Komodo (2000)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
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Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

"My name's Eddie. Get it? Like
Eddie Izzard! What, do I have to
dress up in women's clothes to get a laugh?"
If the words "from the writer of Anaconda" don't have you ducking for cover, you may be a bad movie lover. If some twisted form of lip-smacking zeal was inspired in you by a late night viewing of Bats, your crap cinema addiction may indeed be terminal. But if you ever wish to test your dedication to all things schlockfilmic, might we suggest Komodo?

The thing about Komodo dragons is that despite their bitchin' moniker, they're not really on the Top Ten List Of Scary Animals That Might Show Up In A Horror Movie. In fact, you'd have to search pretty hard to find someone who would even consider the noble Komodo dragon for his list of phobias, especially when compared to bats, rats, spiders, lions, dogs, and all those other fearsome animals to which we have had more exposure. The irony here is that Komodo dragons are among the worst of predators with which you might want to find yourself in actual contact: they can grow as large as 10 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds, and have been known to kill humans occasionally. Most of us are simply unaware of these facts because the Komodos are a relatively rare species which live only on a few Indonesian islands.

A woman, some guns and a dead body.
Just another party at Robert Downey's place.
Armed with these facts and the arsenal of special effects technology developed for Jurassic Park, Michael Lantieri and Hans Bauer set out to make a movie about these real-life dinosaurs. Lantieri is a talented creator of special effects, having coordinated visual magic for such movies as Jurassic Park, The Last Starfighter, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Bauer, on the other hand, had written Anaconda. None of their combined experience prepared them to tell an engaging story, much less make that story convincing on screen. There were moments in Komodo during which we thought back wistfully to the jolly antics of Jon Voight as he was regurgitated from the stomach of an improbably large snake.

The setup, as they say, is simplicity itself. Back in the swingin' Seventies, some dude in a beat-up van dumped some Komodo eggs on an island along the North Carolina coast. Why? We don't know. Flashing forward to a more recent history, a young man named Patrick (Kevin "Air Bud" Zegers) finds himself at the mercy of the grown-up Komodos, who share his family's summer island with an oil company that is expanding its operations on the island. The lizards (who somehow manage to remain unseen to Patrick) eat his parents and dog, leaving him mentally traumatized but physically unscratched. Why? We don't know. A few years after that, Patrick's shrink Victoria (Jill Hennessy) takes him back to the island in an attempt to break his state of post-traumatic surliness. Okay, we know why on that one, but it still seems dumb.

When they say 'change is
for customers only,' they mean it.
Victoria, Patrick and Patrick's last living relative Annie (Nina Landis) must sneak on to the island because the oil company has taken it over completely. We have forgotten the name of the company, so we'll just call it EvilCo. The trio arrive at Patrick's old house and settle in for the night. But then Victoria finds Annie gravely wounded, and soon Patrick and Victoria are on the run from huge honkin' lizards!

With only two possible victims left, more lizard snacks -- we mean characters have to be introduced. Enter Oates (Billy Burke) and Denvy, who are on the island killing the lizards for EvilCo. A guy with an Australian accent heads EvilCo, and we never caught his name, so we're going to call him Mr. Blackheart. Oates is in contact with Blackheart by radio, and though these conversations we find out what going on. EvilCo is hiding the fact that there are Komodo dragons on the island because they are endangered, and EvilCo is afraid the company would be forced off the island if this fact was well known. Of course, in the real world even the staunchest environmentalist would recognize the fact that the Komodos are 9000 miles from their natural habitat. And couldn't EvilCo just move the lizards, maybe even turn their miraculous existence into a public relations coop? No, because they're evil and need to do stupid stuff so that we can watch a movie about it.

"Hey, is this one of the new ones from
Honda? It's really roomy back here!"
Oates and Denvy find Patrick and Victoria, who hav hooked up with Mr. Gris, the token black guy. It should go without saying that Mr. Gris has already been mortally wounded by the lizards. Patrick pulls a Nature Boy, rips the heart out of a wounded Komodo, and runs off into the woods. Preoccupied with the business of staying a live in the face of a giant lizard attack, the others forget about him until the movie's climax.

Apart from the fact that the characters are boring and change their motivations as required by the next set piece, the screenwriter hasn't thought through the scenario very well. What, precisely, did authorities think happened to Patrick's family? What about Oates' back-story, in which he and his geologist wife visited the island? Mrs. Oates was supposedly eaten by a komodo, but the cops think that Oates did it. Blackheart got the poor guy out of jail and is now essentially blackmailing him into hunting the lizards. But doesn't Oates have all the proof he needs that he didn't kill his wife? Al he has to do is bring a huge, freshly-killed lizard head and leave it on the counter at the police station. What are they going to say? And didn't the cops notice a bit of a pattern, what with the disappearance of Patrick's family?

Never feed your lizard Taco Bell.
Things get really wacky towards the end. Once Victoria and Oates remember Patrick is missing, they start looking for him. They find him in his old childhood hideout, where he has gone totally Lord of the Flies, smearing lizard blood on his bare chest and setting up anti-lizard booby traps. The film's final scenes involve Mr. Blackheart and a couple of executives flying to the island in an EvilCo helicopter, yet we never get the satisfaction of seeing their deaths by Komodo.

As bad as the script is, the lizards are good. They are realized through animatronics and computer graphics, and what with the Jurassic Park dudes on the case, it's no wonder that they're convincing. These Komodos are bigger than the real thing, and a lot more aggressive, but that's to be expected in a movie. (If small, shy lizards made for good cinema, this movie could have been shot at the reptile house of the local zoo.) But while a lot of money was thrown at the lizards when they appear, they do tend to kill an awful lot of people off camera. After the third person turns around with U.L.W. (unexpected lizard wound), it gets kind of annoying.

The special effects are so good we wondered if this movie was originally intended to go into wide theatrical release. Apparently this film isn't ready for the big time, and considering that Anaconda played successfully in theaters, that's saying something. Even on film with the ability to hunt humans down, the Komodo dragon gets no respect.

Review date: 12/8/2000

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 Maybe. There seems to be some confusion as to precisely where the movie takes place. The description on the back of the video box begins "On an island off the Florida coast..." And at the end of the film we get a nice clear shot of a Georgia license plate on a local police car. Go Back!