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Thursday 11 March 2021

Burl reviews Komodo! (1999)


Ha ha and lizard lips, it’s Burl! I’ve got a review of a picture that seems much like many other direct-to-video creature feature of the late 90s and early 00s, but unlike many of those, this is a picture I actually had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen at the Toronto Film Festival! I say pleasure not because the movie is particularly good, but because frankly it’s a pleasure to see any low-budget genre picture on a big screen and with a good crowd! The quality of the movie is not irrelevant, but is much less an issue! And this was the case when I saw Komodo!

I watched it again recently, and can report that in most respects it’s your basic animal attack story! There’s a brief preamble set in 1980, in which a filthy, van-driving hippie is offended by the smell of the eggs he’s transporting and dumps them in the mud of some Eastern seaboard island! (Ha ha, the movie was actually filmed in Australia, and though there are few obvious tells, this fact is nevertheless somehow apparent in every frame!) Nineteen years later, a family made up of a mom, a dad, a teenaged boy and a little dog arrive on the ferry to spend time at their summer home! All are chomped by creatures unknown except for the boy, who is traumatized!

The story proper opens with a lady psychiatrist played by Jill Hennessey from Dead Ringers bringing the boy back to the island in order to face his trauma! Ha ha, of course no one believed his story about giant lizards, but they believe him soon enough when the creatures, created by a combination of CGI and practical animatronic effects, show up and begin anew their program of chomping! Meanwhile there are a couple of fellows employed by the nasty oil company which is the island’s only other denizen; they’re tasked with hunting and killing all the komodos, which it turns out the oil company is well aware of but were trying to keep secret!

There’s some back story to the main oil company guy, whose wife was chomped in some earlier encounter and is now being forced by the firm to do their dirty work; but in the main the screenplay is careful to keep all its characters as one-dimensional as possible: flatter, indeed, than the hungry dragons prowling the area! Ha ha, at least their motivations are clear!

For a low-budget movie of the late 1990s, the trick effects are impressive! The digital komodo dragons seen in Skyfall are a bit more convincing, it’s true, but still, these ones are not bad! The picture was directed by a trick effects fellow, Michael Lantieri, and while he’s not the best trick effectsman-turned-director out there (Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead is a lot better), he’s not the worst, either! (Ha ha, remember John Bruno’s Virus? Stink, stank, stunk!) And for a PG-13 picture, there are a few moments of pleasingly goopy gore, too! Not much, but more than the nil I was expecting!

The picture is fine enough for most of its running time, though unremarkable and largely tension-free! The ending hobbles it particularly: there are opportunities for a big climax, but they clearly didn’t have the dosh for it so the movie just kind of ends! The evil oil company fellow, whose entire role thus far had been delivered over the telephone, finally shows up on the island, but we’re denied any meaningful closure with this jerk! Ha ha, it would have been nice to see his head crushed in the jaws of a komodo, but no!

I can’t say it’s much more than what many would call a time-passer (a term I don’t care for, though one up from “time-waster” at least), and in no category does it ever rise above the level of acceptable! I still carry some residual pleasure from seeing it on the big screen, however (I would imagine I’m one of the few to have done so, for what it’s worth), and it was a nice experience this time around too, watching it with my family with a fire in the fireplace and a frosty beer in hand! Given all that, I award Komodo one and a half shattered doggy doors!  


  1. I remember this being slightly better than many contemporary animal attack flicks of the time! It used to be shown on the Sci-Fi Channel, back when it was still called that, quite frequently! All I can really recall is a scene where a komodo dragon is caught in a trap and impaled with some rebar! Perhaps it is a time for a revisist!

    1. In many ways it's not bad, and yes, certainly better than most of the DTV monster movies of the time! If you watch it again you won't find a lost gem, but you won't feel your time was wasted either, ha ha! And your memory of the rebar scene is correct!