News reports of a fatal shark attack off Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the 13th over the course of this year, a significant increase, especially for this particular island. An as-of-yet unidentified man was fishing from a kayak, and his lower leg was bitten as it dangled in the water. I have visited Little Makena during the time of such an attack, and am well familiar with the combination of paradisaical beauty mixed with sudden, incisive danger that can be found there and South Pacific in general. Here are a few films that present contrasting approaches to this juxtaposition, as well as how our views toward sharks have evolved over time.
Omoo-Omoo, the Shark God (1949): a film adaptation from Herman Melville’s literary sequel to Typee, does not even feature sharks in the literal sense, although there are plenty of other inter-and intra-species battles (tiger-tiger, octopus-eel, tiger-man…). The shark-god here is an extension of mother nature, and this is an early on-screen telling of a Koyaanisqatsi-“life out of balance”-type tale more than any of the period type drama, although lead actress Devera Burton as Julie Guy has some oddly arresting moments (this is one of only two film appearances for her, and the only lead part, intriguingly).
She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958): comes in the middle of Roger Corman’s fever-dream of filmmaking, when he directed or produced 18 films within two years (and 93 over 15). The ultra-low budget film itself has a dream-like quality, as a man who has committed a crime with nebulous motives (and companions) ends up shipwrecked with his brother on a South-Sea Island inhabited only by women (stated as being in the Sulu Archipelago, but actually the Hawaiian Island of Kauai). While first disbelieving their luck (if not their new outfits), it soon becomes apparent to the brothers that the natives also serve the Shark-god. Trivia-note: the title credits song “The Nearer My Love To You” is sung by Sylvia Syms, who among many other things would much later play the Queen Mother to Helen Mirren in Stephen Frear‘s The Queen (2006).
The Voyage of the Yes (1973): Even at 40 years-old, this movie is perhaps the most intriguing of these. Desi Arnaz Jr. and Mike Evans (Lionel of All In The Family and The Jeffersons, and co-creator of Good Times) play unlikely shipmates on a journey from Marina del Rey to the Hawaiian Islands area. Arnaz, three years removed from his Brady Bunch appearance, is great here, right on from presaging Dennis Wilson diving next to his docked yacht in the del Rey marina (and was Christian Bale watching later, by chance?). The film starts off with a great rendition of “El Condor Pasa” with Paul Simon’s lyrics, a folksy arrangement that segues into funk (both Arnaz and Evans reprise the song on acoustic over the course of the journey). Both leads also rock a Gale Sayers jersey, and there is an interesting mouth-to-mouth ‘resuscitation’ scene. Throw in brief but classic cameos by Skip Homeier (Star Trek), Scoey Mitchell (Rhoda), Della Reese (Tonight Show, Chico and the Man, etc), Steve Franken (Westworld) and Barbara Garland (My Three Sons, Airport ’75) and you have a highly watchable film. Yet the main plot twists on a surprise attack from a shark, in circumstances very real and mundane, just like we are witnessing now.
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