Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE TEMPLE OF SKULLS (2008)

Video Junkie Conference, Aug. 2010.

Video archeologist Dr. Wilson and his native guide Simmonstipo are trying to divvy up the films for their upcoming coverage of Indiana Jones rip-offs.  The conversation goes something like this.

Dr. Wilson: Give me the Italian ones!
Simmonstipo: Throw me the Cannon ones! No time to argue, you throw me the Cannon ones, I throw you the Italian ones.
Dr. Wilson: But who will cover The Asylum rip-off?
Simmonstipo: Adiós señor!

Okay, that might not be exactly how it went down, but that is how I felt after watching The Asylum’s wannabe flick – betrayed, seriously let down and knowing my death might be impending.

The Asylum is a low-budget studio that got their start with horror and action flicks in the 1990s.  They rose to prominence in 2005 when they released their own $1 million dollar version of WAR OF THE WOLDS starring C. Thomas Howell on DVD literally one day before Spielberg’s $100 million dollar plus “Tom Cruise saves the world” remake hit theaters.  Lawsuits flew, alongside audience confusion no doubt.  It was a bold move that would make Roger Corman proud. Amazingly, The Asylum won out in the end and the era of the “mockbuster” was born as they produced cheapjack knockoffs to anticipated big budget flicks. The already stupid SNAKES ON A PLANE begat SNAKES ON A TRAIN; KING KONG brought KING OF THE LOST WORLD;  TRANSFORMERS was greeted with TRANSMORPHERS; and I AM LEGEND brought out I AM OMEGA. Unfortunately, unlike the variations Corman used to produce, their movies suck.  Suck hard.  So when news broke that Lucas and Spielberg were finally dusting off the fedora for a fourth Indiana Jones adventure, the fine folks at The Asylum jumped on public domain Allan Quatermain to birth their imitation.  Hey, it worked for like a charm for Cannon, right?  

This opens with two prospectors finding a map to King Solomon’s Mines (which I’m pretty certain the filmmakers got off the KSM Wikipedia entry) and splitting it 50-50 by tearing it in half.  Huh?  Obviously that makes no sense to one of these guys so he clocks his partner and takes off with both pieces.  After his horse laughably jumps a cavern, our double-crosser is killed by a spear chucked by a local native.  Cut to Allan Quatermain (Sean Cameron Michael) reading a letter that he needs £10,000 for his son’s boarding school tuition. He opts to sell half of the map (we’re never told how he got it) to evil Anisley (Christopher Adamson) for that amount.  Heading to the bar meeting point, Quatermain meets Lady Anna (Natalie Stone) and Sir Henry Curtis (Daniel Bonjour), who are searching for her missing brother Neville (Nick Everhart).

"Talk to the hand!"
Things predictably fall through with Anisley and Quatermain escapes up with Anna on the world’s slowest train.  The young bluebloods reveal they have the second half of the map and request his services to take them to the location and hopefully find Neville.  Quatermain agrees for the sum of £40,000, with £20,000 of it upfront.  Back at his house, Quatermain stuffs the money in two envelopes – one to mail to the school and one for his son if he dies – and gives it to housekeeper Umbopa (Wittly Jourdan).  Yes, he is sending £10,000 cash through the mail in a thin envelope.  And, yes, they made Umbopa a chick and a housekeeper. But plans get mucked up when some of Anisley’s men show up.  So their journey starts sooner than expected as our four characters head into the treacherous South African landscape with Anisley in not-so-hot pursuit.  Along the way they encounter CGI locusts, ankle sprains, and an African tribe (where, of course, Umbopa is the true queen) that likes to rip people’s skulls out with a CGI hand claw thingy.

Words can’t describe how bad this flick is.  Seriously, look at these randomly selected Netflix reviews and try to fathom that the film is actually worse than this:


That's right, The Asylum even angered the fans of "Indiana Johns" with this movie!  Michael, who looks a bit like Russell Crowe, has the look and is a decent actor, but director Mark Atkins can’t be bothered to capitalize on it.  The script offers him absolutely nothing along the lines of clever lines and the occasional bits that might offer some energy (the train chase; a shootout while Anna is in the tub) are so bungled by Atkins.

"Yo, we hitting the mall after this?"
Don’t even get me started on the continuity of this film. Okay, I’ll start.  The opening credits claim it is based on King Solomon’s Mines, so that would put the period setting around 1880. So that gives absolutely no excuse for the villain to mention the Nazi party!  What?  But, for the sake of argument and filmmaker leniency, let’s say it is set in the 1930s.  That couldn’t excuse the embarrassing fact that the filmmakers have members of Anisley’s gang decked out in modern clothing (see pic).  Why would you spend money giving Anna period clothing, but then not be bright enough to go, “Hey, that guy in the jeans and GAP shirt might not match the period setting.”  Believe it or not, that isn’t even the most embarrassing gaffe!  Incredibly, the filmmakers briefly capture Coca-Cola and Smirnoff Vodka logos on film.  No doubt their excuse will be, “Hey, we checked Wikipedia and both those products were around then.”  But I’ll like to bet they weren’t using their modern logos and – silly me – hadn’t penetrated the South African market at that point.  Don’t believe me?  Here you go:



How does this happen?  These guys went all the way to South Africa to film, but are boneheaded enough not to think, “Hey, maybe we should move that Coke machine or at least shoot from a different angle.”  Of course what do you expect from filmmakers who accidentally film a blinking security alarm inside a turn of the century house in Africa? Christ!

As with their entire mockbuster product, The Asylum went out of their way to ape the object of their “inspiration” and even boldly claim the film is “from the story that inspired Indiana Jones.”  But Quatermain never uses a whip once in this flick. Hell, nothing on the cover is in this flick!  Thai looking temple?  Nope.  Three bi-planes? Negative.  Lion?  Nada. Gold coins?  No way.  Decent movie?  Aw, hellllll nah! They do get a Zulu looking tribe in there, but is composed of about five guys and they don’t have any bones through their noses. So much fail pretty much encapsulates the product of The Asylum – tons of promises that never arrive and potential flying away faster than a swarm of CGI locusts.  It is the worst case scenario as the inmates running The Asylum aren’t crazy, just lazy (didn’t think I would get my “inmates” and “asylum” line in, did ya?).

Moments of Clarity:

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