Aztec Rex (2008)
Hello, everybody, it's Pam again. For this review, Nate and I chose a movie that's newer than most of the movies we've reviewed, having been released in 2008. There are two telltale signs of its status as a B-movie: it was released on television, not in theaters, and nobody can agree on its name. You can find it under both Tyrannosaurus Azteca and Aztec Rex. The two titles put together may give you an idea of what the movie's about. Keep on reading to find out if you're correct.
The movie opens with the sight of a lush forest, with palms trees and the sea in the distance. A caption tells us we're looking at the central coast of Mexico (which is not true, the movie was actually filmed in Hawaii, but it doesn't really matter). When is the movie taking place? 1521, we are told almost immediately, and the principal character is Hernan Cortez. He rides into sight, followed by six shabby- looking conquistadors on foot. What are they doing there? I'm not sure, but according to Cortez, it has something to do with the glory of Spain. None of the Spaniards look particularly glorious, but we don't have a chance to look at them for long before the action switches to a more interesting location.
Plunderers in the name of the King (Cortez center).
And how. Four nearly-naked men carry a screaming, struggling young woman to the top of a low pyramid and tie her to a stone table. I remember the "Aztec" in the title, and I suspect this poor girl is going to be made an offering to whatever gods the Aztecs worshiped. Unfortunately I'm right, but at least the officiating priest gives her a drink that renders her unconscious before he gets down to the business at hand. Also unfortunately, we get to see the poor girl's heart after it's been ripped out of her chest.
What did the Aztecs do with human hearts, anyway? I'm not sure what the historic Aztecs did with them, but these particular Aztecs are offering this one to a very special being (hint: think about the other part of the movie's title). Yes. The priest lays the heart at the edge of the pyramid, blows a horn, and up strolls Mr. Tyrannosaurus himself, using his tongue delicately to scoop up the tasty morsel, much like a cat lapping cream (well, not really).
Special treat for Rexie.
So, it seems that Mexico in 1521 had a dinosaur population. Did it consist entirely of Tyrannosaurus Rexes, or was there a wide variety of dinosaurs roaming the Mexican forest? I can hardly wait to find out, but I'll have to be patient, because in the next scene we're back to Cortez and his unimpressive little band. We quickly find out that their mission involves acquiring gold and slaves, but these Spaniards are not mere heartless exploiters of the natives. No, in return they plan to be generous and bestow their religion on the natives. So far they haven't been having much luck, and at this moment they are still lacking both gold and slaves, and the natives are still lacking Catholicism. They're about to have a prehistoric reptile though, as our friend the dinosaur moves through the forest, spooking Cortez' horse. And apparently none of the Spaniards noticed anything coming until the horse ran away, which seems really hard to believe. A forty-foot-long, seven-ton reptile ought to make a hellacious crashing when it goes through the forest, but we hear nothing except the soldiers asking, "What was that?" And in fact, the soldier sent to bring back the horse can find nothing, not even tracks, until suddenly a horse's leg falls in front of him, dropped by the dinosaur who is right next to him. The dinosaur must prefer horsemeat to long pig, because the soldier gets away without any trouble, at least until he gets back to his comrades. The trouble he has then is making them believe him. Even the horse leg doesn't impress them they think the horse fell and broke a leg, and a predator bit off the leg and carried off the rest of the horse. I must point out, though, even if they believed in dinosaurs, the lack of blood, tracks (a seven-ton creature ought to leave some pretty impressive tracks on the soft forest floor), and broken brush and trees would quite reasonably lead them to believe that the soldier was letting his imagination run away with him. Wait a minute did sixteenth-century Europeans have an inkling that creatures such as dinosaurs ever existed? I don't think so, I don't think dinosaur fossils were identified until the 19th century.
You’d think the horse could outrun it.
So Cortez and his crew have a right to be skeptical. The lure of gold and slaves is strong, and before too long the men stop arguing and proceed onward, with Cortez now on foot. They're in luck, before too long they come across a native temple with plentiful amounts of gold and jade temptingly displayed. There's some debate on the tactics to be employed, with one soldier urging caution as he points out correctly that they have no idea how many fighting men there are in the area, nor what sort of weapons they may have, and there are only seven Spaniards armed with pistols, swords, halberds, and a rifle (or maybe a musket, I'm no expert. Some kind of long firearm, anyway. )
The Village Chief is crafty.
I'm with him, but the rest of the Spaniards are either braver or greedier than he is, and Cortez decrees they surround the temple and attack. In the village, a domestic crisis is in progress. The chief's daughter, who is rather pretty and not overburdened with clothing, is unequivocally stating her refusal to marry the man her father has picked out for her. Daughter has just dashed off into the forest, and Dad has sent a few of his warriors to retrieve her, when Cortez sends two of his men after her and the warriors, while the rest of the Spaniards sneak up on the village. The two Spaniards were supposed to track the girl and the warriors and locate their village, but all they get to see is the girl's rejected suitor catch up to her and attempt to consummate the relationship right then and there. One of the Spaniards is a little nicer than the other and wants to stop the rape, but the other one reminds him that it's none of their business and returns to the temple to see if he can be of more help there. Nice Spaniard is still lurking, hoping that once the unpleasantness is over, he can follow the couple to their village, when Heaven, or its reptilian representative, steps in to protect the working girl.
Don’t violate the Prime Directive!
Our scaly friend once again manages to sneak up on several humans who seem to be possessed of normal hearing, although to be fair, everybody there is somewhat preoccupied, either with rape or with voyeurism. He makes his presence known by gobbling down one of the native warriors, and the crunching, slurping, and falling of severed limbs serve to distract Lover Boy long enough for the girl to escape. Nice Spaniard goes after her, followed closely by the still-hungry dinosaur. They're holed up under a fallen tree, and Nice Spaniard is trying to drive it off with his sword, when the action shifts back to the temple.
T-Rex has a tasty snack.
Cortez has decided that the only opponents consist of a few warriors armed with spears, and confident in the superiority of his weapons, he gives the order to attack. Unfortunately for the Spaniards, there were a few other warriors in hiding, armed with blowguns. In short order, only Cortez is left standing. He decides the better part of valor is to surrender and demand a truce, which seems nervy of him, to put it mildly, considering he just made an unprovoked attack. The chief takes Cortez' sword, but he doesn't exactly seem inclined to agree to a truce, not that you can blame him, and certainly Cortez isn't holding any cards here. Cortez makes a few disparaging remarks about the "savages," only to learn a moment too late that the chief in fact speaks fluent Spanish. The chief knocks him down, and we go back to Nice Spaniard, the native girl, and the dinosaur.
Mexican stand-off (ironically in Mexico).
It seems the dinosaur has backed off for now, and the girl seizes the opportunity to run away, followed closely by Nice Spaniard. In true B-movie heroine style, she seems unable to run any distance without tripping, which allows Nice Spaniard to catch up to her. But she's spunkier than most B- movie heroines (this movie was made in 2008, after all), and instead of lying there cringing, she grabs a fallen branch and threatens Nice Spaniard with it. Since he has a sword this may not in fact do her much good, but you have to give her credit for trying. She too, it seems, speaks fluent Spanish, and she delivers her opinion of the Spanish people with great vigor. As you might guess, it's not flattering.
Just a nice stroll through the woods.
Nice Spaniard claims that Cortez is open to making an alliance with her people, although it's not clear that she believes him (I sure wouldn't), but the negotiation is interrupted by the roar of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and they come to a mutual agreement to table the discussion for later and get out of there. Even with a dinosaur in the area, they're better off than Cortez, who's been chained to a stone block in the temple. The massive bloodstains everywhere give him a good idea what's in store for him. I guess this time the natives are going to impose their religion on him, hmm?
Cortez’s wig is spectacular.
Oh, good grief. I was wondering how the chief and his daughter happened to speak Spanish, and now we find out, as the chief leads a Christian monk up the steps onto the temple platform. What's he doing there, wonder Cortez and I? He explains to Cortez that he is Father Gria, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Cortez in turn explains to him that he and his men attacked the natives purely in self-defense, fearing they were hostile. Unless he was superbly concealing his overwhelming fear earlier, this is a big fat lie, and the chief doesn't seem to buy it, but Father Gria apparently does. According to the chief, Cortez' men are unconscious, not dead, so Father Gria is trying to convince him to free the men now since so far he's done nothing to provoke Spain while Cortez is still claiming they only attacked the natives because they were so afraid of them, and now he's very, very sorry. The last part, at least, is probably true.
Father Gria with the Chief.
The chief seems as skeptical of Cortez' sincerity as I am, but while he's distracted by one of his men, Cortez and Father Gria covertly agree that if he helps Cortez escape, Cortez will take Father Gria with him. But it seems that the man has brought bad news: the chief's daughter has been eaten by Tyrannosaurus, and the chief blames Cortez for it. How is it Cortez' fault? It seems that he provoked the dinosaur, sending him on a rampage and thus killing the poor girl. Sort of like it always seems to be the Americans' fault that Godzilla runs amuck. But what can Cortez do to remedy the situation?
The locals are having a bad day.
Well, you'll remember that earlier scene when Tyrannosaurus was given the little snack...Lover Boy, who seems to be a priest of the Aztec religion, has his knife all set to plunge into a Spanish chest, when just in the nick of time, Nice Spaniard and the chief's daughter stroll up. The chief is delighted, Lover Boy not so much. Despite her lack of enthusiasm, Lover Boy insists that the chief's daughter marry him the next day. The chief, however, decrees that the marriage be postponed until the dinosaur's rampage is over. There's some hope that maybe Tyrannosaurus is already ready to settle down, but this hope proves false when the dinosaur munches a native girl.
Must be holding its breath.
The distraught chief orders that all the Spaniards be sacrificed, and it looks as though the movie's going to end right now, but it seems that Nice Spaniard is both a quick thinker and a slick talker. He's able to convince the chief that the Spaniards can track down the dinosaur and kill it. And after all, as he points out, if they fail and the dinosaur eats them, it will be just the same as though they were sacrificed. Lover Boy says that it's blasphemous to kill the dinosaur, but the chief overrules him, and the Spaniards are turned loose to do their best. In case you were wondering what will keep the Spaniards from just sneaking off once they're away from the natives, the chief is going to keep Cortez as a hostage. So Cortez' six men, plus Father Gria, trudge off to do battle with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And it's here that I'm going to turn the review over to Nate, it's time he had some fun.
Town meeting on the rugs.
Thanks, Pam, I’ll see what I can do with it. First off, Fuckyeah Dinosaurs and Conquistadors! On that big ol’ spinning wheel of plot keywords that seems to dominate the writers’ room at the Sci-Fi Channel, this has to be one of the best ideas ever put to film. It has everything you could possibly want in a b-movie, flimsy historical pretext, underdressed native babes, blood, guts, gore, and T-Rexes, how could you possibly not strip naked, paint yourself purple, and dance on the roof of a cop car in sheer ecstasy? My court-ordered therapist has instructed me not to answer that question.
So the intrepid Spaniards go off and suddenly they are at each other's throats over what they should really do. Half of them (including the scruffy wavering-in-his-faith Padre) want to ditch Cortez and head for the boat, but stalwart Lieutenant Rios (the “Nice Spaniard” from before) demands that they honor their pledges and slay the dragons. Rios even has to win a fist/swordfight to get his point across, but in the end they all agree to hunt the beasts to save both the Captain and their tattered honor.
But first, they strike a pose.
They lay an ingenious punji stick trap in a trailside ravine and lure the male T-Rex out of hiding, giving us a few good looks at the dinosaur in broad daylight in open ground (and it‘s not pretty). The monster proves generally impervious to pistol and musket shot, as well as a CGI cannon ball to the chest, and it's only Rios' personal bravery and the monster’s lack of peripheral vision that allows them to herd the dino into the spike trap and kill it up real good. One of their number is lost in the battle, however, reducing the burden on the craft services table for the remainder of the shoot.
Having slain one dragon, the victorious Spaniards are given some due props from the Village Chief and the locals. Unsurprisingly, though, it makes the Grumpy Devious Shaman hate them even more now that they showed him up, laughing in the face of his hokey religious beliefs with their high-quality Catalan steel and impressive facial hair. It doesn't help that his promised bride-to-be, the Chief’s daughter, has her sultry eyes on one of the dirty foreigners, setting up a love triangle that will drive the rest of the movie's plot along.
That’s a lot of skin.
A lot of stuff happens all at once here in the second act. Cortez sees his opportunity one night to gain the riches he's been jonesing for, so he kills a guard and he and three other Catholic dudes grab up some gold and precious jewels and make a midnight run to the beach and their boat. Left behind are the Nice Spaniard, who is clearly "going native" on them, and some other sap who Cortez never liked anyway. On a side note, nothing so far in the culture of this band of “Aztecs” would suggest that they have mastered the art of melting gold ingots and forming the sort of complex shaped jewelry pieces like the ones the prop guys bought down at the Walmart in Honolulu the night before the shoot began. Everything we’ve seen so far is strictly at the agrarian hunter/gatherer level with a dash of Hollywood Savage loincloth-and-facepaint mixed in. If there’s a “big city” nearby that has developed metallurgy, it’s never mentioned, and if there was one then Cortez would have already put it on his to-pillage list.
There’s, like, two thatch huts here.
So, anyway, I have to say that I am really enjoying this movie so far. The acting is generally good (not great, but as good as the script allows) and everyone seems to have an understanding of what their roles are and there's thankfully not really anyone who is clearly trying to fuck things up by being too hammy or sincere (common in b-movies). It's great that all the main characters have multiple facets to their personalities that keep them from being one-page placeholders, even the savage Aztecs. Well, especially the Aztecs as the Smarmy Douchey Shaman is turning out to be my favorite character, equal parts cowardly and brave, faithful and duplicitous, even a bit vulnerable and unsure behind the macho facade. Kudos to the actor ("some guy with great hair") for giving what could have been just a casting call summary baddie a real live human personality.
His facepaint changes a lot.
The Chief’s Daughter is by far the weakest link in the main group, though mostly because she seems to be having the hardest time of them all saying her lines in a fake Mesoamerican/Castilian accent without sounding complete idiotic. She's pretty enough (love those long legs!) and her character is called upon to do all sorts of physical stunts and exposition that end up giving her about 40 minutes of screen time, so you have to get to know her well. Her name is Kshaj;dg9;ajgamVasd or something equally unpronounceable, so let’s just call her Pocahontas, she plays the same roll.
And her accent comes and goes.
On the Spanish side of the pitch, it's also nice to see that Cortez is turning out to not be some ret-conned pious hero with stunningly bright teeth, but rather a scummy, fame-hungry rage monster who will say and do anything, up to and including murder and genocide, to get the gold and notoriety that he so devilishly craves. If only his wig wasn't so bad. Now Rios, that guy is the real hero of our film, an honorable, upstanding soldier who always tries to do the right thing and isn’t into all that rapey slaughtering stuff (maybe a little too nice for being in Cortez's crew). He's also a surprisingly unattractive man, pudgy and frumpy in all the wrong ways like a discount Danny McBride, which just makes his scene-stealing heroic deeds all the more interesting (usually in movies the hero is the hunk in the room, nice to see the change).
Rios and his curls.
Sigh. The elephant in the room is the visual effects insert shots of the dinosaurs, which look like something my four-year old could do with MS Paint. While I don't feel it's fair to judge a movie like this solely on the special effects, it has to be said that those shitty T-Rex models completely and utterly ruin what is otherwise a pretty fair movie. It's hard to say what happened here, but I'd bet my laserdisk copy of Jurassic Park that the money ran out sometime between wrapping principal filming and the beginning of the post-production editing phase. The Playstation 2 cutscene-quality T-Rex models are so poorly done and so hamfistedly plastered onto the film negatives that it reeks of a last minute change from "established vfx studio" to "director's brother-in-law's kid who happens to be a freshman at USC and can get some time on the film department's editing machines for a couple hundred bucks". And, again, it's a shame because the actors are generally giving their all to make it seem like there's really a 20-foot tall monster stomping down the beach towards them, they couldn't have known at the time that the effects inserts would suck so much ass. And you can’t tell me the film’s director was pleased with the finished product either, even if he’s contractually obligated to say he is.
Drag-and-drop that .avi file!
Anyway, back to the movie. Once the cat is out of the bag about the jewel heist, the Village Chief is royally pissed, as he should be, but he agrees to let Rios and the Untrustworthy Shaman chase after last T-Rex and kill her off, and then they can deal with the double-crossing Cortez. The Shaman isn't going to be sharing any credit with woman-stealing Rios, of course, so he slips a mickey in his drink, and once they are out in the bush, knocks his hallucinating butt down and leaves him to be T-Rex chow. Cortez was right all along, these “savages” cannot be trusted to lay down and submit to the glory of Spain like they should. Ferdinand II will not be pleased with this treachery.
They need the Cross!
As poor Rios lays dazed in the lush verdant grass awaiting his fate, I should note here the absolute beauty of the land around him. Filmed on Oahu with tourist resorts just off-camera, this movie makes full use of the Big Island's abundant unspoiled natural treasures, from the pristine crystal clear beaches to the soaring volcanic ridgelines, it's an amazing place to film a movie (any movie). If someone from the Hawaii Board of Tourism with access to the expense account is reading this, I'd be willing to fly coach as long as I can avoid a layover at LAX.
I don’t even care if there’s dinosaurs there.
At the last moment Rios is saved by Pocahontas and Father Gria as the hungry beast approaches and they take shelter in a copse of trees. In a scene that should have been a hokey eye-roller but actually turns out to be funny and sweet, Rios snap proposes to the girl and has the Padre marry them on the spot! Despite not having a ring on her finger and still unsure if she should tell him or not about her 30k in credit card debit and her ex-boyfriend Karl who she’s still talking to on Facebook, Pocahontas giggles and says “Yes!”. Rios immediately rips off her clothes right then and there and bangs her like a screen door in a hurricane as the Padre tries hard to look the other way and recite his litanies. It's an unexpected scene but competent actors and a PG-13 filter make it a highlight of the middle act.
Don’t rub her Sharpie tattoos off.
To sum up, Cortez and his brigands are racing to the beach, Rios and his special lady friend are picking out china patterns at the Pottery Barn, Shaman Guy is pouting, and somewhere out there lurks a very angry seven tons of reptile. So, Pam, take us to the credits if you will, we’re all dying to know who comes out unchomped and unfriended in this mess.
Rah, I’m hungry!
Nate, at first glance, it doesn't look as though too many are going to escape unchomped. Cortez and his tiny band make it to the sea, but as they quickly find out, the title character of this movie isn't far behind. (They must all be hard of hearing, that's the only way these dinosaurs can keep sneaking up on them. Were the conquistadors recruited from a school for the deaf?) They're taking a no-doubt-much- needed refreshing dip in the sea, when who should pop up but Tyrannosaurus herself. One guy gets munched at once, and the dinosaur is chasing Cortez and another Spaniard with dinner on her mind. Fortunately Cortez, brave leader that he is, knows just what to do. He grabs a crossbow and shoots his comrade, then dashes away while Tyrannosaurus is gulping the poor guy down. Way to make Boss of the Year, Cortez!
Maybe the best dino shot of the movie.
Things aren't going so well back at the Aztec village, either. The chief's found out that Shaman Guy doctored Rios' drink, and he vows that such a dastard will never marry his daughter. Shaman Guy counters with a spear, and although the chief puts up a fight, youth and agility prevail over experience, and the chief goes down. However, on a more positive note, Tyrannosaurus wandered off during Rios' and Pocahontas' brief honeymoon, leaving the coast clear for the happy couple and Father Gria.
Range wins every time.
They make it back to the Aztec village just in time to witness the chief's last breaths. Pocahontas is understandably grief-stricken, but just then the low roar of Tyrannosaurus is heard in the background, and duty calls. Fortunately Rios has a plan. He and Pocahontas will sacrifice an adorable baby goat (sob!) to attract the dinosaur's attention, then he'll attack the beast with a crossbow. But Shaman Guy didn't run far after killing the chief, and he's back again, intending to stop the sacrifice. In the confusion the baby goat runs off, for which I'm grateful. At first Shaman Guy seems to be getting the best of it, but just as he's preparing to deliver the final blow, Rios pulls out a hidden knife and stabs him in the vicinity of the belly button.
Gria with the goat. Wait, who is that girl?
But what are Rios and Pocahontas to do? Their sacrifice has run off to safer pastures. As a matter of fact, Pocahontas has a substitute in mind. We didn't get to see much of her relationship with Shaman Guy, but I think we can assume that if he was willing to rape her, it couldn't have been that friendly. My assumption is confirmed when she goes over to Shaman Guy and makes his not-necessarily-fatal wound quite a bit worse. In fact, she cuts out his heart, evidently a delicacy of which Tyrannosaurus is particularly fond. Pocahontas then holds out the bloody morsel to Tyrannosaurus, who must not be that hungry, since she approaches her slowly if inexorably. She shows far more restraint that he's ever shown before, and I'm wondering why she doesn't pounce on her and gobble her up, especially since Pocahontas is pretty much covered in Shaman Guy's blood, but then I realize that she's been eating a lot recently and maybe really isn't all that hungry. Finally the girl sets the heart down and backs away.
It wasn't clear before, or maybe I wasn't paying attention, but Rios' plan was a little more sophisticated than hoping to hit a vulnerable spot with his crossbow. Instead, he sets an arrow on fire, then just as Tyrannosaurus is reaching for her treat, Rios shoots the burning arrow into a container of something explosive located next to the heart. The container blows up and kills the beast! Yay!
Toasted T-Rex corpse.
So, basically it's happy-ever-after. Rios returns Father Gria to the coast and Cortez, just as a Spanish ship approaches. So Father Gria is going home, and he's happy. Rios won't let Cortez take the gold, but Cortez is planning to return to Mexico and get more, so he's happy. Rios becomes chief, and he and Pocahontas have lots of babies, so they're happy. (Luckily and surprisingly, Cortez for some reason bypassed their valley on his return.) Of course, Tyrannosaurus and his mate don't live happily ever after. I wonder if they were the only dinosaurs of their kind left? If so, Tyrannosaurs were going to die out pretty soon anyway, so let's not shed too many tears for what was going to happen sooner or later.
Father Gria invents Sangria? Really?
This wasn't that bad a movie, actually. Of course you have to get past the idea of two Tyrannosaurus Rexes managing to survive in a not-too-remote part of Mexico (the action suggests that Tyrannosaurus Valley wasn't too far from the coast). Then there are the truly abominable special effects, as Nate pointed out. But overall, it was a decent movie. If you've got an hour and a half to kill, there are many worse movies you could be watching (I'm talking to you, Gamera vs. Jiger!)
Is there anything you want to add, Nate?
Thanks, Pam. I’d just wish I could see a version of this movie that omits all the vfx shots of the dinosaurs, just show me empty landscapes and reacting actors, that would instantly make this movie a thousand times more enjoyable to watch. Either that or give the negatives to an actual competent digital effects company and let them make this movie’s creature scenes really pop. As it is though, hard to give it a better than average grade, but still worth having on in the background as you surf expedia for cheap plane tickets to Hawaii.
Written in January 2014 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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