Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum

HAMMOND – “All major theme parks have had delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!”
MALCOLM – “But John, if the Pirates Of The Caribbean breaks down the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

My childhood memories of Jurassic Park are a mixture of peaceful moments involving brachiosaurs and a triceratops, and loud noises played over a bright lime green colour.

You see, when it first hit cinemas in 1993 I was ten years old and I, my mum, my dad and my dinosaur-mad brother went to see it. Signs at the cinema warned that, although Jurassic Park was rated PG, there were some scary scenes that would be unsuitable for young children.

Anyone seeing us go into the cinema would think my seven-year-old brother was a potential problem, but in fact the opposite was the case.

"Look at the side of that car, my dear. I'm very proud of the sides of my cars. I do hope nothing happens to my cars, in particular the sides. I can't stress how important the sides of my cars are."
“Look at the side of that car, my dear. I’m very proud of the sides of my cars. I do hope nothing happens to my cars, in particular the sides. I can’t stress how important the sides of my cars are.”

For want of a better phrase, I was a bit of a pussy when I was younger, whereas at the tender age of seven my brother loved A Nightmare On Elm Street, Child’s Play and the like.

That’s why, when the T-Rex attacked the jeeps in the pouring rain and ate the annoying lawyer, or when the Dilophosaur spat on the double-crossing Dennis Nedry and attacked him in his car, or when the raptors were chasing Tim and Lex in the kitchen, I never saw those scenes – I only heard them, with my lime green t-shirt pulled over my face in fear.

Despite this fear I still loved Jurassic Park, and the majority of 1993 and 1994 was spent playing with the toys (remember the ones that roared when you moved their hand, and the Dino Damage ones that had chunks of flesh you could pull off?), playing the video games (the Mega Drive one let you play as the raptor) and re-watching the VHS over and over again, the smaller telly and lower volume providing me with a safer environment to watch the dodgier scenes. It was a part of my childhood and now, aged 28, I still love it.

"Well, that's the sides fucked"
“Well, that’s the sides fucked”

For the sake of procedure I feel obliged to explain the story of Jurassic Park, this being a review and all, though you really should know it by now.

Eccentric Scottish billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has opened up a theme park in a remote tropical island, a theme park that features real life dinosaurs he’s managed to clone using the DNA extracted from blood found in fossilised mosquitoes.

Excited about his park, he invites some guests – palaeontologist Alan Grant (Neill), palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Dern), theorist Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) and the aforementioned annoying lawyer – to see the park before it opens and get their expert opinions. Oh, and he’s invited his two grandchildren too, because things definitely won’t go tits-up.

"It's a fossilised penis. It must have fallen out of my pocket when we were being chased"
“It’s a fossilised penis. It must have fallen out of my pocket when we were being chased”

After a while, things go tits-up and, thanks to some underhand subterfuge from park IT nerd Dennis Nedry, the electric fences around the park go down, leaving the dinosaurs free to run riot and do what they feel like. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, what they feel like doing is munching on humans.

It’s up to the gang (who are scattered around the island) to regroup and get the fuck out of Dodge before a raptor puts them between two slices of bread.

Even watching it eighteen years later on Blu-ray, Jurassic Park still looks sensational. There are one or two moments where the CGI now looks ever so slightly dated (most notably the scene with the brachiosaurs where everyone sees the dinosaurs for the first time), but the fact that all of the dinosaur effects are still infinitely more convincing than the tripe churned out today – I’m looking at you Dinoshark, Lockjaw and Mega Piranha – just shows what an incredible achievement this film’s special effects were at the time on computer hardware that nowadays would be, if you’ll pardon the pun, prehistoric.

"When you told me we were going to meet your horny friend this wasn't what I had in mind. But hey, every hole's a goal"
“When you told me we were going to meet your horny friend this wasn’t what I had in mind. But hey, every hole’s a goal”

It’s just a perfect film that works on so many levels for all ages. Children get a kick out of seeing people interact with dinosaurs – something we’ve all wanted to do at some point – while adults can appreciate the arguments the characters have over the ethical and moral implications of cloning and disrupting the laws of natural selection by bringing back extinct animals, topics that are still strikingly relevant almost two decades later.

If you’ve never seen Jurassic Park, I feel like crying right in your face then whipping my head left and right so the tears slap across your inexperienced eyes. It’s simply an essential film that everyone with any sense of wonder or imagination has to see.

At the time it was released it was a revelation in filmmaking and its use of CGI changed the way movies were created, while these days it’s become a demonstration that even though its special effects DNA has been cloned and misused so many times since, when used properly it can make for some of the most spectacular cinema ever seen.

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WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Jurassic Park was recently released in a lovely Blu-ray trilogy boxset. UK peeps can get it by clicking here or get the DVD trilogy by clicking here. If you’re a Yankee Doodle Dandy you can get the US Blu-ray trilogy here or the DVD trilogy here.

Mega Piranha (2010)

Director: Eric Forsberg

Starring: Tiffany, Paul Logan, David Labiosa

“I’ve figured it out. It wasn’t the explosion that killed him, and it wasn’t terrorists… it was giant piranha. Yes, giant piranha.” (Jason Fitch, Mega Piranha)

Mega Piranha is at times hilarious and depressing. The hilarity comes with the disbelief that a film can really be so bad, whereas the depression hits you when you realise there are properly ‘real’ actors struggling for roles who would have been up for at least trying to give a film about 30-foot piranha a modicum of credibility.

Syfy’s creature feature productions are bad at the best of times but this film is a shambles on every level, starting with the plot. Some generic ambassador or other is killed in Venezuela, so the US military send out a special agent built like a brick shithouse to investigate it and see if it someone assassinated him. When he gets there he realises it wasn’t an assassination but rather death by piranha – big piranha. He then teams up with former ‘80s pop sensation Tiffany (who’s apparently a scientist) and some other guy with a rubbish goatee to destroy the piranha, all while some weird Venezuelan soldier guys are chasing them for some reason.

"I'd say this man died by being turned into a fish by a wizard. What? It IS a fish? Never mind then"

If it seems like I perhaps struggled to stay on top of the story for this one, you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s little wonder though given how ridiculously fast it chucks everything at you. Establishing shots are replaced with two-second shots of people walking fast or ominous buildings with a big Impact font subtitle sliding in saying “HANK ROBERTS, HEAD OF INTELLIGENCE” or “MILITARY INTELLIGENCE HEADQUARTERS PACIFIC DIVISION” or something like that, and by the time you get your head round what you just read they’re halfway through the next inane piece of dialogue about how “these things are getting bigger” and how in four hours’ time they’ll be big enough to swallow Harlem or something, I don’t know.

Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Give him mutated piranha fish and you'll feed them instead

Meanwhile, the quality of the acting is so shocking you start to wonder if this maybe wasn’t some sort of joke. Tiffany couldn’t act her way out of an open door and buff action ‘hero’ Paul Logan’s voice is so needlessly deep and bass-heavy that earthworms picking up the vibrations in the dirt were making better sense of what he was saying than I was. Then there’s the ‘Venezuelan’ bad guy who regularly forgets he’s supposed to be Venezuelan and slips into a New York accent.

Yes, that's a piranha fish eating a helicopter. It's nowhere near as awesome as it should be though

Let’s not forget the hideous CGI effects (the piranha are laughable and the bigger they get the less the CGI chap seems to bother, eventually just sticking splashes and shadows in the water that genuinely look like anyone could do it) and piss-poor editing (in one scene one of the characters is seen sitting down in one shot, then standing up in the next, then sitting down again FIVE times in a row) that both combine to make this less a case of “what’s going to happen to the piranha” and more “how much shitter is this film going to get”. I lost it near the end when a nuclear attack (seriously) destroyed a whole lake of piranha but seemingly didn’t affect the ducks still clearly seen swimming about.

Mega Piranha expertly walks the line between so-bad-it’s-good and so-bad-it’s-shite. As an achievement in filmmaking it fails miserably on every possible level, but if you’re the sort who takes pleasure in laughing at bad editing and direction as much as the usual bad acting and script, then you’ll be in hog’s heaven here. Anyone simply looking for a decent film though will be let down. Just watch the trailer below instead, it makes things look a lot more exciting than they really are.

Alien Terminator (1995)

Director: Dave Payne

Starring: Maria Ford, Rodger Halston, Lisa Boyle, Bob McFarland

MCKAY – “Jinx is dead, and it’s not a pretty sight.”
PETE – “Ooh, open casket or closed casket?”
MCKAY – “No casket.”

When a movie’s title is simply those of two cult sci-fi classics slapped together, it should hardly shock you to the core to discover that the film itself is essentially 90 minutes of clichés. While it doesn’t really reference The Terminator in anything but name alone, Alien Terminator’s plot is more or less a direct lift from Alien with a bit of The Thing thrown in for good measure. It should probably have been called Alien Thing, really.

After years working underground in self-imposed isolation, a group of scientists are spending their last day together before their work is over and they get to return to the surface. As is so often the case in these set-ups a spanner is thrown into the works, and this metaphorical spanner happens to be a mutated rat.

"It's a good job for you there are no guns down here otherwise my aggressive gesture would have had significantly more impact"

You see, one of the scientists is actually working on a secret project, trying to create the ultimate biological weapon. This results in one of his rats going apeshit, killing the other mice in his cage and then escaping through the air vent. It’s a bit like the scene with the dogs in The Thing, except on a much smaller scale and off-camera to save budget.

Eventually the rat kills a cat and then infects one of the workers and that’s when everything goes all Alien, to the outrageously plagiaristic extent that one of the guys is seemingly killed by a smaller creature then comes back to life, is feeling fine and then has an alien burst out of him at the dinner table. Through his back though, of course, because if it came through his chest you’d actually see it and it would have cost money to do.

So apparently this is how you studied DNA in the mid-1990s.

It’s the low budget that really makes itself most apparent in this movie. The main “alien” is a guy in a ridiculous furry suit, the scientist’s futuristic tools include some Virtual Reality glasses and some hideous CGI animations… it quickly becomes apparent that most of the budget was blown on the big explosion that takes place near the end of the film.

Meanwhile, the dialogue is as predictable as you can get – it’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly every single scene contains at least a few lines of typical sci-fi/action cliché dialogue. There’s the classic “How are you holding out” / “Gee, I didn’t know you cared” interchange, the vintage “I’m going back for her” / “dammit, she’s probably already dead” / “but I need to know for sure” debate, and of course who could forget the classic “we need to stop this thing” / “what do you mean we, I don’t get paid enough to have that thing kill me” argument.

"Ha ha guys, isn't this just like the scene in Alien? The scene where that guy dies and OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING"

These clichés aren’t solely restricted to the dialogue, mind you – they’re weaved throughout the plot, the casting decisions, and every other aspect of the movie. There’s the faceless organisation boss who orders the controversial decision, the secret double agent and the attractive hard-ass woman who doesn’t have time for men but will ultimately fall in love with one of them by the end. And, of course, you can easily spot a mile off the weaker actress who has clearly just been hired because she’s got the biggest breasts and is willing to get them out (which she predictably does for no reason).

Alien Terminator is goofy fun if you fancy a game of Spot The Stereotype. It’s not a well-made film by any means, but it’s worth a watch for a laugh.

Blood Car (2007)

Director: Alex Orr

Starring: Mike Brune, Anna Chlumsky, Katie Rowlett

“Puppies… you killed that girl with puppies.” (Archie, Blood Car)

It is the near future – a few weeks from now, to be exact. Due to a crumbling economic framework the oil market has collapsed, making petrol as rare as gold dust and turning the roads entirely car-free. Nerdy vegan Archie Andrews (Mike Brune) thinks he’s got the solution to the problem and is working on a car that runs entirely on wheatgrass, but it isn’t going so well. Until he cuts his finger.

When just a drop of his blood gets into the fuel tank, Archie’s custom-built car suddenly springs to life. He quickly realises that not only does his car run on blood, it works far more efficiently than if he was using petrol.

Look! it's her off My Girl! She looks happy considering her mate was killed by bees

Owning a car that actually runs makes Archie the cock of the walk, and he soon starts getting chatted up by the slutty Denise. This pisses off Lorraine (My Girl’s Anna Chlumsky, only about 15 years older), who works at the wheatgrass stall and is Archie’s secret admirer. Thus begins a battle for Archie’s heart while he tries to keep his blood-based secret to himself.

She gets her baps out five minutes later if you're into that sort of thing. You freak.

Driving the only car in town? Having two women fight over you? Sounds like a good situation for Archie to be in. What’s the problem, you may wonder. The problem is that Archie’s car starts running out of fuel again, and he can hardly keep draining his own blood to fill it up. He’s going to need more fresh blood, and the best way for him to do that is to start killing random people. Of course, being a vegan, that’s easier said than done.

Wheatgrass just isn't doing it, mate. I don't even know what wheatgrass is.

Blood Car may be decidedly low-budget but that’s part of its charm. You forgive the cheesy special effects and the hammy acting because the cast seem like they’re having a ball and you don’t want to rock the boat by saying “um, no offence, but you’re shit Chlumsky”. While many of the jokes are iffy, there are some real winners in there and the film’s general quirky mood will eventually have you smiling.

The only real problem with Blood Car is the ending, which just gets so ridiculous it stops being the funny little horror film it is and instead becomes a film trying too hard for attention.

Blood Car is cheesy, it’s eccentric, it’s low-budget and it’s funny. It’s not the greatest film of all time and it’s not exactly packed with memorable, show-stopping moments but it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half.