'Ferocious Planet': Don't Poke the Alien

The plot is minimal, but it could function as a kind of drinking game. Pick the next character who dies; guess wrong, and you take a shot. Repeat until unconscious.

Ferocious Planet

Director: Billy O'Brien
Cast: Joe Flanigan, John Rhys-Davies, Catherine Walker, Dagmar Doring, Yare Michael Jegbefume
Distributor: Syfy
Studio: RHI Entertainment
Release date: 2011-07-05

How bad can a movie be and still be entertaining? Ferocious Planet tackles that timeless question head-on, and arrives at the answer: uh, pretty darn bad. How bad? Well, when the best line in the movie is, "Don't poke the alien," you know you're on a whole new plane of mediocrity. The runner-up line--"Lieutenant, were you able to get any of that nasty blood from the monster?"--is pretty tough to deliver straight-faced too.

Joe Flanigan plays Colonel Sam Synn, a tough-as-nails bad boy Marine who makes his own rules. For reasons never made entirely clear, Synn is on hand when a cold-fusion science experiment opens up a portal to a parallel dimension—don't ask—and, surprising everyone in the movie and nobody in the audience, the experiment goes terribly awry. Synn is transported to the aforementioned other dimension, along with a few gun-toting Marines (useful), a couple of scientists (marginal) and bunch of politicos (monster fodder). Helpfully, the underground lab that housed the experiment is transported, too.

Nine minutes into the movie, we start seeing squishy things erupting Alien-style from human bodies. The film doesn't waste any time, but then, why would it? This Syfy Channel original is built around a fast pace, minimal characterization and periodic pauses for commercials. Although unsurprising in every way, the film and its cast commit to the silly material and play it as straight as possible.

As mentioned, it doesn't take long for the body count to start piling up and our cast of heroes to begin dwindling. The filmmakers wisely brought along enough cadavers-in-waiting that they could be fairly profligate with them, so you're never too far away from the next evisceration. The movie's plot is minimal, but it could function as a kind of drinking game. (Pick the next character who dies; guess wrong, and you take a shot. Repeat until unconscious.)

Eschewing all common sense—hey, he makes his own rules!—Wynn decides to leave the relative security of the lab to go tramping around an unknown planet filled with hideous monsters that have already demonstrated a taste for human flesh. His rationale? "It's called self-preservation, doc." Um, okay. I don't want to, like, spoil anything? But you should know: not everybody's self gets preserved.

As the scientists struggle to repair the equipment that will bring them back home, the others do everything in their power to put themselves in danger and die prematurely. As it happens, the second group is more successful than the first, and our heroes' chances of returning to his regular dimension look very bleak, indeed. Fortunately, this results in that much more time wandering around on the planet, with all the attendant encounters with Slavering Flesh-Hungry Monsters From Another Dimension that that entails.

Then, just when you least expect it, there is an actual honest-to-God plot development that ramps up interest, creating a modest bit of suspense that lasts throughout the second half of the movie.

Despite fairly constant action sequences, the film is far from perfect. Many scenes are eye-glazingly predictable; there are the requisite moments of drawn-out "suspense", involving dark hallways and flickering flourescent lights, and way too much breathless running through the jungle. Ad breaks interrupt the action with annoying frequency. After the first ten minutes you could make a list of which characters—I use the term loosely—will be dead by the end of the movie. In fairness to the filmmakers, though, you might get the order wrong.

One genuinely disappointing area is special effects. CGI monsters have become commonplace—unfortunately!—both on TV and in films, so by now audiences are expecting something a bit more sophisticated and less cartoony than in previous years. Ferocious Planet drops the ball badly in this regard. The monsters are designed poorly and come across as flat and two-dimensional. Such basics as shadows for the rampaging creatures have been overlooked or ignored, with the result that any sense of danger is nonexistent. Nobody expects a made-for TV movie to sport District 9-level effects, but these animations look straight out of the mid-'90s. Plenty of low-budget movies, such as the excellent 2010 indie release Monsters, have done much better on tight budgets.

To a large degree, such cavils are beside the point. The movie trundles along at a fair clip, bodies drop at regular intervals and there are a few laughs, mainly unintentional. The bare-bones DVD offers no bonus features, which hardly qualifies as a significant cultural loss. For a lazy Sunday afternoon, monster fans could do better, but they could also do worse.

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