Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Kevin Stapleton, Eric Roberts, Frida Farrell, Craig Archibald, Mike Straub,
Directed by Declan O'Brien
Distributed by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
Cyclops is a movie I'm sure many would be quick to dismiss for all the reasons Sci-Fi Channel original movies generally get dismissed. Yet I'd be willing to bet you that if this same movie had been made about half a century ago and Ray Harryhausen had his hand in the making of it, today Cyclops would by no means be considered a classic, but the same people who'd scoff at the very notion of ever watching it would more than likely be the same ones talking about it in more glowing terms as a minor favorite of yesteryear. This Roger Corman-produced fantasy creature feature is decidedly old fashioned save for the sporadic spilling of blood. I'm fairly certain Harryhausen never had any of his monsters graphically rip-off or eat the limbs of victims.
The production used lavish (by made-for-television standards) sets held over from a USA Network production of Spartacus to bring ancient Rome to life. Those set pieces alone makes Cyclops stand head & shoulders above the often impoverished production values of your typical Sci-Fi Channel movie. Sure, it's the smallest Roman Colosseum I've ever seen and slave uprisings and Roman garrisons tend to consist of less than a dozen on each side, but this is a far more ambitiously scaled production and deserves credit for being so.
Now the titular cyclops doesn't convey the majestic ferocity of Harryhausen's famous cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad to be sure, but as far as Sci-Fi Channel movie monsters go, this is top notch. The digital effects work does have its iffy moments and there's no denying a certain rubberiness to its physical appearance, as well as some sporadic jerkiness like a stop-motion marionette. Regardless, this a very convincing-looking monster for a modern b-movie of this nature, and given how much screen time it receives and how much physicality and interaction is required of it, the effects work are superb.
On the other hand, the plot has some shortcomings that are a little harder to overlook.
Emperor Tiberius orders vain general Markus to lead a garrison of soldiers to deal with a 12-foot tall cyclops (give or take, the actual height seemed to vary in certain scenes) that's been savaging peasants and merchants along a road to Rome. He wants it captured alive and brought back to Rome as a prize. Markus succeeds, surprisingly easily I might add; however his reward from Tiberius does not meet with his satisfaction. Being an omnipotent jerk look for kicks, the emperor decides to start antagonizing Markus at every turn.
Playing the role of Markus is television and Broadway actor Kevin Stapleton. Some people were not meant to play Roman soldiers; Stapleton is one of those people. In full regalia he tends to look like someone going to a costume party dressed as a Roman soldier. Nor does he carry himself with the bravado a glory hound general of his stature should. A more fitting name might have been Blandus Maximus.
Cast as Emperor Tiberius I assumed Eric Roberts was going to ham it up more than he did. He chooses to underplay the role as a wimpy, slightly paranoid, lackadaisical hedonist with a constant self-satisfied smirk on his face. He's less a dictator than just a dick that can't stand be questioned by anyone else. Corrupt as he might be, Tiberius is not quite a brutal tyrant, if only because being so would require him to exert more physical effort on his part than he's willing to put out. That's what henchmen are for. More purely villainous is his nephew, potential successor, and henchman-in-chief, Falco (Capote's Craig Archibald). At least he gets his actual hands dirty.
A group of slaves learn of Tiberius' plan to have them fight to the death in gladiatorial competition and plot an escape. The captured cyclops getting loose and going on a rampage through the Roman streets gives the slaves the opening they need to flee. The cyclops is recaptured while the slaves escape into the countryside. Tiberius blames it all on Markus' incompetence. Falco is given the command to round-up the slaves. Markus stands up for an escaped slave he'd previously befriended and gets branded a traitor. Markus then finds himself tossed in amongst the slaves to fight to the death as a gladiator. Tiberius chooses to spice things up by throwing the cyclops into the arena as a special attraction.
If I had to score Cyclops just on the first hour I'd have given it a solid 4 out of 5. The first half flies by under the direction of Declan O'Brien (Rock Monster, the forthcoming Wrong Turn 3). It's fluff b-movie making at its finest, clunky as it often is.
Cyclops then pokes itself in the eye during the second half when the stellar pacing and nearly non-stop fun slumps as we're treated to a half-hearted, less thrilling Gladiator knock-off. One need only take notice of the very familiar helmet and face mask worn by two sparring gladiators to see everyone involved were well aware of the Gladiator comparisons. The cyclops barely factors into the mix again until the closing confrontation outside of a scene or two of Markus bonding with the one-eyed monster over raw meat and the meaning of the word "freedom". Markus falls for a slave girl he'd like to show his one-eyed monster to. These subplots get unconvincingly rushed by the suddenly hurried nature of the script and end up taking away from the momentum of the first half.
Even though the fun factor drops off a little during the more dramatic second half, Cyclops remains one of the more genuinely entertaining Sci-Fi Channel original movies I've seen. With a tighter, smarter script it could have been the best to date. Give this Cyclops a look. Like I said at the outset, if it had been made 50-years ago you'd probably be speaking fondly about it today.
3 out of 5
0 out of 5
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