Curse of the Komodo (2004)

Plot:  Giant Komodo Dragons, what do you think?

For good or ill, I don’t have much to say about this latest Sci-Fi Channel premiere motion picture, now on DVD, from the ubiquitous ‘Jay Andrews,’ (aka, Jim Wynorski). Are you folks getting sick of reading what amounts to a monthly review of whatever latest DTV killer shark/giant whatsit flick I come across? I seem helpless when it comes to watching these things, but should I keep writing about them? You tell me. (However, I already ordered a disc for an older and incredibly obscure shark movie somebody told me about, so that will be popping up here regardless.)

Curse of the Komodo, which indeed features giant komodo dragons, if no apparent curse, is pretty standard fare. There are the inevitable lumps of stock footage (anything involving helicopters, ships, big explosions, etc…in other words, anything expensive looking), the casting of familiar Wynorski/Fred Olen Rey veterans (Melissa “Raptor” Brasselle, Jay “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” Richardson, Robert “Attack of the Party Nerds” Gabai), in-jokes and a lot of clichÈs.

The most horrifying of the latter is that the colossal komodos are, sigh, the result of a military bioweapons experiment gone awry. Please. Please, somebody, outlaw this idea. I swear, I all but weep when I see it employed again. At this point in time, it’s about the single laziest plot device I can think of. I remember how bored I was when this idea was used in the remake of The Blob, and that was nearly twenty years and around five hundred crappy movies ago.

This time around the culprit is a typically amoral naval Admiral. (Huh? What use is the Navy going to find for dino-sized komodo dragons? At least last month’s Dark Waters had the Navy developing killer mutant sharks.) He explains to his subordinate, played by Robert Gabai, that he got the idea after seeing a movie called Dinosaur Island. “Have you ever seen it, it’s pretty good,” he opines, indicating that he’s probably better suited to be an Evil Military Guy than as a film critic. Anyway, the gag is that Dinosaur Island was directed by Wynorski and starred Gabai. Gee, that’s rich, I’ll say.

Upon viewing this classic he immediately decided that truck-sized, man-eating lizards would be a neat-o-keen military weapon. I realize these guys are supposed to be eee-vil and/or insane. Really, though, where’s the logic in this? Why would a genetically modified killer whatsit be a more efficient weapon than, say, a rifle, or a tank, or a helicopter gunship, or whatever? And how many of these black bag bioweapons research projects is the government funding? It must be thousands. Good thing these advanced experiments generally only require a scientist or two to run them.

Speaking of, the scientist running the project is shocked, shocked, to discover that a military application is his sponsor’s goal. Our idealistic innovator intended his work to be a means to—here we go again—create giant animals so as to help feed the world’s population. Sigh. First of all, giant animals would require giant amounts of feed, so the ‘extra food’ benefit seems doubtful. Second, agricultural progress has us at the point where we can already pretty much feed everybody. Any problems doing so usually involve regimes intentionally keeping their people from being fed, more than a simple lack of food.

In any case, the Eee-vil Admiral smirks at the scientist’s naivetÈ. The military, he avers, is in the business of killing people, not feeding them. This will undoubtedly surprise many of our troops over in Iraq, since most of them have in fact spent more time doing the latter than the former, not to mention rebuilding schools and hospitals, setting up water filtrations systems, getting electrical grids working, etc. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but an alternate strategy involving sending a bunch of gigantic komodo dragons into the area doesn’t seem very mission effective.  

[Actually, as Jabootu proofreading maestro Carl Fink points out:  “Even though everything you say about Iraq is correct, that’s actually the worst example. Look at Bangladesh, or Liberia, or Haiti … in all those places we are or were basically there to prevent starvation.”]

Anyhoo, the scientist and co-worker are sent to their remote base island to wipe out all evidence of the experiment. This follows the inevitable teaser opening wherein a squad of *cough, cough* ‘elite’ soldiers are sent onto the foggy island, without being told what their mission is–another truly moronic idea that is much overused in these things–and sans adequate weapons. Needless to say, after running around in a distinctly unmilitary fashion, they are wiped out to a man. I will say that at least this scene was filmed outdoors (or on an outdoor set), rather than taking place in a power station or water filtration plant somewhere. Watching more laughably train ‘special forces’ operatives skulking down concrete hallways I can do without.

Another plot thread that had me tearing my hair out was when we again get the Murderous Criminals on the Lam who End Up in the Middle of It All. We meet them during a hilariously cheap ‘casino’ robbery, which was filmed in the lobby of some office building, after a fleeting stock shot of slot machines to ‘establish’ the locale. Such miscreants pop up in way too many of these things (Red Waters, Crocodile II, etc.), and I wasn’t exactly reassured when they trotted out the “You said my name, now I’ve got to kill the witness” trope.

(The robbery scene is also used to provide a strangely elliptical cameo for B-movie icon George “Buck” Flower, who appears on screen for literally about five seconds. Hours before I saw this film, coincidentally enough, I had read that Mr. Flower had passed away. Rest in peace, Buck.) 

The inevitable storm forces the crooks and their hired helicopter pilot to land on the island.  I was a little confused as to where the casino was, because they establish the island as being in the general vicinity of Hawaii. As they don’t have casinos there, the matter is apparently something we’re just meant to just pass over.

In any case, at this point our cast is as follows:

  • The scientist.
  • His female co-scientist, who’s always loved him but never expressed her feelings.
  • The scientist’s buxom but borderline retard daughter (that’s not how she was meant, I think, but it’s how she comes across) who to the presumed enjoyment of some strips down for a swim and exposes her hideous, melon-sized silicone boobs.
  • The three crooks, including the moll, played by Brasselle. As a slighter bigger ‘star’ than the woman playing the daughter, she doesn’t have to pop her top. Instead, she only has to do a scene in her bra.
  • A couple of dead meat assistants.
  • The helicopter pilot, who is the film’s hero.

The action is pretty routine, and pretty much everyone you suspect will get whacked does. Meanwhile, the characters not only have to contend with the giant komodos, but also with the double-dealing Admiral. Unsurprisingly, he decides it would be better if everyone who knows anything were taken out of the picture.

Since they had stock footage of military jets and massive firebomb explosions on hand, this is incorporated into the end of the movie. The idea is that the bombing run will wipe out everything on the island, including any inconvenient witnesses. The problem is that the two planes we see could at best destroy but a teeny fraction of what seems a fairly sizable island. Moreover, they use one shot of gigantic fireball blasts destroying a bunch of jungle huts several times over, even though we don’t know why there’d be such structures on the island anyway.

In any case, this provides the film with one of its numerous echoes of earlier schlock pictures. The napalming recalls, suitably enough, the climax of The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Meanwhile, the kodomo’s saliva not only is highly infectious, as it is in real life, but also here turns those exposed to it into murderous quasi-zombies before killing them. (!!) This ‘poison’ element, along with the whole set-up of the pilot, the scientist and the daughter finding themselves besieged in a remote island home by mutated animals, suggests The Killer Shrews.

There are also the inevitable Jurassic Park nods. These include a scene where a komodo chases after a jeep. Another involves the scientist having a fortified compound on the island, but keeping all his spare ammo and supplies in a rickety hut miles away. This leads to several dynamic scenes of our characters hiking through fields.

The compound, including the scientist’s rather splendid house, is secured by an electric fence. This isn’t a real such fence, though, probably because such would require the filmmakers to erect a long stretch of chain linking. Instead, it’s just a series of poles—much more economical, you see—that project animated electrical arcs when something attempts the breach the barrier. Needless to say, this leads to a scene right out of Forbidden Planet. To be fair, though, it’s a pretty cool moment.

Indeed, despite the generally depressingly unoriginal script, there are at least some decent moments. For instance, at one point the scientist decides they should call in the authorities. I naturally expected that the crooks would react to this by pulling their guns and shooting up the radio. I was instead amazed when the thieves were actually smart enough to realize that being arrested beat being et by giant lizards. So I’ll give them that one. There are also a couple of moments between the pilot and the scientist’s security guy that manage to suggest two guys who know what they’re doing.

However, there’s only one real reason to watch Curse of the Komodo—unless you’re like me, and labor under a geis that requires you to watch every dumb giant monster movie you come across—and that is that the komodos themselves are pretty damn neat. This is easily some of the best CGI work I’ve seen in a low budget monster movie, and I’ve seen a mess of ‘em. Especially nice is that, unlike creatures in even moderately expensive movies (Deep Blue Sea, The Relic), here the dragons move in such a way as to suggest they have mass. In Anaconda you had multi-ton beasties whipping around and defying gravity at will. Needless to say, this isn’t conducive to fooling the eye.

Of course, there are still some pretty severe budgetary constraints to deal with. Therefore the monsters’ appearances are few and far apart. Worse, they often have to have a komodo just stand around. This results in several really dumb scenes—rather like ones in Dinosaur Island, now that I think about it—wherein the characters stand about five feet in front of a monstrous dragon and shoot up at it with a variety of firearms. This will ensue for several minutes, with the creature taking no apparent damage (which is mighty unconvincing right there), yet also failing to just step forward and nosh on a tormentor or two. Meanwhile, the only truly poor effects shot portrays the inevitable ‘monster being blown up’ moment. The CGI rendering of bits o’ creature flying around is still pretty primitive, it seems.

The one scene where a dragon really gets to move around is during the jeep chase, and the animation during this is quite impressive for a low-budget movie. The sequence is shot and edited together well, and they do a pretty good job of capturing a komodo’s awkward lope. Such effects, presumably, will only keep getting better and cheaper. Surely, some smart production company will eventually decide to start yoking them to scripts that at least don’t outright insult one’s intelligence. In the long run, obsessive fans will start making their own films, and take an amount of care with them that probably isn’t strictly called for from a financial perspective. At that point, the sky’s the limit.

Let’s see, script, special effects…OK, let’s hit the acting. Most of the ‘name’ actors here aren’t very good. Brasselle, Gabai and Richardson certainly don’t show much indication of having honed their craft over the years. However, the actors playing the pilot, the security guy, the scientist and the female co-scientist range from decent to surprisingly good. I guess I’d give the scientist guy top honors. He actually seems smart enough to be a scientist, and also a capably tough individual at the same time.

The only really embarrassing acting, meanwhile, is by the woman playing the daughter. The numerous close-ups of her generally insipid expressions often had me literally wincing. I don’t want to be mean, but it’s pretty apparent she got the role because of her willingness to appear topless. I’m glad, I guess, that she’s seeing some return on her chest augmentation surgery…well, no; actually, I’m not.

In the end, this is a standard DTV cheapie that is somewhat better than a lot of similar stuff (Sabretooth, Beyond Loch Ness, etc. and so on and so on) by dint of a few minutes of cool giant monster stuff. That’s not much to recommend a film on, but it’s something.

By the way, Jim Wynorski has provided equally prolific in providing some of the most candid and funniest DVD commentaries out there.  Sadly, there isn’t one on this particular disc.

Summary: Five more minutes of komodos and they might have really had something here.