MARCH 12, 2012
For years I thought Roger Corman’s claims that his film Carnosaur beat Jurassic Park to theaters were bullshit, because I didn’t think it actually played in theaters. As a young lad, I was unaware of things like “limited release”, so as far as I was concerned, if it didn’t play in one of the two theaters in my vicinity (that would be the Salem Tri-Cinema and the Showcase Cinemas in Lawrence, for Merrimack Valley readers), it went straight to video or something. Sorry, Roger. Luckily, I’ve since wisened up.
Anyway, it DID indeed play in theaters and actually grossed just under 2 million dollars, which is pretty good considering that the movie is not very good and only made about a quarter of that amount before Jurassic hit screens. My guess: sold out showings of Spielberg's film, parents who wanted to punish their children, and ironic movie nuts made up the rest of the gross. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s in line with his later Sci-Fi channel movies for the most part, which are perfectly fine for at-home (and free) viewing, but as a theatrical release – yikes.
To be fair, at least the unimpressive FX are practical; I’ll take a goofy little model or an obvious puppet over even halfway decent CGI any day of the week. But again, this is a theatrical release, and even without Park playing next door for most of its run, they don’t really impress in any way shape or form. We almost never see the entire dinosaur in a shot, and interactions with the characters or even specific environments are even harder to find. There’s also no real variety – the main one is a Raptor looking thing, and later there’s a T-Rex, but they don’t look that much different. I did like that the finale had a pretty detailed model of the bulldozer thing that the hero was driving around, so we just got a cool puppet/miniature battle instead of terrible compositing like in a Bert Gordon movie or something.
And there’s a surprising mean streak to the kills (and thus the movie as a whole) that entertained me. The highlight is when a bunch of hippies chain themselves to the bulldozers and such, only for the dinosaur to come along and eat them all while they’re unable to move. I also liked the grim ending, where a bunch of hazmat guys gun down our hero as part of their coverup. Speaking of the hero, he’s played by Raphael Sbarge, a good character actor who is unfortunately also the voice of Kaidan in the Mass Effect games. Anyone who has played the games knows that Kaidan is an obnoxious whiner, so seeing him mercilessly gunned down is a real treat, since his death in ME1 (I sure as hell wasn’t going to carry him over to the sequels) wasn’t very satisfying.
But when people aren’t dying by gunfire or dinosaurs? Egads. There’s way too much talking going on; part of the climax involves Sbarge listening to something exciting happen over the radio – this is not an appropriate time in the movie to be leaving things up to our imagination! Even when he confronts the crazed mad scientist (Diane Ladd), he’s not very proactive – he just sort of hangs out in her office as she explains her plan to wipe out humanity and give dinosaurs another shot (sure, why not), and even helps her on a few random tasks. We’re also treated to an endless scene in which fellow scientist Ned Bellamy tries to get a senator to eat his lab-grown blueberry muffins. There’s an admirable goofiness to some of this stuff, but… come on. We want dino-action, not muffins.
There’s also a pointless romantic subplot that comes out of nowhere, as Sbarge falls in love with one of the hippies that he’s supposed to be protecting the construction site from. She is played by Jennifer Runyon (Ghostbusters’ non-telepathic test subject), and this was actually her final feature role before apparently retiring. It’s hardly the best role to go out on; she starts off as a tough woman who stands up for her beliefs, but by the end she’s just a typical damsel needing rescue, and/or lying in bed sick from Ladd’s virus, which is causing women to give birth to dino eggs. I know that SOUNDS amazing, but as presented in the movie, it’s just kind of dull (and most of the hatching is off-screen).
Speaking of Ladd though, I like that it was a female mad scientist, as they are pretty rare. When you think of it, women are the real creators of life, so the fact that there are so few female mad scientists (who often want to create life in some way or other) is kind of weird. Someone green light a new version of Lady Frankenstein post haste! Anyway, she doesn’t get to do a hell of a lot here besides stare at monitors and say silly dialogue, but she definitely lends the film some class (she does have three Oscar nominations, after all), and since the character in the book (yes, this is based on a book) was a male, I think this was a terrific change as otherwise there would be almost nothing memorable about the character at all.
Did any of you see this in theaters? I am kind of curious about the aspect ratio – this version is 1.33:1, which is what the IMDb lists the film’s OAR as. But that would be weird for a theatrical release in the modern age – perhaps this is just an open matte transfer? There’s only one scene that seems cropped on the sides, and it might just be poor direction anyway. Also, why did you go?
What say you?