Billed "in the tradition of 'Starship Troopers,'" this 2006 direct-to-video release, "Scorpius Gigantus," has about as much in common with "Starship Troopers" as I do with the King of Siam. Put it this way: They're both movies. Beyond that, they both have bugs in them; really big bugs. And not a few flaws.
You can tell by the title alone this is going to be a cheapjack production, one of the Saturday afternoon rental pile you probably won't even get to. But it does have two names going for it: star Jeff Fahey (you remember him) and executive producer Roger Corman. Yes, THE Roger Corman, bless his heart. Over fifty years since he produced "Monster from the Ocean Floor" in 1954, the legendary filmmaker who started the careers of most of today's Hollywood glitterati is still hard at work, and his work doesn't appear to have changed a particle in over half a century and 377 movies. I doubt we would want it any other way.
"Scorpius Gigantus" is corny, silly foolishness, the plot and characters derived from a hundred previous sci-fi stinkers, the budget the size of Corman's coin purse, the special effects created on a home computer, and the filming done mainly in Bulgaria. Sound familiar? Sure. It's pure, unadulterated would-be camp, destined to become a non-classic.
Here's the thing: If Roger Corman and giant bugs interest you at all, skip the rest of this review. Just buy or rent the film and forget about whatever anybody has to say about it. Especially me. I mean, you know how bad this film is going to be before you watch it; you don't need me to tell you. If it's your kind of film, go for it.
The movie wastes no time with exposition, back story, introductions, or the like. It jumps right into the thick of things with the Russian Mafia hijacking a truckload of big, mutant bugs from the U.S. army. No, of course the gangsters don't know there are bugs in the truck; they think they're stealing uranium. Surprise, surprise, when they open the back door and look inside. But it's OK when they get slashed to ribbons because, you know, they're Russian Mafia after all.
Then we find out the bugs were created by a beautiful and well-meaning scientist, Dr. Jane Preston (Jo Bourne-Taylor), who was trying to save the world with a miracle vaccine and wound up producing ten-foot long, carnivorous, poisonous cockroach scorpions with armor plating and a lust for killing. Well, sometimes that happens. And usually when there's a beautiful scientist involved.
The setting is Eastern Europe because the U.S. military thought Dr. Preston's experiments were too dangerous to conduct in the United States. And it was cheaper to film there. Anyhow, the government, sensing that maybe it wouldn't be in the world's best interest to let these flesh-eating killers loose (considering how cockroaches multiple and all), send in their best team of elite Special Forces commandos, about a half a dozen guys led by Major Nick Reynolds (Jeff Fahey). Why only a handful of men if the threat is so great? Because after paying Fahey's salary, the filmmakers barely had enough money left over for a few Bulgarian bit players. But not to worry; when most of Fahey's men are wiped out in the first assault, European Supreme Allied Command, in their infinite wisdom, send in reinforcements: yet another handful of soldiers. By this time, the CGI animator was working on commission.
Incidentally, when the military dispatch Major Reynolds and his men to go after the bugs, they refuse to tell him what he and his team are after. It's "classified" information. Then, when Reynolds finally does realize what he's up against, the army tells him he has to take the bugs alive, for the good of science and all. As though Dr. Preston could never, ever, again replicate her experiments. I love this stuff.
Usually, with big-budget sci-fi thrillers the beautiful scientist would get naked several times, but this is a low-budget affair so she keeps her clothes on. Besides, there's a lot of blood to cram into ninety minutes; no time for distractions.
The fun of any giant-bug movie, naturally, is watching the big critters devour their human prey. Unfortunately, that would require more computer-graphic work than the budget would allow, so we just get an occasional scene here and there of the creatures slashing away. They actually look pretty good, but their integration with the live action is hardly perfect.
Now, what do you mean, Is there a plot? I just told it to you. There are these bugs, and these army guys hunt them. You saw "Alien." The first half of the film takes place in a Bulgarian warehouse, and the second half takes place in a Bulgarian freighter. How the army guys and the bugs get from the warehouse to the ship is one of life's unsolved mysteries. In a single, instantaneous, and virtually unexplained edit, they are transported from one place to the other. It's like magic. Something about the freighter having ice lockers on board, and the soldiers wanting to freeze the insects to death, and the bugs intent on hunting and killing the soldiers so they'll follow them anywhere. Nobody in town appears to notice the army guys and a train of ten-foot metallic insects traipsing through town and climbing aboard the boat.
It's imperative in films like this that characters go wandering off on their own, and that red herrings abound. You won't be disappointed. The film also includes the requisite amount of inane dialogue at the most ridiculous times, and it has an ending containing some of the worst-looking special effects in the history of movies. I'm guessing that on the second, and probably last, day of production, the budget ran out.
As I say, "Scorpius Gigantus" may be just the film you're looking for. If you're deaf and blind.
The movie is presented in 1.33:1 "fullscreen." Apparently, the producers are looking forward to a big television market and realize that anybody with money enough to buy a widescreen TV isn't going to be dumb enough to watch this stuff. The picture quality equals a decent television broadcast. Colors, for instance, are bright and black levels are strong; but definition and detailing are lacking, and there are slight blurs during fast-motion scenes.
The audio shows some minor promise during the opening titles and fades fast. The soundtrack music begins with a New Wave techno-rockish beat, and then quickly degenerates into generic action-flick background noise. What starts out sounding deep and dynamic dissolves into common-variety wallpaper. The front-channel stereo stage width is limited, and rear-channel surround effects are almost nonexistent. This poor film can't get anything right.
Extras? You expect extras? They would cost more than the movie. No, you get twelve scene selections and a chapter insert. Beyond that, there are several Buena Vista promos and trailers at start-up only; English as the spoken language; and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired. If you want extras, watch a Cecil B. De Mille film; he used lots of extras.
No doubt about it, "Scorpius Gigantis" is monumentally bad: Bad script, bad acting, bad direction, bad FX, bad editing, bad everything. It's even too bad to become a camp classic because it's not funny bad, just bad bad. Who knows, first-time director Tommy Withrow may become the new Ed Wood.