Sy-Fy Ate My Brain: Mammoth Review
Echo’s rating: 2.5 out of 4 Changs
Mammoth Rated: C(for Campy) 90 min.
Starring: Vincent Ventresca, Summer Glau, Tom Skerrit, A Big Dead Mammoth.
Ok, party people, here we go. After some time of considering doing a Sci-Fi Channel retrospective–and usually nixing it because of Jarv’s coverage of similar material–I’ve decided to heck with it, there’s room enough here for both. Afterall, an examination of the sheer volume of work the dubiously named channel churns out means we will likely never come close to reviewing the same thing, unless someone greenlights FrankenFish 2: Jus When Yo Think It Safe! I’ll avoid stepping on toes, and will reserve this column for only stuff playing in that Saturday night death slot on Sigh-Fry, er, umm…Sy-Fy.
As a way of getting started, I’ve picked Mammoth–one of the funnier and more absurd entries and, as far as I am aware, the only one of the lot to be nominated for a Prime Time Emmy (yes, some of Sy-Fy’s series and mini-series have been, but never a saturday night ‘Original’). Emmy for what you might ask? The mammoth of course! Apparently, whomever is responsible for nominations must have decided that the CGI corpse of a rotting stinking prehistoric pachyderm chasing the guy from Picket Fences was a visual achievement worthy of recognition.
In truth, the fx aren’t really that special (Oh, shock!) but the movie has its own brand of nuttiness going for it. Skerrit and Glau, as sci-fi geek grandfather and sci-fi geek granddaughter respectively, who join forces to hunt down an alien infected mastodon who happens to be sucking the souls of the townspeople? Yes please. And, for good measure, the filmmakers have let Vincent Ventresca tag along too. The result is stupidity of the highest order, that occassionally drags, but managed to keep me smiling the whole time and it actually gives Skerrit opportunity to…wait for it…act!
The story, which kicks in right after a super-silly animation sequence featuring dancing cave paintings and alien spaceships, is pretty lame-brained, even by the standards of this sort of thing. Ventresca is a paleontologist studying the remains of a frozen mammoth in the museum at the center of town. Ventresca is challenged by that age-old dilemma; spend time with his teen daughter or stay late pulling blood samples out of a hairy, frozen carcass. Luckily for Jack (yes, that really is Summer Glau’s characters name), she has an uber-nerdy white-haired grandfather who looks suspiciously like the old-age version of that captain in the first Alien movie. Gramps hangs around, takes Jack to the movies for seconds of whatever B-feature is showing, and gets to give Ventresca insight on how to be a better daddy.
All swell, until an alien organism comes beaming its way down into the mammoth (what small town museum can afford to house an entire frozen mammoth?) and the creature comes to life, breaks its puny exhibit captivity and starts rampaging through the sleepy little burg, actually picking people up, impaling them with its tusks, and promptly using its trunk as a soul hoover to remove their lifeforce! Rock on!
The weird thing about the movie is this; yes it is daft, and purposefully insane, but it seems like its actually trying when it comes to the familial relationship at the movie’s center. The connection between Skerrit and Glau is the fun kind of parent/child team-up that one could often find in 80s horror films. I liked it, and thought they both had decent chemistry together. Ventresca’s character is a stick in the mud, so mostly he’s very wooden, but there are even some nice touches thrown in between he and Skerrit. Tom looks like he is having a ton of fun, and he refuses to lower the quality of his performance just because his co-star is a CGI mammoth that wants to snuff up his soul. There are a pair of agents that show up halfway through, and a couple of assorted rednecks late in the game, but neither group add much interest to the story. Same for Glau’s boyfriend. He smells like mammoth fodder from scene 1.
But the mammoth itself? How is it? Well, good enough to earn an Emmy. So I found it more than a little strange that after shuffling behind houses, picking up and shotputting a guy in a gorilla gram suit, and chasing raving teens through a field, the beast would reveal itself as this:
Ok, kidding. The mammoth is just fine, slightly more solid and seemingly ‘there’ than most of the creatures that end up in these films. It has some occassional weight and heft to it, but there are so few long shots of it, that usually we only see it when it’s in the frame with another person and right on top of them. As a result of that, it ends up looking like the mammoth is constantly creeping up slowly behind people as if it wasn’t the size of a dumptruck and probably smelled like death itself. At one point Ventresca is looking for it, and it’s standing right behind him in the parody of a Chaplin silent film. One dude, scanning an abandoned town for a massive rotting elephant and it’s breathing down his neck.
The weakest element of Mammoth is that when it comes to scenes like the ones mentioned above, the movie isn’t confident enough to assure us that its playing fast or loose or is just simply incompetent and thats why it is funny. I’m certain it is the former reason, but my point is, the comedy elements aren’t delivered with any authority. They are off-to-the-side, instead of being over-the-top.
You get the impression that director Tim Cox actually expects the human story to sell the movie. No, we want more mammoth madness please! But for a Sy-Fy original, it marks an evolution. Most of these things you watch as part of the background to a more interesting event; playing cards with friends, hanging out with beer, slowly passing out mindlessly of boredom. You get the picture. Mammoth has progressed to the point that when you look at it, you will be tempted to not look away. Thats about as close to a recommendation here as you are gonna get.
And some fine enterprising and tone deaf individual has set scenes from Mammoth to music from Offspring. Here you go: