Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Kraa!' is a patchwork picture
with future star

Kraa! The Sea Monster (1998)
Starring: R.L. McMurry, Teal Marchande, J.W. Perra, Coltin Scott, Alison Lohman, and Candida Tolentino
Directors: Michael Deak, Aaron Osbourne and Dave Parker
Producers: Charles Band and Kirk Edward Hansen
Rating: Two of Three Stars

Kraa, an inter-stellar planet-wrecker-for-hire, is set loose upon Earth, and the local agents of the Planet Patrol (Lohman, Scott, and Tolentino) are sidelined in a coordinated strike by the evil Lord Doom. A renegade biker/scientist (McMurray) and the owner of a small diner (Marchande) emerge as the world's only hope for salvation when they team up with a Planet Patrol scout who managed to make it to Earth (Perra).

"Kraa! The Sea Monster" is one of a handful of films made by Band during the late 1990s when he was trying to make a mark (and a buck) in kids' entertainment. This is the first of those efforts I've seen, but if it's any indication of the quality of the rest of them, it's easy to see why that initiative failed.

This movie has the disjointed, patchwork feel of a Godfrey Ho movie. There are three distinct parts of the movie--the teenaged cops of Planet Patrol who start out seeming like they are the film's heroes but who quickly get stranded on their space station and are reduced to a role mostly as observers, and their nemesis, Lord Doom; the Earthlings who become involved with the alien effort to save Earth from Kraa; and the rampage of Kraa, in the form of a guy in a costume stomping around on a bunch of miniatures. While all three parts of the film reference each other, there is virtually no overlap between them, with the teens of Planet Patrol never interacting with the Earthlings helping their colleague, the Earthlings never interacting directly with Kraa or his rampage, and Kraa being referenced by everyone but no character is ever tricked into any shots featuring him, or visa-versa. It causes the film to feel very disjointed, and because the parts are all so disconnected from each other, there are no threads for the viewer to grab onto and be pulled into the story.

And that's a shame, because there are actually some good concepts here.

First, there are the Planet Patrol kids. They had the potential to be a Tomorrow People or Power Ranger sort of outfit, but they are kept from any real involvement in the main plot except at the very end when they apprehend Lord Doom... and even then they are mostly figures of ridicule as they end up chasing Doom's midget sidekick around some pillars. I can't help but wonder why Band & Company would include kid heroes and then not let them be the actual heroes of the film. They are completely wasted here. (Well, except for those out there who would want to use this film for a Bad Movie Night and a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" sort of riff-fest. There is a amusing/disturbing scene where the leader of the Planet Patrol detachment (Coltin Scott) seems to be undressing and then nailing rookie Planet Patrol Officer Alison Lohman (in her first film role, by the way) with his eyes. I'm sure the intent was for the character to be appraising her in a detached, superior officer kind of way, but that's not at all how the scene looks when one views it... it's a jail-bait-rape moment worthy of the Roman Polanski Memorial Award. More time should also have been spent on the why and how such young kids are in such dangerous and important jobs.

Second, there's the character of Bobby, a long-haired, bearded biker who is a brilliant, well-educated Renaissance man who dropped out of the scientific community for reasons that are never explained (or even touched upon, except by implication). He makes references to both having attended medical school and having worked on NASA's Voyager program, and he is able to convince scientists at a nuclear facility that he is one of them. Most of all, he is able to grasp the concepts of an alien weapon that needs to be assembled to fight Kraa. This is an interesting character that deserved a better vehicle, not to mention more screen time. Which he could have had, if it hadn't been for those Planet Patrol kids taking up space in the movie. (And the reverse is true as far as the Planet Patrol goes; if Bobby hadn't been in the movie, more time could have been spent developing them and their backstory. Two good ideas crushed the life out of each other through the incompetent execution of this movie.)

Finally, there is the title creature, Kraa. Commentary from Lord Doom and the Planet Patrol kids set describe him as a galactic mercenary whose specialty is laying waste to planets. It's a great set-up, and it's one that I would love to see in a movie--a Godzilla/Gamera-like monster for hire who has left a trail of devastation in his wake and now some under-gunned heroes have to find a way to stop him. The idea of KraaKraa costume. Would it really have been that much more expensive to give the creature eyes that blinked? Or at least closed when he was supposed to be unconscious after the Planet Patrol kids remotely crashed a spaceship into him? A few more dollars spent on Kraa would have helped make him more closely resemble the fearsome, inter-planetary marauder he was supposed to be. It might even have helped give him a personality, something which was completely lacking.

The film would also have benefited greatly from simple competence in directing, especially where Kraa and his rampages through miniature sets are concerned. The miniature work is well-done, and the filming of Kraa is also well-executed, but a complete lack of "reaction shots" from people supposedly fleeing and/or about to be stomped on means that there is never any sense of realism surrounding Kraa. Even the best effects shot in the film--featuring a panicked tanker truck driver crashing into a building and causing it to explode before Kraa's scaly feet--falls flat, because we are left to assume that the truck was crashed by a driver panicked by the sight of a giant monster by the side of the road. Would he really have cost that much more to even just put a cap and a fake mustache on Alison Lohman and have her sit in a truck cab and twist the wheel to and fro and scream, and then cut that scene into the miniature crash and explosion? It would have made a huge difference in the final product.

Of course, the disjointed and disconnected nature of the film is brought about by the fact that three different directors worked on the three pieces of the film I've described. Michael Deak did the monster/miniature scenes, Aaron Osbourne the material with Bobby the Genius Biker dodging government agents while trying to help an alien space cop create the means to destroy Kraa, and Dave Parker did the Planet Patrol and Lord Doom scenes. I would like to think that if any one of those directors had been involved in the entire movie, they would have realized that some pick-up shots were desperately needed here and there--and that said pick-up shots were actually very important to the overall quality of the film. But, since it seems none of them had such an overview of the project, I can only blame the producers for creating this miserable squandering of good ideas.

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