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PCR #286. (Vol. 6, No. 37) This edition is for the week of September 12--18, 2005.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello, gang! Lots of news and notes to catch up on, the passing of another legend and I get to share the page with one of my favorite PCR co-horts. Shall we begin?

Current Events From The World of "La Floridiana"
 by William Moriaty
"Lord of War"
 by Mike Smith
Couch Potato Fall TV Preview
 by Vinnie Blesi
U2 is Once Again Amongst the Dregs....So the Box Office is Dead, Huh?
  by Andy Lalino
Hurricane Katrina....Mother Nature...."The Brothers Grimm"
 by John Lewis
When Real Life and the Web Collide....Masters of Horror Poll....Birthday Home Boy....Bushwhaking....Laura Bush "Disgusted" at Criticism of "W"
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Don't Forget To Donate....Not A Long Time Enough....Time For Sports....Andrew, Don't Read This....It's A Conspiracy....Movie Notes....A Great One Gone....Jaws: The Story, Part 33
 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
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As I mentioned last week, I will be participating in a charity golf marathon this week. As I have chosen the American Red Cross as my charity, my company, Kansas City Power and Light, has promised to match dollar for dollar the money I raise. If you are interested, please click on the donate button. Thank you.

One of the most horrible sounding things in my record collection is a recording of William Shatner "singing" Elton John and Bernie Taupin's classic, "Rocket man." As if to rekindle those horrible memories, Shatner will sing the "Star Trek" theme on this Sunday's presentation of the 57th Annual Emmy Awards. I do remember hearing that the theme had lyrics ("Somewhere out among the stars" or something like that). Not sure if I want Captain Kirk to teach them to me. Helping out on the tune will be opera star Frederica von Stade. As if that wasn't bad enough, Donald Trump and Megan Mullally will perform the theme from "Green Acres."

A couple of notes of interest:

  • Happy to see Jerry Rice retire on his own terms last week. It pains me when athletes I admire stick around too long. I'm happy to say that I saw Willie Mays play the game, but it was an old, stumbling Mays that I remember. As much as I don't like the Dallas Cowboys I have respected many of their players. To see Tony Dorsett in the colors of the Denver Broncos was heartbreaking. Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, O.J. Simpson. These guys hung around a season too long. Enjoy your retirement, Jerry. See you at your hall of fame induction ceremony in five years.
  • Just when it seems that things can't get any worse for my beloved Baltimore Orioles comes word that the team has dismissed pitcher Sidney Ponson after his second DUI arrest this year. This comes on the heels of him having served jail time in his native Aruba this past January after he punched a judge. See ya, fat boy!
  • Recently Missouri Representative Russ Carnahan visited St Louis broadcaster Mike Shannon in the radio booth during a Cardinals game. While chatting on the air Shannon asked Carnahan how his dad was doing. Sadly, Carnahan's father, former Governor Mel Carnahan and his son, Randy, were killed in a plane crash while the Governor was running for the US Senate (his wife took his place in the campaign and won) in 2000. Hey, Mike, you should have known this. It was in all the newspapers.

    When asked about the resignation of Mike "Brownie" Brown from FEMA this week President Bush replied, "I can't comment on something that you may know more about then I do. So don't ask me again about the subject." I guess that means unless I want to know about avoiding military service or driving drunk that I've got nothing to say to the man.

    Earlier this week Louis Farrakhan told reporters that a reliable "source" told him that there was a 12 foot crater under the main levee in New Orleans, which he called proof that the government blew up the levee to wipe out the poor black population of the city. Let's see...your "source" was able to look down through 20 feet of pitch black water and see a 12 foot hole? I was wondering what Aquaman had been up to!


  • Director Bryan Singer told Variety this week that the budget for "Superman Returns" is expected to hit $250 million. WHAT?? How much can a cape cost?
  • If you want to be 1 of the 200 people that get to sit in the bleachers outside the Kodak Theatre on Oscar night, drop a line at www.oscars.org. Last year more then 21,000 people applied. Good luck.
  • Sad to report the death of Pixar story artist Joe Ranft. Ranft, 45, was killed in a car crash. Along with his artistic duties, he also provided the voices of Heimlich in "A Bug's Life" and Wheezy the Penguin in "Toy Story 2."

    Robert Wise A GREAT ONE GONE
    As I was preparing this week's rant word came that Oscar winning filmmaker Robert Wise had passed away just four days after celebrating his 91st birthday and almost 30 years to the day that his wife had died. Born in Indiana, Wise began his career at the age of 19 in the mailroom at RKO. After working his way up as an apprentice editor he caught the eye of Orson Welles and was hired to edit "Citizen Kane," which earned Wise his first Oscar nomination. He made his directing debut in 1944 with "Curse of the Cat People." Among his best work: "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," "The Andromeda Strain" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." He won four Academy Awards for directing and producing both "West Side Story" (with Jerome Robbins) and "The Sound of Music." He also received the Irving Thalberg Award. He was president of the Director's Guild of America from 1971-1975 and of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1985-1988. In 1987 he came to the rescue of a wandering Bette Davis as she tried to announce the winner of the Best Actor Oscar. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Wise and a couple of occasions and I will always cherish those few moments of conversation.

    After reading what ED Tucker has prepared on the ultimate "JAWS" rip-off, "Great White," I told Nolan that anything I added would pale in comparison so I would just say something witty and turn it over to ED. So:

    "Great White" sucks! Take it away, ED...

    Great White Hype
    By ED Tucker

    In 1975, the motion picture Jaws redefined the horror movie. Its phenomenal box office performance garnered the film a string of increasingly lackluster sequels and a slew of imitators that has only been rivaled by Star Wars. These cash-ins ranged from shark documentaries to any kind of nature on the loose concoction filmmakers could dream up. Mako: Jaws of Death, Piranha, Grizzly, Tentacles, Orca, Barracuda, and even The Car were all inspired by this monetary success and were the beginning of a new genre of “mindless killing machine” films that appeared in the first few years following Jaws release. While they had been quick to respond with the mildly entertaining, not to mention financially lucrative, giant octopus flick Tentacles, the Italian film industry would also produce a film that would go down in history as one of the most blatant rip-offs to ever actually play in movie theaters all over the world. That film was L’ Ultimo Squalo, AKA The Last Shark, or, as it was known during its two-week run in American theaters – Great White.

    Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but it can also land you in a lot of legal trouble when it extends to copyright infringement. Foreign countries have often taken a different view of the severity of plagiarism to the point that some of their film makers often recycle plots, characters, and even special effects footage from US films into their products without authorization. These companies seldom make any attempts to release their films outside of their own country so they are only subject to their own legal system. Great White would probably only be a tacky footnote in cinematic history had it not actually received a highly publicized national release in the United States that probably still has entertainment lawyers scratching their heads in confusion to this day.

    In 1980, following the success of Jaws in 1975 and Jaws 2 in 1978, Italian director Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warrior) decided to combine some of the best scenes in both films and make the ultimate Jaws movie. A US release must have been in the works from the start because he followed the game plan from Tentacles and tried to Americanize the cast as much as possible. James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) was hired to play the hero who also happens to be a shark expert and Vic Morrow (Lord this man deserved better movies) was hired to play the crusty sea captain. Morrow’s performance and character is such a dead-on copy of Quint from Jaws that you would almost swear he was channeling the spirit of the recently deceased Robert Shaw who had just died in 1978.

    If you have seen Jaws and Jaws 2 you already know 90% of the plot of Great White. A sleepy little tourist town is invaded by a giant, human hungry, great white shark right before a big event and it’s up to a couple of the local residents to stop the carnage. Along the way we get a mayor who won’t close the beaches, a buoy that gets stuck to the shark and pops out of the water whenever it is close by, and night time skinny-dipping. About the only unique elements added are that the town, Port Harbor, is supposed to be in Florida (what did we ever do to you, Italy?) and there is a sailboard race going on as part of the festivities. The film’s climax has the shark being blown up just like in Jaws but this time it happens after it chows down a character that was wearing a belt of explosives. Ironically, Universal would proceed to rip-off the ending of this rip-off for Jaws 3-D a few years later!

    For most of the film, the shark is represented by underwater stock footage that would actually look pretty good if it weren’t so dark. The “shadow shark” effect in the badly lit underwater scenes is kind of cool at first but it gets annoying fast and really cheats the payoff of the shark’s demise. As bad as this is though, nothing can compare to the “animatronic” shark head that rears its ugly self throughout the film. Aside from looking like it was borrowed from a miniature golf course, the head only rises at a 45-degree angle so every time it breaks the surface looks almost identical. The producers must have really thought they had something though because the head is afforded more screen time than it deserves. It really seems like all the heroes had to do was sit on the boat with bats and wait for the shark to eventually pop up. At least that ending would have been easier on the eyes than the murky underwater explosion.

    As obvious a bad idea as this film was, nothing is more astounding than the fact that it not only received a US theatrical release, but a heavily promoted one at that. Film Ventures International (FVI for short or Film Vultures as many in the industry have called them) apparently thought The Last Shark was their ticket to the big leagues. In 1981, a massive advertising campaign, estimated by some to be a staggering four million dollars but this is probably an inflated figure, was launched which included trailers, radio and television spots, a “pop up” full color pressbook, and no less than three different styles of movie posters. The only thing the promotions lacked was a good catch phrase like “just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies”!

    The posters for this movie are so delightfully tacky that they have risen above the film and gained a cult status of their own. The key one-sheet features a drawing of a woman on a raft from an overhead view while the head of a truly massive and cool-looking shark rises from the water directly beneath her. This obviously exaggerated take off of the original Jaws artwork from a different angle was all it took to get my fourteen-year-old butt in a seat on the opening weekend! The other two styles feature a take-off on the sunset advanced style of Jaws 2 with a hand sticking out of the water instead of a fin (similar to the cover of the pressbook) and a more educational (and less interesting) “shark facts” poster that attempts to educate the audience prior to insulting them with the film!

    Whatever the actual advertising budget was for Film Ventures, the campaign paid off better than they could have ever anticipated and ultimately to their detriment. In addition to attracting a strong audience for the film’s opening weekend (the theater I was in was packed), the promotions also attracted the attention of Universal Studios who promptly filed an injunction against the picture and had it pulled from theaters only two weeks in to a successful run! At this point it must have finally dawned on FVI that they were never going to get away with this carbon copy and the film has never seen any type of legal exhibition or release in the United States since that time.

    There are numerous cinematic imitations of Jaws that are far worse than Great White, which even manages a certain charm in its almost complete disregard for originality, but no film before or since has been such a blatant copy. The only way this film could have become established in the US is if Universal had purchased it and called it Jaws 3 (or better yet Jaws 1 + 2). Even if they were slow on the uptake in letting the film get released, Universal had better sense than to try to pass this off on the public. Oddly, watching this film again over twenty years after its aborted US release, I realized that it was really just ahead of its time for the market it needed. If the script for Great White were filmed today with a better budget and major studio involvement, it would be called Jaws and sold to the public as an updated “re-imagining” of the original in a form modern audiences could better appreciate. As long as Tim Burton had his name attached to it and Johnny Depp and Mark Wahlberg got to play the scientist and the sea captain, I am sure its financial success would be guaranteed!

    Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. Thank you Nolan, Matt and the elusive Scott Gilbert for your birthday wishes! See ya!

    "Mike's Rant" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  "Great White Hype" is ©2005 by ED Tucker.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.