Monday night, the Discovery Channel started its annual Shark Week promotion, which gives them a reason to air a whole week’s worth of programming around those vicious killers that Hooper warned us about in Jaws and we have been fearing ever since.
Shark Week is popular because it gives us a reason to stare evil in the face. Frankly, it gives me more reason to stay out of the ocean. And on Monday night, I got an even bigger reason. I found out that there weren’t just regular sharks out there to worry about. I found out that it’s even more dangerous to go back into the water when I watched “Megalodon: The Giant Shark Lives”.
My wife and I were glued to the television from the start, which showed a family videotaping their boating expedition. There is fishing and high seas fun on this nice luxury yacht. Everyone is having a great time when something huge hits the boat. The camera drops and from there on were just screams and out-of-focus jostling about. It was chilling, and frankly, I was a bit disturbed that this was being shown on television. I was even more disturbed that they kept showing it again and again throughout.
Then we meet two scientists; and for the purposes of this article and my sheer ignorance, I will call them the names of people they look like: Chris O’Dowd and Michael Chiklis. They were the Mulder and Scully of this feature. Chris knew the truth was out there and Michael wanted to believe, but wanted hard evidence. And throughout their many on-camera interviews, we are reminded of this.
The Megalodon itself really is a giant shark. We see a photo from WWII where a large fin is seen near a German U-boat and from that, Chris and Michael estimate that the shark is probably just as long as the boat it is lurking near. We see another photo of a whale being taken down, days after the fishing boat attack. We never actually see the shark, and Chris and Michael debate back and forth on the merits of this evidence. All we see are shadows. And these shadows are BIG.
All the evidence and debate over said evidence filled the first hour. When the second hour started, we were treated to an adventure. Chris, Michael and their partner Marion Cotillard (or someone who looked like her) embark on a voyage along whale migration routes to lure the Megalodon to show itself. They do this by building a lifesize whale replica, made by Hollywood propmasters and dragging it behind the large boat that they are in. Not only that, but they amplify the sounds of a dying whale under the water to tempt the Megalodon. But what were most impressive were the chum cannons.
On the boat, Quint (not really Quint) and another salt of the ocean guy, had loaded thousands of gallons of chum and once they were out where the luxury yacht met its final stop on the booze cruise, the fishermen started to shoot this chum out into the ocean. Chris O’Dowd tells us that this is the largest amount of chum dropped ever. They are planning on luring a ton of sharks to this area. But they are hoping that between the fake whale and the chum, that the Megalodon will show its ugly face.
At this point, I started thinking that The Discovery Channel has got to be banking a lot on this shark hunt to get results. I couldn’t imagine how much money it took to build the whale prop and put this crew on the water. There was so much chum that they painted the ocean red for about a mile radius! I didn’t expect them to find the Megalodon, because I was certain that would be big news and I would have heard about it by now. But I was interested in seeing how this all turned out.
At the end, we get a near fatal brush with what might have been the Megalodon. Michael Chiklis and Marion Cotillard are nearly killed in a shark cage, but the pretty French marine biologist gets off a tracker on the beast. Back on the boat, Team Megalodon watches the tracker go over 6,000 feet deep into the ocean. According to them, sharks only go as deep as 3,000 feet. As the signal for the tracker blips out of existence, we go to credits. My wife, who had been fighting sleepiness to see how this ended, and I were left with a creepy feeling as Chris O’Dowd reaffirms his belief in the closing narration that the Megalodon is real and it’s out there.
Scary, right? I know I was happy to not live near an ocean and swore to my wife that I was never going in one again. I might not even want to go on a boat that wasn’t at least a cruiseliner. It would be just my luck that the world finally got its proof that Megalodon exists from a picture I took on my phone found by Chris O’Dowd after a fatal whale watch. I try to avoid as any entanglements with the unknown as possible, thank you.
So even as I recapped the events of “Megalodon: The Giant Shark Lives” just now, I can’t believe I fell for such an outrageous hoax. That’s right. If you haven’t figured it out by now, what I described was actually a mockumentary. For some reason, The Discovery Channel decided to fool its viewers. Apparently they did this before with a couple of mermaid mockumentaries. And they aired disclaimers three times during this broadcast. They read:
“None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.”
See, that says to me that this documentary is controversial and The Discovery Channel isn’t exactly standing by the theories proposed as facts. But still, I am actually more upset at myself. The main guy looked like he stepped off a Hollywood set. The eerie shadows looked computer generated. The main fisherman was a hilariously stereotypical Quint wannabe. The footage from the yacht looked like a typical found footage horror film. And come on! How preposterous would it be to construct a whale prop to lure a mythological shark? These were thoughts I had while watching this and yet I still swallowed this fish story! I want to bash my head off my keyboard for being so gullible.
I am not the only one either. Star Trek’s own Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton, has called for an apology from The Discovery Channel in his popular blog. Since this drew the highest ratings this channel has ever received, there may be a lot of people feeling as foolish as me. But, as much as this may tarnish the channel’s reputation for delivering reality programming, I actually appreciate the experience. Megalodon is certainly no War of the Worlds, and hoaxes like that one can lead to mass panic. Megalodon was a harmless trick and the kind that really teaches you to think critically about what you are watching. Believe it or not, television actually doesn’t tell the truth all the time – especially “reality” programs. So good one, Discovery Channel. You got me.