Pterodactyl (2005)

NOVEMBER 15, 2011


A bad Syfy movie is somehow much worse when it’s directed by someone whose name used to mean something. Mark L. Lester helmed a number of awesome 80s/90s action flicks like Commando and Showdown In Little Tokyo, but there is precious little of that spark on display in Pterodactyl, a woefully by the numbers cheapo monster movie that could (should) have been directed by any random asshole off the street. At least Joe NoName or Brian Collins wouldn’t have raised any false hopes.

As much as I love Jurassic Park, I was annoyed that there were no pterodactyls in the film – I considered them to be one of the cooler dinosaurs when I was a kid. Seeing them in that crappy 3rd film wasn’t quite enough, so I was excited to see them get their own movie here. However, now I see why they don’t make for particularly exciting movie villains; while an attack or two is fine, it seems all you need to do is just go inside to be safe from them for the long run. Apparently sensing that, Lester and co. stage the film pretty much as one overlong sequence of our characters making their way through a clearing on the island where the things have suddenly re-appeared (the eruption of a volcano is apparently to thank for un-thawing some of the eggs). It’s almost remarkable how little variety there is to the film, a problem made worse by the fact that there’s no real story to it either.

See, Spielberg had the good sense to save the “escape from the dinos!” part of Park to the 2nd half, but Lester isn’t that patient. So while it’s nice to see some action right off the bat, after 40 minutes it gets pretty damn tiresome seeing the same basic scene over and over again – a ‘dactyl swoops around, and then dive bombs to take someone out. I swear, they even use the same footage during some of the kills, even on the humans – two guys get their torsos torn off leaving bloody legs behind, and I’m pretty sure they just used the same shot for both. There’s a brief bit in a cave, but otherwise you could walk out of the room for five minutes and wonder if the movie had been paused or something while you were out; it all looks the same.

Spicing things up (for lack of an accurate word) is the usual gang of soldiers and their target (a terrorist), who are just there to provide more fodder to keep things moving until it comes down to the three people billed first; Cameron Daddo, Amy Sloan, and Coolio (as the head soldier!). Apparently understanding that their names wouldn’t matter anyway, everyone is named after a famous genre author, which is just plain distracting. Burroughs and Clarke are fine, but Lovecraft? Lem? Heinlein? These aren’t average everyday names (no offense to any readers with those names), and since they’re the only memorable thing about any of the characters is just makes it all the more painful to hear them shouted in the middle of action scenes.

Luckily they go with first names quite a bit, which provides some unintentional humor for Heavy Rain fans. One character is named Jason, and goes MIA, resulting in a character shouting “Jason?” in a concerned voice a few times, not unlike the father in one of the earlier, most oft-mocked levels of that unique game. But as with the sci-fi last names reminding me of all the great novels I’ll probably never find time to read, now it just makes me wish I was finally finishing it (I was about halfway through when another game distracted me; never went back) rather than watching this crappy movie.

AND THE CGI! I feel when you see bad CG being used for dinosaurs it’s even more insulting than normal, because if there is one bit of infallible proof that CGI can be used effectively in movies, it’s Jurassic Park. So seeing these horribly rendered things swoop and screech is just painful; it’s like being forced to eat leftover Jack In The Box when the town’s best steakhouse is handing out free New York sirloins a few feet away. At least if it was an original monster I don’t have a frame of reference for how infinitely superior it could look had they just bothered to use a practical animatronic for closeups and then use that time with the CGI guys to make better shots for when there was no other option (i.e. multiple birds flying in the air).

On that note, I’ll give it credit for that much – despite the singular title, there are a ton of the things in the movie, allowing for a fairly even body count of humans vs. dinos. Coolio hilariously blows a few out of the sky, and the last one gets taken out with a homing missile! It all looks like shit, sure, but at least it’s not all run n’ hide; if nothing else, these boring idiots fight back.

Ah, who cares. The thing aired on Syfy back when it was still Sci-Fi and wasn’t even memorable enough to live on as a punchline. The only reason that this movie might ever come up in anyone’s conversation again is the fact that (per the IMDb anyway) screenwriter Mark Sevi is one of the writers on Devil’s Knot, Atom Egoyan’s feature version of the West Memphis Three case. And that worries me a bit; I trust he won’t change Jason Baldwin’s name to Douglas Adams, but as his entire career is filled with this sort of C-level junk (Ghoulies IV, Scanner Cop II, etc), I can’t help but be a bit concerned that they didn’t hire someone with a little more drama in their filmography to tackle what is a very serious and tragic story. Prove me wrong, Mr. Sevi!

What say you?


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