FEBRUARY 5, 2012
One of my favorite things about Tremors is that it actually has a LOW body count. While some horror fans equate success by the number of kills per hour, I’d much rather folks were continually in danger, darting from location to location while trying to figure out how to stop their enemy. So with that in mind, I must say I enjoyed Metal Shifters, despite the cheapness (and an awful title), because unlike most Syfy movies less than half of the cast got killed, but I never stopped believing many of them COULD be killed.
Intentional or not, it was pretty smart of writer/director Paul Ziller (also behind the above average Sea Beast) to kill off a certain character early on, because the way that the movie was designed up until that point, you would think it would be about these two particular characters, not unlike Tremors’ Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward (or to use a Syfy example, the “frenemies” in Ice Road Terror), making his death not only somewhat shocking, but also removing the idea that just about anyone else was “safe” at any given time. Yeah, the two top billed folks would be fine, but everyone else was fair game, at any time.
And Ziller was wise enough to keep everyone broken into smaller groups in the 2nd half. The bartender holds the door closed as the monster tries to get in – he could die! The town drunk and the guy who inadvertently built the monster attempt to figure out a scientific way of stopping the monster – they could die! The kid from Dear Mr Gacy who keeps risking his neck to protect the heroine’s daughter – he could die! You get the idea. And our heroes are proactive; sometimes you get into a situation where the heroes sort of sit in safety while the fodder goes off to die and thus they only spring into action when no one else is left, but top billed heroes Kavan Smith and Nicole De Boer are constantly on the move once the action kicks into high gear.
The monster’s also a little more interesting than their usual blend of Swamp Sharks and such. An alien rock crashes through a satellite and morphs together (I guess?), producing a virus that spreads through metal. And it just so happens to end up at the junkyard of a guy who has just build an 18 foot statue from scrap metal, which he keeps calling a Golem even though it’s not made of clay. Anyway, the thing ends up inside the statue, which comes to life and starts lumbering around like a reject Transformer (or maybe a scarier looking Bionicle), seeking human victims as he lives on the iron in their blood. At first he’s just going after random folks, but after a while our core group of eight or so residents hole up in/around a bar as the monster disassembles and uses his smaller parts to get at them.
If I had any complaint about this stuff (other than the baffling idea that this guy would make such a weird, scary statue as a gift for the town ceremony), it’s that when the monster regroups its random parts, he becomes the same thing he already was. It seems like he just took the original form out of convenience, but once separated he should have taken on a new form when it came time to regroup, perhaps something more beast-like or maybe 3-4 beings of a few feet each. Obviously the CGI isn’t going to win any awards (though it’s better than most Syfy movies, to be fair), so perhaps if they went with something more manageable they could have just built a robot puppet or two to use (as it stands I think his arm is the only practical effect). It also would have given the finale a little more variety, which would make up for the unique but cinematically dull method that they use to stop him/it.
I also would have gladly taken 25-30% less monster action in exchange for a better shooting location. While the attempt to make Canada look like Idaho is decent enough (a closeup on a speedometer with KMH listed over MPH was a dead giveaway though), the main three locations are a bar, an inn, and a police station – all of which look like brand new condos. The inn is being renovated, so its new look is acceptable enough, but the bar exterior looks completely ridiculous. Who the hell would want to get drunk somewhere that looked like it should have a welcome mat and a key hidden under the fake rock next to the flamingo? And the police station is just as silly, hell I’d love to spend a night somewhere that cozy looking! The fact that all three buildings looked alike also made me wonder about something else – where is everyone else in this town? We never see another soul; you’d think they’d have some shot of some randoms running away from the thing, but every single person we see in the movie (save for maybe a couple extras in a pre-monster town scene in the first 10 minutes) has a name and purpose.
But, you know, who cares. These movies are like episodes of a TV show; you deal with their shortcuts and questionable plotting the same as you accept that there isn’t a single night of the week that Norm, Cliff, and Frasier have nothing better to do than go to a bar with a staff that never gets a night off, or that no one else ever sits in the comfortable couch/chairs in the middle of Central Perk. All that matters is if they deliver on their promise to entertain you for 90 minutes (or two hours with commercials) on a Saturday night, and in that regard Metal Shifters delivers. The action moves nicely, there are some decent thrills, and best of all, I liked the characters. The kid from Gacy was a bit of an idiot at times, but otherwise I was glad to see so many of them survive. Any modern day monster movie that has two guys in their 50s/60s turn into action heroes during the finale is fine by me (one old guy is Doc Cottle from BSG; in fact pretty much everyone in the movie is best known for some genre TV show from Canada).
Anchor Bay’s disc comes with only one real extra besides trailers for it and other company releases (including Corman’s World, yay!), which is a making of that runs about 12 minutes. It’s pretty much fluff, and overly clip-heavy, but it’s fun to see the attack in the police car as it’s seen in the film next to footage of it being shot, which amounts to a couple of guys waving a giant metal stick around over the actors’ heads. I also enjoyed the fact that instead of the usual tennis ball, the FX guy waved a little toy robot around in front of the actors to give them an eyeline for what would eventually be the CGI creation. We also learn that the original name was Iron Invader, because that’s what everyone calls it (and probably what it originally aired as), though no one explains why it was changed to something far less enticing (“Metal Shifters” sounds like a Discovery Channel show). Not essential, but not the worst way to kill 12 minutes either, in other words. The transfer is also as spot on as always with their discs, no surprise there. It’s not a particularly great looking film to begin with, but I highly doubt it could ever look any better than it does on this blu-ray.
I’ve often wondered why they bother with single film releases for these things, as again they’re basically episodes in a TV show called “Syfy Original Movie”. Seems like they might actually move more units by grouping a few of them together by theme (not unlike how Shout Factory releases the MST3k TV series). The market for people specifically wanting to buy Metal Shifters is probably pretty small, but I’m sure there are lots of folks that would drop 30-35 bucks on a set of 4-5 giant alien robot movies. Something to consider!
What say you?