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BATS

Bats: "I’ll tell you – let me know how I do. You made these bats stronger – more intelligent – and carnivorous!"
"No! – omnivorous!"
"But why would you do that?"
"Because I’m a scientist. That’s what we do."

YEEEHEE!!!!
Man, oh man, oh man, oh man! – it just doesn’t get any better than that!

No, I mean it: Bats really doesn’t get any better than that. This hilariously inane piece of dialogue is unquestionably the high point of the entire film. Unfortunately, it occurs about twenty-five minutes in, leaving the audience to drown in mediocrity for another hour or so. In fact, Bats challenges Silent Predators for the proud title of Most Predictable Movie I’ve Ever Seen. There is obviously something about these nature-strikes-back films that encourages a complete lack of imagination on the part of the screenwriter, but even by the genre’s paltry standards, the script by John Logan is an unusually inept piece of work. Everything about it is a cliché. To start with the most obvious plot-point, the nasty Chiroptera of the title (hey, look! – I can say "Chiroptera" too!) got that way through being – yes, you guessed it! – genetically modified by an evil scientist. (You know, I’m beginning to get upset by the number of films around that feature evil scientists messing with nature. I mean, I’ve been a qualified scientist for thirteen years, and I’ve never once got to create a genetically-modified-killer-anything. So how come every other scientist on the planet seems to tamper in God’s domain on a daily basis? It’s not fair!) In this case, however, they don’t actually use the expression "genetic engineering" or "gene therapy" – instead, the bats became bigger, stronger, faster, more intelligent and less picky in their dietary requirements all through being infected by "a virus". (Man, that’s some virus! Actually, viruses and gene therapy can be fairly intimately related, but I somehow doubt that John Logan understands the nuts and bolts of it.) Here we can see that Bats suffers from exactly the same flaw in logic as Deep Blue Sea: the modified animals are not just "more intelligent", they mysteriously acquire knowledge of matters completely outside their range of experience. In this case, a bat that has been trapped by the good guys and tagged with a tracking device is hunted down and killed by the modified bats, who "know" that the device will give away their colony’s position. Details like this don’t exactly help the film’s credibility. Nor does the depiction of the film’s main characters. The scientist behind the creation of the bats is – yes, you guessed it! – crazy as a loon. In fact, there may be something about working with bats that brings out the worst in evil scientists, since Dr Alexander McCabe is the – pardon the expression – battiest scientist I’ve seen since Bela Lugosi in The Devil Bat. (By the way, if you think I’m saying the word "bats" a lot, you should hear this film! "Bats?" "Yes, bats." "It can’t be bats. Bats don’t do that. Not bats." "Well, bats did do this." "Bats?" "Yes, bats.") McCabe lurks in shadows, he breathes unsteadily, he polishes his glasses incessantly, he conducts secret research in darkened laboratories (and I do mean "darkened": this is yet another film where no-one turns the lights on), he interferes with all attempts to stop the bats, he rants that only he can control his creations. (I’m only surprised he never says, "Fly, my pretties! Fly!" But then, it was probably just an oversight on John Logan’s part.) And in the end, he is killed when – yes, you guessed it! – his creations turn on him (hmm – okay, so maybe there’s an up-side to never creating genetically-modified-killer-something). Of course, Dr McCabe wasn’t solely responsible for the development of the killer bats; it was – yes, you guessed it! – a secret government project to create – yes, you guessed it! – "the perfect killing machine". And if all this wasn’t painfully unoriginal enough, the main baddies are further bolstered by a group of army guys who do the wrong thing at every turn (including trying to take the bats on at night - I mean, come on) and are utterly incapable of either listening to reason or adjusting to new circumstances, because they just want to blow something up. So much for the bad guys. Do the good guys fare any better? HA! As if! Our lead good guy is Dr Sheila Casper. Being a female movie scientist she is, inevitably, gorgeous and sexy. Beyond this, she comes not from Category A (the immaculately dressed, not a hair out of place type, a la Penelope Ann Miller in The Relic) but from Category B (the sweaty singlet look, a la Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton. Not that they were scientists, but you know….). Now, to be perfectly fair to this movie, and to John Logan, I have to admit there were some things about Sheila Casper’s character that I actually liked. For one thing (quite a big thing) nothing is ever made of her being a woman. She’s called after the first bat attacks because she’s a leader in her field. Her caving and abseiling skills are no big deal, just part of her job. She pitches in with the fortification of the school, and when it comes to descending into the mine where the bat colony is located, her involvement is accepted as a matter of course. Never at any stage does anyone suggest that "it’s no job for a woman". In addition, although Sheila starts out by saying that killing bats is against everything she believes in, it takes only one attack for her to start kicking some serious bat-butt (dedicated, but not stupid). Unfortunately, these positives are counterbalanced by the very fact of her being the "good scientist", since this means she spends most of her time furrowing her brow and delivering the film’s clunky expository dialogue (all except the film’s absolute clunkiest line, which falls to Lou Diamond Phillips’ Sheriff Kimsey, who gets to ask Sheila whether studying bats makes her a "batologist"). And while I question whether any actress could have done anything with this script, it’s hard to deny that Dina Meyer seems miscast in the role. But then, she’s not alone in that: Bats has the odd distinction of being a movie where everyone seems miscast. Lou Diamond Phillips is probably the worst example. His "Texan" accent comes and goes (mostly goes) not just scene to scene, but line to line, while the character touches supposed to flesh him out (his apparent disinterest in football, his love of opera – the latter which he asks be kept secret so he isn’t "run out of town"; well, we wouldn’t want to pass up the old "all Texans are rednecks" cliché, would we?) just make things worse instead of better. The third point of the good-guys triangle is the most problematic of all. As Sheila’s partner, Jimmy Sands, León plays a role that’s about half an inch short of being completely insulting. Although Jimmy is presumably as intelligent and qualified as Sheila, though in a different field, he divides most of his screentime between having things explained to him and uttering the most groan-worthy of one-liners – many of them based around his own fear of bats, caves, and just about everything else. At times, in fact, his character comes perilously close to the "cowardly Negro" persona of the thirties and forties. Anyway, backing up our cardboard cutout dramatis personae is a scenario no less stereotypical. The action takes place in and around Gallup, Texas; a "one-horse" town that nevertheless has a huge school fully fitted with up-to-date computers (but which doesn’t seem to have discovered the CD player), and whose cinema, in an intolerable excess of cutesy-pie-dom, plays nothing but Nosferatu (for a midnight show, I’d grant you, but all week?). Incredibly, the first people killed onscreen are a couple out parking (gee, John Logan must have lain awake nights coming up with that one!); then it’s a black guy (ditto); then it’s the dim-witted deputy sheriff (poor Wes! – it was so obvious you were going to buy it!). Then the less guilty of the bad guys gets it while rescuing Sheila; and finally, inevitably, the Crazed Scientist. Various faceless extras also end up bat-bait after much screaming and running around (and some ever-popular "crashing through plate glass" stunts). The bat attacks are conveyed through a flurry of editing and camera movement, have a minimum of gore (going for a PG-rating, hey?), and tend to be preceded by distorted "bat-cam" shots. The vast majority of the action, such as it is, is confined to the first half of the film. The second half, concerning the locating and disposal of the bat colony, is far more static. The highlight of this section of the film is undoubtedly the moment when Sheila and Emmett Kimsey plunge through the floor of the mine and find themselves up to their armpits in bat guano. (Sadly, the symbolism of this scene seems to have escaped both director Louis Morneau and screenwriter Logan.) The rest of it plays out exactly as you’d anticipate, with an "out-running the bats" scene in place of the usual "out-running the fireball" scene. (Two major irritations: the way the bats go from being about three feet behind Our Heroes to being thirty feet behind them whenever it’s necessary; and Emmett Kimsey’s insistence on halting and shooting at the bats instead of just running – hey, Emmett, there’re about a million of them, you dork!) The only thing about this film that is in any way surprising is that it doesn’t go for the kicker ending – more, that it seems to be going that way, then doesn’t. I admit it – they got me with that one. Well, one original thought in ninety minutes isn’t too bad a strike rate, I guess. Or at any rate, it’s about one more surprise than we had any reason to expect.

And You Call Yourself a Scientist