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BATS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton, Leon
Director:  Louis Morneau
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  February 22, 2000

Film ***

One thing’s fairly clear when watching Bats…director Louis Morneau obviously envisioned a theatre full of people ducking for cover, and liked that vision enough to make it his primary motivating force for the picture.  As such, Bats, though hardly anything we haven’t seen before, goes for the gusto on style points.  Every single shot is crafted to be over the top and extreme.  It’s a bit much, to be honest, but I have to admit, I really admired his chutzpah for making the film this way, and being so unapologetic about it.

He constructs scene after scene in the most dynamic means imaginable.  Something’s always in motion, and more often than not, moving right towards us.  The bats do this, naturally, but so does everything else.  He can’t even show a simple scene of a plane taking off without putting the camera right in its path, and forcing us to watch as the big jet engine screams right towards us.  Again, always a bit much, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the amount of planning this guy went to get the extreme out of every shot.

Storywise, it offers nothing new.  Seen Jurassic Park, Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea, Anaconda?  Then nothing I’m about to tell you will really surprise you.

It’s a tale of bats, of course, but not just any bats, as you might expect.  Bats are something most people are instinctively frightened of…after all, they’re big, ugly rodents that fly…but in reality are quite harmless, feasting mainly on insects and fruits and trying to avoid contact with humans.  So naturally, these have to be special bats, otherwise, no movie.  These bats have been (say it with me now, folks) genetically altered.  They’re bigger, faster, meaner, work together more efficiently, and of course, carnivorous.  When the leading scientist (Gunton) is asked just why in the hell would he make such a creature, I loved his response:  “I’m a scientist.  That’s what we do.”  Not even a college try at a believable explanation!  Well, until a little later, that is, and frankly, I wished they had decided just to leave it at that.

Soon, these bloodsucking monsters are making mince meat out of a little town called Gallup, Texas, and the sheriff (Phillips) along with two bat experts (Meyer and Leon) are trying to figure out 1) how to stay alive, and 2) how to get rid of the damn things.

Naturally, the whole point of all of this is to create one scenario after another of carnage and chaos, and believe me, this movie relishes them.  I haven’t seen such over the top glee in a horror film since Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive.  Heck, the town’s movie theatre even happens to have Nosferatu on the marquee!  Wonder how many of the small town folk were planning on catching it that night?

The characters are, of course, broadly drawn, given only sketchy backgrounds at best.  At one point, the Meyer character is asked, how does one become a bat specialist?  She gets to give a cute childhood related story, along with the clearly stated moral, “Killing them (the bats) goes against everything I believe in.”  Apart from the obvious natures of the characters, the cast members all do well—possibly excepting when they have to read scientifically oriented dialogue, which never comes across sounding natural.

And there are more clichés as well…the lone African American actor as comic relief, for one…but other ones, it thankfully avoids.  The professionals who gather to address the problem don’t bicker with and insult one another.  Of course, there can’t be a movie about bats without the obligatory guano jokes (“I am NOT up to my chest in bat s—t!” Phillips exudes at one point).  And if you happen to get bored, which I doubt you will be, you can always count up the number of token shots showing bats silhouetting the moon.

All of this leads to a climax in (you guessed it), the bat cave, which leads to one of the years most awe inspiring images captured on film, and then tops it a few moments later.  You just have to see it for yourself.  Oh, and there’s a great tongue-in-cheek play on the typical “unresolved” horror film finale, too.  It got a BIG laugh out of me.

I could spend a lot more time complaining about the movie’s faults, the clichés, the lack of originality, the homage to The Birds, Frankenstein and others, the absurdity of the science involved, the physical improbability of human beings outrunning flying bats…but the fact is, I had a good time watching this.  Even though all of the film’s scares are of the cheap variety, with sudden loud noises and objects suddenly jumping out at you, I found it harmless fun, and had a smile on my face most of the time.  One thought that crossed my mind more than once was how much I bet Morneau would have liked to have filmed this picture in 3D.

Video ***1/2

Consider this DVD another high quality offering from Columbia Tri Star.  Throughout the film, images are sharp and well defined, with no instances of grain, shimmer or compression, and the color schemes are expertly rendered, with no bleeding and good containment throughout.  Much of the arid, hot outdoors scenes look just right, and completely natural.  Only one or two indoor scenes appeared a bit overly saturated, but that’s a minor complaint. 

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack…wow!  This movie knows how to use sound, and keeps you right in the middle of the action.  There is plenty of cross channeling of the signal, as the bats swoop and attack from every conceivable direction, and this track conveys it all cleanly and with excellent balance.  The dynamic range is excellent, and the audio also makes good use of the .1 channel to bring the rumbles to life.  Like everything else about the film, the soundtrack is over the top and a bit much, but makes for an outstanding home theatrical experience. 

Features ***

The disc contains a commentary track with director Morneau and star Phillips, a short featurette, several trailers, an isolated music track, talent files, storyboard comparisons, and photo galleries.  And some very cool animated menus.

Summary:

Bats won’t be the most unique or inspiring film you ever sat through, but chances are, you won’t be sorry you popped it on.  It’s a movie so deliriously drunk on style and kinetic energy that it ends up a rather enjoyable viewing experience, in an odd sort of way.  Give it a try.