For those who aren't aware, I write Lost in Translation, a column about adaptations, reboots, and remakes in the media, mainly movies. As a result, I watch a lot of movies. Unfortunately, not every movie I watch is a good one, though some are still fun to watch.
Some spoilers follow, so here comes the cut!
Recently, I reviewed Battleship. As an adaptation, it made an effort to bring in elements of the game, but it probably should've been called Space Invaders instead. As a movie, though, there were . . . problems. The movie starts well, building up expectations with the signalling of a nearby world and accidentally casting "Summon Alien Invasion", but then it loses all the energy building backstory for the screw-up hero. A half-hour of the movie's beginning is lost to elements that aren't related to the main plot of "Sink the Alien Battleship"; elements like how screwed up the hero is; how he met his fiancée, the Admiral's daughter; how his designated sacrificial mentor brother got the screw up into the Navy. The elements took the audience away from the invasion, trying to turn an action movie into something more intimate. Other elements, such as the Army Colonel who had lost both his legs below the knee leading a ragtag resistance force** against the aliens, could have sustained their own films. Battleship was frustrating to watch.
Also recently, I managed to catch an airing of Sharktopus. A SyFy Channel feature movie, which is what B-movies have become, where a genetically engineered creature one part shark and one part octopus terrorizes a Mexican coast line. There's no pretense to the movie - that's the entire plot. If you missed the beginning, you could still pick up the plot without having to know what happened already. Sharktopus is shown early and often. The first fifteen minutes of the movie demonstrates what Sharktopus can do. What can Sharktopus do? Kill people. There's a bit at the beginning about bio-engineering the hybrid monster, how it's under control (which is lost during the first fifteen minutes), characters are established through dialogue. The main hunter shows up about twenty minutes in, and all his backstory is shown, through dialogue and acting, in five minuites, including his former attachment to the daughter of Sharktopus' creator. The core cast is on screen by the end of the first half hour, including people you want to see eaten.
It doesn't seem fair, pitting a B-movie like Sharktopus against a big-budget theatrical release like Battleship, but, as pointed out above, the B-movie already has an edge in early pacing. Another edge in favour of Sharktopus is how soon the titular object appears and is in action. Sharktopus arrives in the first five minutes. The USS Missouri appears as a tourist stop and only gets into the action for the climax. Of course, Battleship refers to the board game, not the class of ship; but, one does expect battleships in a movie about the game Battleship. One also expects the line, "You sank my battleship!" to appear, too, but that's now quibbling. Again, with how the USS Missouri is used, that, too could have been its own movie: An aging relic of a previous war is called into service with her old crew to fight against an enemy that can nullify more modern vessels. (Again, frustrating. Ideas in Battleship weren't really fully exploited.)
In Battleship's favour, it had a huge budget for special effects and casting. Sharktopus looked like a CGI model, too shiny to be real. The aliens and their equipment in Battleship interacted with the setting far better. The aliens were also intelligent, though Sharktopus did show a rudimentary intelligence of its own, on par with an octopus's. Minor victories in Battleship were hard fought and hard won. The heroes didn't have to suffer intermittent equipment failure to even the playing field. In fact, it appeared as if one of the alien soldiers had moral issues with attacking the more primitive species. (Yet another element not fully explored in Battleship.) The cast in Battleship provided a higher quality of acting, with an exception***. Sharktopus's cast, mostly, were unknowns looking for breakout roles.
It's the storytelling that breaks the two apart. As I've mentioned frequently, Battleship is a heartbreaker of a movie; many amazing ideas got buried by a script that was a by-the-numbers action thriller. You could see the check boxes being marked off. Screw up redeems himself? Check. Mentor who gets killed? Check. Rivalry that needs to be worked past to succeed? Check. Pretty young blonde girlfriend? Check. Big explosions? Check. Shout out to original game? Grid calling, check. All troperiffic, mostly unneeded with the a lot of the ideas already in the script. Meanwhile, Sharktopus starts playing with audience expectations in the opening scene. A pretty young blonde in a bikini heads out to swim in the ocean. A shark fin appears behind her, where she doesn't see it. Her friend tries to warn her and, too late, the swimmer tries to return to the beach. But, just as the shark is about to have a bikini-snack, NOM! Sharktopus eats the shark! The swimmer gets to shore safely, and the next plot twist is revealed. This scene wasn't just a one-time happening. Shark movie, safest spot to be is not in the water. Except, the script writers did some research, or, at least, have seen YouTube videos of octopi, and had Sharktopus come out of the water and on to the beach for brief periods. Silly? Sure, but no one spent time with technobabble explaining it. It's part octopus, so, yes, it can walk on land on its tentacles.
That's the big difference between the two movies. Battleship plays up to expectations. Sharktopus plays with them. It's what makes Sharktopus the movie that's more fun to watch.
* Well, I watch a lot of movies and found a new thing to do with that hobby.
** Oh, the ragtag resistance force? Included the Admiral's daughter. There was enough going on to keep the audience sympathetic to the ragtag group. Tying the group to Lieutenant Screw-up wasn't really needed.
*** Rhianna. As an actress, she's a great singer. The role wasn't demanding, either, which doesn't help her. Her being in the movie was a bit of stunt casting.