Pterodactyl (2005)

Starring Coolio, Cameron Daddo, Amy Sloan, Danna Lee

Directed by Mark L. Lester

48 hours after Pterodactyl debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, including my hometown of Long Beach, MS. 48 hours after that, the Sci-Fi Channel touts Pterodactyl as being their highest rated original movie ever. I’m not sure what my point is, but I cannot help but get a creepy feeling that this is no coincidence; one of those “wages of sin = death” dealies. I’m sure in the grand scheme of things that this movie and that catastrophic storm are completely unrelated, but the conspiracy theorist in me suspects that somehow, someway, there is a connection.

A hard luck college anthropologist and his would be girlfriend, a wannabe anthropologist herself, lead a tiny group of college misfits to a long dormant volcano in Northern Turkey to research…I forget what the original point of research was supposed to be but it had something to do with that volcano and the students were along in order to get extra credit. What matters is that they get there just in time to deal with some newly hatched pterodactyls. Why did pterodactyl eggs suddenly hatch, you ask? Well, you see, their eggs just sort of rolled out of the volcano at the very beginning of the film and began hatching. Rhyme and reason are irrelevant because this is a Sci-Fi Channel original movie and looking for rhyme and reason in a Sci-Fi Channel original movie is like looking for laughs in a Rob Schneider comedy; some will claim it exists but the rest of us know better by now.

Things go from dumb to dumber when it turns out that this Turkish volcano that the pterodactyls are nesting at, and where these stupid American academics are traveling to, also happens to be close to the Armenian border. I wasn’t aware that the United States was at war with the tiny nation of Armenia, but, according to this film, we definitely have some issues with them, at least their terrorist aspects, and I don’t think they were of the Islamic fundamentalist type either. Led by Sgt. Coolio, a crack team of cover US commandos/monster fodder is in hot pursuit of an evil Armenian terrorist, who in terms of rank villainy wouldn’t even make for a good henchman in a Golan-Globus action flick.

Before long, the college group is being attacked by both the pterodactyls and the terrorists, so the commandos step in to save them from both. In an amazing coincidence, it turns out that the professor’s would be girlfriend is the daughter of Sgt. Coolio’s Gulf War squad leader; small world, huh? And so when a pterodactyl whisks her off to the nest, they have to join forces to rescue her before pterodactyl hatchlings make a meal out of her. And they have to do so with the terrorist leader they’ve captured in tow and you know he won’t be up to any good.

As for the pterodactyls, I must confess I was surprised by the quality of the computer animation. It’s never completely realistic but after baring witness to the CGI abominations in Sci-Fi Channel originals like Snake King and Attack of the Sabretooth, the digital dactyls look quite impressive, at least about 75% of the time. The problem with the title creatures is the repetitive nature of their actions. The first time one swoops out of the sky and slices a guy in half causing a geyser of blood to erupt from the still standing half of his torso, it’s neat. The first time you see a pterodactyl swoop out of the sky and snatch someone up in its talons and fly off with them, it’s neat. Unfortunately, that’s about all they do and they do it repeatedly. Mostly though, they just fly around in circles and swoop out of the sky a lot. There’s only so many times you can watch a flock of pterodactyls dodging bullets and rockets before it grows especially tiresome.

To his credit, director Mark L. Lester knows how to keep things moving. While it does get a bit repetitive, one can never fully say Pterodactyl gets boring. Unlike countless other Sci-Fi Channel originals, Pterodactyl flows at a solid pace. A Hollywood veteran whose resume includes movies like Firestarter, Commando, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and Roller Boogie, Lester knows how to make a B-movie entertaining and he nearly pulls off a miracle – emphasis on nearly.

What ultimately sinks Pterodactyl are the characterizations. They’re either done too broadly to the point of bad parody, are totally one-dimensional, or simply inconsistent in how they’re portrayed. The worst in terms of bad stereotyping are the students along for the trip. You could best sum them up as conspiracy theorist nerd, the forty-year old virgin, Paris Hilton wannabe, and the one they didn’t bother establishing a personality for since she dies quickly anyway. These character types aren’t just bad, they’re insultingly unfunny. Whenever any of them opens their mouth – especially the conspiracy theorist nerd – it’s just plain brutal.

Coolio, whose career has rapidly descended from “Gangsta’s Paradise” to B-movie hell, actually gives the film’s best performance, which should tell you an awful lot right there. Still, his dialogue consists of an often uneasy mix of tough talking military jargon and fast talking ghetto jive that makes me wonder if Coolio didn’t adlib it all right there on the spot. Between his dialogue in this flick and Dracula 3000, I’m really beginning to wonder if he’s being allowed to write his own material.

The rest of the commandos are almost all just cannon fodder with only one or two that standout from the rest, and not because they have distinct personalities, but because they just have a few more lines than the others that die off quicker.

Then there’s the professor, one of the most inconsistent characters I’ve seen in awhile. Upon first encountering the pterodactyls and having already lost students to them, he still insists on going to the volcano to find their nest because it’ll be an incredible find that will make him world famous and he’s tired of being a nobody in the world of anthropology. He shows little or no regard for the remaining members of his group or their well being, almost all of whom want to turn back and seek help. Later on, this same professor suddenly goes from selfish egotist to dashing romantic hero determined to rescue the woman he loves. I kept expecting, if nothing else, for him to make a noble sacrifice at the end in order to save her and atone for his mistakes, as is usually keeping with the laws of cinema. But no, he does no such thing. In fact, another character makes one of the most pointless self sacrifices I’ve ever seen in a movie, proving to be that much more pointless because it doesn’t work, leaving professor jerkface to step in and be the hero. Sorry, not buying it.

Also, I don’t know about you but I really have come to hate it when screenwriters get cute by naming characters in goofy B-movies like this after really talented genre people. In this case, characters have last names like Lovecraft, Heinlein, and Serling. If you’re making a movie this dopey then at least be honest about it and give characters last names like Wynorski, Boll, and Pyun.

And a shiny new nickel to anyone that can explain to me the last shot of the film. Was it supposed to set up a potential sequel based around an entirely different breed of dinosaur, an acknowledgement that pterodactyls aren’t that impressive compared to other dinosaurs, or just something completely nonsensical that the filmmaker thought would be a nifty way to wrap up the movie? Save your nickel because I’m voting for theory number three.

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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