December 15th, 2010
By monster, I’m talking generally about non-human, non-supernatural creatures that want to kill you and/or eat you, so this excludes vampires, werewolves, Freddy Kruger, and the like. I’m really biased toward giant monsters, or alien creatures from under the water or from outer space, although it’s hard to draw the line on these. By modern, I’m talking about 1970s or so and onward, after there were movie ratings. For classic monster movies, pre-1970, I think the clear winners are Godzilla and King Kong, with a few other honorable mentions. There are some other lists of monster movies out there like this one, but I don’t like most of them for one reason or another.
For my list, I can only include movies I’ve seen, and would love to hear suggestions of other worthy contenders (for instance, is Q: The Winged Serpent good? Let me know!). Here’s my list, and I’ll follow up with some commentary on why SyFy monster movies fail.
Cloverfield felt like how a 21st Century Godzilla film should be. I liked it. The Godzilla remake, not so much, and it misses the list.
Tremors. This is an underrated movie. One of my favorites. Underground monsters…beware the graboids!
The Host. Just rewatched this yesterday, which sparked my interest in writing this post. Why aren’t there more quality monster movies made?
King Kong (Peter Jackson remake). I almost left this one off, because frankly I was irritated by what I consider a lot of distracting flaws in this version. Parts are really awesome, however, so here it is.
Alien and Aliens. Not quite in the giant category, except for the mama in the second film. But goddamn scary monsters coming to get you for sure, right Newt? Monsters exist. Don’t watch these clips if you haven’t seen the movies.
Jaws. OK, not really a monster I guess, except in the sense that it is a big Great White, and it’s behavior is monstrous. A really classic monster movie, however.
John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was a little hesitant to include this one, as it’s a sneaky monster most of the time rather than a big beastie to run from or fight head on. But hell, it’s an awesome monster movie.
Pitch Black. It could be argued that Riddick is the monster in this move, who is redeemed, but the creatures that only come out at night are pretty good. Maybe not Aliens level, but I like this movie as a monster movie.
Reign of Fire. Dragon rule is cool. This movie makes little sense as science fiction, but as a monster movie it’s great, and a few individual scenes sparkle.
Jurassic Park could be a contender, but it never quite felt like a monster movie to me. Let’s give it an honorable mention. Monsters vs. Aliens…let’s skip the comedy and kiddie stuff.
OK, about SyFy. First, let me say that growing up as a kid I waited all week for Saturday night when “Creature Feature” would come on and I’d get my fix of a new (to me anyway) monster movie. A lot of dumb godzilla movies were ingested that way…but I was a kid and loved them. SyFy’s monster of the week type movies promised to be a 21st century version of those, and we’ve learned a lot about movie making and special effects since then.
Why then, even taking into consideration their low budgets, do SyFy movies suck ass so hard?
I know a little bit about these movies. I’ve had a couple of friends who’ve written scripts that were produced. I was really sick a few months ago and watched about 6 of them in a row, and about ten over three days. My whole body hurt and I couldn’t think, so they were almost tolerable.
Above and beyond the usual problems of low-budget movies (e.g. poor acting), there seems to be some consistent problem between the directing and the CGI. I mean, I like the ideas of a lot of these films when I see the advertisements, and I’ve liked the set-ups, and some of the acting has actually been pretty good or at least appropriate. But we get to the part where the monster makes its appearance, and it suddenly feels like a bad video game, the modern equivalent to the guy in the rubber Godzilla suit — except it’s not even that entertaining somehow. All the tension, emotion, and fear just vanishes instantly. The suspension of disbelief drops me on my ass.
Whoever is involved in doing these scenes needs to go to film school, or at least study how it was done before computers existed. Old school directors would have killed for the resources of SyFy and done some amazing scenes. SyFy phones it in from the Sega Genesis.
That might give the wrong impression. It’s not the quality of the CGI, it’s the acting/directing/editing/blocking/etc of the scenes with the CGI. Look, the Host uses a CGI critter that is clearly shown in many scenes. Those scenes blow away SyFy by orders of magnitude. Maybe someone with more experience about movie making could articulate what’s bothering me, but it bothers me a great deal.
It just might be the issue of suspension of disbelief. The CGI scenes look too fake, and are not shot in the same style as other scenes. I’m one who can go with the flow with some bad FX (I’m a long-time Dr. Who fan), but they just do it sooooo badly. Argh.