Friday, May 10, 2013

The Cinema File #174: "Battle Dogs" Review

Holy crap, it happened again!

I don't know if I've just been out of the loop recently and these Syfy Channel Original movies have gotten markedly better since I gave up hope on ever seeing a truly great one, or if I've just only ever watched the terrible to mediocre end of the spectrum, but I was certainly not expecting to hit on two awesome examples from this network right in a row. Like Tasmanian Devils, Battle Dogs is a movie that embraces the insane awesomeness and awesome insanity of its premise and uses its extremely limited budget to create something wild and wonderful as only The Asylum can. The title and the CGI may be terrible, but that's about it on the list of cons, and the other 90% of it is solid action sci fi cheesy gold.

Battle Dogs takes two incredibly novel movie concepts that I didn't even know I've always wanted to see and merges them together to make one even more kick ass movie experience unlike anything you've ever seen from the people who brought you Arachnoquake and Alien Origin. The first is, what if the military decided to deploy zombies as a chemical weapon, essentially creating a viral regimen to replace flesh and blood troops. The other is, what if you took the tropes of a zombie movie with a rapidly spreading virus transforming humans into killer pack animals, and did that story with werewolves instead. The result is more bad ass than you can imagine.

The story opens in an airport as a woman with a suspicious animal bite transforms into our first werewolf, quickly biting several bystanders who quickly turn and bite others until one wolf becomes a swarm that threatens to take over the city. The hundred or so victims are pacified and quarantined, where we go into the second thread of the military seeking to turn these innocent people into inhuman weapons while keeping them locked up in a state-side Guantanamo Bay for werewolves, which invariably goes as badly as you would expect in a sci fi movie, leading to the final act, where all hell breaks loose on Manhattan Island.

As I watched the first outbreak scene play out, the skepticism I naturally bring to every Syfy Channel original and Asylum movie was almost instantly shamed into silence as an action packed and gloriously gory ten minutes exploded right in my face. When the action slowed down a bit and I saw that we weren't going to get the full on city wide plague scenario promised in the prologue, I was a bit disappointed, but by then I was already hooked, and not only is this thread picked up and redeemed in the last act, but the middle involving the military's doomed attempt to exploit this supernatural occurrence is fun in its own right, and probably for the best, as in hindsight I wonder if either half of this plot could have ultimately been sustained for a whole movie without the other.

The biggest problem I can point to, and its not an unavoidable one quite frankly, is the design of the creatures. The werewolf look itself is fine for a low budget TV movie, but the problem arises when one werewolf becomes multiple werewolves, all with nearly the exact same CGI model save perhaps a different color fur. They eventually come off a bit too much like video game enemies re-spawning every few minutes, and there are a few too many shots of them just running from place to place that aren't always exciting to look at. Then again, for every one of those shots, there are shots like the one where a werewolf leaps out of the window of a skyscraper to take down a helicopter in flight to make up for it.

The re-use of CGI models is a common trick I've noticed with Asylum movies, not only in terms of writing movies about swarms of the same creature, but even using the same designs across films. The devil dogs from Almighty Thor show up again in Snow White, only not giant, and of course the Giant-less Jack The Giant Killer, instead of the varied villains of the movie upon which it was ripped off, had a horde of identical dinosaur monsters. I don't really have a problem with this, because as I've mentioned before on this blog, ironically in another werewolf movie, special effects are something you kind of have to ignore when dealing with low budget movies, where the story is what matters. With Battle Dogs, the story kicked my fucking ass from minute one and didn't stop, and if you get a chance to see it, I implore you not to pass it up just because you might be biased against either of its producers. 

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