Saturday 6 May 2017

My Pet Dinosaur (2017) - Movie Review

It’s once again time for an Aussie indie production, except this time we’re revisiting an old friend. Well, ‘friend’ is probably overreaching considering we’re talking about filmmaker Matt Drummond. That name may not mean much to most of you, but it’s one that I will not be forgetting any time soon considering he’s the guy who gave us Dinosaur Island, which is still one of the more perplexing cinematic releases I’ve covered on here. Perplexing because its only real positive is how unintentionally hilarious it is due to its very shoddy production values. I’ll admit that I didn’t instantly put two and two together when first watching it but, after reading up on the film and finding out that the same guy was behind both films, it makes a little too much sense. Time to take another trip down the long and winding road of ironic entertainment.

The plot: In a small American town, Jake (Jordon Dulieu) has found himself as the caretaker of a living, breathing dinosaur after an accident involving some mysterious science goo. As he tries to take care of the dinosaur while keeping him secret from his mother (Beth Champion), brother (Harrison Saunders) and the nearby military force lead by Col. Roderick (Rowland Holmes), he and his friends discover that the dinosaur’s existence may be connected to a number of strange happenings going on in the town.

The acting here basically explains why I take as much time out to highlight competent child actors as I do: Because the performances here are what most audiences associate as being the norm for younger actors. Dulieu is passable as our lead but that’s about where it stops in terms of being commendable: The other actors who make up his group of friends range from bland to incredibly abrasive in how wooden they are and the adults are written in that “elders bad, kids good” mindset and they don’t really go beyond that. I get that being able to give a good performance involves at least a decent groundwork to build up from, which pretty much no-one here gets, but when the majority of actors here are this painfully stilted and almost robotic in their delivery, I have to call a spade a spade and say that these aren’t good actors.
However, with that said, Rowland Holmes was actually rather fun as the big bad Colonel. He is probably the only one taking the cardboard cut-out of a character and running with it as, because he isn’t even trying to hide how much of a textbook villain he is, the sliminess of his character oozes through in the performance to create a rather engaging presence.

So, given the three-year interim between Dinosaur Island and this, are the visuals any better this time around? In a way, yes. The effects work on Magnus, while still rather made-for-TV, still looks perfectly acceptable and it shows that the effects team have some understanding of light and textures. Hell, I’ll even admit that Magnus himself is rather cute as we see him grow up very quickly over the course of the film. As for the rest of the film, it’s business as usual. Actually, that might not be entirely accurate because, somehow, the effects work is actually worse than Dinosaur Island. Magnus is clearly where all the effort was put in, which is understandable to a degree, but with how slapdash the rest of the effects work is, that is hardly an excuse.
But the real horrifying part comes in when the live-action and CGI cuts are shown together, making for easily some of the most jarring visuals I’m likely to see all year. It gets legitimately painful after a while, reaching an apex during a scene in a junkyard where the military, “alien” drones and dinosaurs are all fighting each other. It is absolutely hysterical in how nothing on screen even remotely fits with anything it’s in proximity to.

Not that the glaring problems here are delegated just to the visuals; the script for this is complete hokum as well. Now, while Dinosaur Island definitely wasn’t good in terms of writing, it at least had a certain goal in mind when it came to educating viewers on dinosaurs. The trivia was never on screen long enough to digest properly, but the intent was there nonetheless. Here? It’s kind of difficult to have a cohesive story when literally nothing is explained. You have a story about dinosaurs that form when mysterious science goo comes into contact with food products (protein shakes, soda, candy, etc.) that is apparently a military experiment, but good luck gleaming any of this from the film itself.
Instead, the film is much more interested in rather banal family drama involving the lead character’s dead father and the family trying to deal with their grief. Of course, since this is largely populated with bits and pieces that audiences have seen in countless other films, and it isn’t exactly presented here in any appealing way, I doubt any real “effort” was put into this either. Add to this the stereotyped main group, whose main running gag is telling intentionally bad jokes to each other, and you have a recipe for ear poison.

Even though this is a true-blue local production, to the point where one of the main actors was at my screening (it was Rowland Holmes and, in the spirit of at least trying to be fair, I told him face-to-face that he was good in this), you wouldn’t have guessed that from what we see on screen. For reasons that I can only speculate on, this is a story set in small town USA with everyone sporting American accents and the American military being the main threat. Admittedly, the accents from the cast are at least passable and it not being their native speech might explain how wooden the acting is, but there’s something kind of unsettling about this production’s very existence.
This honestly feels wasteful since, if you’re going to film in Australia and not even bother to change out the New South Wales license plates (every time these showed up, it kept bringing me right out of the action), why not have them be Australian characters? I can only guess that this was done to appeal to a more global audience, and possibly as a half-hearted commentary on the US military in light of… let’s say rather troubling news of late, but all it does is show a serious disconnect between what they keep telling us about the story and what we can clearly see about the story.

All in all, we once again have a film released to mainstream cinemas that is no way up to cinematic standards. I’m not asking for anything ground-breaking; I just want at least someshowing of competence. And quite frankly, between the mostly-painful acting, horrible scripting and outright atrocious effects work, there’s not a whole lot of that here. But, even with all that said, I’ll admit that I still had plenty of laughs while watching this thing. Much like Dinosaur Island, this may not be well-made by any stretch but it is rather entertaining with the right mindset. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Enjoyment, no matter how it is derived, is always relevant. As such, I have nothing but good wishes for Matt Drummond on his future ventures; I may have enjoyed this ironically but, quite frankly, it’s still more than I end up getting from a lot of big budget Hollywood releases.

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