Ferocious Planet (2011)
Directed by Billy O’Brien
Written by Douglas G. Davis
A Syfy/RHI Entertainment/Parallel Film Production
Most genre fans have a love/hate relationship with Syfy Channel films, I suspect. While most of us enjoy ninety minutes of watching a bear-shark-a-cuda chase down unsuspecting victims on a Friday or Saturday night, there’s no denying a good portion of Syfy original programming simply isn’t worth being subjected to. In fact, some of it is downright unwatchable, most of the fare coming off like Girls Gone Wild videos with thin genre plotlines to justify being on the network.
But, every once in a while a Syfy Original comes along that’s actually well written, well crafted, and it gives you hope that, perhaps, more such films will follow, which is why we keep watching.
Ferocious Planet is one of those films.
Written by Douglas (Carny) Davis and directed by Billy (Isolation) O’Brien, Ferocious Planet starts off as many Syfy films do – in a secret government lab where major achievements of modern science are about to go horribly wrong.
Dr. Jillian O’Hara (Dagmar Doring) has been doing groundbreaking research in the area of hyper-dimensional physics and the discovery of alternate universes, but in order to continue receiving the funding she needs to continue her work, she has to convince surly U.S. Senator Jackson Crenshaw (John Rhys-Davies) that her research has significant value and should be spared the chopping block.
Overseeing security during the demonstration is Colonel Sam Synn (played by Joe Flanigan of Syfy’s Stargate: Atlantis and Warehouse 13). Synn’s a burned-out soldier with a checkered past and all he wants to do is get through this babysitting gig so he can get busy with retirement and spend the rest of his days on his boat.
Dr. O’Hara explains to all in attendance that she has created a machine which not only proves parallel universes exist, but actually allows you to see live images of said dimensions, which she proudly shows them.
Senator Crenshaw isn’t impressed with the images, however. How are they to know if what they are seeing is real and not simply preloaded video in a desperate attempt to keep their funding? How can she prove any of this?
Of course, his questions are answered rather quickly when the experiment goes awry, and before you can say “What the hell happened to Kansas?” our heroes find themselves sucked into another dimension where they are hunted by vicious creatures, have little to defend themselves with, and are in desperate need of a ride home. To make matters worse, the window of opportunity to get home will close within a few hours and the machine which brought them there is in desperate need of repairs.
While the trope sounds familiar, writer Douglas Davis does a nice job of continually raising the stakes and adding layers to the plot which cause you to question if what the characters think has happened is accurate. A series of clues allude toward the possibility something else may have occurred instead and bigger surprises may lie ahead. There’s a nice sense of mystery here, and while more seasoned viewers will believe they have figured out what’s going on, you’re never quite sure if the filmmakers aren’t playing on those preconceived notions just to turn them against you, and the film is structured well enough to keep you watching to find out.
There are a few attempts at levity that fall a bit flat here and there, but they don’t harm the overall film, which definitely plays better when it’s aiming for straightforward storytelling. The characters are well drawn for the most part, a back story for Colonel Sam Synn adds some depth, but none of them ever really expand beyond their archetypes, which is just fine. We’re not doing wide character arcs here.
Director Billy O’Brien does a decent job of camouflaging the low budget, keeps the action moving, and gets solid performances from his actors. You get the sense he got the most out of what he had to work with, and that’s all you can ask of a director working on these kinds of films. You want to see they at least tried to do their best, and it’s clear O’Brien did.
Sure, the movie suffers from a lot of the same issues which often plague Syfy Original Films (limited effects budget, limited locations), but if it’s to be judged against other Syfy films, which we have to finally admit has indeed become a genre unto itself, Ferocious Planet is an enjoyable piece among those ranks, and the Syfy faithful should find it one of the better original films to come along in a while.
Ferocious Planet airs on Syfy April 9th, 2011.
3 1/2 out of 5