Watching SyFy Original movies so you don’t have to!
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “The complete irresponsibility of man for his actions and his nature is the bitterest drop which he who understands must swallow.” With that, I welcome you to my second installment of SyFy Sundays. While Nietzsche’s ruminations on the suffering undergone by those forced to be privy to the cruelness of mankind can be applied at least in part towards my suffering undergone while watching SyFy Original movies, it is a more contemporary philosopher of sorts, however, that may sum up my feelings regarding this column best. In the words of Arrested Development‘s G.O.B. Bluth, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
This week, I take on another Roger Corman head-scratch-o-rama, 2007′s Supergator, a SyFy flick that hits many of the same narrative beats as last week’s more recent Sharktopus (2010), but with far less wacky and, by consequence, interesting results.
That doesn’t sound very promising. It shouldn’t.
Alright, lay it on me. How does a “supergator” come about? *Deep breath* … Well, Supergator’s premise is that a giant ancient alligator has been ‘resurrected’ (if you will) from the DNA of a long-dead Cretaceous ancestor (a plot point which may sound familiar if you saw a little indie project of Steven Spielberg’s that rhymes with Purassic Jark). The newly-created monster grew faster than anticipated and broke loose from the genetic lab in which it was housed after an attempted round of tranquilizers failed to sedate it.
So why bring a reptilian mega-beast back into existence? Does it matter? The film explains it away in one sentence with some gobbledygook about “studying genetic adaptability” or some such nonsense. What’s really important is how many limbs the supergator eats, which is many.
I’m guessing that just about the entire movie involves the supergator rampaging around and killing random people before being bested at the end? Yeah, after only two films watched, I’m beginning to see the makings of a distinct pattern here. And by “pattern”, I mean that it appears SyFy may use the same exact script template for every film, with somebody just penciling in whatever Monster Of The Week that happened to get drawn from the hat.
But enough of my grumbling (for now). Supergator spends much of its time focusing on two distinct teams: one led by Brad Johnson (Always, Left Behind), cast because Tom Berenger was too expensive; and another led by Kelly McGillis (Top Gun), cast because Jane Lynch was too expensive. (Take another look at the above featured pic if you don’t believe me.) Johnson plays a vulcanologist who leads a team to Hawaii to study an unnamed Hawaiian volcano that’s about to blow its top, while McGillis is the genetic scientist and creator of the supergator who has hired a Quint-ish hunter to track the supergator through the Hawaiian jungles in which the monster has set up shop. (That makes it two for two so far on Quint archetypes appearing in my chosen SyFy Sundays movies.) The two teams eventually converge when the supergator begins eating everybody.
So how does McGillis pull off a ‘bioengineering genetic scientist’ role? Not too badly. It doesn’t hurt that the script contains virtually nothing in the way of science.
But I’m guessing that she’s the one that explains how the supergator came into being. That must delve into some kind of science. Indeed it does. Quite badly. During one of the film’s many slow stretches, McGillis helpfully explains that the ancient beast has its roots in the Pliocene Era, “70 million years ago”. Sounds impressive, until one does a little research and discovers that the Pliocene era was roughly 5.3 million years ago to 2.6 million years ago, meaning that the script is only off by about 66 million years, give or take. This is a mathematical mistake akin to stating that the Apollo moon landings occurred before Columbus discovered America. With that embarrassing error in epoch mangling in mind, it may not surprise you to know that the film does not attempt to sound ‘smart’ ever again.
Get to the good stuff. How much butchery is in this film? Not as much as you would think, regretfully. Clean kills caught on camera are fairly rare. Besides the quick decapitation above, I can only recall a handful of likewise instances. However, there are probably a dozen or so instances where the supergator scores a kill via another motif: the supergator stalks a screaming victim, who predictably falls down while trying to flee. Suddenly the camera begins swinging around wildly, with the viewer catching glimpses of blood splashes, a supergator head locked onto a limb of some sort, screaming, more blood, more vertigo-inducing camera wobbling, and then the silence of death. In other words, they don’t need you getting a good look at the rubber gator puppet head prop. Not as if that’s a trade secret.
Ugh. Ok, how’s the gratuitous hottie factor? Now you’re speaking SyFy’s language. It would seem, at least early on in my studies, that if there is one thing this line of films is good at, it’s spending unnecessarily long scenes ogling hot chicks and then savagely murdering them. Early in the film exists a scene where two bikini models are posing in front of a backdrop of a gorgeous waterfall. An “actor” with the worst ‘Gay European photographer’ accent I’ve ever heard, which is so badly done that I assumed a humorous throwaway plot point would involve him dropping the fake accent once he got into their pants (a regretfully incorrect assumption), is shooting pictures with increasingly-ridiculous directions and pantomimes.
This scene takes about three minutes. That doesn’t sound long, but considering that the film is approximately 96 minutes long, it means that 1/32 of the film is a couple half-naked babes just standing around and posing for… well… you. How the scene plays out is a brilliant little microcosm of what I’ve already come to expect from SyFy. First, here are the women in question.
Now, at the risk of sounding indelicate, which of these women would you say has the smaller chest? Probably the one in white, by a tad? Yeah, the crew thought that, too. That’s why, once the supergator (who, unbeknownst to the trio, happens to spend most of his time hanging around the waterfall) eats the photographer, it immediately kills the girl in white, leaving the amply-endowed girl in pink to flounce and jiggle away in terror. Give the fans what they want, something something. She runs around the jungle for another 5-10 boobly minutes before she, too, is eaten. Remember, Friday the 13th established long ago that no hot floozies shall survive monster movies. It’s in the rulebook.
Yeah, I get the picture. So how does this movie wrap itself up? As I said, the vulcanologists and the trackers eventually happen to converge just in time for some supergator attacks. The vulcanologists continually warn everyone about the volcano that’s about to blow up and the trackers continually warn everyone about the supergator. Nobody listens to either of them. Kelly McGillis is eaten saving one of the vulcanologists. The girl she saves is eaten five minutes later. One of the other scientists, Josh Kelley (who happens to be married to Katherine Heigl these days, God rest his soul), is eaten. And in the film’s climax, Supergator’s Quint lures the supergator to the…
Ah-ha! You’ve mentioned several times about a major plot point involving a nearby volcano that’s about to erupt. The last survivors must lure the monster to the volcano so that the eruption will kill it, right? Yeah, you’d think. That’s actually not what happens at all.
Huh??? Then what was the point in spending half the movie talking about this volcano that’s about to explode??? Got me. The volcano does erupt while many of the characters are on its slopes trying to escape the supergator, but then it… stops… for a while. And everybody manages to get to safety.
… Just tell me how the movie ends. Like I was about to say, the film’s version of Quint lures the supergator to a luau happening at a nearby beach. The monster rampages through the luau, eating people, while Quint and Brad Johnson shoot at it ineffectually with a machine gun and shotgun. But thankfully for the humans, the luau has. as part of its show, a huge propane-powered replica volcano. When all seems lost, Quint jumps on top of the fake volcano with the supergator following. At the opportune moment, one of the surviving vulcanologists turns on the gas while Brad Johnson draws a bead on some kind of pilot light on the volcano’s surface and fires. The replica explodes in a ball of flame, turning the monster and martyr Quint into a shower of gore.
So how does this compare with last week’s Sharktopus, all things considered? I was struck somewhat by Supergator’s efforts at maintaining a tone of general straightforwardness and non-goofiness. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The film is godawful. But it’s almost not aware of it. Terrible movies can still score points with the audience by maintaining a subtle self-deprecation. Supergator carries little to none of that self-aware humor. There are few things worse than an awful film that doesn’t realize its awfulness. It’s like watching a movie that MST3K savaged, but you don’t get to watch the MST3K version of it.
Last week, I placed Sharktopus in the middle of my rating range, my control sample as the first SyFy Original movie that I’d seen from beginning to end. Sadly, I found Supergator to be far duller in comparison, approaching its monster and related plot with a detrimentally ‘straight’ eye. Little in the way of physics-warping bloodletting, no action cliches, just a dull and largely uninvolving monster movie. Sharktopus was bad, but kinda fun bad. Supergator? Just plain bad.
Final Rating: 1.5/5 Bewildered Gabes
For those of you who may have missed my inaugural SyFy Sundays column on Sharktopus last week, check it out here.