Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dinosaur, Dinosaur, Ancient Enemy of Man!

Dear readers, let me go ahead and get this out: I fucking love dinosaurs.
As a kid I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, had a bunch of books on dinosaurs, etc. and my favorite movie until around 7 or so was Jurassic Park.
Now, due to this, you may think I'll have a strong bias towards praising tonight's movies. You'd be wrong.
You see, sadly, I don't have much in the way of nostalgia goggles. I can still enjoy something after so many years, but I'll not be blind to how flawed it may be. Hell, as was the case with certain films, I may not even be able to enjoy them anymore at all because I can't not focus on said flaws. I call this the Pirates of Dark Water Effect. Watched the show non-stop as a kid, but now I can't bring myself to watch it anymore because I see it for what it is: Yet another generic HannahBarbera adventure cartoon complete with an extremely irritating talking animal companion that talks about food a lot. Cartoons have taught me that talking animals love food. Worms like coffee, turtles like pizza, cats like lasagna.

Anyway, today I'm reviewing two franchises along side each other. One is the well known, box office friendly Jurassic Park. The other, which less of you may be familiar with, is Roger Corman's Carnosaur trilogy. There's not much of a link to each other beyond that Carnosaur was a mockbuster of Jurassic Park, both feature dinosaurs, and both are loosely based on a novel.

We'll start with the original Jurassic Park, you all should know the plot so I won't bore you with a summation.
The film's still pretty fun all these years later, but it does have some really, really bothering issues. The film features as much accurate paleontological facts as it does hardcore nudity. That is to say that nearly everyone in this movie is wearing short. Admitedly, most of this can be explained away by saying that the park scientists were going for entertainment value rather than scientific accuracy, much like the producer of a film about dinosaurs would probably prefer the film go for entertaining things rather than anything remotely accurate.
The film also suffers from plenty of continuity issues which I didn't notice as a kid but nowadays I can't help but notice them. On the left of the jeep (our left as we're watching the front of the jeep) is where the t. rex area is. The t. rex rips the cords out, walks out, attacks the front jeep, pushes it towards that very same direction it just came from... and now it's on a cliff? Did the t. rex just fly up there?
Beyond that we've got people jumping all over the place (my favorite is Hammond somehow getting from the chopper to the RV towards the start of the film in about 5 seconds. The man has a cane, an obvious limp, and is quite old. He gets out of the chopper and into the RV in a matter of seconds) and all sorts of little things that, again, I guess are just minor complaints one could only have after noticing them on say the fourth viewing.
Really, my only non-minor gripe towards this film is the atmosphere of the movie. Everyone's always in this irritating state of "oooh", "ahhhh", right up through the ending. We've also got the numerous character changes Spielberg made in order to make everyone more likable and kid friendly. Hammond's not an asshole, Grant's not morally questionable, Dr Sattler is less of a slut, two major characters got merged into one walking lawyer joke whose only purpose is to be an evil lawyer and to make us cheer when he gets eaten... Really, anyone that's even remotely morally questionable seems to die. Even our chainsmoker!
Still, it's a fun movie. Not a good adaption of the novel, it's got some pretty dumb moments (It's a unix system! I know this!), but overall it's still something I watch regularly. It's also the movie I most want to see get a blu-ray release. However, at the same time, I -strongly- recommend watching this film with the Rifftrax done by Mike Nelson (of MST3K fame) and Weird Al for maximum enjoyment.

Next up we get The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
I wanna go ahead and say, a few of you earlier may have been thinking "Actually, two JP movies were based on novels." No, really, only the one.
The Lost World's film has very little in common with the book. Two kids are merged into Malcolm's kid (the last movie referenced him having multiple kids, but fuck continuity), Malcolm's still a major character, a few character names exist in both, and the setting is Site B. That's pretty much all they got right.
The majority of the film's scenes are ripped right out from the first novel (in fact, the opening to The Lost World with the compy's and the little girl is actually how the first JP novel starts) or unique to the movie (the retarded ending.)
I... really, really hate this film from a story perspective.
Our heroes are completely awful, especially Vince Vaughn's character who happens to be a former eco-terrorist. You see, watching this film you realize that every death that doesn't happen in San Diego is CAUSED BY OUR HEROES. They sabotage the other human faction constantly, leading to many of them dying. They lead to one of their own dying because they're too retarded not to carry a bleeding t. rex baby around, and too retarded to PICK UP THE PHONE. Hell, rewatch the scene where they find Sarah, remember that she's supposed to be a scientist. She's supposed to be intelligent, they tell us how intelligent she is, and how her speciality is animal behavior. Remember that, rewatch that scene. Our heroes are -awful- people and completely moronic.
There's also the constant "oh these dinosaurs aren't property of you, ingen" thing. One could -easily- argue that yes, they are. Ingen made them. Beyond that, the enemy faction in this film doesn't actually do anything that evil until the ending. In fact, they SAVE THE LIVES of our heroes multiple times, even after they sabotage them. They don't hold them prisoner or anything, they seem damn right amiable towards them even if they're the reason they're screwed and the reason why many of them are dead.
Then we've got the ending... Okay, I'm gonna try and sort this out.
Since, thanks to our heroes, the Ingen faction doesn't have any of their herbivores to bring back (since the guy from Swingers decided to release them), they bring a t. rex back to San Diego. I should note that, at this point, for some reason, Vince Vaugn quits existing. We never see him again, he just kinda... stops existing sometime during the escape from the raptors. I think you might see him during the chopper flight home, but I'm not sure.
Most films would end at this point. However, The Lost World is much like Return of the King and the recent Willy Wonka movie in that it keeps going long after the film ends.
Anyway, the ship carrying the t. rex to the mainland quits responding. Apparently the t. rex wandered about the ship, killed people (doesn't eat them, we see many bodies and many body parts), then politely went back into its container just as the disembodied arm of the captain presses a button that traps the t. rex. ...somehow. I've heard theories that this scene was -meant- to have raptors in it, and that -they- were the ones that killed everyone on board, but the film only has a t. rex. So let's just assume he's polite and the disembodied arm is magic.
We then get a really dumb scene of the t. rex going all Godzilla on San Diego, which sounds -way- more entertaining than it is. Anyway Malcolm and Harding lead the t. rex back to the ship using its child, both of them (the rex's, not our heroes) kill the designated villain of the movie, and that's our ending.
I'll say this. The special effects for the film are good, the music is nice, and it had a great cast. Beyond that, this film is awful. It's not just a bad adaption, it's a god awful movie beyond the special effects. I mean I can watch a movie based on special effects alone, but this isn't as -focused- on said special effects as its predecessor was. Instead we're largely forced to spend a large amount of time with some of the worst protagonists I've seen in a film struggling with some of the least threatening, most friendly/amiable antagonists I've seen in a long time.

Sadly, the previous film made enough money to warrant a sequel of its own.
This time we get Dr. Alan Grant back at least... and Sattler briefly, but for the most part Grant's our only returning hero. We've also got William H. Macy, aka the mustachioed lead from Fargo, and The Shoveller from Mystery Men.
The plot is pretty simple. An allegedly rich couple lie to Alan Grant to get him to help them search Site-B for their lost son. Their plane gets destroyed, standind them on the island with some dino-hunters they hired, Alan, and Alan's assistant Young Guy, who for some reason behaves a lot like Dr. Harding from the previous film, right down to both of them having an obsession with some lucky item.
This film is, honestly, save for the ending, much better than the last film to me. The characters are much more likable, they behave much smarter than those in the second film. Sure, it's not that original, but it's at least a fun movie that doesn't make me want to rage at its awful writing. I can just munch my popcorn happily and enjoy a Spinosaurus fighting a Tyrannosaurus.
The only thing in this film that -really- rubs me the wrong way is the ending, which is easily the dumbest ending I've seen since the Adam Sandler movie Anger Management.
In short, every branch of the military comes to rescue them, bringing with them Alan's hat and the friend he thought was dead. It just seems so damn stereotypically Hollywood-happy that it hurts. Still, at least nobody used gymnastics to fight a fucking VELOCIRAPTOR like the second film did.
The film, much like the sequel, is still a mix of scenes from the original JP novel (and a couple from the second) mixed with some new things made entirely for the movie (there is no Spinosaurus in either novel.) I'll also full on admit that yes, this is purely a popcorn flick. It's not deep, it's not thought provoking, it's not that new or original... but again, it's good for what it is, and it doesn't make me want to punch the director like the second film did.

Now we take a look at the lower budget side of dinosaur cinema!

Roger Corman is something of a bad horror movie god that is still a powerhouse of awful to this day. Y'know those bad movies you keep seeing on sci-fi channel where giant animals fight each other, or there's weird hybrid monsters like Sharktopus? Those are Corman movies. Check out the man on wiki or imdb sometime, you'll find the man is responsible for so many god awful films that those of you that don't get entertainment from watching and riffing them may find yourself moving from imdb to open up some new Firefox tabs relating towards gun ownership, Googlemaps, and the current location of Roger Corman himself.
Among his awful films are a trilogy of dino-horror movies released back in the 90's known as Carnosaur, which brings to mind Carnivorous Dinosaurs, and sounds like an awesome title if you're a five year old.

The plot if the first film, and the only film that doesn't completely rip off its plot from something else, is as follows:
An evil scientist that hates humans breeds dinosaurs, puts them in chicken eggs, and has them unleashed on an unexpecting town. Also these eggs somehow make women give birth to dinosaurs and die. ...Wow that sounded less retarded in my head.
While this is going on, one dinosaur gets out and kills a bunch of people, including some hippies that are protesting the work out protagonist does. You see, our protagonist is... uhh. ...a construction worker? I don't get this part. He has construction equipment, lives on the site they're digging on, but nobody else ever works there. He's like a one man construction team that only drinks booze all day.
Anyway, after many deaths (including Clint Howard, I love seeing him pop up in a b-grade horror film), our hero holds the evil scientist hostage for the cure to this dinodisease, because his hippie protester love interest has Dino-itis. This hostage thing seems to take place over a number of days due to poor editing showing multiple during-the-day scenes and at-night scenes intercut with it showing the disease spreading, people dying, etc.
Eventually he gets the serum, releases a t. rex for some reason, runs back home... with the t. rex following him... and then defeats it with some tonka tough construction equipment like some cheap looking knockoff of the finale of Aliens.
The government then comes in and kills them. ...seriously. That's our ending.
This film is hilariously awful and I'd only ever recommend it to those of you that love to make fun of awful movies. I'd pay so much to have, say, the MST3K guys riff this movie and its sequels, because I myself have such a fun time riffing it and I know they'd do a better job than I do.

Because fuck you, this got a sequel. Carnosaur 2 is Aliens with dinosaurs. I mean it. This film rips off so many things that I can't for the life of me understand how Roger Corman didn't get sued.
Several scenes are ripped right out of Aliens (chopper pilot gets in chopper, oh no a raptor's in there, kills her, chopper crashes. Masculine chick and cowardly comic relief blow each other up to kill some dinosaurs. T. rex gets killed with construction equipment again), the music is to the soundtrack of Aliens what Doom's music is to 90s metal bands, the dinosaurs all make that Yautja noise from Predator 1 & 2. I mean the exact throaty clicky noise thing. It's the same god damn noise. The characters are all carbon copies of characters from Aliens, save for our hero who looks like a homeless version of MacReady from The Thing, and the guy that runs our group of... engineers? I don't know what they are. Anyway the guy that runs them seems like every Michael Ironside character rolled into one.
The plot is simple. A team of engineers or something are sent to Yucca Mountain becomes shit is going on down there, turns out that shit is dinosaurs. Not-Burke repeatedly gets in their way, dinosaurs kill them, a t. rex eventually gets out in the end, does battle with construction equipment, and dies. That's the movie.

Carnosaur 3 is much of the same.
Now we have a bunch of terrorists that want to steal nuclear material being transported either to or from Yucca, only it turns out to be dinosaurs. One t. rex and a bunch of raptors.
Some marines and some army guys have to work together (there's much in the way of wacky army vs marine crap in this film that is just irritating as hell) to defeat the dinos. Also for some reason, the comic relief guy from the 2nd film is back. Same personality, same actor, different character.
This film rips off a lot, but at least not as badly as the second film. The only really gratuitous new thing it steals is that the set of the "ship" in the movie is quite obviously the same set used for The Hive in Aliens (though I can't unsee its other use as the set for Joker's origin in Burton's Batman.)
Sadly, this doesn't mean it's a better film. In fact, it's much worse. The dinosaurs get less attention, and the cast gets much more. None of them can act, they're all one dimensional as hell, and there's many of them.
You don't see much of the dinosaurs this time around. For the most part it's just brief shots of them, brief shot of the character they kill, and then blood streaks across a wall. Seriously. Many people die this way, it's retarded.
Anyway the military decides that the best way to take care of the dinosaurs is to trap them on a boat and blow up said boat. They do this, including the t. rex. ...I don't know how. You don't see them capturing anything beyond a single raptor, so this makes no sense at all to me.
The acting is bad, the special effects are almost non existant, the deaths are largely off screen, there's no nudity... the only entertainment value comes from just mocking this film. That is seriously the only entertainment value you could ever get from this film.

Thankfully there's no way they could possibly make anything worse. Right? ...right?
No, Corman! No! Don't do it!
While we technically never got Carnosaur 4, we did get a movie called "Raptor" which, to some, could be seen as being slightly similar to Carnosaur. By slightly similar I mean 90% of the film is made up of scenes from the Carnosaur trilogy, the remaining 10% makes up of scenes of our new heroes and our new protagonist, scenes that jarringly stand out and have no budget whatsoever.
The scenes are so poorly edited together that it's just hilarious. I could probably make a better movie myself if I took the time to learn how to use Movie Maker (I've never had reason to touch it, but it's probably simple enough, so many sometime I'll put my money where my mouth is.)
So Corman answered the question many of us were thinking during the final Carnosaur film. "How do you manage to make something worse than this?"
Simple. By just repeating the previous three films with some new scenes you filmed on a shoestring budget.

Sadly, we don't normally get -good- dinosaur films.
I mean we got Jurassic Park, which is fun. There was that kids movie "Dinosaur" but I disliked that. Beyond those two, we just get b-grade and under movies more on par with Carnosaur than anything else, movies like Raptor Island.
Here's hoping someday we get another good dinosaur movie. Someday.

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