Thursday, September 1, 2005

Proof That Middle School Students Write Screenplays

And not even particularly bright middle school students.

I am going to rant and rave about how incredibly bad Sci-Fi Channel's original movies are. I'm ranting and raving because I am tremendously resentful that someone pays people to make movies that are not only this dumb--but don't even have the saving grace of appealing to a mass audience. I have no experience writing screenplays, but I know that I could do a better job than this.

Warning: spoilers for a very bad movie; some detailed descriptions of some gruesome scenes in this incredibly bad movie.

One of these days, the Sci-Fi Channel is going to have a movie made for it that will be worth watching. So far, I am absolutely astonished at how tremendously bad these efforts are. I was bored out of my wits this evening, so I watched Pterodactyl, which was made this year. Tragically, this is right up there with half a dozen other Sci-Fi originals in how bad it is--right down there with Plan Nine From Outer Space, but lacking the camp.

Look, I'm not a stickler for accurate science in a sci-fi movie. I'm not even demanding that Sci-Fi original movies be consistent in their bad science. I am not demanding that they have good special effects--the original Star Trek series had terrible special effects, but because the stories were often thought-provoking, and sometimes showed some real human drama, I could ignore that.

I would just like the screenplays to be written by someone with some knowledge of:

1. Adults.

2. Real people, instead of juvenilely written stereotypes.

3. A sufficient knowledge of geology to laugh at the stupid volcano matte.

Pterodactyl starts out with all these hopeless stereotypes. There is the Earnest Professor of Paleontology--just good looking enough to make you think of Sam Neill in Jurassic Park--but because he is a Serious Scientist, he is only interested in objects that are millions of years old. Serious Scientists have no romantic or erotic attraction to the opposite sex--and certainly not to the beautiful and smart woman who is....

The Pretty Female Grad Student--but not a bombshell, and unlike the other females, she doesn't dress sexy or even attractively because then she wouldn't be a "serious" scientist in training. After many years of working for Earnest Professor, she finally gets across to him at the start of their fossil hunting trip that she would like their relationship to be unprofessional--and of course, being an Earnest Professor, he could never think of such a thing (but of course, this changes by the end of the movie).

There is the Big Bosomed Blonde Bombshell Undergrad Airhead (think Clueless but without the humor). She is completely and utterly useless, and her knowledge of paleontology is down below the Special Ops soldiers we meet later in the film. And you ask yourself, why has Earnest Professor brought not only undergraduates from the United States to help on this dig in Turkey--but an undergraduate who knows effectively nothing about paleontology?

There is Nerdy Undergrad Guy--whose dress, glasses, and mannerisms bring to mind Revenge of the Nerds--but it isn't funny. He's what a middle schooler would stereotype the smart kids at his school as--when they grow up.

Big Bosomed Blonde Bombshell, of course, has to strip off her shirt and shorts to go for a swim--by herself, in a lake in a country that she doesn't even know. (A Muslim country at that, where her swimsuit would probably get her either arrested, or raped.)

Earnest Professor is carrying a revolver on this expedition. While I appreciate that at least the screenwriters didn't feel the need to throw in anti-gun propaganda, do they really think that Earnest Professor was able to fly into Turkey with a handgun, and not have it confiscated?

The Special Ops guys are just a bit too stereotyped as well--right down to the female member of the team (yeah, right!) who seems to have spent too much time modeling herself on the very macho female Colonial Marine in the movie Aliens. But of course, since the movie was made by middle schoolers, she has a body that would shame a Vegas showgirl, and even olive drab can't hide it.

The Special Ops guys get involved early on with killing pterodactyls (after Big Bosomed Blonde Bombshell gets picked up and dismembered). But unlike real Special Ops, they can't seem to call in air support or even helicopter evacuation because of the "sensitivity" of the mission. They are arresting what seems to be a thuggish terrorist leader at the request of the Turkish government--but they can't call in air support for fear of offending...who? The Turkish government?

Pterodactyls are definitely a bit big to bring down with .223 and handgun ammunition--although Earnest Professor is blazing away repeatedly with that revolver. I think we see him reload once--and even then, this guy must be carrying ten or fifteen speedloaders. His shooting is remarkably accurate for someone who isn't aiming the gun--not even slightly.

Of course, real soldiers would have at least a few rifle/grenade launcher combos, and a grenade would solve the pterodactyl problem quite well, and perhaps open the plot up to some more subtle or interesting problem. grenades. Instead, the soldiers have this bizarre rocket launcher that you aim by putting on the virtual reality helmet, look at the target, and then fire--and the tracking system makes the rocket fly in loops, go around mountains, etc. before finally reaching and hitting old Leatherlips. But of course, they don't have very many of these wondrous rockets. This way, our screenwriters can figure out how to create tension.

There's a lot of blood spurting, especially when the pterodactyls take someone's head, and leave either the body, or grab just the upper part of the body, leaving everything from the waist down. Now remember: the people are just standing there--and the swooping pterodacytl grabs the head or upper body, and the body just breaks apart. This can't happen. It is grossly unrealistic (along with very gross). Realism can be disgusting, but this isn't even realism.

Later we see one of the soldiers who has been grabbed and taken back to the pterodactyl's nest to feed the babies. He's been there, injured, and subject to baby pterodactyl ripping for at least 30 minutes, maybe more. They have ripped his abdomen and chest open, and they are pulling out organs to feed upon--and he is conscious, and expressing some discomfort. Not only was this an unnecessary scene, but it was utterly impossible.

At this point (or perhaps several paragraphs back), you are probably asking yourself, "Why does Clayton watch such bad movies, and why does he care so much?" For one simple reason: someone is actually being paid to write screenplays this bad, and someone else is actually being paid to make movies this bad. I know that I can do a better job.

I think that almost anyone who has spent more than a few months with adults could do a better job of creating real characters--not stereotypes. You don't have to know a great deal about our military to see the glaring holes in this film's weaponry. Anyone with any knowledge of guns would see the incredible flaws in Earnest Professor's handgun use--as well as his apparently unlimited supply of ammunition that he is carrying around.

Pterodactyl is, in my experience, pretty representative of Sci-Fi Channel's original movies. I would hope that films of this tremendously low caliber indicate nepotism at work. The alternative is that someone at Sci-Fi Channel just blows money for no particular reason.

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