movie poster that they’re 47 METERS DOWN): hypothermia, hypercapnia, equalization issues, crush injuries etc. Having said that, the claustrophobia and isolation portrayed in the film are pretty effective.
What’s less effective is the cast. Moore and Holt seem like BFFs rather than sisters, and until the back 1/3 of the movie, Mandy Moore exists primarily to hyperventilate and cry out “I’m so scared!”. The other characters are basically there to advance the plot, act smarmy, and generally be useless. Plot devices are introduced, then completely forgotten and never explained. The movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with Matthew Modine’s character. Is he a hero, villain, or just incompetent? The audience to laughed at times I think the director may have been going for tension.
Which begs the ultimate question: Is it good film? Is it worth your time? Well…
Look, as a shark conservationist, I’m almost always disappointed with the bad rap that sharks get in cinema, and this doesn’t do anything to change that rap. The sharks in the movie are bloodthirsty killers that do not act like sharks but rather like jump scares writ large. Compared with last summer’s The Shallows, which made you care about Blake Lively’s besieged surfer AND also gave the shark a plausible reason for being so aggressive, this movie jumps from scare to scare, ratcheting up the tension to ridiculous levels (hence the audience laughter). Sharks deserve, and need better than this. Let’s see a movie where a team of adventuring scientists take on a group of shark poachers. You could Bay-splosion the hell out of that, Hollywood.
“47 Meters Down”? If you see it as just a popcorn movie, and fully understand that Sharks Don’t Do That, it’s not terrible. Serious props to Mandy Moore and Claire Holt (and their stunt doubles) for what had to be a strenuous filming process. There are moments of palpable tension and it’s got a unique premise, and it’s way better than Shark Night, Jaws 3-D, and Jaws: The Revenge (which I know isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but hey, could be worse). Do a shark mitzvah as penance afterwards – donate to a shark conservation group (I recommend either Fins Attached or Shark Angels) and skip that unsustainable seafood meal.
And emphatically don’t let this film turn you off SCUBA and/or cage diving. There’s a while blue eternal out there waiting for you to explore.
On July 8 at Shark-Con in Tampa, FL, I will be releasing a brand new collection of poems, essays, and art called “Cap’n Klute’s Ocean Almanac, Vol. 44 #2”! It’s probably the most ambitious project I’ve ever embarked on. It’s a collection of some of the essays and poetry, and I’ve commissioned a whole bunch of illustrations and drawings from some of Arizona’s top talent to present the work in a way you’ve never seen before. I’m really excited.
And to sweeten the deal, I’m including an exclusive book-only essay on tiki bar culture and sharks! The essay also includes two drink recipes I’ve created, the Blue Guadalupe and the Waidroka Angel, and if you come to Shark-Con you can buy tiki mugs to serve those drink recipes in (note: that tiki in the picture is not what I’m selling, that’s one from my private collection).
And all the profits are donated to shark conservation! Your purchases help fund shark research around the globe!
And you, the Nerdvana reader, can get it before anyone else! Just send $20.00 to firstname.lastname@example.org via PayPal with your mailing address, and you’ll have it before anyone else!