Baywatch, Cast Away and Wonder Woman: Beaches on Film

SUMMER may be over, but that does not mean we should stop dreaming of the beach.

Luckily the cinema, many people’s trusted place for escapism, takes us to there on a regular basis –  and for a diverse set of reasons.

Baywatchnow out on DVD, Download and Blu-ray – shows the beach as a place for beautiful and well-formed lifeguards to joke, flirt, save lives, chase drug lords and, most importantly, run in slow-motion.  That being said, even more iconic slow-mo beach running occurs in training montage to both Rocky III (1982) and Chariots of Fire (1981).

There is a more overt fixation on scantily clad beach bodies in sex comedy The Beach Girls (1982).  Here the beach – or the beach house – is a space to let loose and engage in some carnivalesque activity. Ducky (Jeana Tomasina) and Ginger (Val Kline) even manage to tempt the virginial Sarah (Debra Blee) into joining in with the wild partying.

The ‘80s also gave us Hardbodies (1984), a sex comedy about three middle aged men trying to pick up women at the beach.  Mark Griffiths’ movie opens with the pop sounds of The Kraks and an abundance of bikini wearing women being ogled by a posse of men.

A mass of naked and out-of-control bodies party on the beach to give an unapologetically lurid welcome to Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012). This slick and deceptively clever tale of four college girls on spring break soon morphs into a neon-lit, beach noir with creeping elements of horror.

Filmmakers have often subverted the holiday comfort of the beach and turned it into a destination we might want to fear. In The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) and The Horror of the Party Beach (1964) creatures emerge from the water to terrorise unsuspecting partiers.

There are mysterious forces haunting beach-goers in Long Weekend (1978) and Psycho Beach Party (2000) – a genre-blending parody which stars a young Amy Adams.

Vengeful murders reek bloody havoc in Nightmare Beach (1988) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). While the sand, usually just a slightly irritating inanimate object, becomes the hard-to-escape killer in Blood Beach (1981) and The Sand (2015).

Ever since Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster hit Jaws (1975), beach-goers have cast wary eyes to the water in search of ominous fins.

Recently, Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows (2016) delivered a stylish and fun take on the shark film, as surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) gets stranded on a rock off-shore after suffering a gruesome injury. To survive, Nancy must out-smart the gigantic shark stalking her and reach the sanctity of the remote beach – which also holds great sentimental value to her.

The sand provides no respite from sharks in Mark Atkins’ Sand Sharks (2011). Starring Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife Lynda, this flick sees sharks capitalise on an earthquake and defy science to swim through sand to attack those on the beach.

Before Jaws made sharks fashionable, Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978) saw bloody-thirsty mutant fish cause commotion in the water. Five years ago, this horror flick was remade in 3D, with a cast featuring Adam Scott, Kelly Brook and Christopher Lloyd.

Horror on the beach has also been experienced in war films. Twenty three years on from Jaws, Spielberg returned to the beach to shoot his visceral and unforgettable Omaha beach opening to Saving Private Ryan (1998). Recent World War Two films, Dunkirk and Land of Mine, see soldiers left in perilous limbo on the beach.

On a fantasy level, the warriors of the Amazons battle it out on the beach with gun-toting Germans in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017). Likewise, giant AT-AT Walkers take out Rebel fighters on a galactic beach at the climax of Star Wars’ Rogue One (2016).

Away from war, the beach has been the location for a few memorable survival stories. FedEx worker Chuck (Tom Hanks) is driven to insanity after being left deserted on an island in Cast Away (2000). A crashed plane also sparks the crisis of Lord of the Flies (1963 & 1990). Based on a superior novel by William Golding, this film sees a group of schoolboys marooned on an island as hierarchy and politics start to take shape.

Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s novel The Blue Lagoon – the tale of two shipwrecked teenagers falling in love on the beach – has also been retold numerous times on the big-screen. It was first visualised in W. Bowden and Dick Cruickshanks’ 1923 silent film before further adaptations in 1949, 1980 and 2012. This need to survive on the beach also leads romance In Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), The Beach (2000) and Lovewrecked (2005).

Young women are reluctantly sent to small beach towns to start working out their lives on Surviving Summer (2009) and The Last Song (2010). In both films – which star teen idols Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus respectively – it is romance that comes to the rescue.

The beauty of the beach provides the perfect back-drop for big-screen romance – or failing romance – and the laughter that can come with it. The long lists of movies to do this includes My Father the Hero (1994), Lifeguard (2013), Aquamarine (2006), Holiday in the Sun (2011), Summer Rental (1985), Aloha (2015), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Couples Retreat (2009), Along Came Polly (2004) and Adam Sandler movies 50 First Dates (2004) and Just Go With It (2011).

In Disney’s Little Mermaid (1990), the handsome Eric washes up on the beach and is serenaded by Ariel the mermaid before she disappears back into the water. Disney have also been to the beach in loveable films Lilo and Stitch (2002), Moana (2016) and in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The latter of which included the amusing sight of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Deep) being chased along the beach by a tribe of cannibals.

Disney went to the beach, again, to pay homage to classic ‘60s beach party flicks, like Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), with upbeat musical Teen Beach Movie (2013). This entangling of music and the beach setting was also used in Elvis Presley movies such as Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) and Blue Hawaii (1961).

Speaking of Hawaii, Matt (George Clooney) deals with the imminent loss of his wife and the impact this has on his family, especially young daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), in The Descendants (2013). David (Peter Gallagher) faces a similar situation with his daughter after the death of wife Gillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. In this film, David is able to communicate with Gillian’s ghost and seek answers to his problems as he walks along the beach.

Likewise, loss of family is at the heart of Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There (2015). This mysterious tale also has animation to rival Disney’s Moana for its glorious visuals of the beach landscape.

In contrast to these films of loss, the beach has been the scene for humour over the years. What should be idyllic vacations go array in Mr Beans’ Holiday (2007), Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and Spring Break (1983). Most famously, Richard (Jonathan Silverman) and Larry (Andrew McCarthy) carry around their lifeless boss around his beach house in cult favourite Weekend At Bernie’s (1989).

On a more serious note, filmmakers have celebrated surf culture which the beach is, of course, intrinsically linked to. Gidget (1959), Blue Crush (2003), Big Wednesday (1978) and North Shore (1987) are among those. Bruce Brown’s documentary The Endless Summer (1967) followed famed surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August as they visited beaches and rode waves across the globe.

The beach will always be a desired setting for filmmakers across all genres. This is because it is a place where half-naked bodies can be easily gazed at or, perhaps, exploited. Where holidays can turn into horror – or provide great humour. Where the fight for survival can provoke insanity, violent bloodshed, hierarchy or romance. A place to attach memories, to heal, to surf and to party.

Baywatch is the latest beach film to add to this collection. It will definitely not be the last.

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