Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SyFy vs. the Mynd: Wyvern (2009)

The loveable eccentric inhabitants of a small town in Alaska are at the height of said eccentricity after a full dose of the old midnight sun. Alas, their being kind of crazy doesn't safe them when melting ice frees a wyvern from its monstrous sleep. As you know, global warming is responsible for nearly as many monster attacks as the mad science of the military-industrial complex.

The wyvern is a curious beast. It's not just mindlessly sweeping down from the skies to nibble people's heads off, it does have enough brains to cut off the only road out of town, and even lays simple traps. Might be hillbilly philosopher Hoss (Northern Exposure's Barry Corbin who is also joined by Elaine Miles from the same show) is right, and this wyvern really is a mythological creature rather than just a hungry animal. Be that as it may, the townsfolk - particularly former ice road trucker with an ice road trucking accident based trauma Jake (Nick Chinlund), café owner/waitress Claire (Erin Karpluk), DJ Hampton (Tinsel Korey) and retired military Colonel Travis (Don S. Davis, who, I'm sorry to say, will always be Scully's dad to me) - will have to use all their working class abilities (it's, to get parenthetical here, quite interesting to note how often the heroes of SyFy Channel movies belong to the working class, by the way; even SyFy scientists usually feel curiously working class, at least the sane ones) to defend themselves against the creature.

One thing my half-way insane consumption of SyFy Channel movies in the last few weeks has brought back into perspective for me again is how little a film being formulaic or not has to do with the enjoyment I can get out of it (or not). A good director of films like these - as Wyvern's Steven R. Monroe definitely is - will make even the most formulaic of monster movie rituals interesting or fun, and a good script - as Jason Bourque's script for Wyvern surely is - will include enough that is different from the formula next to the trope check marks. It is a game of small changes and minor twists to be sure, yet these small things are what makes the difference between boredom and fun. Wyvern stays on the fun side of formula throughout, keeping the balance between cheesiness, the expected, and the not quite expected just right. It also helps that its high concept seems to have been "Northern Exposure with a giant monster", and everything gets better when you put a giant monster in (they are a lot like snow in that way).

Actually keeping in the tradition of Northern Exposure, Wyvern manages to turn its cliché characters loveable and charming, making them much more interesting - and sadder monster victims - than the more usual bunch of asshats. Half of that effect is thanks to Bourque's script that knows when to be funny - yes, the film is actually funny when it wants to be - as well as it knows how to sell a silly backstory like Jake's ice road trucking accident (that of course killed his brother) in earnest. The film's cast of experienced TV and low budget character actors are carrying the other half of the effect, generally turning clichés personable and likeable.

By now, I have to say that I also really enjoy that other way SyFy brings variations into their films by having them take place in a variety of US states - generally played by British Columbia, Bulgaria, or Louisiana. The local colour is of course never true "local colour" but a strange backyard version of exoticism that may be annoying when you're finding the place where you live portrayed unrealistically, yet really helps add personality to a movie.

One major surprise for me with Wyvern is its monster, or rather, its monster effects. The CGI in many SyFy movies seems needlessly crappy, probably because so many of them are about swarms of things eating people, which can't be good for detail work on a budget; though some single monsters are pretty bad too. Most of the time, it's a flaw I've learned to tolerate by now. However, Wyvern's CGI is actually pretty darn impressive with few - if any - of the flaws I mention in every second write-up of this series. Like the rest of Wyvern, its monster is realized with a degree of love and care that seems to go beyond the dictates of mere professionalism.

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