As I see it that’s not the diplomatic marketing speak of an ombudsman, it’s actually an extremely candid answer. The Sci-Fi Channel has never been about airing Science Fiction. Oh, it’s put the backing to some remarkable and legitimate Sci-Fi, but that programming has always been peripheral to what the network is really about; uncategorical shit.
You’re not going to see anything new or significantly different on Syfy than what the outlet has been airing for years. The only change is that now the community at large has a unique label to place on this particular brand of shit. It may be a stupid name, but it’s distinguished.
If there was any doubt to this just look at the first original film to air under the newly re-branded Syfy moniker, SAND SERPENTS. It’s a production that reeks of tasking, of Suit A to Suit B:
“Remember TREMORS? That movie was awesome! Can we remake it without paying for the name?”
“I don’t see why not. Let me just feed the script into the Syfy Originalmatic and see what comes out.” … “K, got it. Set it in Afghanistan, make the Graboids bigger and call ’em serpents.”
“Who can we get to star in it?”
“How much you wanna spend?”
“You’re right, fuck it.”
An elite squadron of soldiers is taken hostage by an Afghani Taliban cell, but before the terrorizers can turn our heroes into YouTube sensations a giant worm conveniently kills all of the insurgents, leaving our questionably elite soldiers to find their own way out of the barren Afghanistan countryside before being devoured by the giant worm(s).
You’ll have to wait through about 30 minutes of contrived soldierisms before even seeing the big ‘ole beasty, but don’t worry because it only takes the characters about three minutes to figure out that the inexplicable underground behemoths are tracking them by sound and vibration. Oddly enough it takes them a further three minutes to forget about that discovery as they tromp around the desert without restraint, running from the Dune rip-offs as if for the sport of it. Eventually they meet up with an amiable band of insurgents and together the soldiers and the freedom fighters try to flee the humongous green screen creations.
Like most Syfy labeled original productions there is nothing particularly original to SAND SERPENTS. The characters are cobbled together from so many generic military actioners that they feel even less inspired than side NPCs in GEARS OF WAR. The “sand serpents” look uncannily like the worms that erupt from the underworld to pull Jake Busey back to Hell at the end of THE FRIGHTENERS while behaving exactly like the vibration loving worms of TREMORS. They’re even dispatched/distracted in the same bomb throwing manner as the Graboids.
To its credit, Renroe’s film is one of the better looking productions the network has put its name on lately. I have no idea where it was filmed, but they did a commenndable job of pinning down a locale that looks like more like Afghanistan and less like Morroco. A recurring setting central to the first half of the movie is a massive interweaving of what looks like abandoned oil pipelines that goes a long way to grant SAND SERPENTS an illusion of bigger production values. The CGI is also relatively impressive by network standards, though occasionally a few shots of worm(s) arching out of the ground and devouring people look reused with a different backdrop/victim.
Further to its credit, the scenes in which serpents rumble forth from the ground and devour land and sky bound machines are genuinely fun. Such scenes are fleeting in length and rare in appearance, but they do make the film as a whole watchable in a background kind of way. But don’t take calling it watchable as an endorsement. Sure, it can be tolerated, but there is no reason to actually give SAND SERPENTS one’s undivided attention. It’s mediocre at best and copy-cat at worst, which makes it little different than the majority of what Syfy/the Sci-Fi channel, a channel I genuinely love by the way, has put out over the year. When they release movies that are silly and don’t care, they’re enjoyable. When they try to be serious they’re almost always boring like this.
Buy hey, with this re-branding we’ve simply got a new name to call films like SAND SERPENTS. It’s not shit, it’s Syfy!