Another Shark Week has come and gone, and even though the summer staple won’t hit your TVs again until August of next year, you can relive all the awkward moments of Shark Week’s biggest release in “Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarine,” now available for digital download or instant video. This is another one of Discovery Channel’s attempts to follow up on “Mermaids: The Body Found,” by releasing a pseudo-science documentary on cryptid creatures, this time a great white shark who supposedly stretches past 30 feet in length. While “Mermaids” benefited from really good production values and a semi-believable actor/scientist, “Shark of Darkness” doesn’t even attempt to make you believe- just suckers you in with the concept and then consistently insults your intelligence. It’s not even enjoyably bad, just plain bad.
I really liked “Mermaids.” You don’t watch these sorts of things for the science, but damned if it didn’t seem almost believable. Apparently, judging by the angry feedback that Discovery Channel received for weeks after the airing of the special, many people did believe it. One imagines the bigwigs at Discovery cackling behind closed doors at the gullible nature of the public. The several other mockumentaries that have been released since then were almost inevitable, including an eye-rolling “extended cut” of Mermaids. And now, here is Shark of Darkness. Where the mermaids documentary actually came up with a scientific backstory for their existence, this one doesn’t bother.
The plot is the barest of bare-bones: a group of whale-watching sightseers have their trip cut short when their boat goes down and they are systematically picked off by a huge unseen creature. Enter the scientist, who has been pursuing evidence of “Submarine” (named for his gargantuan silhouette) for years, and is determined to prove, through the footage recovered from the tourist’s video cameras, that this monster shark exists.
The special effects are abysmal. The intention was obviously to mimic “Jaws” (just like every other shark movie) by showing Submarine as little as possible, but even when he does rear his head, the only thought in my mind was that Discovery Channel really should invest in better Photoshop programs. It was a struggle to finish this special. Apparently the filmmakers thought so as well, because there never is a real ending to “Shark of Darkness.” An ending would indicate that there had been some linear storyline in the first place.
Another aspect which sinks the special early on is the consistent repeating of information. The scientist character keeps repeating himself, and all the “eyewitness” accounts say the same thing, in the same words. It’s as if they ran out of steam (and script ideas) very quickly, and made the spectacularly dumb decision to keep milking the same plot points, as if over-exposure makes them scarier. Discovery Channel has quite plainly opted against educational programs about shark conservation and understanding at this point, with over half of their Shark Week lineup comprised of mockumentaries and pseudo-science nonsense. I love a good, well-done deception as much as the next person, but at this point, it’s time for Discovery to throw in the towel and go back to doing what they used to do best: filming documentaries about the real-life sharks that inhabit the oceans.