Thursday, May 17, 2012
The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 18 - BENJI THE HUNTED (1987)
- Rated G but would probably get a PG today for some animal violence and peril.
- Starring Benji
- Written & Directed by Joe Camp
- Running time: 1hr 25min
(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)
I never really saw a Benji movie as a kid. I saw OH, HEAVENLY DOG!, which I guess is sort of a Benji movie. My mom took my little brother and sister to BENJI THE HUNTED when it came out, but I stayed home for some reason. I think at 11, I was feeling too old for "stupid animal movies". I do remember hearing that they had to leave the movie early because my sister (who was 3) freaked out when one of the Cougar cubs got snatched by a hawk. Anyhoo...
The movie oddly begins establishing Benji's superstar status as news reporters announce that the dog and his trainer were in a major storm at sea and Benji fell off the boat. The pup washes up on shore, alone in the wilderness as helicopters are constantly flying by searching for him. Benji must learn to survive in the woods on his own, and things become more crucial when he finds 4 baby cougar cubs that he decides he must protect. His goal is to get the cubs to their mother (or another cougar). But he must face many obstacles including wolves, hunters, hawks, bears and mother nature in general.
I actually like quite a few animal/nature movies like the original INCREDIBLE JOURNEY and THE ADVENTURES OF MILO & OTIS. Besides the opening and the small role of a hunter who lives in a cabin in the woods, there are no humans. Just animals interacting with one another. What Writer/Director Joe Camp was able to accomplish with the animals is very impressive. It actually seemed like Benji WAS communicating with the cubs. And they all had personality too. I'm also glad that there was no narration, just wordless interaction between nature's creatures. I appreciated that.
Benji is easily the best actor in this. He seems to show several emotions. Even the way the dog uses it's eyes is the way a regular actor would. As a filmmaker myself, it's very hard to get actors to emote during heavy emotional scenes, and I can imagine that it must be 10 times harder with an animal. But Benji is quite likable and easy to root for. Unfortunately, the few human actors are pretty bad. When Benji's trainer gets all choked up when talking about how much the dog means to him, it's unintentionally hilarious. It's pretty sad that a dog upstages every human in this.
For the most part, the direction is good during the nature scenes. The camera is always at ground level, so we're constantly in Benji's line of vision. When the animals chase each other, the camera follows them swiftly through tall grass and bushes. I was surprised that some of the action set pieces were as exciting as they were, like when Benji is hanging off of a cliff (shot effectively with close ups), or the final chase with the wolf (which has a "film geek" satisfying moment). But as effective as those moments of action were, the music couldn't have been more off track. Listening to the score on it's own would probably be fine, in fact I still have the main theme in my head. But in the movie, it just didn't fit. Even in 1987, that music would sound dated. Which isn't a bad thing, but not what this film needed. There were some parts of the score that felt like they were lifted from a bad softcore porn, and other parts that were distractingly upbeat. It was a weird fit.
I liked individual moments and could have been good as a whole if Camp was also concerned with the human cast giving good performances, and if the movie had an appropriate score. Still, I've seen far worse and kids that love animal movies will probably enjoy it enough. I just can't help but think what this movie could've been...
**1/2 (out of ****)