Starring Vincent Ventresca, Tom Skerritt, Summer Glau, Leila Arcieri, Cole Williams, Charles Carroll, Andrew Peter Marin, Marcus Lyle Brown, David Kallaway and The Big Bad Wolf.
Directed by Tim Cox.
I have a confession to make: I don’t watch every one of the “SciFi Original” movies that premiere Saturday nights at 9:00 on the SciFi Channel. It’s not an easy admission to make, but it is—sadly—true. I became aware of just how lax I’ve been in this regard while I was doing my post-viewing research ((Yes, research.)) on the latest SciFi original movie, Mammoth. It seems that Tim Cox has directed at least two other SciFi original movies in the last several years, Larva and The Man With No Eyes, neither of which I’ve seen. It’s an embarrassing deficiency, but I hope it does not disqualify me from rendering an opinion on Mammoth.
Because you know I’ve got one.
How many times has this happened to you? After five years of intensely scrutinizing a woolly mammoth entrapped in a multi-ton block of ice, you drill into the frozen mass to extract a small, blue object suspended near the ancient beast’s preserved body. The object, about the size of a pebble, turns out to be an alien homing beacon; a homing beacon that sends a powerful signal across the reaches of space to activate the opening credit sequence.
A silver flying saucer ejects a silvery, spherical probe that sprouts twin antennae and whisks its way through an asteriod field. After darting between tumbling rocks, the probe dives into one of the larger asteroids to reveal cave drawings on the walls deep inside. There, animated cavemen flee from a marauding UFO, then retaliate with their spears. The credit sequence is important because it sets the tone for the movie, which is definitely not taking itself too seriously.
Mammoth isn’t quite a spoof (at least, not on the same level as Mars Attacks!), but it’s not anywhere near a serious sci-fi/horror flick, either. It’s somewhere in the middle, with bumbling deputies, surreal flashbacks, snarky dialogue and, of course, an alien-possessed mammoth. It’s not as clever as Army of Darkness, but writer-director Tim Cox and company were most likely thinking along the same lines as Darkness director Sam Raimi when they created Mammoth. Vincent Ventresca (formerly the star of the SciFi Channel series “The Invisible Man” ((Ventresca played Darien Fawkes, a criminal who had been “recruited” by a secret agency to help them study a “quicksilver” gland they’d developed. The gland excreted a substance that rendered Darien invisible, but had some unusual and potentially dangerous side-effects. Though I wasn’t a regular watcher, I thought the show was well done.)) is no Bruce Campbell, but there definitely seems to be a Campbellian influence in his character, Dr. Frank Abernathy. Abernathy is somewhat socially inept and a bit of a bumbler, which might also describe Ash in Army of Darkness. Thankfully, Abernathy doesn’t come off as an Ash-wannabe played by a Campbell-wannabe. ((And honestly, after seeing The Man With The Screaming Brain and Alien Apocalypse, does anyone want to be Bruce Campbell?))
The other Mammoth headliners are Tom Skerritt and (as SciFi Channel incessantly pointed out in the week leading up to the premiere) Serenity‘s Summer Glau. Glau plays Jack, Dr. Abernathy’s sixteen-year-old daughter, while Skerritt is Frank’s father, Simon. Their family is falling apart, and only a prehistoric nightmare brought to life by a malevolent extraterristrial can bring them back together. Nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before on “Picket Fences.”
As with most SciFi original movies, the special effects aren’t exactly top caliber. The mammoth looks decent, but not great; in the big chase scenes, the lumbering, bellowing beast looks out of place in the frame. There seem to be some lighting and texturing tricks CG artists use to magically make their creations seem a part of the “real” world, and whatever those tricks are the artists who make movies for The SciFi Channel haven’t quite mastered them. That said, mediocre special effects can be forgiven if there’s a well-crafted story being told by talented actors under the guidance of a gifted director.
Whether the story of a rampaging prehistoric mammal possessed by an alien and sucking the “organic energy” out of the residents of a Louisiana town could be considered well-crafted is certainly open to debate, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Mammoth just a little. Yes, I scratched my head when a creature that leaves eight inch deep footprints the diameter of dinner platters managed to sneak up on the heroes in broad daylight not just once, but twice. ((This is even more headscratchworthy when one considers that the beast bellows almost incessantly.)) I also winced on the few occasions when the Lifetime Channel rapped on the window while Frank reminisced about his departed wife and tried to mend his fractured relationship with Jack. Despite a few plot holes, awkward emotional moments and some groan-inducing dialogue, Mammoth was a fun flick; certainly no worse than the bulk of The SciFi Channel’s original movies.
That’s not exactly high praise when you consider such duds as S.S. Doomtrooper (Ben Cross, your chariot is officially doused), but unlike Doomtrooper, I have no intention of demanding that The SciFi Channel reimburse me for the time spent watching Mammoth. I think the best thing I can say is that I’d watch the sequel so subtly hinted at before the end credits rolled.