Last Sunday night saw the premiere of Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens!
For the fourth year in a row, SyFy and the Asylum allowed us to take a peak into the shark-filled life of Finn Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his family. Also for the fourth year in a row, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film was practically a national holiday. Long before the film even started, #Sharknado4 was the number one trending topic on twitter. I actually live tweeted the film twice, once for the east coast and then a second time for my friends on the west coast. That’s right — I sent out over 300 tweets about Sharknado 4 on Sunday and I’ve never been more proud of myself. Live tweeting the latest Sharknado is a lot like wishing someone you barely know a happy birthday on Facebook. It’s a part of the ritual of social media. It’s like the Internet’s version of a Thanksgiving parade or a 4th of July fireworks show.
After four films, it’s easy to forget that Sharknado started out like almost any other SyFy film. The first Sharknado film featured no celebrity cameos and very little of the self-referential comedy that has come to define the series. In fact, I didn’t even see Sharknado when it first aired because it premiered, opposite a Big Brother eviction show, on a Thursday. It was only on Friday morning that I discovered that Sharknado had become a phenomena, largely due to the fact that celebrities like Mia Farrow had decided to live tweet it.
After all this time, it’s easy to forget just how much we veteran live tweeters resented that attention that was paid to celebrities like Farrow, the majority of whom were virgins as far as live tweeting SyFy was concerned. (The fact that the majority of Farrow’s Sharknado tweets weren’t that good only added insult to injury.) The media acted as if those celebs had invented live tweeting. They also acted as if Sharknado was the first entertaining and over-the-top film to ever premiere on SyFy. Among those of us who had been live tweeting SyFy film long before the premiere of Sharknado and who had loved pre-Sharknado movies like Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Shark Week, there was more than a little resentment.
But you know what? I watched Sharknado the following Saturday and I had a great time live tweeting it. The next year, I made sure to watch and live tweet Sharknado 2 the night that it premiered. The same was true of Sharknado 3 and I even ended up casting a vote on the question of whether or not April should survive that film’s cliffhanger. With its cheerful absurdity and determination to continually top the glorious absurdity of each previous entry, the Sharknado franchise won me over. In fact, the franchise won over not only me but hundreds of thousands of other viewers. Sharknado has become very much a part of our culture.
As I mentioned above, Sharknado 3 ended with a cliffhanger and that alone indicates just how big a deal Sharknado has become. Sharknado 2 was made because the first Sharknado was an unexpected success. Sharknado 3 followed because Sharknado 2 had proven that the first one was not a fluke and that there was an audience for these films. However, by the time 3 was in production, there was never any doubt that there would be a Sharknado 4. Sharknado 4 also ends with a rather abrupt cliffhanger, leaving little doubt that there will be a Sharknado 5. At this point, not doing another Sharknado film would be the same as canceling summer all together.
As for what Sharknado 4 was about … well, does it really matter? At this point, we know that there’s going to be another sharknado and that Finn is just going to happen to be nearby when it strikes. We know that landmarks will be destroyed (in this case, Las Vegas is thoroughly ravaged during the film’s first 30 minutes). We know that Al Roker will show up and say stuff like, “There are reports of a Lightningnado near Kansas…” (Both Roker and Natalie Morales apparently survived being attacked by sharks during Sharknado 3, though Morales does have an eyepatch in 4. Matt Lauer is nowhere to be seen so I assume he wasn’t as lucky.) We know that celebrities will appear in a cameos and that the majority of them will be promptly eaten by a flying shark. We know that Finn and his family will eventually have to use a chainsaw to battle the sharks and we know that at least one person will be rescued from the inside of a shark’s stomach.
We don’t really watch a movie a like Sharknado 4 for the plot. We watch it for the communal experience. Last Sunday was Sharknado Day and it seems like the entire world was on twitter, talking about Sharknado 4. The majority of us weren’t tweeting about the plot. Instead, we were acknowledging that we had picked up on the in-jokes and the references to other films. When April (Tara Reid) showed up alive and was revealed to now by a cyborg, many references were made to the Terminator — both in the film and on twitter. When we learned that David Hasselhoff has been rescued from the moon, it was time to make jokes about The Martian. When it was announced that a sharknado was headed towards Kansas, I made a Wizard of Oz joke on twitter. Three minutes later, in the movie, a house fell on a character who could charitably be called a witch. We briefly got a shot of her feet sticking out from under the house.
(I should also mention that Gary Busey shows up, playing a mad scientist. The fact that Sharknado 4 could find prominent roles for both the Hoff and the Busey says a lot about what makes this franchise so endearingly entertaining. Considering that Penn Jillette was in Sharknado 3, you have to wonder if the franchise will eventually feature every single person who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice. Who doesn’t want to see a flying shark bite off Piers Morgan’s head?)
(Actually, as long as I’m mentioning stuff — here’s my favorite inside joke. Finn and his family are driving through North Texas. Just judging by the hills and the mountains in the background, this scene was not actually filmed in Texas. Anyway, they stop off at a general store where Dog Chapman — the bounty hunter — sells them a chainsaw. When the sharks attack Texas, a chainsaw-wielding army is waiting for them. Among that army is Caroline Williams, who starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. On the one hand, everyone viewing will immediately get the chainsaw joke. But only the dedicated horror fans will truly understand why it’s so brilliant that Caroline Williams was credited as playing a character named Stretch.)
At this point, the Sharknado franchise is no longer just a series of films. Instead, it’s a deliriously over-the-top experience. In these times of partisan rancor, it briefly did not matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. For two hours on Sunday night, if you were watching and live tweeting Sharkando 4, you were a part of a gigantic family, a community of people with an appreciation for over the top silliness. Sharknado 4 brought this country together.
That’s not bad for a film about a bunch of flying sharks.
If you missed Sharknado 4 the first time, catch it when it’s shown again. Just make sure that you watch it with a friend, someone who you can trust to make you laugh.
And, for God’s sake, enjoy yourself!
Life’s too short not to enjoy a Sharknado film!