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and killed by something at their holiday home on an island off the South Carolina coast, young Patrick Connolly becomes withdrawn and put under the care of psychologist Victoria Juno.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.