Sunday, June 24, 2018

VODepths all-dinosaur edition: 'The Jurassic Dead,' 'The Jurassic Games'

Usually I try to include three movies in these occasional VOD round-ups, but when I received screeners for two dinosaur-themed straight-to-VOD movies that were being released on the same day (and just a week before the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), it seemed obvious that I should throw together a quick edition of this column to cover them both. Since Fallen Kingdom itself is actually very similar to a dopey dino B-movie (albeit with much better special effects), it would probably fit right in with these opportunistic knock-offs.

The Jurassic Dead (Ruselis Aumeen Perry, Andy Haman, Mia Klosterman, dir. Milko Davis and Thomas Martwick) Despite multiple prologues and an onscreen text crawl at the beginning of The Jurassic Dead (also known by the equally ridiculous title Z/Rex), I had basically no idea what was happening for most of the movie's running time. Like a lot of no-budget B-movies, it promises a grand sci-fi world but mostly takes place in a bunch of dingy corridors, in this case inside some sort of secret government facility in the middle of the desert. That's where a stranded group of teenagers and a group of mercenaries (or maybe special operatives?) come together after a meteor strike (or maybe a missile attack?) wipes out all electronics and possibly releases a deadly toxin or virus into the outside world? None of this is ever clear, and is also not really important, since mostly the movie is about these characters running from some sort of zombified Tyrannosaurus Rex that the evil scientist villain has created (although I have no idea what dinosaurs have to do with his ultimate world-ending plan), and then also fleeing from each other when contact with the T. Rex (or Z/Rex, per the title) turns them into zombies, too. Nothing makes any sense, the acting is terrible, the characters are dumb cartoonish stereotypes, and the special effects are beyond atrocious. Nearly the entire movie is shot against a green screen, with even simple locations like hallways created via CGI, and it looks like the characters are in that old Nickelodeon game show where kids were inserted into arcade games. Not even a zombie dinosaur eating people can make this movie watchable. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

The Jurassic Games (Adam Hampton, Katie Burgess, Ryan Merriman, dir. Ryan Bellgardt) Compared to The Jurassic Dead, The Jurassic Games is practically Jurassic Park, but it's still mostly terrible. Mixing a bit of The Hunger Games with a bit of The Running Man plus a bunch of dinosaurs, Games takes place in a future where death row inmates are given the chance to win their freedom in a deadly virtual reality game that is watched by hundreds of millions of people. Ten convicted killers are placed in a world where they're pursued by dinosaurs and other dangerous prehistoric creatures, and if they die in the game then they die for real. They're also allowed to kill each other, and since the last person standing wins freedom, there's really no good reason for them not to just fight to the death immediately and ignore the dinosaurs. There are a lot of plot holes here, of course, but director and co-writer Ryan Bellgardt just barrels right through them, and at times the movie is silly and exciting enough for that to work out. Ryan Merriman perfectly captures the smarm of reality TV hosts as the game's master of ceremonies, and the filmmakers make good use of sports-style graphics and talking heads to give the games a sense of authenticity. But the contestant characters are all one-note and boring, the acting overall is inconsistent, and the creatures themselves are completely unconvincing, especially when shown in the harsh daylight. It's also a bit disappointing that the dinosaurs are virtual, since the contestants are essentially just playing a really high-stakes video game. There's a moment when one of the contestants asks another why the designers chose dinosaurs to chase them around, and the second contestant jokes that they tested better than robots. That's probably about as thoroughly as the filmmakers thought through this premise, which plays like it started with the title and then filled in the rest from there. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

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