Pterodactyl starts immediately and doesn’t let up. Well, actually, I missed the first 45 minutes, and I’m pretty sure I tuned in at the first attack, but whatever. Fifteen minutes off the usual hour is a start, right?
Coolio + Dinosaurs + Mark L. Lester = Awesome — Turing’s lost axiom
Pretend for a moment that you’re a big-wig executive at a medium-low budget production company and you have a script sitting on your desk called “Pterodactyl.” It’s about a group of soldiers and scietists who, for whatever reason, end up being eaten by dinosaurs. You need a director. Cameron and Spielberg are light years out of your league. Larry Cohen’s too violent for tv. Roger Corman is, somehow, too cheap. Who do you call?
Mark L. Lester.
Showdown in Little Tokyo, Class of 1984, and Firestarter are credentials enough. Knows his way around a camera, has a sense of humor, can direct action sequences. But it’s Commando that sets him apart. Arguably Schwarzenegger’s most cartoonishly violent and utterly hysterical film, Commando displays exactly the kind of cheese that a movie like this needs. Best of all, by getting an action director, the movie isn’t hampered by the usual hour-of-wandering-in-sort-of-dark-hallways obligatory “moodsetting” that amatuer horror movie directors throw in (a vain attempt to tell themselves that “Killer Boars 3: Boars at Sea” is more than a popcorn flick). No, Pterodactyl starts immediately and doesn’t let up. Well, actually, I missed the first 45 minutes, and I’m pretty sure I tuned in at the first attack, but whatever. Fifteen minutes off the usual hour is a start, right? Plus, there were no dark hallways in this one, it was pretty much just a forest and a cabin. Anyway…
The film features some, uh, strong performances from the likes of Coolio, an actor and avid snow globe collector who, legend has it, at one point used to be a rapper. He doesn’t really do much here except have the most inept death scene in the movie. Apparently, some computer targeting system required him to stand still and allow himself to be scooped up by a pterodactyl for a clear shot. Even though it didn’t actually work. Oh, and another guy did it not five seconds later and turned out alright. Plus, a girl did it like ten minutes earlier and didn’t even get blood on her. Jesus, it confuses me just to think about that scene. Moving on.
Another notable performance comes from Steve Braun, best known as the “EXTREME KAYAKING!” kid from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. He plays the crazy palentologist entranced by the dinosaurs, going so far as to watch a girl get ripped to shreds and proclaim it “amazing.” This is the type of role perfected by the “atomic monsters” films from the ’50s, most notably Robert Cornthwaite in Howard Hawks’ The Thing from another World, who stated that “We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die… without destroying a source of wisdom.” A beautiful thought painted as villianous, marring an otherwise classic film. This line is echoed by Braun about midway through the film, and the implications are the same: science is evil and anyone who disapproves of the philosophy of “shoot first, ask questions later” is not to be trusted. The Thing had McCarthyism to blame for its mistakes, what has Pterodactyl? Thankfully, Braun drops the act early on, and actually becomes involved in one of the funniest recurring jokes in the film. First, a girl kisses him. Five minutes later, she gets her arm ripped off and bleeds to death right next to him. Then, he ends up in bed with the female member of Coolio’s Covert Ops unit. Right after they end up alone, she suddenly dies from an old wound. Tough luck, buddy.
The anti-intellectual diatribe above makes me think I’m painting too harsh a picture of this film, which is, after all, awesome. Like I said, Lester can direct an action sequence. He’s not John Woo, there’s no overstylization, kanted angles, slow motion, or Mexican standoffs. There’s exploding dinosaurs, decapitations, disembowlment, flurries of ineffective bullets, and heros that can take a cliff to the face and not be any worse for wear. Which is just what you want when you look for a movie called Pterodactyl, isn’t it?
I mean, a film with characters named Lovecraft, Burroughs, and Serling has to be good.