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Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

Miramax Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/7/2008

(It may not always come across this way, but) When I write my reviews, I try to be creative and think of clever ways to talk about movies. While not trying to be too esoteric, I try to write things that other critics may not. I don't want to write anything that seems pedestrian and lazy. But, at times, these things are unavoidable. I don't want to say that Eagle vs. Shark is a New Zealand take on Napoleon Dynamite. But, if it looks like Napoleon and sounds like Napoleon, then it must be like Napoleon. And while the two movies aren't identical, there are too many similarities to ignore.

Eagle vs. Shark introduces us to Lily (Loren Horsley), a shy, awkward young woman who works at a fast-food restaurant called "Meaty Boy". She lives with her brother, Damon (Joel Tobeck). Lily has a crush on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), who works at the local video store and dines daily at Meaty Boy. Jarrod invites one of Lily's co-workers to a costume party (where attendees dress like their favorite animal) and Lily is able to invite herself. Lily arrives at the party dressed like a shark (with Damon in tow, dressed like a spider) and finds Jarrod dressed as an eagle. The highlight of the party is a video game challenge and Lily beats everyone but Jarrod (she lets him win). They then spend the night together. They see one another a few more times, before Jarrod reveals that he's returning to his hometown in order to seek vengeance on the person who bullied him as a child. Lily tags along and soon finds herself trapped in a strange town with Jarrod's odd family.

Again, I hate to harp on this point, but if you've seen Napoleon Dynamite, then you'll immediately notice the similarities between that film and Eagle vs. Shark, and it goes beyond the fact that they both focus on "nerd love". Both movies feature characters with incredibly flat affects who speak in monotones and rarely display strong emotions other than anger. They both have characters who do (bad) martial arts while wearing strange pants. Jarrod has issues with his older brother, just like Napoleon. Lily makes a cake for Jarrod, just as Pedro made a cake for Summer in Napoleon Dynamite. Jarrod's sister and brother-in-law sell things out of their home, which is very reminiscent to Uncle Rico's scheme. Even the style of photography and the minimalist music are similar.

In my opinion, the parallels are hard to ignore. But, it would be inaccurate to say that the two films are identical. Eagle vs. Shark is a much darker and bleaker film. While the viewer is simply perplexed by Napoleon Dynamite, some may feel sorry for Lily and Jarrod, as they come across as truly depressed people. There is also a lot of talk of death in this film and there are two characters who are dealing with handicaps. This dark center takes the movie to an odd place where the audience isn't sure how they should react to the bizarre material unfolding on-screen.

And for me, it was this uneven tone which hurt the picture. The movie has some funny moments, some intentional, some a result of Lily and Jarrod's awkwardness. At first, the characters just seem odd, but at certain points in the movie, they are simply unlikable. Once Lily and Jarrod reach Jarrod's town, the movie takes a turn and become somewhat nerve-wracking, as Lily begins to regret her decision. This is also the point where we learn more about Jarrod's odd and sad family. And yet, throughout this, we get scenes of Jarrod practicing his goofy martial arts. Plenty of movies have mixed dramatic subjects with comedy, but the two simply don't gel here.

The oil-and-water nature of the script doesn't dampen the spirits of the main actors though. Jemaine Clement (of HBO's Flight of the Conchords) throws himself into the role and he reminded me of a cross between David Cross and Jack Black, but with a New Zealand accent. He makes an art of playing an incredibly goofy person who is still very cocky. On the other hand, Loren Horsley is great as she plays Lily as someone who never seems comfortable. She's constantly making a gesture with her lips which suggests that she would like to say something, but doesn't know what it is. This pair create a solid core for the film and that are clearly giving it their all. If only the film hadn't been so determined to be such a whimsical dramedy. Eagle vs. Shark isn't a bad film, but the fact that it comes off as derivative and is needlessly dour at times doesn't help its case.

Eagle vs. Shark flies and/or swims onto DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the low-budget nature of this film, the transfer looks pretty good. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, especially bright yellows and reds. The landscape shots look especially good, as they have a nice depth and the green, rolling hills look great. The image does show some artifacting and whites almost glow in some shots. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven comedy, most of the audio comes from the center channel. There are some stereo effects, and crowd scenes provide some surround sound effects, as do musical cues.

The Eagle vs. Shark DVD has a small assortment of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring writer/director Taika Waititi and Loren Horsley (via telephone), and Joel Tobeck. This is a somewhat dry commentary as the group (who aren't always speaking at the same time) comment on nearly everything on-screen, but the amount of detail becomes overwhelming in some places. Waititi does a fine job of describing the production and working with the actors, but we don't get much info on what influenced the film. The DVD has 13 DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with optional commentary from Waititi and run about 13 minutes. There aren't any new subplots introduced here, these seems simply expound on ideas in the movie and fill in some of the gaps. There is a 3-minute reel of OUTTAKES. The final extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Going Fishing" by The Phoenix Foundation.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long