Starring Sean Patrick Flannery, some other people I’ve never heard of, and more stock footage of grizzly bears than you can shake a stick at!
Directed by Paul Lynch
Folks, I got three words for you:
BEARS IN SPACE!
Holy smokes! What the hell were the makers of Savage Planet smoking? Even by the increasingly low standards of Sci-Fi Channel original movies, Savage Planet reaches a plateau of stupidity few Sci-Fi Channel original movies even attempt or succeed at achieving. Again:
BEARS IN SPACE!
And the filmmakers didn’t even bother to make them mutant-looking bears, nor could they afford the CGI to make the bears interact with the film’s actors. Instead we’re bombarded with a barrage of stock footage of actual grizzly bears in the wild either charging forward or standing on their hind legs growling, stock footage that is pretty much recycled over and over only at different angles and in varying degrees of close-up. Scratch the opening line of this review; I’ve got six words for you:
STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE!
I knew from the opening minutes of Savage Planet that I was going to be in for one doozy of a movie. Two explorers are foraging about a forest-covered alien world called Planet Oxygen, named so after being discovered by Oprah Winfrey – or not. The male explorer leads the way while the female behind him slices through the brush with a machete. You’d think if it was that bad then she would be leading the way, but then if she was, then she wouldn’t be able to accidentally lop his arm off. Indeed. She somehow manages to not look at what she’s cutting and takes part of his arm off with the machete. Reeling in agony, the guy accidentally falls through a hole in the ground. Upon landing, the blood-gushing stump of what’s left of his arm ends up in a puddle of green goo bubbling up from the ground of this underground cavern. He pulls his arm up and watches it magically regenerate before his eyes. It’s a miracle. What is this miraculous green slime with its amazing regenerative healing powers? He’ll never know because that cavern he fell into happens to be the den for one of those dreaded space bears. Non-regenerative death follows. Cue opening credits.
Oh, yeah, I knew I was in for a full-blown cornucopia of schlock with Savage Planet.
It’s the future. Earth is currently an environmental hellhole. People have to wear oxygen masks outdoors. Yadda yadda yadda… A corporation has detected an Earth-like planet – dubbed Planet Oxygen – far across the galaxy that could be the salvation for the human race. They’ve also developed a teleportation system that can transport people and equipment across the galaxy. Yadda yadda yadda… Sean Patrick Flannery is Kane, the leader of the small expedition consisting of the shady corporate boss, the boss’ dullard scientist wife who clearly has the hots for Kane, the boss’ fatso lawyer, and some other scientists, soldiers, and medics that have bear food written all over them. Yadda yadda yadda… Something goes wrong, killing the last person to transport to Planet Oxygen and leaving them stranded on the planet with only limited supplies and ammo. Then the tech guy in charge of the teleporter (that looks like a high-tech bird feeder, mind you) vanishes, their crooked boss who clearly is not telling them something also abandons them in a time of crisis, and it turns out the planet is so unstable it will eventually self-destruct. Yadda yadda yadda…
It also has a lot to do with finding some of that regenerative green space goo. There’s a hilarious flashback where we see the boss and the teleporter tech viewing the last transmission sent back by the first expedition. The footage is the exact same footage we saw in the pre-title sequence. How were these ill-fated explorers able to film this footage from a third-person perspective? Ah, the mysteries of the universe. Now the unscrupulous corporate honcho has tagged along with another exploration team to personally find some of that magical healing muck, bring it back to Earth, reverse engineer it, and use it to save the human race. Oh, and become the wealthiest, most powerful man in the history of the universe for doing so. There’s only one thing standing in their way:
STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE!
Scuttle the plot and screw the characters; the only thing that really matters is that Planet Oxygen’s seemingly only inhabitants are bigass brown bears. According to one scientist, who will herself soon become a human picnic basket, the bears are supposed to be along the lines of the colossal prehistoric bears from Earth’s past. Thanks to the stock nature footage they just look like ordinary bigass brown bears. This same scientist will also reveal that these alien space bears are indeed smarter than the average bear, which I guess is supposed to explain why they often wait until characters wander off alone to attack or specifically target and drag off injured members of the group. These bears must have been starving to death too because we never see any birds or fish or other animals to sustain the appetites of these intergalactic prehistoric space bears.
Here’s how the makers of Savage Planet handle the typical encounter between our insipid explorers and one or more of Planet Oxygen’s space bear population:
The only deviations from this formula will be if the actor is required to stand too frightened to move, at which point they will be killed, or if they attempt to run away, at which point they will most likely be killed. Sometimes a character will be making a break for it and suffer a non-fatal phantom bear swipe; something that looks like a blurry claw will very quickly fly across the screen behind the actor, causing him to fall with a slash wound across his back.
The numerous space bear encounters throughout Savage Planet play out pretty much the way I’ve just described, and it never fails to not elicit unintentional laughter. I’ve argued in the past in regards to Sci-Fi Channel movies that if they don’t have the budget to properly CGI the monster(s), then why even bother making the movie at all? With Savage Planet, they not only didn’t have the budget to properly CGI the monsters, but even Nu Image with its cheap-o shark movies never sank to the levels that the makers of Savage Planet did. Not only is it stock footage of actual bears, they recycle this same stock footage over and over – often reversing angles, sometimes not even bothering to try and make it not look like the same bear footage we’ve been seeing over and over. All of these encounters will feature an inordinate number of jump cuts and extreme close-ups. And it’s quite apparent that the actors themselves had little clue what exactly they were supposed to be interacting with when these scenes were shot. In fact, I bet they were positively mortified upon seeing how it all got edited together.
Aside from that, there appears to be one single scene where they actually had a bear on the set, four seconds worth of CGI bear footage, and several quick shots in which characters are grabbed or slashed with bear claws that are so obviously hand puppets it’s impossible not to laugh.
While the death scenes are often surprisingly gory, they’re still no less laughable. These bears really love to decapitate and disembowel people. Well, at least their hand puppet claws do. For example, a puppet bear claw slashes one unlucky individual’s head clean off, and the director decides to focus on the headless corpse as it falls to the ground squirting out blood like a malfunctioning water fountain. I should be horrified or repulsed. Nope, I’m laughing. Another gets his skull crushed, but the fake bear hands make it look more like this person is getting his skull squashed by a pissed off Chewbacca.
Despite being stranded on an alien world spiraling towards self destruction and being hunted down by otherworldly bears, there’s a surprising lack of urgency in the words and actions of these monumentally screwed interplanetary explorers. Teleporter malfunctions causing one of their teammates to arrive without any bones in his body, seeing the decapitated head of another teammate rolling down a hill right at your feet, finding the remains of the previous exploration team you weren’t told about, realizing you may have been double-crossed by the man responsible for getting you in this mess to begin with, being constantly stalked by man-eating, intergalactic grizzlies – they never seem nearly as terrified or concerned as one would expect people in such a predicament to be. In fact, two of the male leads often find themselves sitting acting like they’re on a date with two of the female leads. Aside from a few brief shouting matches, these people are remarkably casual about the life or death situation and seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them.
The film’s highly inappropriate piano music score doesn’t help matters either. This is supposed to be a sci-fi horror movie, but the score sounds like it came out of a PBS documentary. The faux-Jaws chords struck whenever there’s a looming bear threat also give an air of comedy to the proceedings.
The traditional sci-fi elements are nothing special yet perfectly acceptable for the sort of movie it’s trying to be, hampered by occasional slow points where not a whole lot happens. Whenever the STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE! goes on the offensive, Savage Planet is an absolute howler. Considering we are talking about BEARS IN SPACE!, perhaps I should call it an absolute growler?
I suppose as preposterous as Savage Planet is, it still might have worked if it had been done in the style of a Jack London wilderness survival tale with science fiction overtones. Hell, for all I know that may have been exactly what the screenwriters had in mind before the Sci-Fi Channel execs got their grubby claws on the script. Or maybe they intended to make a whacked-out retread of the 1977 “Jaws in the woods” flick, Grizzly, only set on an alien world that just happens to look like the Canadian wilderness. Whatever the filmmakers intended with this film is moot since Savage Planet plays out like a joke from “The Colbert Report.” What with Stephen Colbert constantly warning us of the current bear threat and that phony sci-fi novel he claims to have written, the Sci-Fi Channel execs should have struck a deal with Colbert, renamed the Sean Patrick Flannery character, and called the movie Savage Planet: A Tek Jansen Adventure. At least then the ludicrous nature of the film would have seemed more intentional.
2 1/2 out of 5
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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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