Review: “Primal Species” (Film)

Well, for this review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at a gloriously cheesy low-budget monster movie from 1996 called “Primal Species” (or “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species” in America).

Whilst I’m hoping to review more 1990s films in the future, the schedule may get a little bit more irregular in the immediate future (due to things like scheduled posts that have to appear on specific days etc..)

Anyway, “Primal Species” was a second-hand DVD that I bought purely on the basis of the hilariously awesome cover art. Seriously, I’m not joking here!

So, let’s take a look at “Primal Species”. This review may contain some SPOILERS, and the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (although I’m not sure if they’re prominent [if I remember rightly, they’re a small background detail in one scene] or intense enough to cause issues or not).

This cover art is just brilliant on so many levels!

“Primal Species” begins with a convoy of US Army trucks that is ambushed by masked terrorists, who are after a shipment of uranium that one of the trucks is meant to be carrying.

And, yes, the terrorists look like a small army of ninjas led by a 1980s-style goth musician.

Whilst the terrorists drive the truck to a warehouse in California, an elite army special forces team led by a guy called Rance is training in the desert. However, shortly after their exercise is over- Rance is called to headquarters and told to recover the stolen truck and it’s classified contents.

After discovering the remains of the terrorists and several local policemen in a warehouse – half of Rance’s team is killed by a mysterious creature. A while later, the surviving soldiers are briefed by a scientist called Dr. Hodges who explains that the creatures are experimental genetic reconstructions of two velociraptors and a T-Rex that were intended for medical research. Much to Rance’s dismay, Dr.Hodges also insists that the dinosaurs be captured alive…..

Yay! Paleontology!

During another attempt at capturing the dinosaurs, Rance’s surviving troops are joined by several members of the US Marines. And, after a bit of inter-service rivalry, they begin to hatch another plan to capture the dinosaurs….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is one of those films that I really wish that I’d watched when I was a teenager. It contains the perfect blend of suspense, 1990s cheesiness, humour and gloriously silly monster-based action. It also reminded me a little bit of classic 1990s survival horror videogames like “Resident Evil” and “Dino Crisis” too, which is never a bad thing 🙂

I think that it’s the combination of military characters and ferocious creatures or something like that.

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, with suspense and action being balanced fairly well. Likewise, the film’s reasonably short running time (about 80 minutes according to VLC media player, and about 96 minutes according to the DVD case) means that the narrative remains fairly focused and compelling throughout, despite a somewhat random change in location at one point in the film (eg: the dinosaurs somehow board a ship with relatively little explanation).

Although the horror elements of this film aren’t that frightening, they’re still very well-executed. These include lots of suspenseful scenes when the soldiers are trying to find (or hide from) the dinosaurs, a predictable-but-dramatic dinosaur autopsy scene and some relatively simple (but well-executed) gore effects during a few moments of the film.

Although this film has a relatively low budget, it works within these limitations really well. Most of the film takes place in both a claustrophobic warehouse and inside a large ship, which helps to add a lot of extra suspense to these scenes. Likewise, although the dinosaurs are clearly actors in well-made rubber suits and/or large theatrical props, they still look and act in a fairly convincing way. However, a lot of this is due to the fact that they are often only seen briefly and/or are shrouded in shadows for most of the film.

This has the unfortunate side effect of getting clear screenshots of the dinosaurs for this review somewhat more of a challenge than I expected.

More often, the dinosaur-based scenes look more like this.

Still, the special effects during the film’s action scenes are reasonably good, with a series of dramatic explosions near the beginning of the film being a stand-out moment. Even though this film doesn’t have a gigantic effects budget, the film’s action scenes and horror scenes are still suitably dramatic.

In our age of CGI-filled mega-budget films, it’s refreshing to see an old film that doesn’t need to use ridiculously expensive effects to remain interestingly thrilling. Even so, the quality of the explosion effects varies noticeably throughout the film.

Near the beginning of the film, the explosions look like Hollywood-quality special effects.

Whereas, in this scene, the explosion effects look more like someone has attached a lit firework to a model boat.

Interestingly, “Primal Species” is also an action movie that manages to be very militaristic without being obnoxious about it. Despite the fact that the 1990s wasn’t an entirely peaceful decade (eg: the Gulf War, the Balkans etc..) it was something of a period of relative peace. And, this influences how the US military is depicted in a lot of American films from the time.

In other words, US troops are shown to be competent and brave, but they often aren’t portrayed with the kind of extreme reverence that more modern post-9/11 films and TV shows from America usually do. Likewise, the relative lack of real-world threats at the time means that the American military get to be gung-ho badasses in 1990s movies without it coming across as “political” or nationalistic or anything like that – because they’re usually fighting things like cartoonish fictional villains or, in this case, dinosaurs.

When they aren’t arguing about whether the army or marines are better, of course…

The military characters in this film are really interesting, with the two standout characters being a US Army soldier called Polchek and a US Marine called Proudfoot. Polchek provides most of the film’s comic relief – being something of an obnoxious, bumbling idiot. Proudfoot, on the other hand is a really cool Jill Valentine– esque elite soldier who is probably one of the best characters in the film.

These two characters are the most memorable ones in the film.

One interesting theme in this film, which is perhaps a reflection of the time that it was made, is the topic of female soldiers in the US military. Although this topic is handled in a somewhat cartoonish way (eg: in dialogue between Polchek and Proudfoot), the film generally takes a fairly sensible attitude towards the subject and shows both male and female troops being equally good at combat etc…

And equally likely to be eaten by hungry dinosaurs too.

However, a few lines in the film do seem somewhat dated by modern standards (eg: one of the marines using a homophobic insult, Polchek passing immature notes during Dr. Hodges’ lecture, a police chief talking about Iranians etc..).

In terms of set design and lighting, this film does reasonably well. Whilst most of the set design just consists of industrial-looking areas, these often look fairly cool.

Plus, like a lot of great films from the 1990s, “Primal Species” makes fairly good use of gloomy and high-contrast lighting. However, although this looks really cool, it isn’t used quite as expertly or dramatically as some other films from this decade. Even so, there’s some brilliantly ominous red/blue lighting in some scenes.

The lighting in this scene is probably one of the best uses of lighting in this film. This scene is also vaguely reminiscent of the “Alien” films too 🙂

Likewise, check out the clever use of red and blue lighting on this close-up of the T-Rex!

Musically speaking, most of the more noticeable parts of the film’s soundtrack are filled with stylised militaristic marching music etc… I also noticed a random rock song during the credits too.

All in all, this is a cheesy, fun and thrilling monster movie. It’s the kind of movie that I wish I’d watched when I was a teenager. It also reminded me a bit of classic videogames like “Resident Evil” and “Dino Crisis”. Although this film was made on a fairly low budget, it still manages to be extremely enjoyable throughout. Yes, it hasn’t aged well, but (outdated dialogue aside) this is part of the charm of the film. It’s a glorious example of 1990s silliness at it’s finest 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half, if not more.

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