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February 2, 2015

Dinosaur Island: A Christmas Anti-Miracle


Dinosaur Island is a terrible movie and no one should watch it -- but I ended up watching it anyway, so let’s talk about it because I’m dumb and probably want to hurt myself.

That has to be one of my best post openings yet.


All right, let me back up and offer up some context.  This past Christmas Day, my brother and I were invited to a friend’s place to come watch some movies -- or one movie, at least according to my original understanding of the deal.  My brother was ecstatic, because the movie on tap was Miami Connection; he was reluctant to mention to me that said movie is…less than ideal, but apparently it was right up his alley, least of all because of the song he absolutely loves and has referenced unprovoked.  But on the way there, plans for Miami Connection fell through because the movie wasn’t on Netflix.  So it was a mystery as to what movie we -- a party of six, ultimately -- would be viewing until we were all gathered in front of the screen.

Me being me, I voiced my concerns on the way there.  I’ve said as much before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t believe in the So Bad It’s Good indulgence.  At all.  Think about it: what’s the point of watching a terrible movie and gawking at the awfulness when, in the same amount of time, you could watch an awesome movie and enjoying it because…you know, it’s actually good?  Or to put it a different way, why would you watch one of the Transformers movies when you could watch Pacific Rim?  It makes sense to me -- but of course, my concerns went unheeded.  

Remember this for later.  I’ll get back to it.


Admittedly I brought it upon myself by agreeing to go watch whatever horrible movie they could find, but it was Xmas Day and I didn’t want to be a party pooper.  So I kept my mouth shut and let the guys choose whatever movie they could find.  And for a moment, I went in with high expectations.  Maybe I could indulge in something So Bad It’s Good.  Maybe I could understand the concept instead of poo-pooing it -- because really, I never had before.  Maybe I could broaden my horizons in an unexpected way.

And then I watched Dinosaur Island.  I became emotionally dead within the first five seconds, and it still wasn’t enough.  So no, I’m not a believer in the So Bad It’s Good mentality…and I learned that sometimes it’s okay to be a party-pooper if it means skipping out on something that’ll pretty much toss your soul into a blender.

So.  Let’s get this shitshow going.


Here’s the setup.  A bunch of soldiers en route for home end up getting wrecked along the way -- shipwrecked, in a sense, on a mysterious island.  That very same island turns out to be pretty deadly; as the name implies, it’s the host to a bevy of man-eating dinosaurs, and the soldiers will have to do their best to survive with limited resources and against the elements.  At least, that’s what they WOULD be doing if it wasn’t for the fact that the island is also filled with beautiful, scantily-clad women with no qualms about stripping down to their birthday suits.

Yep.  It’s that kind of movie.

The key thrust of the movie is that the soldiers -- by way of a smiley-faced tattoo on one grunt’s arm -- are heralded as the prophesized gods of the natives’ legends.  They’re treated like kings as soon as the connection (however erroneous, of course) gets made, but there is one stipulation: the soldiers will have to kill the “Great One” in accordance with the prophecy.  If they can’t -- or won’t, then the women will know that they aren’t the gods, and will do what the dino-baddie would have done anyway.  Until then, they’re content with offering up paradise to the men -- food, fawning, and…I can’t think of a third thing that starts with F, so let’s just go with sex.  And no, I’m not going to go with the obvious F-word synonym.

Yep, it’s that kind of movie.


I will be fair, though.  To the movie’s credit, it does have a couple of good jokes every now and then.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s pretty much where my praise ends.  For the life of me, I cannot think of another nice thing to say about the movie besides “it has an ending”.  The visuals are absolutely terrible; you can’t exactly hold a movie from 1994 to the same standards as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, but even that apology falls through when you remember that Dinosaur Island isn’t that far removed from Jurassic Park.  Three guesses as to which one had the higher budget, but that just begs the question: if you don’t have the budget to make a movie about dinosaurs, why would you make a movie about dinosaurs?

I don’t think I need to tell you how bad these dinosaurs look.  Like, you know how in Jurassic Park they managed to use movie magic to make it seem like Grant and the others were standing right next to and interacting with the dinosaurs?  Good luck finding that in Dinosaur Island.  It doesn’t reach Birdemic levels of inanity, but anyone eager to see battles against towering beasts would be better off mashing G.I. Joes against a couple of picture books.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that these concoctions are from 1964; hell, I just saw the “movie” about a month ago, and I’m struggling to even remember what the Great One looked like.  I think my brain blocked out the majority of the content -- to my benefit, for sure.


An apologist for the movie would probably call Dinosaur Island “ambitious”, when really it’s got a serious identity crisis.  It’s at its best when it’s trying to be a comedy (though even then, it’s still more miss than hit), but for one reason or another it has shades of a horror movie.  For lack of a better description. 

Considering that the opening has a brief description of a bunch of soldiers with personalities made in such broad strokes they’d tear if you wrapped them around your finger, the setup is there for a “monsters pick off the soldiers one-by-one” format.  And one of the soldiers gets offed early on, as if to confirm that.  (Incidentally, he’s neither brought up again nor paid respects even seconds after his death…even though another soldier dies and he gets a makeshift funeral.  Semper fi!)


So basically, most of the content of this movie revolves around its lack of content.  It’s pretty much about three of the soldiers -- Skeemer, Wayne, and Turbo, who might as well have been called Sleazebag, Nerd, and Loser -- getting pampered by beautiful women who’ll tear off each other’s tops and grope each other at a moment’s notice.  Beyond that, their main goal as soon as they’re called “gods” to have as much sex as possible without consequence -- save for their leader Briggs, who gets played up as a stick in the mud. 

But really, I’ve got to side with Briggs in this situation; he was the one trying the hardest to escape the island and make it back to civilization.  The soldiers may have stumbled upon paradise, but how long before it all gets boring?  What’s the point of eternal youth and pleasure when it means a life without a single thought beyond carnal relations?  What happens when these guys miss the comforts and technology of home?  Is it really worth saying “screw you!” to everything you’ve ever known and loved just so you can get some?

According to Dinosaur Island, yes.  Yes, it is.


Is it wrong of me to pick on a movie that not only doesn’t have the chops to compete with its obvious inspiration (again, Jurassic Park), but also is by design a movie destined to be shlock at best (because it was shot in 12 days)?  Maybe.  Maybe.  Here’s the thing, though: even if you try to pardon it for those reasons, it’s VERY hard to overlook the very unfortunate implications throughout.  I’m saying this as a gamer in 2015, in a climate that’s growing increasingly aware of -- and wary of -- its depiction of more than just burly white dudes in fiction.  But even then, and even if I was transported back to 1994, this stuff would still be pretty unsettling.  You can’t even excuse it for being pandering, or basically just porn.  That’d explain a few things, sure, but excuse it?  Not a chance.

I mean, just imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of Skeemer and pals while visiting Dinosaur Island.  “Hey guys!  Let’s make a mockery of this indigenous people’s religion by posing as their saviors!”  Or “You know what would be awesome?  If we deluded a bunch of innocent natives into becoming our willing sex slaves!”  Or “Wow, these women have an established culture that’s served them for centuries!  Let’s completely overwrite that by convincing them that they should act like Playboy centerfolds -- with visual aids, of course!”  Or just “Yo!  SEX!  YES!”

It’s a little fucked up, is what I’m trying to say here.


But that’s pretty much the plot.  The conflict evaporates until it’s time for it to suddenly reappear -- i.e. when there’s some random danger to deal with until the Great One drags its ass into one of the last couple of scenes.  Everything is resolved within minutes, if not seconds, of a threat arising.  The women take care of the first dinosaur after the soldiers waste their ammo on it.  They take down a triceratops with more or less the same spray ‘n pray tactics.  There’s a monster thing in a cave. 

But even then, all possibilities of a threat evaporate once it’s revealed that there are Jacuzzis hot springs that’ll both heal the soldiers and effectively give them eternal life…which are more or less activated in full by having some more sex.  Really, the biggest subplot you could attach to this movie is Turbo’s fear about his potential/impending first time.


It should go without saying, but this movie makes no sense.  Apparently the Great One requires a virgin sacrifice every so often or else it’ll kill all the women, but isn’t that only just a problem once the soldiers show up?  Or does sex between two women count?  Because if it doesn’t, then how is there even a concept of virginity?  Setting that aside, the proof that the soldiers are gods is still up in the air until they kill the Great One…and the women know this, because it’s discussed briefly. 

Sooooooo they’re just going to throw themselves at the men -- men who they were willing to kill at the outset just for washing up on their island -- on the grounds that maybe they’ll do the thing?  And not to be that guy, but how are all of these women so good at pleasuring men if they more or less learned the concept from magazines?  Wouldn’t centuries of inactivity mean that the very concept of sex is lost on them, and it’d take more than taking turns peeking at a magazine to figure out the mechanics?


Come to think of it, why would the Great One want a virgin sacrifice, anyway?  I guess if you want to play devil’s advocate you could say that the women have been doing it with each other, but even so, why does it matter to the Great One?  A meal’s a meal, right?  What does it matter in the long run?  Why take just one lady and walk away when you can eat all the ladies in one go?  Is it trying to keep a sizable stash of food?  Is it worried that it’ll eat the women faster than they can repopulate? 

How do they repopulate?  Have the women found ways to supersede the need for the man factor in the centuries since their society’s birth?  Does that mean that some of the ladies have actually been friends for thousands of years?  Wouldn’t that imply a level of intimacy far beyond shacking up with whatever random scrub struts up and pretends to be your god?  Doesn’t that mean that disturbing the natural order of the island just to have a harem of what equates to maids is even more fucked up than before?


Why do the women even need the soldiers, anyway?  It’s revealed late in the movie that there’s a secret cache of weapons and explosives hidden on the island (because shut up), so if they knew about that, then why didn’t they act?  Why didn’t they handle whatever dinosaurs came their way if they’ve had hundreds of years to condition their bodies and learn their weaknesses?  Why would they hand their fates over to Skeemer just because he (and only he, actually) has a tattoo?  Wouldn’t they forsake a god and a prophecy that would doom their sisters to death until some random point in the future?  Who the hell came up with that prophecy anyway?

How do the women know how to speak perfect English?  Did they learn it from other men who ended up on their island?  If that’s the case, then why?  They were seconds away from killing the soldiers at the outset, so what chance did any survivor without the sacred tattoo even have?  If they learned it from survivors who washed up centuries ago, then why don’t their speech patterns (bad acting aside) reflect that?  Or did women show up on the island and teach them?  Are there women from the outside world who ended up there and worked their way into the mix?  If so, when?  And why weren’t they at the forefront of the story instead of a bunch of living sex dolls designed to pad out the runtime?  Is it stupid of me to expect verisimilitude from a movie that would sooner have women wrestle and tear their tops off than actually put in effort?

…Oh, wait.  I have an answer to that last one.  

NO, DAMN IT.  IT’S NOT STUPID.

   
I was under the impression that a piece of art -- movie, game, TV show, book, comic, whatever -- existed for a reason.  To entertain, sure, but it goes beyond that.  Art is supposed to inspire emotion.  Thought.  A reaction.  It’s supposed to give its audience something to take away…and it does that by having quality.  By having good execution of its elements.  By being good.  You’re not going to be able to do that if you put out a terrible product and hope for the best.  I know that now, conclusively.  Trying to file something under the “So Bad It’s Good” category is like saying a shampoo that makes your hair smell like a landfill is so awful it warps right back to smelling like fresh muffins.  It doesn’t work.

If it sounds like I’m super-butthurt over the prospect of Dinosaur Island, it’s because I am.  If you’re reading this, then I’d assume that you’ve got a will of your own -- meaning that you’re more than willing to enjoy (and capable of enjoying) something that’s So Bad It’s Good.  Fine.  Don’t let me stop you.  But if nothing else, at least try to see things my way.  Try to understand where I’m coming from on this, as a guy who’s trying to put out good stories.  Who’s trying to do things the right way.

So let me say this: do you know what I was watching before heading out to see Dinosaur Island?


That’s right.  And guess what?  It’s freaking great.  I should have known that by now, but as you may well know, I made a terrible mistake and opted to watch The Walking Dead every time it was on.  But by chance, my brother and I started watching it at last, and we both enjoyed it.  It did more than just teach; it gave us a narrative to follow, and speaking personally I was 100% on board for a journey across reality itself with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  I want to watch more of it, because it’s more than just a science class.  It’s a show designed to show just how awesome the universe is on damn near every level you can imagine.

How big of a paradox is it that the same night that would have me watching something as stimulating as Cosmos would also have me withering into a husk via Dinosaur Island?  But you know what?  Out of everyone in that room, I was the only one struggling to keep my brains from leaking out of my ear.  The other guys just hooped and hollered at the sight of awful effects.  They went oooh and aaah and ohhhhhhhhhh at the sight of naked ladies (especially when it was super sex time).  My brother even started a chant on Turbo’s behalf, and seemed genuinely invested in Turbo’s quest for sex as opposed to an impending clash with a centuries old devourer of flesh.

Something about that doesn’t sit right with me. 


When I voiced my concerns before the movie, my brother was the one who gave me trouble for it.  “Not everything has to be some award-winning masterpiece,” he said, and he didn’t bother holding back a shred of his derision.  I could have told him that I understood that (for God’s sake, I’ve defended the ’94 Street Fighter movie), or argued my point as I have here.  But I didn’t.  I just kept my mouth shut and decided to play along for the rest of the night.  And I feel dirty for it.

After the movie, I said pretty plainly that I didn’t want to talk about it -- which pretty much told them exactly how I felt about it.  But in the end, I said that I did have fun.  I probably should have made it clear that I had fun because I liked seeing the guys react (or overreact) to what happened onscreen, and their cheer was the only thing that kept me alive.  As soon as the movie ended, the group unanimously agreed to give it a five-star rating via the Netflix interface.  Dinosaur Island gave them everything they needed.

But couldn’t it have given them more?  Couldn’t anything else?


In the end, the only one I can speak for is myself -- and I can explain, in-depth, why I can’t support this “movement”, Dinosaur Island or otherwise.  To me, there’s no point in gathering around and laughing at a movie for having bad effects or dialogue; I’m not about to play apologist anytime soon, but making a point to gawk at something just for kicks doesn’t do anyone any favors.  That’s especially the case when you start confusing the amount of fun had with friends with the quality of the movie, because of course you’re going to have fun when you do something with buddies.  (Whatever legs Destiny has left to stand on are probably born from friends shooting stuff together -- and even then it sounds like a crap shoot.)

But here’s the thing I’m going to put my foot down on: if for whatever reason you’re approaching a situation where you feel like you need/have to “turn your brain off” to enjoy something, DON’T.  You can get so much more out of something when you engage with it, and when that same something has the quality to invite than engagement.  Pardoning something like Dinosaur Island gets into some very nasty territory; this movie is way too easy to interpret as one of the most offensive things ever committed to fiction, while any other movie would simply have you burying your head in the sand for some cheap indulgence.


Thinking about something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy something; if anything, it means that you can enjoy something even more than just going “Whoa, look at that explosion!”  It doesn’t even require you to look at high-class art; look at the stuff I’ve thrown up on this blog, and you’ll understand that you can engage with something as seemingly-braindead as Pacific Rim.  That’s awesome.  And that’s more than possible.  But you know what isn’t awesome?  Shunning engagement for indulgence -- because that’s a slippery slope you don’t want to go down.

Maybe it’s possible for you to find something to enjoy in Dinosaur Island.  That’s possible, I guess, even if I can’t understand it.  But what’s stopping people from turning their brains off more often?  What’s stopping them from blithely enjoying other, bigger, newer movies with the same mindset -- and making sure that those movies get support even when they hardly deserve it?  What’s stopping them from sending messages to creators -- to the masterminds across any given medium -- that the only thing people need from products are cheap, shallow thrills?  What’s stopping them from making everything as short-sighted, offensive, and borderline hateful as Dinosaur Island into an everyday occurrence?

A lot, I’d hope.  A whole lot.  But I’ll tell you one thing, though: I sure hope I’m reaching on this one.  Because if I’m not, I think we’ve all got grounds to start worrying.


Anyway, you just read 3000+ words on a terrible movie and why I hate the So Bad It’s Good mantra.  Mad?  Good.  Now you know how I felt after watching Dinosaur Island.  Chew on that for a while

*mic drop*  *exit stage left*

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