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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Today’s Art (23rd June 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fourth comic in “Damania Retroactive” – a webcomic mini series about time travel (it’ll hopefully be self-contained, but it is also a sequel to this mini series, then this one, then this one, then [sort of] this one and then this one). Yes, I’ve decided to go back to making narrative-based mini series again (in order to stay inspired).

And, this time, Harvey, Roz, Derek and Rox have travelled back to the distant year of… 2017. You can catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic one, Comic two, Comic three

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retroactive -Double Derek (again)” By C. A. Brown

One Surprising Thing FPS Games Can Teach Us About Creativity – A Ramble

A while before I prepared the first draft of this article, I decided to procrastinate and take a look at Youtube. One of the things that surprised me was that the “recommended” videos on the main page (which were mostly about computer/video games) showed several screenshots of first-person shooter (FPS) games which, at a glance, looked almost identical.

Of course, I could tell that one was from the original “Doom“, that one was from a more modern game etc…. but the composition was nearly identical in all of the pictures. Although I’ve played a fair number of games in this genre, somehow seeing pictures of old and new FPS games juxtaposed with each other made me realise how much they have in common.

At first, I worried that this meant that one of my favourite genres of game was boring and unoriginal. But, then I remembered that this similarity was one of the genre’s strengths for a whole host of reasons. For example, once you know how to play one FPS game, then the only thing you have to “learn” when playing others are subtle changes in each game’s “rules”. This means that the barrier to entry is relatively low.

In addition to this, the similarities in composition, format etc… also mean that creativity has to be included elsewhere. This is much more noticeable during the heyday of the genre – when even “really similar” FPS games would be wildly different in artistic and atmospheric terms.

For example a cartoonish heavy metal-themed sci-fi horror FPS like “Doom” would be wildly different in style, atmosphere and tone to a brooding, Lovecraftian sci-fi horror FPS like “Quake” (by the same studio), which itself would be different to a cartoonish Lovecraftian horror-inspired FPS like “Blood“:

This is a screenshot from “Doom” (1993).

This is a screenshot from “Quake: Scourge Of Armagon” (1997) – An expansion for “Quake” [1996]

This is a screenshot from “Blood” (1997)

Each game has a distinctive aesthetic, atmosphere and style – despite their many similarities. In fact, the differences are probably because of the similarities. If you have a common set of features that you have to include in something, then you have to compensate for this by adding extra creativity and originality elsewhere. If you don’t, then your creative works won’t stand out from the crowd.

This also gives the makers of these games an added level of challenge, since they have to work out how to make something “familiar” new and interesting. Challenges and limitations are one of the best ways to inspire creativity, and having to include a common set of features can be a good way to force people to think more creatively.

Likewise, having to include a common set of features places extra emphasis on individual interpretation. In other words, several people making things in the same genre have to make sure that their creative works are an expression of their own imaginations. They have to take something familiar and interpret it in their own way.

Of course, all of this isn’t exclusive to computer games. For example, the romance genre has to include two characters falling in love – with all of the variation coming from the settings, the details of the story and the characters themselves. Likewise, the zombie genre has to include zombies – but where they appear, how frightening they are, what happens and how the story ends is left up to the writer’s imagination.

Yes, variation-based creativity might not look very “original” at first glance. But, as a way to prompt creativity, individual interpretation and more subtle forms of originality – it’s one of the best things out there!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (22nd June 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Retroactive” – a webcomic mini series about time travel (it’ll hopefully be self-contained, but it is also a sequel to this mini series, then this one, then this one, then [sort of] this one and then this one). Yes, I’ve decided to go back to making narrative-based mini series again (in order to stay inspired).

And, this time, Harvey, Roz, Derek and Rox have travelled back to the distant year of… 2017. You can catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic one, Comic two

And, yes, this comic was prepared quite far in advance. So, hopefully, the dialogue about the world still being in one piece in the second panel will be accurate when it goes out. Then again, if it isn’t, then no-one is going to be reading this anyway. And that’s how to make timeless comics!

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retroactive – Duplicity” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Pitch Black” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly for the next review in my “1990s Films” series and look at a sci-fi/horror/action film that was originally released in February 2000 (but probably made in 1999) called “Pitch Black”.

On a practical level, I decided to bend the rules because “Pitch Black” was a film that I got on DVD ages ago but never actually got round to watching, so I was curious about it. On an intellectual level, I mostly consider “1990s-style” films to be ones made in the time between 1989 and 2001 (eg: between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11). So, this review is within the spirit of this series, if not the letter.

So, pointless justifications aside, let’s take a look at “Pitch Black”. This review may contain some mild SPOILERS, and I should also warn you that this film contains FLICKERING LIGHTS during an early part of the film (although I don’t know if they’re fast/intense enough to cause problems).

If you look in the bottom left corner, it reads “DVD video – compatible with Playstation 2”. Oh my god, the nostalgia!

“Pitch Black” begins with a spaceship that is transporting cargo and forty passengers (in suspended animation) that is struck by micro-meteorites. The ship’s emergency systems kick in and rouse a pilot and one of the officers from cryosleep, but the captain has been struck by one of the meteorites. Struggling to control the ship, the pilot suggests jettisoning the passengers, but the officer won’t allow it.

So, spotting a habitable desert planet nearby, the pilot makes a dangerous crash landing and manages to save some of the passengers. However, one of the survivors is a dangerous convict called Riddick (played by Vin Diesel) who soon escapes into the desert. The man who is supposed to be guarding him insists that the survivors hunt him down before he attacks them.

However, during the search, one of the survivors finds an underground cave system… and is promptly eaten by something. When Riddick is captured, the survivors initially accuse him of murdering the dead survivor but, after one of them explores the caves and is nearly eaten by a creature, they soon realise that having someone as tough as Riddick on their side might not be a bad idea – especially since he’s even got night-vision implants in his eyes.

Yes, he isn’t wearing those shades/ steampunk goggles just to look cool.

A while later, the survivors stumble across an abandoned geological station, whose inhabitants disappeared 22 years earlier. Whilst several of the survivors work out how to get the station’s spacecraft working again, the pilot uses an nearby orrery to calculate that there was a solar eclipse 22 years ago.

Yes, that glowing thing in the foreground is basically just a 14th-18th century astronomical tool. Futuristic!

Another encounter with the creatures in the station’s drilling room also teaches the survivors that light is harmful to the creatures.

Still, the station’s space shuttle just needs new power cells. So, it’s a simple matter of lugging the cells from the cargo ship’s wreckage to the geological station. I mean, what could possibly go wrong….

Oh, another solar eclipse! What are the chances?

One of the first things that I will say about “Pitch Black” is that it reminded me a lot of both “Alien 3” and “Tremors” in terms of style, atmosphere and concept. It contains both the suspenseful, mysterious desolation of the “Alien” films and the inventiveness (and emphasis on rules-based survival) of the “Tremors” films.

The film also plays with the concept of space quite expertly, contrasting the vast agoraphobic expanse of the sun-bleached desert with the claustrophobic darkness that the solar eclipse causes (where the characters have to remain near light sources at all times, lest they be eaten). This really helps to add a lot of suspense and tension to the film. And, yes, this is more of a suspenseful sci-fi horror thriller than an action movie or a splatter movie.

Yes, the characters spend far more time running away from the monsters than fighting them. Which is sensible!

Although the film contains some action scenes, they are relatively few – with the survivors sensibly realising that running away from, repelling and/or hiding from the creatures is the only sensible way to deal with the situation. This also has the effect of making one scene where Riddick does fight one of the creatures (armed with nothing more than a knife) seem even more dramatic by contrast.

The survivors are a fairly interesting bunch too, including a rather posh British antiquities dealer, an imam who is an expert on desert survival, several members of the imam’s congregation, a rather badass Australian couple (one of whom is played by none other than Claudia Black from “Farscape” and the later seasons of “Stargate SG-1“!), a young girl disguised as a boy, Riddick, the guard and the pilot.

And, yes, Claudia Black plays a vaguely Aeryn Sun-like character too 🙂

Many of these characters get at least a small amount of characterisation and they mostly seem to be a fairly realistic group of characters, who react to the situation (and each other) in complex and realistic ways, and have realistic motivations. Seriously, although a couple of the characters (such as the antiquities dealer) are a little bit on the stylised side of things, the fact that many of the characters are relatively realistic really helps to add a lot of drama to this film.

Riddick, on the other hand, is something of a mystery. The audience gets a few hints about his past but he’s played as a rather ambiguous, extremely tough and fairly mysterious character.

Whilst a lot of films contain morally-ambiguous heroes, Riddick is an especially good example of this type of character. Throughout the film, there’s a genuine unpredictability about him which helps to add to the suspense. In fact, my only criticism of the character is that he sometimes tends to speak in a rather quiet and gravelly way that is occasionally difficult to hear/understand (even with headphones).

Part of the drama of the film is trying to work out exactly what Riddick’s moral code actually is, or if he actually even has one.

The alien creature design is also suitably menacing, with the mysterious creatures resembling a cross between giant bats, hammerhead sharks and the xenomorphs from “Alien”.

Awww! How adorable 🙂

The fact that they are sensitive to light is a key part of the film, although one other interesting element of their physiology (eg: that their “vision” is motion-based) is only briefly exploited in one scene. Likewise, the creatures are also shown fighting with each other at one point.

Another interesting element of this film is that it shows both lifeforms on the planet that didn’t adapt to the presence of these creatures and lifeforms that did:

For example, these dinosaur-like creatures seem to have… gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Whereas, these bioluminescent grubs/slugs won’t get eaten any time soon.

In fact, Darwinism is one of the key themes of this film – with a dialogue segment between the pilot and Riddick about the “survival of the fittest” being one of the film’s more dramatic scenes, which also helps to define both characters’ outlooks on the world too.

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, although it is a very slightly more slow-paced film than I had originally expected. But, given that the emphasis is on suspense and exploring a mysterious planet, then this is understandable. Plus, at about 104 minutes in length, this film is just about short enough not to outstay it’s welcome. Still, the pacing of this film is closer to that of a disaster movie or a horror movie than a thriller/action movie.

The special effects are also relatively good too. However, the film’s late 1990s/early 2000s CGI effects are somewhat noticeable. Still, given that many of the CGI-based scenes take place in dark and gloomy locations, the old CGI often isn’t as noticeable as you might think.

As this is a film about light and darkness, it goes without saying, but the lighting in this film is brilliant! The awesome 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in many parts of the film is also complemented with lots of cool-looking “used future” set design that is very reminiscent of both the classic “Alien” films and “Blade Runner“.

Unfortunately, Riddick ruins this brilliantly gloomy lighting a couple of seconds later by turning the lights on.

A new life awaits you in the off-world col… Or, maybe not.

And just check out this amazing green lighting too 🙂 This film may have been released in 2000, but it’s definitely from the 1990s 🙂

In terms of the music, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. However, the creatures’ bat-like echolocation noises often provide suitably ominous, and almost musical, background noise during many scenes.

All in all, “Pitch Black” is a suspenseful, claustrophobic sci-fi horror movie that is filled with well-written characters, an intriguing premise and some really cool visual design. Like a lot of classic sci-fi horror films, this one also often relies on not explaining everything in order to create a sense of intrigue and drama. Yes, it was a slightly different film to what I had expected – but it’s still a really good one. If you like the “Alien” films, then this one is worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about four and a half.

Today’s Art (21st June 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Retroactive” – a webcomic mini series about time travel (it’ll hopefully be self-contained, but it is also a sequel to this mini series, then this one, then this one, then [sort of] this one and then this one). Yes, I’ve decided to go back to making narrative-based mini series again (in order to stay inspired).

And, this time, Harvey, Roz, Derek and Rox have travelled back to the distant year of… 2017. You can catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic one

Today’s comic update was kind of an interesting one. Originally, it was going to be one type of satirical comic, but it quickly ended up turning into another type of satirical comic fairly soon after I started making it. But, yes, things tend to go disasterously whenever Derek decides to express himself.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retroactive – Time Troll” By C. A. Brown

A Quick Guide To Drawing/ Writing About Two Stylised Versions Of The 1990s

As regular readers of this site know, I’m a massive fan of the 1990s. Not only do I love making 1990s-style art and playing computer/video games from that decade, but I’m also doing something of an informal research project into films from that decade at the moment (hence the film reviews appearing every other day or so at the moment).

Yet, one of the interesting things about fictional depictions of the 1990s (and the 1990s itself) is that there are lots of different “versions” of it out there.

So, I thought that I’d provide a guide to how to draw and/or write about stylised versions of 1990s Britain and/or America (since these are the two countries I’ve researched the most. Plus, I actually just about remember 1990s Britain too).

But, for time reasons, I’ll only be taking a look at the two versions that I’ve researched the most (so, apologies if I repeat myself, since I’m sure I’ve mentioned this stuff before). So, let’s get started:

1) Early-Mid 1990s Los Angeles/Florida: This is one of my favourite versions of the 1990s.

The key visual features when depicting it in art are lots of dramatic sunsets, palm trees, garish/strange fashions, floral patterns, sunglasses, skateboarders, high-contrast lighting (eg: 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting should be covered with black paint), people wearing baseball caps backwards, ominous alleyways, pastel-shaded interior design, vaguely gothic-looking interior design, angular buildings, dramatic cityscapes etc… This is probably one of the more well-known “versions” of the 1990s out there, so visual research materials aren’t that hard to find.

When writing about it, it you might want to emphasise things like punk music, “valley girl” characters, rap music, extroverted/brash characters, hot weather, sarcasm, optimism, shameless consumerism/commercialism, technology, crime, skateboarding etc…

Stories in the thriller genre tend to work well here, especially when they use slightly silly “larger than life” storylines. The thing to remember here is that 1990s thriller stories either focused on “realistic” topics (like crime) or – since this was the time period between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – “unrealistic” and outlandish evil plots by villains. Bonus points if you also depict Los Angeles as the centre of the universe too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Smash” by The Offspring, “Bad Boys“, the first and third episodes of “Duke Nukem 3D“, the early episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“, “Pulp Fiction“, “Stranger Than Fiction” by Bad Religion, “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air“, the original series of “The Power Rangers” etc…

2) Mid-Late 1990s Britain: Since I actually vaguely remember this, I thought that I’d include it on the list.

The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it doesn’t actually look that different to modern Britain. Most of the visual differences are fairly subtle and/or general things. These include the obvious things like VHS tapes, CRT monitors, ashtrays in pubs, fewer mobile phones etc.. But they also include some subtle differences in fashion, such as crop tops, long floral dresses, sportswear, plain T-shirts & jeans and very slightly formal fashions.

However, the differences are a lot more important when writing about it (like I did here). The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it was simultaneously “cool” and “crap” at the same time.

On the one hand, it was at the height of the “cool Britannia” thing and there was a general atmosphere of optimism in the air – the Spice Girls were popular, Britpop was popular, there was more of a fun hedonistic attitude (eg: it was the heyday of celebrities like Tracey Emin etc..), computers were both cool and nerdy, “traditional” British things (eg: double-decker buses etc..) were over-emphasised for ironic stylishness, popular culture had a bit more of an “edgy” and “rebellious” attitude etc…

On the other hand, mid-late 1990s Britain was also a bit more stuffy, dull and “traditional” too. It wasn’t really as “cool” as the fictional depictions of America that appaeared regularly on the TV and in the cinema. But this was also part of the charm of the time too. After all, it was kind of a national running joke that Britain was “kind of crap” – but, on the plus side, this also served as a very useful bulwark against any kind of aggressive nationalism too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Bugs“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Ultraviolet“, anything to do with the Spice Girls, the early series of “Bits” (there are clips on Youtube), “Shooting Fish“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Tomorrow Never Dies“, “Human Traffic“, the early parts of “Kevin & Perry Go Large” etc…

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Sorry for the short list, but I hope it was useful 🙂