Mammoth Review

While working at the museum, Dr Frank Abernathy (Vincent Ventresca) noties a strange object in an X-ray that he's recently had taken of the woolly mammoth that, in an area hidden away from the public, is frozen in a giant block of ice. Drilling into the ice, he reaches into the ice and pulls out...well, he's not sure. Small, perhaps no more than a centimetre long, bright blue and flashing, Abernathy extracts the object but, as he does so, it emits a deep boom. Surprised, Abernathy pops the object into a test tube but what he doesn't know is that that sound the object made has travelled out of the museum, up into the skies and out into space! Space...where a small alien ship picks up the signal and heads towards Earth.

Abernathy leaves the museum to see his daughter, whose birthday it is today, but he's not gone far when the engine in his car cuts out. Everywhere he looks, cars have stopped in the road while, in a rundown cinema, Simon Abernathy (Tom Skerritt), his granddaughter Jack (Summer Glau) and her friend Squirrelly (Cole Williams), look up at the blank screen where, moments before, a bloody and stylish western had been playing before the projector stopped. As they step out into the street, they're rocked by an explosion from the museum. Investigating, the police are baffled. The block of ice has melted, the mammoth is missing and an alien spaceship lies amongst the rubble. How could a 17-tonne mammoth just vanish? Or did it?

Apparently, Mammoth, which was made by the Sci-Fi Channel in the US for a direct-to-television broadcast, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special. Not to denigrate the quality of the visual effects - I lie! - one can only assume that three of the other hopefuls that year were Catchphrase, Mike Murphy's Micro Quiz-M and Ceefax. Thankfully, in the early part of the film, there's precious little call for visual effects but come the freeing of the mammoth from its block of ice, the VIC-20s, Magna Doodles and Etch-A-Sketches stockpiled by the producers for their movie are put to good use, actually making something that, in a dim light and if you squint, looks something like a mammoth...or a giraffe, a dachshund or perhaps two budgies walking in line.

It is, though, easy to overlook a CG mammoth that's no more convincing than had it been fashioned out of a Volkswagen Beetle with a piece of hosing attached to its bonnect. No, the bigger problem with Mammoth is how very keen it is to be seen as a cult movie but without ever realising that just making a cult is a very difficult thing to do. Mammoth does not even come close. It does have the movie-geek nous to have its characters mention titles like The Blob - original too! - The Thing From Another World, The Avengers or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. It has that cult movie thing of plenty of jokes in amongst the horror and a character who stands amongst the mammoth-stomped wreckage well-versed in B-movie lore. How very post-modern...and how very Scream!

You can't, though, magic up a cult film no matter how many crowd-pleasing moments you might add into it even when, by the very definition of this aiming for cult status, that's a very small crowd to please. Pervert! made a very good stab at making a cult but aiming for an 18 wasn't afraid to step up the horror, nudity and utter nonsense, including, "Take your hands off that penis, son!" The Evil Dead, Bad Taste, Basket Case and Motel Hell certainly didn't aim for cult, rather that, with a combined budget of less than the average family's weekly spend at Waitrose, they couldn't help but find a worryingly devoted following. Mammoth thinks it's getting things right but Tom Skerritt is clearly not a man who'll say the very daft things needed from a cult movie even if he will claim an alien invasion when a man in a monkey suit falls off the roof of his house.

Why is there a man in a monkey suit? So that Tom Skerritt can say, "Monkeys from outer space!" and hope to get a laugh from a crowd who might not know The Thing From Another World any more than they do Rififi but who like space chimps. Actually, there's a lot to like about monkeys from space but less so a gag about a couple of very dear old couple parked in a lay by, whose bout of fellatio is interrupted by the arrival of the mammoth. Except that the mammoth is but the support to - "Ewwww!" cry the audience of fourteen-year-olds - a gag about a woman of pensionable age removing her false teeth before giving her similarly-aged man what they might, in their youth, have called oral relief. Elsewhere, the mammoth stomps on a couple of thugs, a frozen hand comes alive after a minute's reheating in a microwave and a Man-And-Woman-In-Black arrive to clean up the mess. "Jurisdiction: Earth!"

There have been plenty of reasonably-budgeted horrors that have aimed for cult success but precious few of them have been welcomed by the midnight movie crowd. Tremors and Deep Rising are two that have thanks to some daft comedy, inspired killings and giant monsters. Eight Legged Freaks has not. To that we can add Mammoth, a film that desperately hopes for cult success but which would be less welcome than My Best Friend's Wedding at a Psychotronic all-nighter. Skerritt, in spite of being the best thing in the film, is completely wasted and probably knows it. His day-saving appearance at the end avoids close-ups so he may have decided, with a couple of days to go, that he'd had enough. By that stage of the film, so too had I.


Like dabbing ketchup on a plate of entrails and hoping that it looks appetising, Momentum have done a typically good job on a film that deserved nothing of the sort. Although the source material doesn't look as good as it could have done - the budget and the made-for-television origins of the film is probably to blame - Momentum have done an excellent piece of work on making this look as sharp, colourful and as detailed as they could have done. So long, that is, when the mammoth isn't appearing on the screen, at which time the makers flick a big switch labelled Blur-O-Vision in the hope of disguising their CG monstrosity. That aside, this looks very good, with some small amount of artefacting in a party scene and in the few seonds set in space but, otherwise, without any problems.

The DD5.1 audio track - English is the only option - is fine with a little use of the rear channels but, mostly, keeping the dialogue and action in the front and centre. Much better is the subwoofer, which is well-remembered by the producers as the mammoth stomps its way into scenes. At that point, it becomes fair to say that Mammoth is a film that sounds its best when the creature is on the screen but, alas, looks its worst at the same time. Finally, there are English subtitles.


Acting In Mammoth (7m00s): The crux of these interviews is that the actual mammoth is stored on a computer somewhere - most likely, given how it looks, on a single 5¼" floppy disc - which proved difficult for the cast to cope with as they acted to thin air. Not to worry, though, as they're all quite marvellous, particularly here as they convinced this viewer that they were, to a man, very impressed by what they'd seen of the CG mammoth, which can't be possible, least of all Tom Skerritt who was in Alien.

Mammoth Visual Effects (3m06s): When there is nothing else to read at the breakfast table, I will flick through my wife's magazines. In this, I have learned that if you have a particularly grotesque feature - giant mouse ear growing out of your back, for example - you should try and disguise it by a clever application of clothing. Like a big scarf or vertical, rather than horizontal, stripes. My advice for the producers of this DVD would have been to gloss over the visual effects with a feature on the none-more-violent movie that his father and daughter watch in the cinema, which might be the very best thing in Mammoth.

Finally, there is a Trailer (1m55s).

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