"Sharktopus" is the "Inception" of giant monster moviesS

Tomorrow night, at last, you'll be able to witness the glory that is Syfy original movie Sharktopus. We've seen it, and now I understand why this CGI monstrosity represents (awesomely) the end of culture as we know it.

Shark + octopus + cybernetic implants + knives

I don't want to bore or spoil you with fiddly little things like plot details, but Sharktopus actually does have a narrative structure of sorts and it's only right that we at least make an attempt to follow it. Eric Roberts is a bad guy who makes hybrid cyborg war machines (like Sharktopus) for bad government people. His only soft spot is for his daughter the scientist, who can remote-control Sharktopus with a joystick. Roberts is always massaging his daughter's shoulders while they're at work - he's like sexual harassment guy, but it's OK because he's Just Dad.

So Sharktopus is supposed to be out on a remote controlled zoom near Puerto Vallarta when suddenly he figures out how to pull out all his cyber-implants! Now he's eating a bunch of people!

The scientist and some tough guys have to track Sharktopus down, while we gleefully watch him eat tourists doing all the annoying things they do in Vallarta (zip lines, bungee jumping, parasailing, and so on). As all this happens, he grows bigger and shinier until he looks like he's made out of plastic. Also, for some reason, his tentacles end in knives. Which makes this movie sort of the opposite of tentacle porn.

My point is that on its surface, Sharktopus is a standard weekend monster movie. And yet it's already become an internet meme and minor sensation. That can't just be because of the knives and massages.

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Friendly irony

Sharktopus is part of a new wave of friendly irony that comes after emo snark, and long after the knee-jerk depression irony of the 1990s. Syfy is playing this up by airing ads that highlight the silliness of the monster, and that encourage meme-production by suggesting other weird animal combinations. And after suffering through an exhausting two decades of irony that's supposed to make us think, or make us angry or grumpy, who doesn't want Sharktopus' simple watch-me-and-mock formula? You can experience this flick as a guilty pleasure without feeling like you're a bad person for laughing at Eli Roth's torture porn or guffawing at Cold War racism in pretty much any 1980s movie you care to name.

Sharktopus represents both your guilt, and the assuaging of it, all in one tasty morsel.

The end of narrative as we know it

You may think this movie is only operating on two levels: Stuff that happens, and us laughing (in a friendly way) at the absurdity of stuff that happens. But I'm here to tell you that there's a third level, and maybe a fourth. In fact, this movie is levels all the way down.

Just check out this spot that B-movie mega-producer Roger Corman did for Sharktopus, in which he pretends that the monster is a real person and the movie is actually a documentary. Whoa: We are getting into serious meta territory here. Already the movie is an ironic pastiche of other monster movies (many of them probably created by Roger Corman), and now it's also being framed as a documentary critique of the Hollywood star system that allows monstrous actors to attack the media which (IRONICALLY) creates those stars' reputation in the first place?

Looked at from this angle, the atrocious CGI in this movie is revealed as another device to force us to think about how movies are put together on a technical level. As Sharktopus becomes bigger, then smaller, shiny and then spiny, we marvel at the constructedness of the movie we're watching. And then we cannot help but contemplate the constructedness of reality itself.

How many levels is that? I don't know, but clearly this is a movie that not only wants to make fun of itself, but also the entire enterprise of making movies in the first place. And that's why Sharktopus is the Inception of giant monster movies.