MGM. Director: Stuart Gillard.
Creature Feature Bleacher Award: Longest.
Fair warning to anyone who attempts to watch “Creature” in one sitting: this movie began life as a made-for-TV mini-series. At an unwarranted 173 minutes (trimmed down from its 240 minute television length), the film quite simply exceeds the human capacity to handle mind-numbing sharksploitation. You may wish to spread out your viewing over several nights, pausing the movie every few minutes to watch a commercial. I don’t know if that will help, but I can say for certain that watching the whole thing in one swoop is a task that even professionals shy from. Though based on a book by “Jaws” novelist Peter Benchley, “Creature” bites.
In 1972, the Navy conducts experiments to create the ultimate animal-weapon for use in Vietnam: a shark-dolphin hybrid. When one of the other experiments almost breaks free, a young Naval lieutenant (Giancarlo Esposito) tows it out to sea, dumping its cage to the ocean floor. Fast-forward 25 years, and Dr. Simon Chase (Craig T. Nelson) has rented the same remote island lab in order to conduct experiments concerning sharks and cancer. Chase’s relentless quest for a cure has alienated him from the other islanders, his ex-wife Dr. Amanda Mayson (Kim Cattrall) and even his son. When a mysterious shark-like creature attacks, however, Chase and his family must work together to uncover the 25 year-old mystery of the creature of Shark’s Tooth Island.
Unlike most sharksploitation heroes, Chase strongly advocates for the protection of sharks. As characters of 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea” would point out a year later, Chase notes that sharks don’t get cancer or Alzheimer’s. He greatly cares about sharks and their potential medical uses. At one point he even frees a pregnant great white from a fishing line as the fisherman watches. I can’t help but wonder if Chase’s empathy for sharks is Peter Benchley’s way of compensating for all the ill-will he generated towards sharks with “Jaws.” If so, I’m afraid it is too little, too late. With “Jaws,” Benchley gave birth to an entire genre of shark-killing mayhem. With “Creature,” however, he simply laid an egg.
That being said, Benchley did a good job of not recycling old material. In “Creature,” the authorities want to take action against the shark, but the protagonist wants to keep it a secret. Unlike poor Chief Brody defending Amity Island almost by himself, Chase brings in Navy SEALS with a phone call. The creature also gets a fully-explained back story, unlike the killer shark from “Jaws.” The only direct repetition from “Jaws” is that Chase’s enemy Puckett (Michael Reilly Burke), an unscrupulous fisherman, attempts to pass off an innocent dead shark as the killer in hopes of a reward.
Around the second hour of “Creature” you will begin to wonder, “Just how long is this thing???” At the point where most movies would reach a climax and resolution, “Creature” decides to dole out award-winning moments. I swear, nearly every character in this film gets his or her own heart-felt monologue. The chief of police, Chase’s assistant, Chase’s son, even the gosh-darned seal gets a dramatic scene!
Yes, characterization is often a weak point in sharksploitation films, but there’s a time for everything, and that time is not when I’m already about to shut off the TV out of boredom! Perhaps the pacing worked better when “Creature” was a TV mini-series, but as a movie, it stinks.
Since I can’t find a trailer for “Creature” (1998), you’ll have to make do with the one for “Creature” (1985):
“Creature” is available on Amazon.