-- The Unofficial Guide to Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies --
Update 2 June 2006 by Amazing Ben
Nothing makes me happier when I'm flipping through the channels on a rainy Saturday afternoon than stumbling upon whatever god-awful original home-grown suckfest-and-craptasm movie is playing on the Sci-Fi Channel. Nowhere else can you find such a clusterfuck of horrible plot contrivances and ill-conceived premises careening face-first into a brick wall of one-dimensional cardboard characters and banal, inane, poorly-delivered dialogue. While most television stations and movie production houses out there are attempting to retain some shred of dignity or at least a modicum of credibility, it's nice to know that the Sci-Fi Channel has no qualms whatsoever about brazenly showing twenty minute-long fight scenes involving computer-generated dinosaurs, dragons, insects, aliens, sea monsters and Gary Bussey all shooting laser beams at each other and battling for control of a planet-destroying starship as the self-destruct mechanism slowly ticks down and the fate of a thousand parallel universes hangs in the balance. You really have to give the execs at Sci-Fi credit for basically just throwing their hands up in the air and saying, "well let's just take all this crazy shit and mash it together into one giant ridiculous mess". Nothing is off-limits for those folks; if you want to see American troops in Iraq battle a giant man-eating Chimaera, you've got it. A genetically-altered Orca Whale the eats seamen and icebergs? Check. A plane full of mutated pissed-off killer bees carrying the Hanta Virus? Check. They pull out all the stops to cater to their target audience, who are pretty much so desensitized to bad science-fiction that no plot could be too over-the-top to satiate their need for giant monsters that eat people and faster-than-light spaceships shaped like the Sphynx.
Now don't get me wrong here - I am one of those nerds. I sit through these god-awful crapburgers even though I know that they're ever-so-slowly sucking my IQ out my nostrils, all because I would not under any circumstances pass up the opportunity to watch a squadron of F-18 fighter jets take on a two hundred foot-tall fire-breathing poisonous hydra or see a post-apocalyptic genetically mutated cactus get punched in the face by Bruce Campbell. Even though it's pretty much guaranteed that the movie itself is going to suck donkey balls, I watch. For me, the more ridiculous it gets, the better. And they don't get more ridiculous than Sci-Fi Originals.
This week I've decided to draw on my love of these trashy, horrible, so-bad-its-funny flicks to bring you what I hope will be the definitive guide on the subject. And who knows? Maybe the Sci-Fi Channel bigwigs will be so impressed with the thoroughness of this work that they might even ask me to write one of their upcoming movies, especially once they see how totally awesome I am at write things on page, make good words and grammar to happening. Man, that would rule.
- Compound and/or Mythological Monsters
The first and most important aspect of bad science fiction is the identity of the antagonist. A good choice of monster can make or break a film, and the general rule with Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies (hereafter abbreviated SFCOM because I'm getting sick of typing the whole thing out) is "the crazier the better". And the best way to accomplish "crazier" is by creating your own compound monsters.
I guess it makes sense. I mean, why have your heroes face off against a giant leopard when you can combine a bunch of crazy shit together Dr. Frankenstein-style and make it a giant leopard with dragon wings, elephant tusks and a sword for a tail that can fire venomous talons out of its six legs and has a baby-shooting machinegun strapped to its back? Why settle for stupid regular snakes when you can them GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED snakes with chicken pox that give you a rash if you try to pet them and dispense Vicodin out of their eyes when you press down on their heads? In fact, why not just genetically-alter everything that you can think of? It's perfect for explaining the existence of your fucked-up delusional hallucination by-product in a manner that could never be disputed by anyone! It's a widely accepted fact that scientists have nothing better to do with their copious amounts of spare time than to genetically engineer creatures that nobody could ever find a single practical use for. It's completely believable that some dumbass scientist woke up one day and was like, "I do say my good chaps, how about we try to splice woodchuck and crocodile DNA with saliva from a convicted axe-murdering psychopath and create some sort of crazy-ass homicidal woodchuck army? I don't believe that project has been attempted yet by modern science. We'll pass our dissertation defenses for certain now!" and everybody (including the government or whatever gullible organization issues grants for stupid retarded shit) responded by cheering loudly, throwing their science goggles in the air and congratulating the guy on his "brilliant" idea. Then they squandered several million dollars and hundreds of man hours building these psychotic marsupials for basically no legitimate scientific reason other that to be fuckheads. Since they blew all their money on crackpipes and hookers, they had insufficient funds to secure the woodchucks and wouldn't you know it they escaped and started wreaking havoc on the populace. BAM! Sci-Fi gold!
If you're not down with the genetically-mutated three-headed fanged kangaroos, there is well over five thousand years of human mythology for SFCOM screenwriters to draw from. Everybody knows that there are all kinds of stupid archaeological digs going on in every corner of the world, from the Badlands in the US to Africa, Egypt, Rome, the Caribbean and South America, so in actuality the odds of some scientist unearthing a still-living manticore, a medusa or a giant purple Godzilla that speaks English with a JFK accent and has an inexplicable thirst for Jell-O and sangria are pretty much like 3:1. Maybe they unearthed some old dinosaur bones or something too, because people never get enough of that shit. Jurassic Park netted about eleventy garjizillion dollars at the box office, so the time is ripe to hop on that bandwagon!
Another route to take with the villains is to make them, get this, ALIENS! And then make the aliens be compound monsters.... IN SPAAAAAACE! Like make some sort of bug-like bipedal robotic half-komodo-dragon half-jaguar monstrosity that shoots fireballs out of its ass and roars like a lion in heat on a Thursday. We'll get our team of CG "experts" on it, make sure we don't flash the aliens on screen for more than three seconds (so nobody can see how totally cheap they look) and those nerds will eat it up like it was a series of Photoshopped naked JPEGs of Seven-of-Nine at that swinger's club.
- Harmless Monster Gone Bad
If you're not going to go the "sell-out standard" route and smash two or more critters together into a super-monster, your next best bet is to take a normally harmless woodland creature and make them inexplicably thirst for human blood. Man-eating woodchucks, killer beavers, duck-billed platypuses with hammers attached to their beaks and funny hats... nothing is too extreme (or Xtreme as we like to say in "the biz").
It might even help to draw from personal experience here as well. Like last weekend I went hiking through some nature trails with my wife and we got totally lost in the wilderness when I tried to lead us down what I decided was "the road less traveled". During our half-mile stumbling through uncharted overgrown woodland territory my wife spotted what was probably either a mink or some other sort of marmot dashing through the forest. Now, in the several times she has recounted the story to various individuals since that time the mink has morphed into a ten foot-tall flesh-eating monkey that leaped down on us from the trees, demanded her ATM card and fifty dollars in cash, and finally left when she offered it a turkey-and-cheese sandwich and a bag of Oreos. Now all that's left is to have a couple of semi-conscious gorillas hammer that story out on a few dozen typewriters and it's like you're manufacturing TV ratings.
Another route the SFCOM brain trust likes to go for is tales that are "ripped from the headlines". This basically means that when some fisherman in Nebraska catches an old workboot with a 20-pound trout stuck inside it, the Sci-Fi Channel releases a movie about a boot-wearing man-eating tuna prowling a large lake and terrorizing the yokels in some random midwestern town. This is effective because sometimes the whole "pulled from today's news" angle will suck in a few unsuspecting Law & Order fans as well as the typical loyal nerd-stock you can count on to tune in no matter what.
- Fighting Monsters with Monsters
Occasionally scientists will come up with the completely fucking brilliant idea that since their first experiment escaped the lab and started killing everything with a pulse, the best way to kill that original monster is by creating an EVEN MORE INSANE monster and letting it loose. Of course this always fails, and while it does give the director a good opportunity to give the viewers a video-game-cutscene-style monster-on-monster battle, it also results in the heroes having to kill TWO monsters instead of one.
Nothing gets people excited like billing a battle between two monsters. Titling a movie something like "Elephant Vs. Grendel" is guaranteed to make people watch, even if the movie is just an hour an a half continuously-shot scene involving paint drying on the sidewalk on a summer afternoon in Kansas followed by a fifteen second clip of some stupid-looking green CG monster getting stepped on by a giant gray foot. How can any self-respecting nerd resist a title that like "[Monster] Vs. [Monster]"? They can't. So if you can't decide whether to use the robotic hamburger monster or the rocket-launcher-wielding half-antelope half-Mexican from Planet X as your main bad guy, just do the American thing and smash 'em together into one giant servo-and-antler-filled clusterhump. Spend a month filming and editing it, call it "Robo-Burger Vs. Mexican" and you are ready to rock some asses.
- The Main Dude
The Main Dude is the primary hero of this flick, and is generally either a washed-up B-movie supporting actor desperate for some crack money or a ridiculous Dolph Lundgren wannabe who wants to be John Rambo but comes off more like "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. He generally has an absolutely uncanny ability to IMMEDIATELY figure out what's happening and leap into action like Rush Limbaugh pounces on Percocets. He's generally one step ahead of everybody else in terms of figuring out how to deal with the monster(s) and every decision he makes is infallibly correct in every way imaginable. He rarely misses a shot, never loses a fight and gets busy with whatever chick he wants. Everyone else is stupid, he is smart. Everyone else is weak, he is powerful. You suck, I rule. You get the point. You generally know right away who The Main Dude is going to be, and he will constantly remind you throughout the course of the film by spouting out "witty" one-liners and either looking very serious/determined/tortured while sweating and staring off in the distance at nothing in particular or posturing like a diva bodybuilder whenever the camera is on him.
- "Stand back! I'll handle this."
- "Sergeant, tell your men to pull back. I have a bad feeling about this."
- "If only they had listened to me, we would never have gotten into this mess..."
- "Bring it on."
- "There are many things in my past that I wish I could forget..."
- Girl 1
Girl 1 is the Main Girl in the movie. She is almost always a doctor or a scientist of some sort, but in extremely rare situations she can be some sort of vampy assassin or soldier or something. Aside from The Main Guy, she's the only other person who has any fucking clue what is happening in the film. She generally acts as a foil for The Main Guy, and while they will almost always bump heads in the beginning (they may even be ex-spouses) they will unfailingly have sexual intercourse either by the end of the film or (presumably) immediately following the credits. She's basically designed to be the nerd viewer's wet dream and is the closest thing you are going to get to a capable female character.
- "Be careful."
- "Something's not right here."
- "Look out!"
- "It's too dangerous!"
- "I have to talk to the Director and let him know what's going on here!"
- Girl 2
If there is a second female character in the movie, she is a super-slut. She contributes little to the overall "plot", only occasionally spouting out nuggets of wisdom like, "ew there are bugs here" or "I'd rather be humping frat boys than running around in canopy jungle". She is completely incapable of running more than about thirty feet without falling down and she inevitably will be eaten by the monster. In some instances she will be killed while going off to have sex somewhere, because monsters hate fornication (it's against God's Will).
- "I can't believe I came all this way just to mess up my hair and get attacked by twenty foot-tall sea monkeys."
- "Ew, gross."
- "I'd show you my tits if this wasn't basic cable."
- "Do you think there's a mall around here?"
- The Nerdy Genius
The nerdy genius character is either an impossibly brilliant computer whiz or an expert on all things archaic. If he's the ancient history scholar, you can be certain that he has completely memorized everything from the complete succession order of every Chinese Imperial dynasty to the date and time of every single one of King Tut's bowel movements. If it was ever written down on paper, he knows it. He speaks fourteen languages fluently, reads hieroglyphics, ancient Greek, Cuneiform, Sanskrit and Cyrillic and can recite any number of obscure ancient prophecies on command. If he's the computer guy he has the uncanny ability to hack through any computer system, old or new, human or otherwise, with the same difficulty that it takes a regular person to find pornography on the internet. He doesn't use any special computer-hacking software or anything; he can literally just sit down in front of a monitor and start hitting keys randomly to open doors, disable security systems, overload mainframes and basically do anything and everything that relates to computers. The nerdy genius wears glasses and is completely unable to physically exert himself in any way that doesn't involve either hammering keyboards or flipping pages in a book.
- "Well, technically it IS possible, but the chances of catastrophic genetic failure are extremely high."
- "I just need a little more time to finish translating this scroll."
- "I have read ancient texts prophesizing this very thing, but most scholars discredited it a myth and fairy tale. If I remember correctly, the only way it can be killed is with..."
- "Give me one second to hack in and access the server... there. We now have access to the entire system."
- The Grizzled Soldier
The grizzled soldier is usually a sergeant of some sort in some type of special forces regiment. He's always the last of his crew left alive, and has a take-no-bullshit attitude and a general distain for anything and everything. He drinks, smokes cigars, punches stuff, shaves with a combat knife and swears as much as he possibly can and still get away with it on the Sci-Fi Channel.
- "I came here to do a job, goddamnit, and I'm going to finish it."
- "We need some help down here, goddamnit!"
- "Goddamnit Rogers, what the hell is going on here?"
- "Command can take their orders and shove 'em up their asses, goddamnit."
- "Let's show these bastards what humans are made of! Goddamnit!"
- The Weasely Traitor
The Weasley Traitor is a dude who is usually a rival in the same profession as either The Main Guy or Girl 1. He generally represents the "bad side" of the profession, sort of like those tornado hunters in Twister who wore all black and kicked babies into wells. He could also be a military General responsible for a government-wide cover-up or a greedy self-serving archaeologist or a rogue scientist bent on creating the most inane shit he can think of (like a bipedal samurai lobster or an army of giant crickets that play the violin). The major unifying factor is that this guy is a total bastard out for personal gain, and he usually turns on his entire species for a couple hundred thousand dollars, not realizing that once all of humanity is destroyed there's not going to be a whole lot of use for money (especially considering that our soon-to-be monkey masters are more interested in bananas than cash). He will always wait until the most opportune moment to get the upper hand on the heroes and will leave them in some sort of situation that they presumably cannot possibly hope to escape from. Of course, they always escape and the Weasley Traitor manages to die a horrible and gruesome death.
- "Well, gentlemen, this is where we must now part ways. A pity I won't be around to enjoy your deaths."
- "Don't take this personally. It's really just about the money."
- "I'd offer to let you join me, but somehow I know you'd refuse."
- "You always were a fool."
- "I'm not about to let you get all the glory for this discovery."
- Generic Soldiers 1-10
They're almost always billed as "an elite special forces outfit", but if this is the best of the best then humanity pretty much deserves to be painfully devoured by half-gargoyle half-chihuahua skeleton monsters. Despite the Grizzled Soldier's insistence that these clowns are a crack outfit, everybody knows these guys' sole purpose in life is to get the axe BIG-TIME and show off all the crazy shit that the CG monster(s) can do. They occasionally spout out one or two lines or fire off a burst of ammunition before they are violently torn into tiny pieces by genetically-engineered red-eyed ring-tailed lemurs, but more often than not they don't even get the satisfaction of a close-up camera shot before you see their heads rolling down a set of stairs or stuffed in a broom closet or something. Their only redeeming quality is that they generally carry automatic weapons with million-round clips so they never have to reload.
- "Boss, is that you?"
- "Who's there?"
- "What was that?"
- "I'll be right back, I'm going to go grab a coffee."
- "Sarge, this is Echo 2-1. The scanners are picking up a lot of movement down here..."
- "Die, you freaks!"
- "OH CRAP I'M BEING EATEN ALIVE BY GRASSHOPPERS!!!!"
- Time Travel and that Wacky Space-Time Continuum
In SFCOMs it seems like every time the Pope takes a dump in the woods it tears apart the fabric of the universe and causes some crazy portal to appear and spew forth an army of rabid dingoes or some other such ridiculous nonsense. But then again, that's the nature of the fake universe. If the galactic continuum was as stable as it has been for the past few millenia, then we really wouldn't have a whole lot to work with. Basically, you can just reference the Space-Time Continuum whenever your plot makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. It's basically a catch-all for trying to explain why there are giant anthropomorphic tape dispensers encasing skyscrapers in plastic wrap without having to create some science fact-based backstory that might involve actual research or some sort of understanding of basic scientific theory.
- Taking a Dump on Myth and History
It turns out that every major event of the last two hundred years was all a clever, virtually-impossible-to-orchestrate Rube Goldbergian conspiracy led by vampires or aliens or underground locusts or something else totally fucking insane! The Great Pyramid wasn't designed as a tomb... it's an intergalactic homing beacon signaling a race of hostile aliens to come to Earth and blow it up! Leonardo da Vinci was actually a chimpanzee who just wore really silly clothes and made all of his paintings by using his tail instead of a paintbrush! The Ark of the Covenant was actually an aquarium containing half-piranha half-flounder sea monsters!
Basically, the golden rule is that nothing is sacred. In an SFCOM you are pretty much free to twist history and myth around however you want to have it work into your story. Like if you decided you wanted to have a two-hour movie with people being eaten by giant bullfrogs you can say that the American Civil War was actually fought because the Confederate States wanted access to top-secret bullfrog-enlarging technology, but after the North won the war they enacted a vast cover-up to hide the truth from the American people. Sci-Fi dorks HATE the government, so they'll unquestioningly buy up any government cover-up related conspiracy like it like it was an unreleased LINUX-based Star Wars text adventure computer game. They love that shit.
- Cutting Edge Special Effects
The Sci-Fi Channel has long been known to be on the forefront of cutting-edge computer-imaging technology and ahead of its time in fields such as digital imaging and BWAHAHAHAHAHAH I can't believe I almost got through that without laughing.
Making the Most of a Bad Time
- Create Your Own Theme Songs
I generally tend to get a kick out of making up my own theme songs for the various monsters. For instance, when I was watching Carnosaur the other day (not a SFCOM I know, but close enough), I would loudly sing "Caaaaarnosauuuur! Dooon't eat his eggs!" in a high-pitched opera voice. Mostly this just served to make my wife seriously wonder why she decided it would be a good idea to marry me, but it was certainly something to do while I was waiting for C-Saur to start biting people.
- Pizza And Beer
This probably goes without saying but I'll mention it anyways, because watching an SFCOM without a pepperoni pizza and a healthy level of intoxication is like entering a "getting kicked in the nutsack" contest without bringing a cup or a steel-plated codpiece. As an added bonus, here's a drinking game to go with the beer:
- The Sci-Fi Original Movie Drinking Game
Take a drink when one of the following happens:
- A female character falls down.
- Someone spews out a sentence that uses "science words" but that makes absolutely no fucking sense at all.
Example: "We're going to need to stabilize the magnetic pulsar fields to get an accurate quantum readout."
- A person is eaten by the monster.
- One of the characters speak the words "prophesy", "conspiracy" or "legend".
- A character mentions that they "just need more time".
- Someone shoots at the monster but either doesn't hit it or doesn't kill it.
- You or one of your friends makes up the monster's new theme song and sings it when it appears on screen.
- You eat a big piece of pizza and want to take a sip of a refreshing beverage to wash it down with.
- The Main Guy looks off into the distance at nothing in particular.
- Any of the cheesy lines in this update are spoken in the film. Yes, this includes "AAUUGHH!" being spoken by ANY character.
Chug the whole beer when one of these happens:
- The opening credits. Trust me, you're going to want to get started early.
- The Main Guy punches the monster in the face and/or calls it a "bitch".
- The Weasley Traitor dies a horrific death.
- The monster is killed.
- Someone's head falls off.
- The President of Earth (or the United States) appears as a character in the film.
- The monster is actually a robot hamburger.
- The Main Guy and Girl 1 get busy.
- The heroes' ship crashes.
- The monster lays eggs.
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