Director – Billy O’Brien, Screenplay – Douglas G. Davis, Producer – Adrian Sturges, Photography – Peter Robertson, Music – Ray Harman, Visual Effects Supervisor – Tim Morris, Prosthetics – Richard Kennedy & Aaron O’Sullivan, Production Design – Padraig O’Neill. Production Company – Parallel Films/MNG Films/RHI Entertainment
Joe Flanigan (Colonel Sam Synn), Catherine Walker (Dr Karen Fast), Dagmar Döring (Dr Jillian O’Hara), Yare Jegbefume (Lieutenant Rivers), Rob Soohan (Brian Murphy), Sam O’Mahony (Josh Burk), Chris Newman (Private Jordan Reid), John Rhys-Davies (Senator Jackson Crenshaw), Shash Rami (Al Icia)
Sam Synn is a US Marine who has been disgraced because of an operation that went badly in Iran. He is now assigned to guard duty at the Federal Science Institute in Washington D.C. He is in charge as Dr Jillian O’Hara holds the premiere demonstration of a device that can allow the viewing of alternate dimensions before the sceptical Senator Crenshaw. As the demonstration gets underway, the device experiences a power surge. When they come around, they find that the entire lab is now in an alien forest that is alive with monstrous creatures. Realising that they have somehow been transported to the alternate dimension that the machine was viewing, they set out to explore where they are. Dr O’Hara discovers that they only have a six-hour window in which to return to Earth – however, finding a source of water to power the device’s fusion reactor and the marauding local wildlife cause substantial problems to doing so.
The idea of the film shot for the Syfy Channel usually makes one think of cheaply-made generic monster movies. Ferocious Planet is one effort that surprises in standing up above the rest of the exceedingly mediocre pack. The film was produced by an Irish production company with most of the cast members being Irish actors affecting American accents. Many of those involved had previously made the monster movie Roadkill (2011) for the Syfy Channel.
Ferocious Planet starts in with undeniable promise. The device is unveiled in a demonstration to John Rhys-Davies’ senator; it is made to work and we see a series of windows onto other worlds where the wonderment of what we are seeing is constantly being undercut by Rhys-Davies’s scathing remarks. Abruptly, everything goes wrong amid a surge of energy from the machine. In the aftermath, Joe Flanigan hunts a creature through the building that proves to be definitely not of this world when killed, followed by John Rhys-Davies barnstorming past security and heading outside where we see it is now a forest rather than Washington D.C., only for him to be devoured by a giant creature amid a wash of digital gore. When a film kills off its biggest name star within the first fifteen minutes, it is definitely heading down the trail of the unexpected.
The rest of Ferocious Planet does surprisingly well out of the premise it has. It could almost be tv’s Primeval (2007-11) played the other way – rather than prehistoric creatures being brought through portals into the present, it has a party of people being propelled through a portal into a prehistoric world. The digital effects used to represent the creatures are cheap but effective. The film creates an undeniable sense of alienness during the exploration of the terrain, the encounters with the creatures and surreal images such as parking meters from outside the building having been dragged through and being found impaled in trees or standing planted in the middle of the forest. The plot is well structured in terms of the creation of an escalating series of problems centred around their desire to get back home. The film reaches an interestingly downbeat ending sort of borrowed from Planet of the Apes (1968).
Certainly, the film does take a few liberties with credibility. If the entire laboratory and complex has been torn out from its surroundings and transported to another world, how does it still have power? We see constantly sparking electrical cables torn open, which would suggest that they are still connected somewhere. There is the magic wave of the wand device of the fusion generator that is said to power everything but this is dead. Not only does the fusion generator manage to be exceedingly conveniently built into the back of the dimension jump device but the entire operation, including the generator that powers the whole building, exists in what looks like a largish sized CPU that can be carried on someone’s back (and even comes with carry straps for the express purpose of doing so). Another of the improbabilities is that soldiers who are on duty in a dead-end office job (as we gather from the opening scenes where we are introduced to Joe Flanigan) are given sidearms containing live rounds and even outfitted with smoke grenades.
Irish director Billy O’Brien had previously made Isolation (2005) about mutant cattle on a farm. He subsequently went onto make the science-fiction film Scintilla/The Hybrid (2014) and I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016).