Caw! Caw! Aaargh…
by Adam Miller
Remember that scene in JURASSIC PARK III where the little kid is fighting the giant, flying dinosaurs? I'm guessing it was a 10-15 minute scene in that movie, but I especially remember it featured a ridiculous stunt involving low-altitude parachutes and lot of screaming and falling.
Well, stretch that 10-15 minute scene out to 90, keep the screaming and falling, add a half-dozen decapitations, and ditch the parachute and you have PTERODACTYL.
The film opens memorably enough. Three American hunters (carrying on that grand tradition laid out by none other than BRIDE OF THE MONSTER) are walking in a big green field, which we'll be seeing much of, when suddenly ominous shadows pass over them. Look out! It's… Pterodactyls?! My reaction was greater than the hunters, which seems weird, but granted they didn't have much time to react before the first of their comrades is sliced in half by one of the flying hell-beasts. The surprise of this effect is matched only by its absurdity - we're talking FX straight out of the original MORTAL KOMBAT (the video game, not the movie). If blood was really inside that hunter in such globule form, I have hunch he was about to die from all kinds of artery failure had that pterodactly not killed him first.
After that savory teaser we meet our characters, a group of grad students led by Prof. Michael Lovecraft. The professor apparently lives up to the name, as his numero uno grad assistant, Kate, tells him explicitly that she wants his hot, aging body ASAP. Lovecraft turns her down (I feel him) in a not so pleasant way prompting a lot of "tension" between the two characters. So what do you think, will Lovecraft learn that he has stronger feelings for Kate than he realizes? These two are joined by three other nerdy students (read: fodder) and the annoying, but "totally hot" daughter of the person financing Lovecraft's expedition, Angie. And what's he expediting? I have no friggin' idea. But it's in Turkey, whatever it is. Which also means that those American hunters were in Turkey too… because Turkey is known for its big game… BUT NOT THAT BIG!!!
But this film is so cool it actually has two groups of main characters. None other than Coolio leads a black-ops U.S. military team on missions to take out Turkish rebels. There are only two things you need to learn about Turkish rebels. One: They live in tents in the woods (well shit, if Osama can make due with caves, I guess this isn't so absurd). And two: their central act of villainy is raping women. Because nothing makes a political statement that forcing yourself on a young Turkish woman in the middle of the woods.
The movie takes about 10 minutes to build up the first confrontations between humans and dino-birds (that's about the same length as the entire Pterodactly scene in JURASSIC PARK III, btw.) In an "homage" I guess to those movies where half-naked women get almost-eaten Angie is attacked wanna almost-skinny dipping in a lake. I really feel bad for Angie. First of all, no one believes her. Second of all, they treat like crap the entire time (she is conceited and oblivious, to be sure). Thirdly, the movie forces her, of all characters, to run around half-naked while getting attacked by dinosaurs. Fourthly, after people finally believe her and then save her life, she clearly turns a corner and apologizes for her behavior, even kissing one of the nerds who she's hated thus far. But then, not five minutes later. She gets attacked again, has her arm sliced off. Then gets picked up by a pterodactly, dropped from however many stories, lands on her back with a broken spinal cord. Twitches about for a several minutes, and then dies. The level of sadism is truly surprising. I can't help but wonder if the script was written by a nerd himself. The kind of guy who all his life has lusted after the hot blonde (hence the nudity) but has always been rejected by her (hence the brutal death). Kind of a reverse fort-da thing?
Anyway, Angie's death is just one of many. All but two characters die in this film and they are arguably the two least deserving to live (what I like to call the VERTICAL LIMIT effect). Most of the film is spent in a single field (the exact same one where the hunters die) which claims the lives of a helluva lot of soldiers/grad students. The other big set piece is the Pterodactyl's cave, in a which a poor soldier gets eaten alive over several hours by baby pterodactyls.
As you can tell, there's a lot of this movie which didn't sit well with me. It's not that I insist on a logic of "who deserves to die" in these kinds of movies, but let's face it - there is someone behind the camera deciding who lives and who dies and how. Films aren't reality and don't depict it (especially this one). But its sadism aside, I still kind of enjoyed the viewing experience. The movie is so redundant (at least 15 people get killed by Pterodactyls) that I was reminded of being a kid playing with dinosaur figurines chomping down on the poor imaginary saps who got in their way. Basically, some kid got to have his fantasies recorded on film. And PTERODACTYL is as good an argument as any as to why such fantasies should remain safely locked within the skull.