Tag Lizards

Komodo (1999)

Komodo (1999)

Welcome To The Bottom Of The Food Chain.

After his parents are dragged off into fields and killed by something at their holiday home on an island off the South Carolina coast, young Patrick Connolly becomes withdrawn and put under the care of psychologist Victoria Juno. Making some inroads with his recovery, Juno believes it is in his best interests to take him back to the island and confront his fears so that he fully recovers from his post-traumatic stress. When they arrive on the island, they find out what really killed his parents – huge komodo dragons which have grown to the size of large animals.

 

In the late 90s and early 00s, there was a large run of monster movies in the home video market. Suddenly with the advent of cost-effective CGI, studios could now make quick creature features with cheap monsters in literally no time at all. So within the space of a few years, all manner of normal animals were subjected to terrorising humans in various forms. With big budget successes like Anaconda and Lake Placid, the monster movie was back in fashion and sharks, snakes, bats and the like were given the killer animal treatment. As is the case with any fad, studios soon start to run out of ideas and therefore more outlandish animals were needed to become threatening. Komodo features komodo dragons, a rather imposing breed of reptile which do look pretty dangerous but despite the ‘dragon’ part of their name, aren’t actually that bad in real life. So how do writers get over this? Pump them full of chemicals and hormones to turn them into super-efficient killing machines!

I’ll give Komodo credit for one thing and that’s with the special effects. A mixture of full body CGI and actual animatronic models for close-up shots, the dragons look excellent in this. To say that this is a 1999 production, the CGI is spot on. The reptiles aren’t over-exposed to the audience, with the first sighting being about half-way through the film, but when they are on-screen, they get enough to do to really make them a threat. Unlike modern CGI monster movies, the komodo dragons don’t get forced to do anything that would make them look artificial and so you’ll see them running and climbing and not a lot else because that’s all they do in real life. The animatronic models look highly realistic and you’ll be second-guessing whether they used real komodo dragons at any point. In fact, the special effects are that good, I sometimes wonder whether this was planned for cinematic release given that the film prides itself on being ‘from the writer of Anaconda and the special effects creator of Jurassic Park.’ Director Michael Lantieri rightly won an Oscar for his contribution to the special effects of Spielberg’s classic and so he brings with him some serious know-how when it comes to the monsters. Quite how much input he had in their development remains to be seen but the man knows his way around special effects.

Some of the action set pieces, particularly the first appearance of the dragons when they burst into the living room, are excellent and, because the CGI isn’t overbearing as is the case with the majority of similarly-structured monster movies nowadays, the dragons continue to pose a serious threat throughout. Sadly, they kill most of their victims off-screen and with the teenage-friendly rating this received, Komodo is all roar and little bite. It wouldn’t have hurt to throw a little blood around the place.

It’s a pity that what truly bogs Komodo down is its pacing and narrative. Save for the prologue in which the parents are killed off, the opening third is uninspiring to say the least and filled with too much seriousness and melodrama. The second third is where Komodo kicks into gear with the first appearance of the beasts and then a few scattered attacks, all of which seem to be building up for a decent final third. But then Komodo just blows it with unnecessary human villains (the oil company cover-up subplot adds nothing to the film) and a finale which isn’t exactly what you were all expecting. The silly plot might as well not have had the komodo dragons in at all at times and it would have worked just the same either way with the human villains. At no point do you feel that the main characters are in any real danger and so you immediately cast your bets over to the supporting characters to see which will make it out alive.

 

Without the titular monsters, Komodo would be a horrendous effort but it’s thanks to the ferocious CGI monsters that it at least manages to keep its composure long enough to deliver a few decent moments, even if they are few and far between. The horrifying thing is that somehow this managed to secure an $11m budget and it ends up faring little better than your typical Sy Fy Channel cheapie.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Road Terror (2011)

Ice Road Terror (2011)

When workers at a diamond mine located at the end of a long ice road in northern Alaska decide to plant explosives deeper than they ever gone before, they aren’t aware that in doing so they will awaken a dormant prehistoric creature which proceeds to terrorise the camp. This isn’t good news for two ice road truckers taking the dangerous trip up along the road to deliver explosives to the mine and are about to encounter the beast for themselves.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any Sy Fy Originals and boy, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Another one off the monster movie conveyor belt, it’s no real surprise for me to want to wind the clock back and retrieve the valuable ninety minutes I spent watching. Presumably filmed as a response to the international popularity of reality TV show Ice Road Truckers, Ice Road Terror features the usual Sy Fy tropes in abundance and makes sure it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on the ‘Original’ checklist.

Forgetting any plausible reasons why this prehistoric monster has been completely alive for millions of years (like what has been eating?) and is able to quickly scarper out of the uncovered cave when it’s blown open (without any hint of being blinded by the sun or a bit of stiffness in the legs for being caged so long), the story doesn’t really go any further into explaining what it is or why it’s there, save for an obligatory Native American nick name that it’s given later in the film. Whilst this may appease some, I was wanting to know more about the creatures as I’m getting sick of being taken for a ride.

Ice Road Terror does the usual Sy Fy trick of showing us the monster within the opening few minutes of the film. It looks awful, like some sort of komodo dragon, and does the usual things that a Sy Fy monster needs to do: eat all of the minor characters; be unable to break down weak obstacles when the main characters are in peril; seems to hang around the same location for the entire film in order to re-use animation; growls or roars like a normal animal; and is never satisfied with the copious amount of food it gets. The monster is badly animated but it’s only what I’ve come to expect from Sy Fy now. Whilst its design looks fairly unique (though given the climate of the film, you’d expect something cold-blooded rather than a warm-blooded lizaerd), the way it is brought to life through computer animation leaves a lot to be desired. As is the case with a lot of these films, there’s only so many frames of animation and the same shots are repeated over and over again, sometimes using movement which makes no sense given the different situation. But hey, it saves some money!

Bargain basement effects coupled with lots of quick editing and camera shaking to give you the illusion that everything is more exciting than it really is. Thankfully, I’m not that gullible and can see through it. Ice Road Terror is surprisingly dull. There are enough action scenes in the film but as I’ve already said, they’re pretty badly put together with the effects and lack of excitement. You never feel as though any of the main characters are under threat despite the best efforts of the screenplay to throw in some perilous moments. It’s just a case of seeing them survive one scene and getting themselves into another predicament where the monster will kill them if they screw up. We never really get to know of them either as the film just goes straight into the story, unleashing the monster within the first few minutes and then having the undeveloped trio of main characters arrive at the site shortly afterwards. Given Sy Fy’s track record, I don’t think it will have made much difference in the long run but a bit of characterisation would have been nice. It’s for these reasons that the film is unengaging. You literally don’t care what happens to anyone. You won’t remember their names. The film ended and I was sat there shrugging and thinking about the next film I was planning to see. See it, move on.

The monster is well fed at the start, with the construction workers providing a healthy source of protein. Sy Fy do allow their films to get bloody when needed and the red stuff is on show here. Nothing too major but enough of a splattering to keep genre fans happy. There’s even a few shots of intestines and the like but it looks like a lot of the decent practical make-up effects are ruined with daft CGI blood smears on the camera and the use of a red lens when needed.

I’m not even going to bother covering the cast. Never heard of them before watching. Most likely will never hear from them again after watching. They were given impossible tasks to begin with as their characters aren’t developed in the slightest. I didn’t care for any of them. They’re never put into any real danger. And by the end of the film, everything is wrapped up into a neat little package as far as attempted story arcs go. Same old Sy Fy.

 

Ice Road Terror is one of Sy Fy’s worst efforts. Cashing in on a popular television show and recycling the same monster movie garbage that it’s been spewing out for years now, Sy Fy is really scraping the barrel. The formula is stale, the execution is uninspiring and devoid of life and the end result is just a complete waste of time. So I guess the next one off the conveyer belt will be along soon….

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Curse of the Komodo, The (2004)

The Curse of the Komodo (2004)

It’s hungry.

A top secret military experiment on an remote tropical island literally grows out of control as genetically-enhanced komodo dragons begin to run amok. A team of scientists is sent in to assist the termination of the project before it’s too late. Also along for the ride are a group of bank robbers whose chopper is forced to land on the island during a storm. With the chopper damaged, they must seek refuge with the scientists when the dragons attack.

 

Komodo in 1999 threw another animal into the ‘genetically enhanced’ mix by the inclusion of komodo dragons. Those expecting a feeble retread of the same material are in for a bit of a shock as this is in no way anything like its predecessor. Yes it does have genetically enhanced komodo dragons running amok but this time they’re not normal size and more intelligent – they’re just massive, dinosaur-size behemoths with an insatiable appetite. Although the film isn’t particularly good in any respect, I’m finally glad to be able to raise the proverbial hand of a monster flick and say “it delivers what it promises.”

The key to a successful monster flick is, of course, plenty of monster. 90% of the creature feature flicks that I watch contain decent monsters but you’re only going to get glimpses of them. Here, the komodo dragons are on screen a hell of a lot and the camera isn’t shy with them. The CGI dragon looks like something Ray Harryhausen would have created back in his heyday. It actually looks half-decent and the more you see it, the less you think to yourself “how bad does that look?” Too many directors have the idea that because their monsters look crap, they’ll hide them as long as they can. That isn’t the case here and it’s better for it. Finally something to keep the interest going!

I was a bit worried too given that the characters that are introduced are so one-dimensional that I would have a hard time sitting through the dialogue. Thankfully all of the stupidity is confined to the first half of the film when both sets of characters run through their separate plot threads before being bundled together to fight the komodo. I just love these films when random strangers suddenly start bossing each other about as if they know what they’re doing (see the helicopter pilot here – he pretty much takes over leading the survivors the moment he arrives).

Director Jim Wynorski has assembled his usual array of acting talent for the film. This means that the villains will look and sound evil (or stupid depending on what type of villain they are portraying). The scientists will look and sound like they know what they’re doing. The hot chicks act with their chests (the glorious T&A in this film during a swimming scene is fantastic). It’s the type of casting that will have genre fans like me saying “I know him, didn’t he start he star in Hammerhead?” A lot of them are recognisable and a quick IMDB search will allow you to place them in other films.

The acting as a whole isn’t great but the script pretty much dies as soon as the two groups of characters band together. Then all the film consists of is people pointing guns and shooting them at big komodo dragons. And pointing and shooting. And pointing and shooting. After a while you notice that the bullets have absolutely no effect on it whatsoever and they don’t even pierce the skin. Yet the characters continue to shoot regardless. The komodo dragon isn’t that well fed I might add but there’s a few decent moments of gore and cheese. There’s even a Jurassic Park-style chase involving the komodo dragon pursuing a jeep.

 

The Curse of the Komodo was a pleasant surprise. I can’t give it any more stars than I have done for the simple fact it wasn’t that good. But it delivered with the monster and finally a creature feature film lives up to its premise. Cheesy fun with komodo dragons and bank robbers – can you go wrong with that?

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Komodo Vs Cobra (2005)

Komodo Vs Cobra (2005)

The Ultimate Battle

A group of environmentalists hire a boat to travel to an off-limits island that is being used a secret military testing facility for something called Project Carnivore. When they get there they find only one survivor of the scientific team who tells them that they need to get off the island quickly. It seems that Project Carnivore has created giant komodo dragons and king cobra snakes. Can they get off the island before they become the next meal? Or will the military just blow them all up to stop the secrets from escaping?

 

If you’ve seen The Curse of the Komodo then you’re pretty much seen this. Also made by Jim Wynorski, it featured almost the same story (only it was bank robbers that got stranded on the test island), the same locations (they’ve clearly re-used exactly the same house and locations to shoot) and even the same actors (Glori-Ann Gilbert, Ted Monte, Paul Logan and Jay Richardson all return only in different roles). This time the only difference is that there’s a giant king cobra snake loose on the island as well as the komodo dragon. Oh and there’s about a third of the budget too.

It’s a sorry mess of a film which has got to rank alongside one of Wynorski’s worst efforts. The guy has made a lot of exploitation stinkers on the cheap, using sets left over from other films, culling footage from his previous flicks to pad out running times and generally making such a hack job of everything that some of his films do have a ‘so bad it’s good’ feel. Most of them just suck badly and Komodo Vs Cobra does a very good job in going for that moniker.

As I’ve already said, the film is just basically a rehash of The Curse of the Komodo. So this will bore the pants off you (presuming you’re sad enough to have watched that) despite the lure of a giant king cobra snake thrown in. If you haven’t watched the other flick, then I’m sure you’ll still be bored. The komodo and king cobra don’t get a lot of screen time and when they do, they don’t do much except roar or hiss and maybe eat a human. The rest of the film involves the characters running around the jungle or the house, deciding on where they should run to next. I should also add that this may have been remotely interesting had a) there been a decent script and b) there had been some decent actors to deliver a decent script.

There’s also a really unnecessary subplot about some military chief and his deputy who constantly argue over the correct course of action to take in disposing of the island. And the point of this plot is? Nothing except to pad out some running time in an office. I’d rather have seen some more shots of the actors running through the same piece of jungle time and time again.

I have to quote a character in the film at this point. She says “the monstrous behemoths you’ve seen on this tape are not the creation of a Hollywood effects wizard.” Amen to that. The monsters both move without rustling any trees, leaving marks on the ground, kicking up dust and have an uncanny knack for standing in shadows but not being blackened in the slightest. I think the komodo fairs a little better in the ‘how crap does the monster look’ stakes but it’s a pretty close race. Being a ‘vs’ film, I had almost forgotten that we were due a battle between the monsters. Well you’ll be waiting until the final five minutes before they duke it out. Well duke it out makes it sound a bit violent. They just stand and hiss and roar at each other for a few minutes before they’re all napalmed to hell by stock footage.

I am madly in love with Michelle Borth. If there is a positive about the film it’s that I’ve seen this woman. She’s cute as hell and seems to be a decent enough actress. I can’ really judge too much because the film blows and even if she was total rubbish, I like her too much to slag her off! It’s a travesty that none of the chicks in this film even get close to shedding any clothes. What is a crime is that Glori-Ann Gilbert took a swim in The Curse of the Komodo in all of her glory. So why didn’t she repeat the feat here? One other note before I round off is Michael Paré’s character of the ex-military man turned fisherman. This guy has superhero abilities to be able to fire off about fifty rounds from a handgun without reloading. I lost track of the amount of times he pumped lead into the komodo dragon and the king cobra without stopping.

 

Komodo Vs Cobra is such a sorry mess of a film that it only gets marks for the cute Michelle Borth and the ridiculous sight of Michael Paré and his never-ending supply of ammo.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆