Eagle Vs Shark Review

The Film

I recently had the misfortune of listening to a lecture from a former TV shrink and hearing the jaundiced view that New Zealanders are basically a lot like the English but without a sense of humour. It was one of many sweeping generalisations which had rubbed me up the wrong way from the speaker and my immediate response to this prejudice was to refute it through highlighting the very existence of the wonderful Flight of the Conchords. The deadpan songs and nonsense of Jemaine Clement and Brett McKenzie have recently enjoyed a radio series in the UK and a TV series courtesy of HBO, and personally they made me smirk with delight at worst and bellow with laughter at best. The success of their TV series may have been one reason why Taika Waititi's gentle comedy did so well at the US box office as it features Clement as one of its leads, but I think more likely would have been the fact that the film is funny and a welcome departure from the generic.

Eagle Vs Shark came into being because of the writer/director's affection for lead Loren Horsley's rather odd character that formed part of her stand-up performances. Her sweet awkward loner is the Shark of the film's title who loses her job at the local fast food outlet because of her lack of hipness and meets ubernerd Jarrod, a gameshop geek. She gatecrashes his costume party, lets him defeat her at streetfighter and soon love is in the air. Jarrod invites her to accompany him to his home town to meet his family and importantly witness his revenge on a bully from his school-days, only to dump her with no ride back to the city. Will the obnoxious Jarrod and the outcast Lily get it together and will revenge ever taste sweet.
Most recent romantic comedies have featured the victory of impossibly gorgeous people over inconvenience and trivia, or worse still the rather disturbing mating of well adjusted women with ugly slobs despite their failings. It is the cinematic equivalent of eugenics, that only beautiful women should be coupled and the occasional slob will be allowed if he learns how lucky he is to touch the royalty of good looks. It wasn't always this way and Eagle Vs Shark is a wonderful reminder that nerds, munters and nutters exist in the same romantic universe as the chiselled hunks and the pneumatic babes. Even better than that is the fact that there is no incredible Paulean conversion or emotional makeover that is the road to happiness, simply an acceptance that in the words of Some Like it Hot that "Nobody's perfect".

Style wise the humour in the film is very dry and character driven. Much like Wes Anderson, the characters collected in the film are a bit of an oddball oasis in the middle of the everyday. Jarrod is arrogant, he has a mullet and zero sensitivity, Lily is the world's punch bag and in la-la land, and Jarrod's family consist of a malingering father, a sister and her husband selling bad tat that QVC would turn down, and the strange rock combo of Jarrod's adolescent daughter and her adult uncle. Rather than this quaintness become annoying, as it has a habit to in Indie filmland, this is celebrated and presented naturalistically and the whole project allows the laughs to come from extensions of character rather than easy slapstick or predictable situations.

The ensemble acting is brilliant and the two leads are rather good with Horsley being very affecting and Clement keeping it funny enough to distract the viewer from his character's arrogance and stupidity. There are several very funny compositions and visual sequences such as Horsely in a giant hamster's wheel and the first kiss of the lovers in costume, but it is the dry lines and the warm observation that keep the viewer on side with these two losers and genuinely bothered about the path of their true love. Eagle Vs Shark is quirky, funny and sentimental in a good way. Its success is a sign that there's still an audience for films about real people rather than simply the rich and the beautiful.

The Disc

Optimum give the film an anamorphic transfer which is at 1.78:1 rather than the OAR of 1.85:1 and the low budget origins of the print limit what is achieveable in the visual quality here. There is plenty of print grain as you can see in the screenshots here and the transfer is sharp but lacking some detail away from the centre of the frame. The transfer looks very natural in terms of colours and contrast and it is only in the rare moments of high activity that the still image shows some motion blur. The audio comes in stereo and surround variants, and the surround is most effective in the plentiful exterior shots in giving some ambience to the setting. Otherwise the rear speakers are largely used to support the music mixed in the left and right channels with dialogue coming as it is shot, front on from the centre channel. The audio is created without distortion or hiss and pops in both options.
The disc begins with three trailers before getting to the menu which you can skip by pressing the menu button on your machine. The main feature is accompanied by a jokey commentary with the two leads and the writer/director where Horsely is very self deprecating and Waititi is playful. Clement is the most professional in commenting on the film but all three are not taking their work too seriously and their company is a welcome way of going back to the film after the first viewing. All the main cast and crew are interviewed in a feature lasting a half hour that looks like it hasn't been converted properly from a NTSC source. The director's approach to his interview in this piece is tired and very laid back and when he is interviewed on his own for a separate feature, he comes over far more learned and deep citing his influences like Wes Anderson and talking about the lure of Hollywood.

There is a short piece on the mouse wheel sequence that you see above and nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes which the director disarmingly describes on the menus as "too shit to get in the movie". They are mostly more scenes dealing with Lily's attempts to get home from Jarrod's and some darker twists on the animation included in the film. The menus are part animated using scenes from the film and with added filmed bits of the director sending himself up complete with oak panelled background and glass of scotch and this is also how he introduces the film. Trailers for this film and Flight of the Conchords complete the package


A good release for an entertaining and heartwarming film that reminds the rest of the world that romance isn't only for the beautiful or well adjusted ones. Definitely recommended.

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