We at Jezebel care dearly about sharks and what their representation in media means for their populations, so it was with a vigilant eye that I watched the new movie in which Mandy Moore gets stalked by a gang of great whites. Shockingly, in terms of its built-in assumptions regarding shark behavior, 47 Meters Down (in theaters today) is more responsible than virtually any movie that came before it. Instead of a shark villain that materializes out of thin water and won’t be stopped until it gobbles up every last human, the multiple great whites depicted in 47 Meters Down are conjured by dumb-dumb humans who have more chum in their buckets than brains in their heads.
Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are sisters on vacation in Mexico who decide to go shark diving via a questionable operation with a rusty cage that two hot locals persuade them to try out. Lisa’s apprehension turns out to be entirely founded when the cable that tethers the cage to the boat breaks, and the pair plunges to the bottom of the ocean (spoiler alert: they fall to a depth of... forty-seven meters down). There, they face challenges including but not limited to the great whites that were chum-summoned so that they could be gawked at. The women are too far down to communicate with whatever sort of hands-free CB thing is outfitted on their masks a (it’s a system that apparently they don’t need their ears to hear with, as they don’t seem to be wearing earpieces and their ears are uncovered, exposed entirely to the water). Their air tanks have a limited, rapidly diminishing supply. The sharks, then, are just one of their problems and they have no means of killing them. Unlike in most shark movies, the idea isn’t to eliminate the sharks but to get the hell out of their way.
I found this movie tense and mostly on the right side of nature. Because Lisa and Kate get injured repeatedly during their ordeal (starting with the plunge to the bottom), the blood that leaks into the ocean from their bodies keeps the sharks’ appetites whetted. Though 47 Meters Down is yet another movie that’s obsessed with sharks’ alleged obsession with eating humans, at least they tried to provide biologically sound reasons as opposed to reifying the myth of mindless man-eaters most famously (and detrimentally) fostered by Jaws.
That movie, as fantastical as it was, was at least based on a true story dating back to 1916, when four people were killed by a shark or perhaps multiple sharks at the Jersey shore. In addition to multiple theories as to the amount of sharks that took part in the spate of deaths, various experts disagree on the type of shark(s) that did it—some say because the attacks occurred in both salt and fresh water, it had to be a bull shark, which is versatile like that. Others point to the great white (one was caught nearby and an autopsy found 15 pounds of human flesh in its stomach), claiming that the full moon could have raised the salinity in the fresh-water creek to make it habitable by a great white. We’ll never know, but at least this is something exciting and horrifying to disagree about for all eternity.
Most rational humans, however, could agree that you won’t find a shark of any species doing something like this:
That’s far from the worst transgression of a franchise that redefined the concept of diminishing returns by rendering it in cheap rubber and slapping gills on it. In Jaws 3, for example, the shark swims backwards:
Sharks don’t do this, as noted in the 1999 yarn Deep Blue Sea, in which genetically engineered makos do... all sorts of things (including swim backwards).
You may notice the shark has... something in its mouth in the Jaws 3 clip above. What is it? I don’t know! It also has it in one of the greatest awful movies of all time, Jaws the Revenge.
Is it a tongue? Great whites don’t have those. They have a basihyal, which is stuck to the floor of the mouth and thus can’t be flicked flirtatiously, or in this case, like an airbag. Although I guess it would be very considerate for a shark to install an airbag in its mouth to reduce impact trauma before it rips into you.
Jaws the Revenge features several astonishing violations of basic science: The great white travels from Massachusetts to the Bahamas in three days (physically impossible) to enact revenge on the Brody family (psychologically impossible) and at the movie’s climax, it stands on its tail (gravitationally impossible) on water (spiritually impossible) so that Ellen Brody can spear it with a boat, which causes it to explode. These are stills during that climax by the way:
And a button for an eyeball. Nice...figurine. Talk about not trying! Also during this climax, the shark roars:
This is really the stupidest movie ever created. I love it.
In last year’s not-quite-as-dumb-but-still-very-dumb The Shallows, the shark is afraid of jellyfish, which isn’t exactly a damaging stereotype along the lines of sharks-are-maneaters-that-must-be-pulled-out-of-the-water but still it’s factually incorrect:
Luckily sharks have thick skin, so they probably don’t even care if some people think they’re afraid of jellyfish (and in fact, their thick skin is exactly why they have no reason to be afraid of jellyfish—it makes stinging them by these means virtually impossible). Also in The Shallows, the shark stubs itself to a death that is more frequently associated with a Camel Light.
1981's Great White was an Italian exploitation production that reportedly racked up $18 million its first month in U.S. theaters before being yanked on account of its similarity to the Jaws movies. It’s really not that similar (Jaws owes way more to Moby Dick than Great White owes to Jaws). In fact, it’s far more outlandish than Jaws or Jaws 2 for featuring multiple scenes in which the shark attempts to drag humans to their death by grabbing onto a rope with its mouth. Playing with string, it seems more like a kitten than a shark:
There’s also a scene in which the shark stacks boulders to trap divers in a cavern:
Sharks just don’t have time for this shit. They have to keep it and themselves moving (literally, or they won’t be able to breathe).
I must have seen Jaws and its sequels before seeing actual footage of great whites, because I distinctly remember having the thought, “Sharks don’t... look like that,” upon watching some kind of National Geographic documentary. How dumb! It just goes to show how these monster movies about an actual animal (which we still know so little about) can warp your mind and have you believing untruths. So with that in mind as we conclude, here’s a salute to the sharks that have completely misrepresented sharks’ appearances and exposed the limitations of rubber and fiberglass:
Sharks deserve better and if we don’t start giving it to them, we deserve to be swallowed whole.