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Cyclops – “The rise of Cyclops… is the fall of Rome”

For this installment of Jumping Sharks, we examine the film Cyclops, which forces us to flip our viewpoint of the world completely inside out, begging the question which is more inherently savage, humankind or the natural world.

I’m kidding. It’s about a Cyclops that goes on a killer rampage.

“Are you not entertained?!”

(Before I continue, please be aware that there are definitely spoilers in this blog entry. I generally try my best to not give everything away, but this time, the themes I wanted to explore required describing events at the end of the movie. On the plus side, most of you reading this either never will see this movie, have already seen this movie, could guess what will happen if you ever did see it, or don’t care whether you know what will happen if you ever do see it.)

The Magi ain’t got nothin’ on these guys.

The movie opens with a trio of merchants lost in the woods on their way to a city. They spy some sheep, and decide to take what they can while the presumed hunters who own them are away. Naturally, the sheep in fact belong to the Cyclops, who comes back to his camp and sees the merchants trying to steal his sheep. He kills two of them while the third escapes and reports what happened to Rome. Emperor Tiberius Caesar (Eric Roberts, The Young and the Restless, Less than Perfect), on the advice of his nephew Falco (Craig Archibald, Capote), sends popular centurion leader Marcus (Kevin Stapleton, Gossip Girl, One Life to Live) to subdue the Cyclops to stop its attacks on Roman citizens. Marcus chooses to capture it and bring it to Rome, realizing that the merchants were the aggressors. He also starts to wonder about the possibility of intelligence behind its baby blues; sorry, baby blue. Meanwhile, back in Rome, Gordian (Mike Straub, Cold Fusion, The Grudge 3) and Barbara (Frida Farrell, Behind Your Eyes, Contract Killers), slaves belonging to a man working for Falco, begin to organize a revolt against the Emperor and his nephew. Several Cyclops escapes and a bad Gladiator rip-off later the good guys win, the bad guys die, and the Cyclops kills a bunch of people.

Top left – Emperor Tiberius Caesar; top right – Falco; middle left – Marcus; middle right – Marcus and Gordian; bottom – Barbara

I suppose that, in a movie like this, bad CGI is par for the course, and, as the pictures should make apparent, the CGI in this movie was as expected. Sadly, the poor acting was also expected – Eric Roberts, easily the best actor in the movie, did the whole thing with a half-smile on his face that seemed equal parts contempt for the Roman citizens as his character and contempt for the movie itself as his person. (Admittedly, he brings that trademarked smirk to most of his roles, at least as far as I’ve seen.) However, what always disappoints me beyond the normal in this sort of movie is what I’ve come to think of as Anaconda syndrome, wherein the size of the beast (be it snake, Cyclops, or Sharktopus (coming to this blog at an indefinite time in the future)) changes nearly at will, as best fits the scenario. Take, for example, the way the Cyclops seems to tower over the merchants and centurions at the beginning of the film, but then continually shrinks in height throughout the course of the movie, ending at around 6’8″ or 7′. Clearly very large, but definitely not huge. (Although there is some error that can be argued, as the Cyclops hunches over throughout the whole movie.) I understand that there is something to be said for artistic license, if you will, and that larger monsters work better for certain situations and smaller ones work better for others, but could we please at least try to have some consistency between scenes? I, for one, would appreciate it.

Left – a towering, man-eating Cyclops; right – a man-sized, man-eating Cyclops.

On to clich├ęs. First, this movie brings back the idea of scheming, entitled Roman senators who see the citizenry as their playthings. We saw it in Gladiator, we saw it in 300, and we even saw a version of it in History of the World: Part I. We get it – Germans are evil; eastern Europeans are evil; Roman politicians are evil. Can we please try something original for once, like Canadians or Australians or something? Second, we have an action movie staple of incredibly stupid guards. We have the guy guarding the Cyclops who decides to taunt it, until it knocks him against the cage, takes his keys to let itself out of said cage, and decides to eat his legs for good measure. We have the guy guarding the slaves, who, despite suspecting that Barbara is sneaking through some sort of aid, decides to not inspect the bread she brings them. And we have a teen who, although not a guard, decides to taunt the Cyclops by dangling a dead rat in front of its nose with his bare hand, then turns around to laugh before crying out in excruciating pain because the Cyclops bit off both the rat and his hand. (The saddest part about this last is that we all know someone who would do that.) Third, this movie goes well beyond what it should and attempts to bring some level of social and political commentary to the plot, namely that the rich don’t care about the poor and that eventually, the poor will rise up and fight back. While this is a valid observation, especially in light of the Occupy movement of the past year, such a theme has little if any place in a Sci Fi Channel original movie. And yet they always try…

“Those chains will hold it, and if not, I don’t need my hand!”

My biggest complaint with this movie is that it tried to do too much. It starts as a fairly standard monster movie – there’s a monster terrorizing the countryside, our hero goes out to stop it, and after a few setbacks, the monster is vanquished. At some point, though, it also takes on a fairly standard political intrigue tone – our hero is too successful and ends up being feared by those in charge, finding his life destroyed as they attempt to hold onto their power. The movie tries to weave these two plot lines together, adding into the mix a third sub-plot wherein our hero realizes that the Cyclops is as human, albeit “uncivilized”, as any Roman and thus begins to try to make it understand its situation as a prisoner in the gladiator arena. So by the end of the movie, we have the Cyclops killing the Emperor in a ‘creation-can’t-be-controlled’ idea; Falco killing the Cyclops in a ‘savagery-and-the-natural-world-must-be-tamed’ idea; and Marcus killing Falco in a ‘the-monster-is-actually-man’ idea. And that’s just the last five minutes or so.

Good idea; good idea; inevitable King Kong parody.

Another part that’s been done to death is the idea that our hero has magical make-women-fall-in-love-with-him powers. Barbara gets captured and arrested after the slaves fail to escape from Rome, and she ends up as a prostitute for the gladiators. When she arrives, Marcus defends her against the aggression of another gladiator, saying “I like a fighter.” Clearly all class. After a bit of talking, wherein she reveals that the Cyclops will remain a prisoner until the citizens tire of it, at which time it will be executed, she sleeps with him. She then spends the rest of the movie devoted to him, staring at him with big fawning eyes, hoping against hope he’ll earn his freedom, etc. I can’t claim to be an expert on such matters, but does this sort of thing ever happen, ever, anywhere in the world? Because I can’t imagine it does.

“You’re the only man who talked to me before having sex with me. I am now yours.”

Finally, a minor complaint that is really just because most English-speakers in the world get this point wrong – there’s a moment in the movie when Falco asks every second centurion under Marcus’ command to step forward, to be executed unless Marcus agrees to become a gladiator slave. Falco and Tiberius refer to this as “decimation”. Although modern usage of the word “decimate” means to destroy a large number of something, the actual original meaning, which would be understood at the time of the Romans, being invented by them and all, is to reduce something by one tenth. That is, to truly decimate Marcus’ unit, every tenth man should have been threatened with death, not every second. (If you don’t believe me, either look it up for yourself or check it out here, here, here, or here.)

So that’s it for Cyclops, a densely layered philosophical movie questioning both what it means to be human and the true definition of savagery. With a Cyclops killing a lot of people.