Starring Jeff Fahey, Tony Todd, Dee Wallace Stone, and T-Rex puppet
Directed by John Carl Buechler
Distributed by Westlake Entertainment
Logically speaking, I really should hate this movie. I mean I should be sitting here prepared to write a scathing review ripping this thing a new backside six ways to Sunday. I’d read a handful of reviews of The Eden Formula (already released on DVD in Australia under its original title Tyrannosaurus Wrecks) that all but outright said it was one of the worst movies ever. EVER! Having read those extremely negative reviews describing a movie so unbelievably awful with a title monster brought to life through a combination of obvious puppetry and recycled footage from the various Carnosaur movies I’d pretty much resolved myself to the reality that I was about to watch something roughly on par, if not worse, than a Jim Wynorski production made in a similar fashion a few years back called Raptor. If you’ve ever seen Raptor then you know just what degree of awfulness I’m talking about here.
Yet, shockingly, I did not hate The Eden Formula. I know full well that the overwhelming percentage of people that actually bother to watch this movie will loathe it and, frankly, I have no reason to argue against them for doing so. It’s not a good movie in any way, shape or form. That’s probably because it was never meant to be. Perhaps it was because I went into this film with some knowledge of what I was in for or perhaps it was because I went into this film with lower than low expectations, but I came away from The Eden Formula mildly amused by the borderline Ed Wood quality of the filmmaking at work here.
It’s like there are two different movies going on here at once. The first movie is a low rent Die Hard-style action thriller about armed gunman taking over a corporate research facility in order to steal a potentially world-changing scientific breakthrough. The only person standing in their way is the ex-soldier turned scientist who just happens to be an old nemesis of the mercenary leading the hired guns. Then there’s the second movie, a campy romp that asks the question, “What would it be like if the T-Rex puppet from the old ‘Land of the Lost’ kiddy show got loose in downtown Los Angeles and began biting off heads?” The two movies occasionally intersect. Between the use of recycled Carnosaur footage (and possibly some bits and pieces from a couple other movies as well) and the randomness of the scenes involving the rubbery dinosaur skulking about the city streets, seemingly unnoticed I might add, I dare say that only part of The Eden Formula was actually filmed, the rest was cobbled.
Jeff Fahey, “one of our greatest living actors,” or so said Dennis Miller introducing him as a guest on his short-lived late night talkshow back in 1992, plays a brilliant scientist who has created something called “The Eden Formula”, a genetic breakthrough that will revolutionize life as we know it with its incredible cloning properties. Exactly what it is and how it works is not relevant to the plot. All that matters about this amazing formula is that bad guys are willing to kill for it and Fahey has used it to clone a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Why a T-Rex? B-movie queen bee Dee Wallace Stone plays the corporate higher-up who came up with the brilliant idea to genetically engineer a T-Rex as a spectacular way of showing off what the Eden Formula can do, much to the chagrin of the disapproving Fahey who feels doing so was too risky and uncalled for. Listen to Fahey when it comes to such matters; the man knows a thing or two about what happens when scientists trying to show off begin doing unethical stuff that only leads to the deaths of others. Body Parts, Lawnmower Man, anyone?
The Eden Formula and the Eden Formula-produced dinosaur are set to be unveiled to the world very shortly, so if someone wants to hire a team of mercenaries to steal the formula they better act fast. Faster than you can look into a mirror and say, “Candyman” three times, here comes Tony Todd leading about as unprofessional a lot of gun-toting henchmen you’re likely to find outside of an old rerun of “The A-Team”. Their plans go awry when Fahey and Stone get wind of their presence and hide all the Eden Formula data. Also, there’s the matter of the bad guys’ computer hacker unlocking every electronic door lock in the building, including the one housing the hungry T-Rex. Fahey, Stone, and a random security guard will end up playing cat & mouse with the dimwitted bad guys while the hungry T-Rex busts out of building and begins roaming the (empty) streets of Los Angeles.
There’s nothing at all wrong with the performances by Fahey and Todd, both of whom seem acutely aware that they are starring in a movie being made by producers willing to spend the money on getting some name actors to add legitimacy to a sci-fi flick with effects so chintzy I’d dare say the whole production is tantamount to being a scam. You can’t make a movie that looks this professional and not question just how money-grubbing the money men behind it had to be when you see special effects worth of a thirty-year old kiddy show and obvious recycled stock footage from other films – footage that always appears with some sort of slight anamorphic distortion to it furthering making it standout as being recycled from another film. Ridiculous yet somehow lively, jumping back and forth between a low rent action thriller without much by way of action or thrills and an even lower rent and immensely idiotic monster comedy, the whole film clocks in at only a mere 76-minutes. And keep in mind that roughly eight of those minutes consist of the opening and closing credits and another ten belong to an incredibly drawn out in-joke of a scene that has the T-Rex patiently waiting off to the side before attacking the set of a B-movie in the midst of a troubled shoot.
Jeff Fahey is his usual Fahey self, breezy as ever here with his effortless performance – as in no effort was made. Tony Todd barks his lines with the breathy intensity of a blues singer auditioning for the role of a Spartan in 300. Only Dee Wallace Stone comes off particularly bad. I kind of felt bad watching her spend so much of her screen time driving around the city aimlessly in a squad car she commandeered from a cop that fell victim to the T-Rex; the whole time weepily radioing police dispatch and calling her boss only to have them all scoff at her T-Rex tall tale. The thought of actually driving somewhere that would require her to get out of the vehicle in order to get help never seems to cross her mind.
But who cares about the humans; we’re here for the T-Rex, right? Oh, that T-Rex… I don’t know if director John Carl Buechler should be commended or slapped senseless for using such cheap, cheesy, and absurdly unrealistic puppetry to bring the T-Rex to life. There a few very brief, very rapid fire scenes where some very bad computer effects appeared to have been used, but mostly we’re in Sid & Marty Krofft territory with this one. A puppet T-Rex growling… Flailing its head back in forth with a Barbie doll in its mouth… Recycled dinosaur shots from the Carnosaur> films… Ah, heck, there were a couple of scenes where they just seemed to be waving a T-Rex action figure in front of a green screen. They did seem to have a really big puppet that was used specifically for shots where the actual living breathing actor would suddenly find their heads inside the mouth of the slouching T-Rex. Director John Carl Buechler, a guy known in the business for being a special effects guru, though you’d probably never know it from watching the FX in this movie, relies almost exclusively on some old fashioned, “Land of the Lost” level puppetry. I keep referencing that old Krofft Brothers kiddy show but that’s really the only thing that kept springing to mind every time the T-Rex took the screen – just with gorier results. I don’t know if the people behind the Guinness Book of World Records keep a record for “Most Heads Bitten off by Dinosaur in a Motion Picture,” but if so we now have a new benchmark.
Most of those heads that get bitten off are just random people on the city streets. The T-Rex escapes the confines of the building and proceeds to roam the empty streets of Los Angeles. You’d think the city was under martial law given how there’s hardly any cars on the road and people are few and far between. Just a puppet dinosaur running amok through the city, going almost completely unnoticed, attacking what few people it encounters – all of which is played for laughs. And no matter how far away the T-Rex seems to wander it always ends up teleporting back to the corporate facility whenever the script needs it to help further thin out the cast.
No doubt a large portion of this movie was done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, though not enough to either make the film an outright parody or give off a sense that the people responsible were working overtime to make a film overly self conscious of its plentiful shortcomings. The US distributors really should have stuck to the cheeky Tyrannosaurus Wrecks title rather than the banal Eden Formula re-titling since the goofier title is more in spirit with the film’s contents. I don’t want to say this movie is corny but you won’t find this much corn in the whole state of Nebraska.
The bad movie fan side of me couldn’t help but be in some way marveled by how unapologetically bad this entire production was. You’re either going to be somewhat amused by the overwhelming badness of it like I was or you are going to be utterly appalled and hate yourself afterwards for having watched it. There will be no in-between opinions. I’d suggest either watching it in a “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ state of mind or not at all.
As for supplemental material, we got nothing but the trailer. Whoopty-doo! Hell, even the “Chapter Selection” section only has four chapters to choose from. If ever there was a DVD I’ve reviewed where I would have killed for a behind-the-scenes feature or audio commentary to explain (or justify) the movie, it would have been this one.
2 1/2 out of 5
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