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Why Deep Blue Sea is the best shark movie of all time – Opinion - by Volunteer Giuliana Panetta

“Deep Blue Sea is one of the greatest shark movies of all time”, a controversial opinion among movie lovers, as well as shark lovers alike. It is possible that you may believe that Jaws is the best of its genre, but here is why you should consider the science-driven plot of Deep Blue Sea as more entertaining and over-all a better reflection of sharks. For science fiction lovers, it has some classic dramatic gore with a scary score and for shark lovers, it has super intelligent sharks hunting with grace and purpose. I am not sure if it was because Deep Blue Sea was the first shark movie I had ever seen as a young child, or if Jaws was made for a generation before me but this B-movie has some great attributes, not to mention the scenes of real sharks were shot in the Bahamas.

If you have not seen Deep Blue Sea, it is a late 90’s movie directed by Renny Harlin and screen written by Duncan Kennedy. Briefly, it is about genetic research of sharks at a remote marine facility with the aim of curing Alzheimer’s Disease. The lead scientists in this movie are experimenting on the brain cells of genetically modified mako sharks to reanimate dormant human brain cells affected by Alzheimer’s Disease. The issue with this seemingly humanitarian research is that the main scientists altered the brains to be larger in order to mine more tissue, resulting in smarter sharks. Inevitably, when you cage up intelligent animals in sci-fi movies, they retaliate. In this case, the sharks hunt down the staff of the three-level underwater facility one by one. It is a fast paced, gory storyline that never dulls with a cast comprising of Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Stellan Skarsgård, and Saffron Burrows.

[Photo: Deep Blue Sea. Warner Brothers Entertainment]

The reasons why I think Deep Blue Sea is one of the greatest shark movies of all time is because the sharks are portrayed as intelligent animals, the lead scientist is a woman, and there is a more interesting point to be made about human interference. Unlike most plot-driven shark movies (ie. Jaws, The Shallows, Red Water), the sharks of Deep Blue Sea have more on their mind than randomly preying on people for fun; they want freedom. As a result of the genetic engineering, the sharks have become smarter and more aware of their position in this ecosystem. Understandably, after realizing that they are caged animals in the hands of researchers, the sharks begin to systematically destroy the facility and hunt down the staff, all with the goal of flooding the station and going beyond the fence into the deep blue sea. You almost understand why they are so vengeful and by the end you are happy that the two scientists involved in crossing ethical boundaries have *SPOILER ALERT* died. I think this motivation for killing reflects rather well on the sharks and does not strike fear into your heart like other shark movies about rogue sharks with a taste for human blood does. In the real world, sharks are given a reputation of being killing machines, which is only reinforced by movies like Jaws and The Shallows where sharks have no motivation other than being monsters of the ocean. Rather, this movie shows how caging intelligent animals is harmful for their physical and mental health when you do not take the proper precautions or the welfare of the animal into account.

[Photo: Deep Blue Sea. Warner Brothers Entertainment]

One other very important impact of this movie was the lead female role played by Saffron Burrows. Dr. Susan McCallister was smart, driven, and would do anything to make waves in the scientific community. The character completely outshined the second doctor, Jim Whitlock, especially because he is the first character to die in the movie. If we ignore, just for now, the ethically wrong tampering with animals, it is clear that the research that Dr. McCallister was working towards would have actually made strides towards the cure for Alzheimer’s. Once again, if you compare Deep Blue Sea to the other notable shark movies, this is the only science-driven plot and the only one with an educated female lead. I did not realize how important this was when I first watched this movie but it is interesting to note that I, in fact, did pursue science and more specifically shark science. I am not the only one though, if you look at the current volunteers of the Bimini Biological Field Station, you will see that we are all young women of science; every one of us has, or will obtain a degree in an environmental or biological science. As women in science, it is influential to see a woman being a lead researcher achieving results in the field of shark research. Jaws just has some old men on a boat that needs to be bigger.

[Photo: Deep Blue Sea. Warner Brothers Entertainment]

Finally, the big question I am left with of this movie is not, “Can I safely get into water without getting preyed on by a shark that wants to kill me for fun?”, or, “Do I have to be worried about partaking in water activities without getting preyed on by a shark that wants to kill me for fun?”, but, “Are humans the real issue?”. This is one of the only shark movies that looks at the consequences of human interference with nature. If you consider that the reason for the sharks being genetically tampered with was because it was faster and easier to obtain the brain cells this way, it can be argued that without corporate pressure for results and profit, this would not have been needed at all. Reflecting on this small (and fictional, but regardless) example it is hard to differentiate between the need for profit influencing many global science industries today that ignore some ethical issues (ie. Big Pharma and Corporate Farming).

The scientists in this movie were driven to achieve results, and in doing so, they crossed the ethical boundaries that should be implemented in all fields of science. In this case, the results were dramatic. However, the results of any field driven by money and speed will almost always have consequences in just as extreme ways even if they are unseen right away or unseen by the public. Here, at the Shark Lab, the Principle Investigators look at the best possible ways to obtain their research without greatly impacting the lives of the rays or sharks they are studying. There is something taught to the volunteers here when learning how to handle sharks, “the wellbeing of the shark is always priority”. We learn to look for the signs of distress in both the rays and sharks we handle because what is important here are the animals. Learning how to handle here about maximizing data without compromising the wellbeing of the animals. The research here always has a purpose in learning more about these animals, which is always used for understanding, educating, and enhancing conservation and awareness of the sharks and rays here in Bimini.

[Photo: Giuliana learning how to safely handle a juvenile lemon shark - Chelle Blais]

Deep Blue Sea is one of the best shark movies because it shows sharks as animals, not monsters. It represents women in science which, is rare in media these days and that is very important to young girls deciding their futures. And by the end of this movie, you place no blame on the genetically modified makos, just on the people who trapped and tampered with them for gain without ethical consideration. The movie has everything you need in a shark horror movie; gory deaths, interesting storyline, and it scares you. However, you are not scared of sharks or water in the end, you’re scared of genetically modified sharks, and that’s acceptable.


1 Comment

Wow 🙌🏼 This is beautifully said!! I could not agree more!! If you’re ever in Chicago, let me know. we could be great friends 😎

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