CGI is just the latest in a long line of effects tools that incompetent filmmakers have failed to get to grips with. These movies showcase some very limited skills.
Country: Canada/USA | Runtime: 82mins | Director: Joseph Conti
Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr., Angie Eberhart, RH Thompson, Karl Pruner, Duane Murray
Giant prehistoric bugs are released when an evil businessman builds an enormous tunnel. Men try and kill them.
This is a movie. Of that there can be little doubt. It stars about 190 pounds of Male Hero Type 2B, and he's been formatted to interact with a Female Scientist 3C unit (fitted with an after-market blandness enhancer) and a Corporate Villain 1A (which is missing its Sinister Muffler, so be prepared to boo). The bugs are off-the-peg Computer Generated Beasties of some sort, but it's too dark to identify the model. They're all flushed through the standard challenges in such a way that you should have forgotten this movie exists within an hour of it finishing.
"Just because you've never seen it before doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
In other words it's kind of generic, which is a shame because if you take a step back and look past the movie's universal mediocrity, there's a pretty good idea being fumbled. You have a SWAT team on an underground train that can only do 20mph. They're in a long tunnel, deep underground, and being pursued by slightly slower CG Beasties. But our heroes, which is technically what they are, keep having to stop in order to attend to some problem or other (switch the points, fix a fault, call their agent...), so the CG Beasties periodically catch up and kill a bunch of them. It's a simple idea, but a good one. Unfortunately the execution is so average it can't even muster up enough character to be awful.
Moby Dick (2010)
Country: USA | Runtime: 82mins | Director: Trey Stokes
Starring: Barry Bostwick, Renee O'Connor, Matt Logan, Adam Grimes, Dean Krayling
A scientist is dragged into a crazed submarine captain's pursuit of the 600ft whale that maimed him.
Did audiences really want to see an Asylum-produced update of Moby Dick starring Barry Bostwick? Having decided to foist this turd upon the world, at least they stuck as close as possible to the source novel, which is about all you can say for this thing. Four decades after Able Seaman Ahab (Jay Gillespie), a submarine sonar operator, loses a leg to the eponymous white whale (when it throws his vessel onto an iceberg!), the now Captain Ahab (Bostwick) commands a state-of-the-art military submarine of his own design for some reason. It appears the US Navy has spent the previous 40 years indulging Ahab's vendetta, but for some reason now is the time to rein him in (actually the reason is obvious: dramatic expediency). As part of his final assault on the savage cetacean, Ahab kidnaps Dr Michelle Herman (O'Connor, presumably playing the substitute for the novel's Ishmael), who is the world's leading authority on finding whales. Apparently that’s a real field of sea science. She is to be our protagonist, but this movie is so terrible it doesn’t give her any reason to exist. In order to find the whale they need to play its call out into the ocean in the hope of attracting its attention. Ahab has the recording, and Herman's assistant presses the play button, so there's no point in her being there. You expect her to be integral to the grand finale but she has nothing to do with that either. At no point does her presence in the movie impact on anything.
"There's a whole lotta quiet out there... you can almost smell it."
But that's the least of the problems here. Even for these low budget travesties the effects are unforgivable. Getting a computer-generated object to interact with water is notoriously difficult, so it's understandable if some shots aren't entirely convincing. But this CGI appears to be the result of an afternoon spent fiddling about with Adobe After Effects. Every time the whale breaches the surface it brings to mind Spongebob Squarepants, and the animal appears as an amorphous blob. The quality of any given CG effect can only be the product of the amount of time spent on it. A sensible alternative to the abundance of crappy shots would have been half as many decent ones. Lack of budget isn’t always an excuse for sloppy CGI.
"I'd strike the sun if it insulted me!"
The acting is largely as you'd expect, with Barry Bostwick's performance the standout. He seems like too much of a nice guy to convince as even a standard issue salty sea dog, so casting him as an unhinged, one-legged lunatic was an odd choice. The rest of the cast are vaguely coherent, even if their behaviour isn’t. Nobody reacts to situations in a believable manner – even when their own side starts firing on them only one crew member questions the clearly insane captain's clearly insane orders. But the biggest issue, literally, is the whale itself. Like the fish in Jaws: The Revenge, it seems to have a personal beef with Ahab. It carefully frames him for the destruction of a pursuing Navy submarine, an attack on a helicopter and the sinking of a cruise ship. It also has supernatural abilities; only weapons made from vessels it has wrecked can kill it (I’d have thought this warrants some sort of explanation, but apparently not, it’s just tossed out there in passing and never referenced again). And, as much as I hate to say it, and still can’t quite believe it, at one point it gets out of the water and wanders about on land for a bit.
"Why would a whale act like this?"
Ultimately it all comes back to the spiders, they're by far the best thing in the movie. Once we get to the final act the filmmakers throw everything they can think of at the screen to try and make them seem scary. As they don't move, and we never see them actually deliver the death blows we're told about, it means they have to be made abnormally clever and devious. But we're told the reason they have started killing people is that DDT has wiped out their natural food sources (mainly cicadas and crickets... which provide the background soundtrack to the movie so can't be in too short supply). How can spiders become super-intelligent shortly after changing their diet? (In fact that's another thing we never see a spider do: eat one of its victims.) They get cleverer as the movie goes on, taking out fuse boxes and phone cables, but they also become more malicious. After Woody Strode tries to burn down their nest, some of them hide in his truck, waiting to attack just as he's on a clifftop road that seems dangerously ripe for being wildly careened off. When the sheriff goes to his farm to inform the wife, the camera pans to reveal a spider watching from a distance. I swear it was smiling. Either way it implies the spider understands the nature of the news being imparted, can anticipate the emotional response it will generate, and takes perverse pleasure from it. That's fucking stupidEventually the end happens, and that’s about all that can be said about it with any certainty. The submarine fires torpedoes and there’s a big explosion, we can be sure of that. Almost everything else is left to our imagination. We have no idea if Ahab survived, if the Submarine was scuttled, or even if the whale was killed. We can look to the novel for answers and assume the movie intended to do the same, but that doesn’t seem like a satisfactory way to interpret a conclusion. It would be nice to think it's deliberately ambiguous, or perhaps setting up a sequel. But I doubt even Asylum have the balls to make Moby Dick 2: The Search for Answers.
Video: Moby Dick in Under Two Minutes
The Curse of the Komodo (2004)
Country: USA | Runtime: 92mins | Director: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Tim Abell, William Langlois, Melissa Brasselle, Gail Harris, Paul Logan
Scientists breed giant Komodo dragons on a remote Pacific island.
Uber-prolific schlock-jockey Jim Wynorski has spent a career flip-flopping between soft-core grumble, unbearable family dross about magical dogs and undercooked horror hokum. Long gone are the days when tongue-in-cheek genre offerings like Chopping Mall, Not of this Earth and Deathstalker II marked him out as a genuine low budget talent. Now he just churns out forgettable irrelevancies like Curse of the Komodo, a movie so stupid that watching it is liable to have the same biological impact on the human brain as huffing diesel.
"It's like a Goddamn shark with legs and a brain!"
It follows a pair of scientists who are developing enormous poisonous lizards on behalf of the department of defence as a solution to the world food crisis. There are at least two profoundly stupid aspects to that sentence. What sort of scientist is naïve enough to assume the DoD want an army of massive killing machines for humanitarian, as opposed to military, purposes? And how can an animal that eats 80% of its own body weight in food every day (as we're informed) contribute a net increase to world food stocks?
The setup is built around head scientist Dr Nathan Phipps (Langlois, an actor in his 50s but appearing in only his second movie, which is always a good sign) his partner in science ‘Dawn’ (Gail Harris), daughter Rebecca (Glori-Anne Gilbert, ported over from Wynorski’s night job as a scut-monger to provide some embarrassingly incongruous nudity) and a criminal gang who have been stranded on the island after robbing a casino. This ‘innocents and criminals in the middle of nowhere must face off against giant mutant animals’ scenario seems to be popular, the same thing happens in Mosquito, Ticks and Crocodile 2. It’s a pretty standard affair with the cast picked off one at a time by a lizard the size of a truck that’s capable of sneaking up on people out in the open. The only element added to the formula is some sort of half-baked zombie theme. The lizard’s saliva is somehow hugely poisonous to humans, with even a dribble proving fatal if it makes contact with the skin. For some reason the victim doesn’t just die. Instead, he turns into a mangy, ghostly walking corpse hungry for human flesh. Not sure what they were going for here but the idea is forgotten as quickly as it was introduced, so no harm done.
A series of brief, repetitive cutaways purport to be a subplot involving the Navy preparing to destroy the tiny island in order to cover the misdeeds of the DoD. The imminent bombing provides the tension once the lizard has been exploded with C4, only in the coda do we discover there are many more of the monsters when we see them close in on the one remaining robber. This is confusing for several reasons, not least of which being we just watched the island being blown up.
Curse of the Komodo Video: How to Kill a Komodo Dragon
Royal Oaks Entertainment Inc./20the Century Fox