Compared to the first Raptor Island movie, this is “Citizen Kane” crossed with “Wild Strawberries”. I started watching it with a sense of dread, the memory of Lorenzo Lamas sleepwalking his way through the woods still fresh in my mind, but as the film continued my dread quickly lifted and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it.
It’s 2066, and the USS Santee (named after a famous ship from the US Civil War, fact fans) is taking a team of Marines to a far distant planet to answer a distress call. Along with them is a group of scientists, and the first team we see them…they beam down to the planet! I do like a good beaming down. For reasons completely unknown – although probably to do with some clause in their contracts – two actors return from the first film, playing completely different roles. Those two are Steven Bauer, best known to us these days as Don Eladio in “Breaking Bad”, and Peter Jason, a dependable “that guy” actor, and they’re the two main marines. Musetta Vander, genre queen and one of the stars of “Project Shadowchaser 3”, is a marine too, and the two main scientists are Ted Raimi and Vanessa Angel. Look at all those names! Compared to Raptor Island, when all we had was Lamas looking like he couldn’t be bothered to be there, and Bauer silently fuming in the background, this is a vast improvement.
Their arrival on the planet is in a faux medieval village, which is an interesting visual mashup. I imagine that they had access to several sets for free and decided to use them, and even to adapt segments of the story around them. This has something of the old spirit of Roger Corman, who would occasionally write a film in days if he got access to a certain set, and while it’s not the greatest set in the world, it is certainly better than some woods. They encounter the same fairly awful CGI raptors they did in the first film, with the addition of at least one model for closeups, and then discover a way into the castle, which is attached to the village.
I know little about the military, being a lifelong pacifist, but I can tell when a film does it wrong. One of our previous reviews, “Ozombie”, has ample examples of a military group that deserves to die, but this film is different. The marines move as a group, have tactics, don’t let raptors sneak up on them unawares, don’t spray bullets around like confetti, and while it’s only a little thing, it lifts the film when you know someone who actually gave a damn worked on it.
The film cuts back to the ship orbiting the planet from time to time, so some of the drama in the last two-thirds of the film comes from a storm which engulfs the planet, cutting off communication between the marines and the ship. We’ve also got the raptors who keep everyone busy, a lot of mysterious alien artifacts dotted around the castle, and Ted Raimi taking an unusual interest in the raptor blood. Oh, the film bought a decapitation special effect and get their money’s worth by using it several times, as raptors figure out the quickest way to off their human foes. There’s a surprising amount of gore for a SyFy Channel movie, but they may have made some edits for the TV version.
None of the twists and turns the film takes are terribly original, I suppose, but the fact the film does them well is more surprising than any weird plot device it could throw at us. There are three different stories – marines vs. raptors; scientists vs. marines; and the drama on the orbiting ship, and they’re all tightly done. There’s a bit at the beginning where the marines are setting up, and they all have weapons that soldiers would use today. One of the grunts makes a reference to the relatively ancient nature of their firearms (because building laser-weapons would be outside the film’s budget) and they actually make it part of the plot. I really want to get across to people reading this how surprising watching this film was – if you spend all day watching classics, then “Planet Raptor” would probably appear terrible, but as a sequel to such a spectacularly rotten film, it’s amazing.
The relationships between characters appear real and natural, the backstory informs the character choices rather than just being a way for the film to take up space, and the conclusion is satisfying. And it feels really weird to be saying that about a SyFy movie.
Rating: thumbs up