We’re a pretty loyal bunch here at Video Junkie. If you made a movie we liked, chances are we’re going to be checking out your other stuff. Hell, if you made a movie that we didn’t like but still had one cool scene in it, we’re probably still checking out you next flick. Yes, we’re loyalists (or fanboys, if you want to be cruel) and that usually means we end up on the wrong end of an abusive cinematic relationship. A filmmaker letting you down comes with the territory, but it really hurts the most when the filmmaker is one who should know better. Ladies and gentlemen, may I now add director Gary Jones to the list of directors now suffering from Argentoitis (aka John Carpenter Syndrome).
A native of Michigan, Gary Jones got started in filmmaking on the FX end by providing stuff for the Sam Raimi crew on THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT (1985) and EVIL DEAD II (1987). He was also the FX supervisor on MOONTRAP (1989), a little sci-fi flick that we dig the hell out of. Jones really came into his own though when he made his directorial debut with MOSQUITO (1995). Five years later he delivered the equally entertaining SPIDERS (2000). With both films, we felt he showed a considerable knack for getting the most out of the B-movie scenarios. In addition, Jones showed he knew how to sling the blood-n-latex with the best of them. A little enthusiasm in your filmmaking will get you a long way in these parts. Well, all that came crashing down like the Goliath when toppled by David with the release of AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN.
The survivors make it to the cabin to hold up for safety. An attempt to hotwire their van goes nowhere as the giant drags the vehicle off. That night they get a visit from Meeks, who goes into the mother of all expositions. He tells them that when they took the horn, they disturbed the final resting place of Babe the Blue Ox. What? Like from the folklore story? Yep, it appears they are suffering the wrath of Paul Bunyan. In a flashback, Meeks reveals that the loggers back in the late 1890s had killed Babe for food and that is why the camp was slain. Bunyan was rounded up by the locals and sealed in a cave, but he escaped after he started to grow and grow and grow. Seems he was some kind of mutant, growing to two times the size of a normal man and living three times as long. Ah, I knew those Germans who immigrated to Minnesota were a special type. And that is how the legend of Paul Bunyan was born (I guess the folklore storytellers thought Gunnar Bunyan didn’t have that ring to it). Jesse figures he can end all this by giving Bunyan his horn back and throws it into the woods. Bad move again as Bunyan sends it sailing back and it bursts through Jesse’s chest. Somehow this doesn’t kill him instantly and he is dragged back to Bunyan’s cave screaming and fighting. Meanwhile, CB’s dad Sheriff Tanner (Tim Lovelace) is driving up to the cabin to check on his daughter. Gee, I wonder who will save the day.
The real kick to the gut though are the film’s horrible special effects. A terrible movie can at least redeem itself with some well done special effects. Sadly, Jones opts to fill his film with some of the worst computer special effects I’ve seen in a long, long time. This is doubly painful as FX are supposed to be his specialty. Check out the scene where Rosa’s body is flung into a tree. It is so ill conceived and executed that I thought I was watching something from a high school AV class. Yes, it is that bad.
Girl falling or attacking ghost?
(note his eyes not even on her)
I’ll give the team credit for the miniature cabin they built. And I’ll also give Robert Kurtzman and his FX team recognition for the design of Bunyan himself as the giant monster is pretty cool looking at times (I’m still wondering why he was modest enough to stitch himself a pair of pants though), but when composited in with the other stuff it mostly looks terrible. Likewise for the green screen stuff done on shots as ordinary as a guy ringing a triangle to signal for dinner. You couldn’t capture that stuff when you did your location shooting? The worst, however, is using CGI for 90% of the gore. Just look at these offending shots.
That is the cardinal sin when it comes to gore. It may play well for the SyFy “haha, this sucks” crowd, but I take my giant-monster-with-axe movies seriously. The end credits promise (threaten?) that “Bunyan will return” in the future. If he does, I won’t be there as I’ll be too busy mourning as I add Gary Jones to the long list of “coulda been a contender” casualties.