Matty reflects on the Commando director’s first two films for his post American World Pictures company, Titan Global Entertainment.
After dissolving American World Pictures in 2012 following his split with wife and production partner Dana Dubovsky, veteran B-movie practitioner Mark L. Lester, helmer of Class of 1984 (1982), Commando (1986), and Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), formed Titan Global Entertainment. Operating in the same mode as the company he’d founded with his ex spouse nineteen years earlier, Lester’s mission statement for Titan Global was to finance, acquire, and distribute a wealth of high-quality independent genre films with robust commercial prospects. It was a remit that Lester’s first two TG flicks stuck to. Though declined from the 2 to 2.2million unique viewers who’d tuned in to their ‘Original’-branded premieres at their peak in 2011, SyFy circa 2012/13 were still clawing in a sizable number of folks with their Saturday night ‘animal attack’ monster movies, the “most dangerous night on television” continuing to pull in an average of 1.5million watchers. Never one to shy away from a trend or something easily saleable, a pair of creature features made for SyFy was a proven way for Lester to launch his brand new outfit, particularly as his final three American World productions — Jabberwock (2011), Sand Sharks (2012), and Dragon Wasps (2012) — sat in such a wheelhouse and had played well upon their bows across the channel.
Of the three, Jabberwock and Dragon Wasps seemingly had the greatest impact on Titan Global’s inaugural salvo of JURASSIC ATTACK and POSEIDON REX. The enjoyable Jabberwock was the first film in which Lester would become acquainted with Anthony Fankhauser: a former in-house line producer and director for The Asylum who has since gone on to become a prolific peddler of genre wares in his own right, spearheading projects not just for Lester but for CineTel and Hallmark as well. The agreeable Dragon Wasps, meanwhile, was the first Lester joint to shoot in Belize: a Carribean country located on the northeastern coast of Central America. Both Fankhauser and Belize are key components in Jurassic Attack and Poseidon Rex.
Efficiently directed by Fankhauser and making good use of Belize’s luscious green foliage, Jurassic Attack is a frothy, jungle-set adventure with plenty of dinosaur action. The plot is piffle and rote but pleasingly so: in it, a rag-tag group of commandos find themselves marooned on a hitherto undiscovered island — a ‘lost world’, natch — chock full of beast-lizards. The whys and hows of the dinos surviving extinction or whatever are irrelevant — as is scripter Rafael Jordan’s inclusion of cut-out characters like Israel Sáez de Miguel’s terrorist (the film’s human antagonist) and a couple of bickering military higher-ups (Sand Sharks and Dragon Wasps’ Corin Nemec, and Lester’s Commando villain Vernon Wells who’d effectively play the same sort of authority figure role again two years later in the Fankhauser-produced Jurassic City (2015)). However, Jordan does imbue Jurassic Attack with an easygoing, matinee-type vibe that Fankhauser jives with, and their nods to such archetypal texts and proponents of rugged, grunt-rooted sci-fi as Aliens (1986), Starship Troopers (1997) screenwriter Ed Neumeier, Armor author John Steakley, and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle are amusing and respectful.
That said, anyone watching Jurassic Attack and expecting intricate storytelling and richly essayed drama would obviously be insane. Without question, the film’s appeal — its hook, its raison d’etre — is the dinosaurs themselves: a fact Fankhauser knows, and he ladles on the raucous reptile silliness with abandon as a result. Rendered with a distinctive Stan Winston sheen (design-wise, the creatures are so close to the look of the late FX wiz’s Jurassic Park beasts that, had Jurassic Attack not been procured by the NBCUniversal-owned SyFy, Universal surely would have sued), while Jurassic Attack’s CGI isn’t completely seamless, it’s far from awful. It’s very charming and, like Jurassic Park, there’s a real sense of wonder to it; a magic in seeing tyrannosaurs, velociraptors, diplodocuses, and triceratopses charging around the place that transcends the film’s flaws and limitations.
Retitled ‘Rise of the Dinosaurs’ for its television debut, Jurassic Attack was the last SyFy Original to premiere on a Saturday evening, on the 11th May 2013, before the network shifted the strand to Thursdays. Interestingly, prior to its broadcast on the channel, TG’s Poseidon Rex actually had a small, one-weekend-only US theatrical run on the 18th, 19th, and 20th of April 2014. As the press of the time noticed, it was a brazen attempt by distributor ITN to cash in on the ironic cool generated by accidental pop culture phenomenon Sharknado (2013), leading to comparison after comparison in Poseidon Rex’s contemporaneous reviews. It’s unfair, really: the desperate need to position Poseidon Rex as being complicit in Sharknado’s snark are of wild disservice, painting the film as a similarly post modern piss-take at best, and a slovenly rip-off at worst. Poseidon Rex is neither. It’s a straight, honest-to-goodness, ol’ fashioned B-movie and it deserves more than its status as a minor Sharknado footnote.
Directed by Lester himself (whose form in the dino-schlock department extends to the woeful Pterodactyl (2005)) and again written by Jordan (in addition to a slew of Lester flicks, the busy scribe has also penned material for fellow SyFy go-tos UFO and Active, the diverting Copperhead (2008) among them), Poseidon Rex concerns the titular prehistoric behemoth being roused from its slumber at the bottom of the ocean and going on the rampage through a Belizean beach community. There’s other stuff too, with Jordan’s story also featuring snorkelling, Mayan treasure, and Yardies, but it’s all bunkum: despite being presented with typical skill and flair by Lester, it’s no more than sidedressing, the helmer’s main focus quite rightly being the Kaiju-inspired hijinks of his ace-looking P-Rex.
Designed by VFX artist Kevin Lane, the P-Rex is a fabulous bit of CG — a scaly and snarling monster with a ferocious set of jaws, muscular legs for swimming and stomping, and a sleek length of translucent fin that stretches from its head to its tail. A glorious sight to behold, Lester affords the bloodthirsty gargantuan awe and reverence, constantly gunning the camera up at it to emphasise the P-Rex’s size and having it dwarf his cast, loom over boats and cars, and square up alongside buildings.
Beyond the adroitly assembled carnage (just ignore some of the hideous spud gun sound effects that mar the scenes of gunplay), the pleasure of Poseidon Rex lies in Lester’s technical prowess. A low-key stylist (generally, Lester’s output is driven by editorial rhythm rather than overt and extravagant visual pyrotechnics), Poseidon Rex is among its director’s most luxuriously shot movies. Aided by the inherent tropicality of Belize, there’s a lovely travelogue quality to Lester and cinematographer Alexander Yellen’s bold compositions. Bright, colourful, and exotic — you half expect Judith Chalmers to come walking into frame, even during the sharp, savage, and sincerely staged moments of deep sea dino destruction.
Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz