Just Look Away

Posted on February 4, 2011

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Megapython vs. Gatoroid

Boy, I really threw myself on a grenade for my readers this week.

This 2011 made-for-TV monster movie wasn’t rated by Rotten Tomatoes, because it was only released on TV.

Why bother?

“I think we’re alone now.” -Song title repeatedly used as dialogue in the movie.

There are two reasons why you might watch this movie. First, there are the titular giant monsters. Second, the movie “stars” two pop princesses from the 1980s, Tiffany and Deborah “Debbie” Gibson.

I’m going to try to be as kind as I can be, but it won’t be easy.

I watched it

Terry: “You guys should get back together.”

Mickey Dolenz: “Yeah. We did that. In the Eighties.”

Tiffany plays Terry, who is some kind of park ranger/law enforcement officer in the Everglades. She’s planning her wedding and trying to deal with the opening of alligator hunting season. Deborah Gibson plays Nikki, who is some kind of herpetologist and wildlife activist. Nikki and some sycophants raid zoo/pet store/snake supply depot/evil science lab to free the snakes, which they just turn loose in the Everglades without regard to their actual native habitats. The snakes grow unusually large and start killing pets, people, and anything else they can catch. As drunken, hillbilly, idiots team up with frightened locals to hunt the snakes, the snakes kill Terry’s fiance. She gets so upset that she decides to pump chickens full of steroids and feed them to the alligators, so that the alligators will get big enough and aggressive enough to wipe out the snakes. Because, you know, that never goes wrong. Especially not when the nephew of one of your deputies supplies you with illegal steroids, including stuff so experimental that college jocks won’t take it. After that there’s a lot of mayhem and something about a fund-raiser to restore an estuary with former The M0nkees drummer Mickey Dolenz as the musical guest. There there’s something about using pheromones to lure both species to a quarry where there’s a bunch of explosives. According to the IMBD, both women had songs in the soundtrack, but I don’t remember either one.

Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention after the first 20 minutes. I may have made up most of the preceding paragraph.

The Verdict

“Ooh, somebody had ‘bitch’ for breakfast.” -Nikki

Really? Do I have to spell out how God-awful this film is?

First, allow me a caveat. Tiffany and Debbie Gibson hit the charts after I had moved on from pop music. They were neither musical interests nor fantasy figures for me. Did they have a big feud in the ’80s? If they did, some of the catty behavior onscreen (and off, since they hosted the SyFy Saturday showing of the film) would make more sense.

The writing, editing, direction, and production are sub-par, even for a SyFy original. My favorite movie example for the impact of a director is They Live. Roddy Piper never gave a performance of that caliber again. Even the typically great Keith David gives one of his best performances. Why? Because John Carpenter knows how to draw performances out of even marginal actors. Megawhatsis vs thingamajig needed better.

That’s it. Now the gloves come off. Let me regale you with some of the things this movie completely screws up.

Period Satire

There are some great, period satire, movies out there. I hear The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is great.  I can personally vouch for how terrific Black Dynamite is. The two original Grindhouse movies, Planet Terror and Deathproof, are excellent examples of what I mean.

If you’re going to make a satire of some genre, period, piece, then embrace it. Leave in the film scratches and cigarette burns. Allow for stutters and blurring from the film slipping on the projector sprockets – even if you have to insert all of that digitally.

Once you do that, it’s perfectly okay if a boom mike shows up in a shot, or if there’s an obvious switch between actor and stunt person (at one point, Tiffany jumps out of a car wearing a short dress; the exterior shot has someone obviously wearing a wig and gray tights; when Tiffany reappears, the tights are gone again). Continuity errors are acceptable.

Morals

Please do not try to butch up this movie by telling me (or anyone else) that it’s some kind of allegory for what happens when man messes with nature. Those kinds of morals were common in giant monster movies through the ’70s at least, and this movie makes no attempt to link itself with those older, earnest, productions (see the previous section).

I’m actually from Florida (originally), and I’m familiar with the problems caused by invasive alien species of plants and animals in the Everglades. I got very upset when Nikki started chucking snakes willy-nilly into the swamp. Just because they can survive there doesn’t mean that they belong there. Without natural predators to keep them in check, they go out of control and destroy the ecosystem. Which undermines every point Nikki tries to make about respecting nature for the rest of the film.

Characters

I’ve lost track of the number of movies that completely and utterly fail to deliver likable characters. Congo is a great example. I cared more about Captain Munro Kelly (the great white hunter who happened to be black) and Charles Travis than I did about the main characters (and that’s because they were played by Ernie Hudson and Bruce Campbell more than anything else).

It’s my ignorant, uninformed, guess that the writers assumed we would care about Nikki and Terry because we, the audience, had fond memories of a more innocent time when Tiffany and Debbie Gibson vied for positions on the pop charts. They make an attempt to get us to care about Terry by killing her fiance. We’re supposed to sympathize with her grief and understand why she would take extreme measures to wreak vengeance on the snakes.

Sorry, writers, but they both come off as bitchy idiots who deserve everything that happens to them. I don’t think that Tiffany and Deborah Gibson are like that in real life. I’m not insulting them. I think their characters in this movie were awful.

Fixing It

Let me make some more concrete suggestions for improving this film.

  • First of all, make Nikki a PhD.
    • Show her leading a graduate-level class, and talking about how wonderful reptiles are and how they play key roles in their native ecosystems.
    • Show her interacting with some students who are upset about some snake importers (for Easter Egg credit, use the name of one of the weapon labs from one of your SyFy “originals” in which the US government tries to weaponize giant snakes). She can agree that the business is wrong, and advocate protests, but that’s it.
    • We’re willing to give the cool teacher a chance.
  • Meanwhile, show officer Terry doing her job in a calm, professional manner.
    • Let her and her deputy bust some poachers. Heck, you can just show the aftermath of the arrest, with the deputy writing tickets or cuffing poachers.
    • Then show her back at the house that she and her fiance are restoring in preparation for their married life. I’m not asking for a sex scene, just something that shows the intimacy and power of their relationship.
    • Give us a chance to like her before she has to get tough with anybody.
  • Then let the hothead students rob the lab without Nikki’s involvement.
    • During the getaway, the kids have an accident. Some of them are badly hurt.
    • A few of the snakes escape from the wreck.
  • The next day, in class, Dr. Nikki asks the students how they got hurt, and they confess what they did and explain about absent students being in the hospital.
    • They can be defiant and sure that they did the right thing, except for the part where friends got hurt and snakes got released into an alien ecosystem.
  • Dr. Nikki immediately forces the students to accompany her to the police/ranger station, where she warns Terry about the snakes being loose.
    • Terry and her deputies are in the middle of issuing licenses for the opening of alligator season.
    • Have some deputies push a few more poachers through the area, saying something about, “Yeah, we caught these two jumping the gun on the start of the season.”
    • Nikki sees that Terry really is protecting the gators by enforcing hunting laws.
    • Ram the moral home by having the two of them commiserate about all the invasive species already ruining Florida, including (but not limited to) invasive water plants, species of frogs, birds, insects, and others.
  • Terry can say that she’s gotten no report of a break-in, but will follow-up. She takes the kids’ ID and contact info in case she has to arrest them later, but everyone can leave.
  • Cut to an alligator farm, where the people running the run-down roadside attraction are trying to build up business while protecting it from drunken, trespassing, hunters (covered in dialogue).
    • The people running the place need to genuinely care for their charges, and need to be real characters, not stereotypes. They’ve been in Florida longer than Disney, after all.
    • Due to budget constraints, they’re buying mass quantities of the cheapest chicken they can get their hands on instead of buying live chickens or free range, hormone free, meat.
    • There should be dialogue about the sacrifices the humans make to care for the gators.
    • A supplier offers them a great deal on chicken, which they take.
  • Show the snakes in the wild getting bigger, attacking pets and lone adults.
  • Show the alligators getting bigger, until they kill the people running the attraction (who we like, and who don’t deserve it) and break free.
  • Now Terry has a problem on her hands, and it makes sense for her to call in Dr. Nikki as a herpetology expert.
    • They work together, as the monsters get bigger and wreak more havoc.
    • They find out that the cheap chickens were part of a big agri-business experiment for raising bigger, meatier birds through genetic engineering and experimental growth hormones – which repeats the message about how intricate ecosystems are, and how vulnerable they are to human interference no matter how well intentioned.
  • Focus on the monsters. Spend your special effects budget there.
  • Avoid action sequences with your “stars.” Spend the money you save on the monsters, and on acting coaches.
  • Sorry, Mickey Dolenz. No cameo for you.
  • Sorry, A. Martinez. Your role gets cut.
  • Good news, uhm, guy who played Tiffany’s fiance. Your role gets expanded.

Seriously, there are Japanese monster movies that make better points about the environment than this abortion, and are more fun to watch. I feel bad for being so harsh about this movie, but I hope it warns you away.

Comments? Corrections? Requests?

Got a movie you want panned here? Want to tell me that I’m wrong? I love to hear from readers.

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