JUNE 16, 2011
Huh. Two Syfy Monster movies in one week that don’t follow the usual template, for better or worse (and Ty Olsson is in both of them!). However, while Ice Road Terror actually benefited (for the most part) from its less body count-driven structure, Behemoth is painfully short on carnage, boasting a body count of I think two and no real chase scenes. It’s not a terrible movie like some of the others from the “Maneater” series (ahem, Hellhounds), but I can’t really recommend it either.
Part of the problem is that the movie actually lives up to its title. The monster is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen in a non-space set movie, as the thing is literally the size of a mountain (there’s a few hints that the monster actually IS the mountain, but if that’s actually the case then they never capitalize on it). And due to a typically low-grade Netflix stream, it actually didn’t look too bad (I’m guessing a blu-ray transfer would prove otherwise), but the problem is it’s too big to really move. It just stays at the top of the mountain, occasionally slamming one of its giant tentacles near some of our heroes (he only ever manages to hit one) and causing low-stakes earthquakes around the tiny town below. My guess, the animators couldn’t figure out how (or were too proud) to have this thing rampage around and destroying shit, so it just stays perched there for the entire movie. The brief action bits are fine, but when the whole problem can be solved by “just stay away from the mountain until it starves to death” or something, it keeps the movie from ever getting too exciting.
And that’s a shame, because like Ice Road, they actually put some effort into creating characters you care about. Their problems are pretty generic (girl is sick of her dad, guy walked away from a relationship, etc) but the actors are good enough to sell it, and I genuinely felt bad for William B. Davis’ character, who was sort of like Walter on Fringe in that he was a genius but also mildly demented and had trouble conveying his ideas to the folks around him. Even Olsson’s generic secretive military guy was pretty likable, though I certainly wasn’t complaining when the monster swatted him a hundred feet into a tree, killing him as soon as he could use his dying breath to offer up some exposition.
I did, however, feel bad for the movie’s other death, as it was the earnest and friendly boyfriend of the main guy’s younger sister (the fact that they weren’t father and daughter confused me – Ed Quinn looked too old to be her brother, and Davis – as her dad - looked almost old enough to pass as a GREAT grandfather). Poor bastard is trying to propose when the monster first appears, and then he ends up falling into its mouth when it opens a sinkhole on the mountain. I mean, Christ, I love mean-spirited kills in movies, but only when the tone of the whole movie is like that (Silent Night, Deadly Night, for example). Otherwise it doesn’t fit the tone, though really there were no better options for a kill, and they HAD to give us something.
Interestingly, the nice boyfriend also died in Sea Beast, another better than average Maneater flick, and both of them seem to have been written by Armageddon fans. The father/daughter/boyfriend relationship in Sea Beast was the same as ‘geddon’s, and here, the girl, named Grace, berates Quinn (who at this point I THOUGHT was her dad) for being more immature than her even though she is younger, a conversation that also occurs in that oil driller classic. For a while I figured they were just both written by the same in-house Maneater staffer, but nope. Two different writers making two different Maneater films both touched this Armageddon fan by proving that they saw it enough to remember anything besides the goddamn Animal Crackers scene.
But for the most part the movie seemed to be aping Dante’s Peak, with the small mountain town, old person playing hero, geologists that no one will listen to, etc. Hell, for half the movie they seem to be under the assumption that the mountain is about to “erupt”. And the monster doesn’t even appear in many of the disaster scenes, such as the endless scenes where Davis and a cute waitress are stuck in a shop and trying to climb up to the roof via the most rickety ladder ever made, or when Quinn nearly falls off the mountain trying to retrieve the “only thing that can stop it”.
And this was a big letdown. I was hoping it was some sort of biochemical weapon of some sort, something that they’d have to get close to use and thus make the finale more exciting. But no, it’s just a goddamn rocket launcher, which Quinn fires from about 3 miles away. “The only thing that can stop it” and they could have had a dozen of them if they bothered to call the military. They also botch the time-honored and awesome tradition of movies that use helicopters in order to get to safety, in that the blast does not knock the thing about and cause someone to slip out, hanging on to the rail and screaming “HELLLLLLLP!” while someone inside goes “HANG ON!!!” Instead, they more or less just fly away casually, and then laughably land right where Davis was even though as far as they knew he was at his sister’s house where they had told him to go.
That’s the thing about this movie – it’s too damn pleasant. It’s like a monster movie as filtered through that gentleman with the afro who used to paint trees and clouds on PBS. No one ever seems really scared by the thousand foot monster that can easily consume them all (except for when it first appears, which is a cool moment as you just see its giant eye poking through a hole in the stone side of the mountain), and just about everyone makes it out OK, all smiles and hugs. I don’t need these things to be grim downers, but I’ve seen more tension in an episode of Little House.
It’s just a shame that most reviews (I somehow read like three before I saw this) just mock it for being boring and not showing the monster until the last 20 minutes or so, instead of pointing out that they were at least trying something a bit different. Sure, it wasn’t a very successful approach, but I’d rather see a dull film that was trying than a dull film that wasn’t (Dinoshark). A couple more deaths and maybe 1-2 more monster scenes (even a tentacle-based “chase”, with the thing swinging about trying to take out a helicopter or truck that’s attempting to get away) and this would be a winner, but I just can’t recommend it based on some admirable efforts. Just watch Sea Beast or even Croc, which also offer above-average “boring” things like character and plot, but also have the good sense to throw some action our way every 10-15 minutes.
What say you?