Whether they’re terrorizing Amity Island, whirling through the air in a tornado, or celebrating their own week on the Discovery Channel, sharks are a scary staple of pop culture. But the latest Pirates of the Caribbean introduces a creepy newcomer to the genre: the zombie shark.
Dead Men Tell No Tales finds Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) on the run with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), pursued by a vicious Spanish ghoul named Salazar (Javier Bardem). The cursed villain keeps a secret weapon in his ship’s cargo hold: three rotting shark carcasses, also called ghost sharks, that come alive as soon as they touch seawater.
“It’s like, ‘Launch the torpedoes!” says co-director Joachim Rønning with a laugh. Yeah, torpedoes with teeth.
Rønning and co-director Espen Sandberg are no strangers to filming a shark frenzy — they made the 2012 seafaring drama Kon-Tiki — but Pirates proved to be a much bigger fish. The entire scene was assembled from footage shot at three different locations: on location at the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, in a massive indoor water tank, and on a blue-screen soundstage. Plus, Pirates’ putrid predators required the filmmakers to swim through months of research and visual-effects tests (see concept art below).
“They’re not normal sharks,” says visual-effects supervisor Gary Brozenich. “They’re missing a fin or they have a lame fin that just drags along with them, so that would obviously influence the way they move.”
The final result is a supernatural skeletal look that still adheres to the laws of biology. “We worked really, really hard to find the most disgusting way to scare people,” Sandberg says. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is in theaters now.