Creature’s Pet: “Lake Placid” (1999)

2 06 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

In light of the fact that a recent illness (don’t worry: I’m fine!) has enabled me to enjoy a bit of free time lately, I’ve decided to create a new semi-regular column here at “The Theatrical Tanystropheus”: one which honors my love of outlandish, often cheesy but usually enjoyable monster movies. Is this remotely scientific? No, but:

A) It’s fun!

B) Although I shall refrain from naming names at present, suffice it to say that yours truly is far from the sole Creature Feature fanatic roaming about the paleo-blogosphere. 🙂

Please note that, as a frequently overworked college student, I cannot afford to provide this series with the regularity of the “Weekly Spotlight” saga. Nevertheless, I’ll try to review at least one monster movie per month in this space.

Right then: without further dawdling, I humbly present the first installment:

“Lake Placid” (1999)

Every so often, even the most fanatical monster movie buffs have to admit that it’s nice to see a cheesy, over-the-top, sci-fi extravaganza allude to its own absurdity without degrading into a painfully ineffective cartoonish facade. “Lake Placid” is built around an unambiguously stupid plot, but at least the film acknowledges this fact while simultaneously managing to become a genuinely fun movie.

For those who have yet to see this cinematic masterpiece, the storyline is essentially as follows:

After a diver is violently bisected while studying the local American Beaver population in the backwoods of Maine, a mysterious tooth is found in his legless corpse. So naturally, a paleontologist by the name of Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda)  is sent from the AMNH to investigate this mysterious killer. She’s begrudgingly accompanied by Sheriff Keough (Brandon Gleeson), who serves as the obligatory xenophobic, neanderthalic resident law-enforcement official,  and level-headed Fish and Game representative Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). However, the fun truly begins when Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), a wealthy and very eccentric mythology enthusiast arrives under the conviction that the unidentified predator is, in fact, a gargantuan saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus): a crazed hypothesis which just so happens to be true.

I feel obligated to point out that this is no standard-issue C. porosus, as evidenced by the following shot:

The beast is routinely estimated to be some 30 feet (9.1 meters) in length by various cast members: however, the possibility of it being some modern relative of Deinosuchus rugosus or any other gigantic prehistoric crocodylian is ruled out almost instantly when Oliver Platt’s character cites it as merely a typical saltwater crocodile, despite the fact that the thing is roughly the size of a dump truck.

(Fun Fact: In the technical sense, this colossal reptile was brought to life via a fairly convincing combination of animatronics and CGI created by none other than “Jurassic Park”s  own late, great special effects artist Stan Winston)

The question of just how on earth this thing ever ended up in an icy freshwater New England lake miles from the ocean remains unanswered, and, frankly, I’m happy with that: it’s a refreshing change to observe that scientific characters are just as initially dumbfounded as everyone else when confronted with an impossible situation for once rather than instantly and unceasingly attempting to provide some astronomically ridiculous explanation.

Perhaps  “Lake Placid”s resident scientists are incapable of solving this quandary merely because they, like the remainder of the movie’s ensemble, are positively certifiable. There isn’t a single major character in this movie whose actions and exhortations could be so much as remotely considered “normal”. Nor can any of them be accurately cited as vaguely “polite”: even BETTY WHITE (who plays the mammoth reptile’s deranged elderly caretaker) emits a series of obscenities so vulgar that common decency forbids me from listing them here (I’ll just give you all a link… 🙂 ). That fact alone should inspire a crippling urge to see the picture deep in the heart of anyone whose ever watched “The Golden Girls”.

As a paleontology student, I particularly enjoyed Bridget Fonda’s portrayal of Kelly: a shrewd, germophobic, city girl who routinely proclaims “I don’t do field work!” during the film’s opening minutes. The woman’s idea of camping appears to be largely akin to the practice of leaving the window open in one’s three-star hotel room: a sentiment which, I can say with full confidence, is homogeneously shared by the paleontological community at large. “Lake Placid” is one of those movies which makes paleontologists (amateur and professional alike) seriously wonder just what the hell film-makers think they do all day! Oh, and be sure to avoid throwing severed heads at her.

However, the most entertaining performance of the movie is unquestionably Oliver Platt’s Hector Cyr: a man who manages to stand out as a world-class lunatic even in an ensemble which would make Pee-wee’s playhouse look like an accountancy firm. Hector is a wealthy mythology professor who believes that crocodiles are sacred, god-like beasts: a conviction which drives him to travel the world and swim with  eusuchians. His attempt at comforting Sheriff Keough (off of whom he bounces hilariously and frequently) after the loss of a deputy contains one of the most laughably screwy recollections of one’s childhood dreams that I’ve ever heard in my life. While I don’t want to give anything away, it’s sufficient to say that this reminiscence involves a course of action designed to prevent a decapitated person from stumbling about through a room of fine china.

Is “Lake Placid” a great movie? Absolutely not, but this certainly is not to say that the picture is by any definition a bad one primarily because it never takes itself too seriously. Between the appreciable special effects and a continuous stream of eccentric humor, “Lake Placid” proves itself to be an enjoyable experience for anyone in search of some light summer entertainment.

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3 responses

3 06 2010
accpaleo

“cinematic masterpiece” clearly you haven’t Toxic Avenger. That is the most magical Movie i have ever seen. Even more magical than Disney!

I used to watch those old monster movies (even got a few for Christmas) but i seem to be developing a taste for bad action movies (ie Death Race, Demolition Man, Congo…). But monsters will always be for the win.

“it’s a refreshing change to observe that scientific characters are just as initially dumbfounded as everyone else when confronted with an impossible situation for once rather than instantly and unceasingly attempting to provide some astronomically ridiculous explanation.”- Which is one of the reasons i like Cloverfield. Hell, you don’t even have a scientist trying to grapple with an explanation and/or solution. You just have everyone running and screaming as the army rushes in to try and repel it.

5 06 2010
tanystropheus

Monsters will indeed always be “for the win”!

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about Cloverfield. On the one hand, it was based upon an excellent concept and featured a truly unique creature. Additionally, as you’ve pointed out, it doesn’t even try to explain why this massive thing is not only alive but actively wrecking havoc upon a major metropolitan area. However, the characters didn’t always behave realistically (who would film their friends dying?!) and the monster attack sequences were usually pretty predictable: this was particularly true of the subway scene.

11 06 2010
S.S.

I liked the site, it is very informative and worth appreciating it, my best wishes, keep it up!

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