REVIEW BY: Jeffrey Long
COMPANY: UFO International
RUNTIME: 88 mins
PLOT: A squad of American soldiers in Iraq are sent on a rescue mission when a news reporter and her cameraman go missing, however during their mission they come across an ancient mythological beast that has to be stopped at all costs.
REVIEW: Over the last couple weeks, I've watched quite a large number of SyFy Channel's original movies. I'm not doing reviews of all of them because quite frankly, I just don't have the time. But I did want to pick at least a couple to do so I had something to update my blog with, so here's my review of the SyFy Original Movie titled Manticore.
To be honest, I wasn't really digging this movie too much right off the bat. When I watch a monster movie of any kind, I hate having a human villain thrown into the mix. It takes away some of the impact of the monster, and when I discovered there was to be human villains in this, I instantly got a frown. Luckily, I soon forgot about that and found myself really enjoying the movie.
A large reason for that enjoyment is due to some of the characters. We have 3 somewhat well-known names in this; we got the guy that played Chakotay from Star Trek Voyager as the commander of the group of marines that this movie focuses on, the girl from The Blair Witch Project showing definitively that she is indeed alive and well as one of the soldiers in the group, and Jeff Fahey (Lepidus from Lost) as the person in the military chain of command above even Chakotay's character. Now, I didn't really much care for the Commander role as played by Chakotay. He was pretty bland and didn't really inject any personality into the role. They could have cut him out from the movie mid-way through and I probably wouldn't have even noticed. A cardboard cut-out would have had more screen presence then he did in this movie. Now Heather from Blair Witch as the trust-worthy tomboy female soldier of the group – that's where the acting in this movie truly shines. She played the role perfectly and shows that her acting has really improved greatly since SyFy's epic 20-hour-long alien abduction mini-series Taken, where I didn't much care for her character or acting. In this movie though, she does excellent (I myself know people almost exactly like her character) and she really makes you care for her without having to give us any sort of lame cheesy backstory that these movies tend to get into the habit of giving. Other then her, we also got the always-fun Jeff Fahey, and while he didn't really have much to do other then stand around in the control room, looking over the shoulders of computer techs and barking orders into a phone, he did what he could with what he had and did it most excellently. No contest: he is by far the best actor in the movie and steals the show whenever he is on screen, as rare and short as those scenes are. I wish he could have been in it more, and had more to do, but oh well. After him, we also have the abrasive 'No such thing as No' reporter that has a knack for getting into trouble. The character herself was pretty interesting and I liked where they ultimately went with her, but I felt the actress gave a pretty 'Take it or Leave it' performance. There were times she's was great, but then there were times she was eye-rollingly bad. Whenever she had to act scared or the least bit human - bad. Whenever she had to act like the strong 'Won't Take No For an Answer' bitch, she was excellent. All the other characters in the movie were mostly the typical SyFy Channel soldier cannon fodder characters and they were pretty forgettable. They all have the exact same personalities as one-another and with their hulking helmets and military desert warfare uniforms on, they pretty much looked exactly the same for most of the movie as well, so I was never quite sure as to which ones just died and which were still alive, but it didn't really matter too much come the end anyway as all of those characters were only in the movie to create a decent body count.
Another aspect of the movie that I was able to get behind pretty quickly is the landscape. Normally SyFy movies take place in either a city/town or a woodland area, and while that's all fine and good, it was really nice to get a different kind of landscape for once. It added a different feel to the movie, and it was much appreciated. With that said however, they did drop the ball a bit with it. Part way through they make this big deal about an approaching massive sandstorm, which would have been really neat to see utilized, considering you can't have that in either of SyFy's other two main landscapes...but nothing ever comes from it. We either never get it, or we do but it's so mild that I missed it. Certainly not the big bad terrible sandstorm of doom that it was made out to be. That alone would have been a nice bit of added atmosphere, but it seems like the writers forgot all about it shortly after mentioning it.
Characters and terrain types are all well and good, but I know the real thing everyone is wondering about is what most SyFy movies have – the monster, with the one in this movie being some kind of giant flying wolf thing with a scorpion stinger tail that can shoot thick needles; the title creature called The Manticore. As far as special effects go, they're both good and bad. The first 60 minutes of the movie, we only get quick flashes and quick cuts of the monster, and those look excellent, and surprisingly, adds some genuine suspense to the movie at times. In the last 30 minutes though, we get quite a bit longer, lingering, shots of the creature and those don't look quite so remarkable – usual SyFy fare. However I didn't mind it as much as I normally do with say, their snake effects (as one example), because the design of the creature is just so awesome and unique that I never got sick of seeing it, no matter how crappy the effects got at times. And really, the only shots that truly looked dreadful were close-ups of it's weirdly square-shaped head, which thankfully there wasn't too many of. I was also surprised with how accurate the creature was portrayed. Now I'm no mythology expert by a long shot, and the only knowledge I have on the Manticore is from trivia cards that came with certain Monsters in my Pocket boxsets I would get as a kid from time to time, but based off the knowledge I have from that, this version of the creature hit every point. So often SyFy makes up their own rules, even with already-established monsters, so it was nice to see them follow the mythology proper with this one. And as an extension of me being happy with SyFy's handling of the creature – for the first time that I have ever seen, they finally did not kill it by blowing it up. I won't reveal how they do it, but rest assured, it's for once not due to heavy explosions (though it's not for lack of trying; seriously, sometimes I think the execs at SyFy really work for Divatox of Power Rangers Turbo fame).
They did seem to miss an opportunity though by only having the one Manticore in the movie. Most SyFy movies seem to have either just one monster, or a large group of monsters, but never a small multiple number such as just 2 or 3, and the first little bit of the movie made me think there would actually be two this time, but they do away with that idea pretty quickly. It's not such a bad choice overall though, as it does make the climax pretty suspenseful by having just the one creature (due to the way it has to be destroyed, it wouldn't have been nearly as suspenseful with the two of them around). I also wasn't so fond of the whole amulet sub-plot and whoever holds it has control of the Manticore. As I said at the beginning, I hate having human villains in a monster movie, because it takes some of the threat off of the monster, and that exact thing is what happens here. Although thankfully it's not really touched upon at all until towards the end. Even then, that entire sub-plot pretty much went nowhere and had no impact on the movie whatsoever other then to add a said human villain into the mix which, like the amulet itself, pretty much went nowhere anyway, so really, what was even the point in having it?
The human villain's mundane murder of a couple characters aside, the deaths turned out to be pretty brutal and gory, which surprised me for a TV movie, and especially for a SyFy movie which normally have pretty generic death scenes. The surrounding action scenes that most of those deaths happen during were also pretty intense and suspenseful; the movie certainly had no problems displaying awesome action scene after awesome action scene. Even though some were seemingly taken directly out of Aliens, they were still quite enjoyable, with one of my favorites being a shot of the Manticore, wings spread wide open, flying through a giant stain glass window to attack the people inside; such an amazing shot.
Out of the almost-dozen SyFy Channel movies I've seen in the last 2 weeks, Manticore is definitely above average for them, and one of the better ones so far. It'll be one I can easily see myself re-watching in the future.
8/10 rooms in the Psych Ward