By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ½ star out of *****.
Zoombies, from director Glenn R. Miller and screenwriter Scotty Mullen, desperately wants to link itself to the ground-breaking Jurassic Park series. The most obvious of this is the tagline, seen on the fairly intriguing cover art, which screams: “It’s Jurassic World, of the Dead”. At one point, a character even shrieks: “It’s a zoo, not Jurassic Park.” In a later bit, two giraffes rip a man apart in the same manner a pair of Tyrannosaurus Rexes do to a human entre in 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Even the logos the employees adorn on their shoulder are eerily similar to the JP design. Yet, Miller and Mullen seem to forget what made the original film in that series so legendary.
Miller and Mullen tell the story of a safari park dubbed Eden. As a gathering of patrons assemble at the area, so does a virus. It is one which turns the animals of the once tranquil area into the undead. From herein, as with all other entries of the ilk, there is little more narrative. What account remains, predictably, concerns the individuals involved in this catastrophe trying to band together and survive the violent onslaught.
Stephen Spielberg brilliantly spent the first half of Jurassic Park (1993) believably developing his intelligent, heroic and uniquely quirky entities. This is much as Michael Chrichton did with his same named novel from 1990. All the while, Spielberg spent the time gradually building suspense. There were instances aplenty of sheer awe amid the theoretical discourse the beloved individuals on screen engaged in. It was these gentle, meditative sections that made Jurassic Park so much more than ‘just another monster movie’. Moreover, when the second half kicked in, Spielberg delivered one spectacular, now classic sequence of nail-biting action after another. All of these previously addressed elements are noticeably missing from The Asylum’s latest disaster.
Instead of the charismatic, paleontological Indiana Jones that was Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), the quiet strength of Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) in Jurassic Park or even Owen, Chris Pratt’s unique interpretation of much of Grant’s personality traits in Jurassic World, we are given a half-hearted, annoying cluster of one-dimensional archetypes. None of whom have anything that is stimulating in the least to add to its endless reams of chatter. There is nothing new or defining about any of these on-screen personalities. They all follow The Asylum’s routine, garden variety representations and general arc. This is done blindly and without wavering from them. Miller and Mullen aren’t out to make us care for the humans or the wildlife that is chasing them. This is, yet, another undeniable differentiation between Jurassic Park and this sad imitation.
The pace is choppy. It isn’t anywhere near as meticulously crafted as Spielberg’s masterwork either. In Miller’s exertion, we are no more than five minutes into the feature before the beasts begin their attack. It is no more than fifteen-minutes later when ‘all hell is breaking loose’. This breakneck progression wouldn’t be so difficult to look past if Miller and Mullen used the sixty-two minutes that was left of its eighty-seven minute runtime to generate intensity and interest. At the least they could provide us a reason to care or even try to ‘wow’ us with an original idea. As it is, the most creative turn of events occurs in the aviary near the finale, when Miller and Mullen turn to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) for their inspiration. Instead, the whole composition, as well as the team behind it, is in a rush to go nowhere. Such is evident from the poorly executed two-minute opening segment. This attempts to be a clever wink of an advertisement for Eden.
Yet, the most evident alteration between Zoombies and the Jurassic Park series is in the quality of the illusion created by the graphics. Where Jurassic Park remains arguably the single most jaw-dropping display of such a technical aspect put on screen, Zoombies gives us cringe-worthy, cheaply rendered computer generated imagery. It is the type that is blatantly cartoonish and laughable. What’s worse: the re-animated giraffes, monkeys, apes, birds, koalas and various other re-animated figments of nature involved in this absurd, derivative yarn are rarely seen. Given the shoddy quality of Denise M. Chavez’s special and Glenn Campbell led visual effects. Perhaps, this is for the best.
But, the most inescapable crime for a cinematic venture that is trying to be merely a guilty pleasure, a B- style romp is that it cannot even be seen as mindless, mild entertainment. Since the rampant beasts are so rarely viewed, and the people who dominate the screen and their shallow dialogues are ingratiating, we do nothing but wait for most of the picture. We wait for something to happen. We wait for it to end. We wait for some redeeming value. Even the rare emotive plot points, especially one involving a young girl named Thea (La La Nestor) and a gorilla she adores named Kifo (Ivan Djurovic), are hollow and obvious.
The performers are from adequate to grossly underwhelming. From Ione Butler as Lizzy, Andrew Asper as Gage, to Kim Nielsen as Dr. Ellen Rogers this attribute is just as uninspired as the rest of the affair. To its credit, Christopher Cano’s music is thrilling. It summons the feel of an old-fashioned adventure well. Bryan Kross’ cinematography is solid, despite its low budget trappings. James Kondelik’s editing is outstanding. Erica D. Schwartz’s costume design and Daria Castellanos’ art direction is admirable. The same can be said for the sound and make-up department. Yet, it cannot overcome the sense of exhaustion that hangs over the proceedings.
Miller’s production is a failure down to its concluding shot. Such appears copied from innumerable ‘last jump’ scares before it. Even this is treated as an afterthought. It’s an impression left in the way it shrugs its shoulders at all the mechanisms which make a moving picture a standout, a triumph or, even, slightly stimulating. This is especially sad given the unique potential the tale could’ve contained. Instead, we are given a forgettable trek through a photographic wasteland. It is one so pointless that even its brightest moment is constructed from a vastly superior undertaking. Even Jurassic Park III (2001) was better than this.