For me, being a Brit, i don't have much knowledge the legend of Paul Bunyan apart from an episode of The Simpsons and stuff i've read on Wikipedia. However, the tale of Paul Bunyan is quite popular in the U.S.A so much so that director Gary Jones (Mosquito) decided to make a film about it. Shawn Francis has the low-down on the film so check out his review of AXE GIANT after the jump...
Written By Shawn Francis
This review will mark the second movie I’ll have covered about homicidal Giants (see my Jack The Giant Slayer review on You Won Cannes) and also the second that falls under the ‘Fairy tale movie adaptation’ sub-genre, though now that I think about it probably falls more under the ‘folklore movie adaptation’ sub-genre than anything else, if you want to get more precise about it.
When I first heard about this movie a couple of years ago it was simply titled, Bunyan, and it sounded a bit absurd, but the more I thought about what I knew of Paul Bunyan—a giant of a man that wields an ax—the more sense this horror movie made. And what made this never-before-explored legend (on a horror movie level that is) all the more intriguing was that it was going to be helmed by Mosquito (1995)/Spiders (2000) director, Gary Jones.
My only concern was how Jones was going to do the FX for the now homicidal Paul Bunyan. If it was going to be an all CGI character I would never be interested in seeing it. Why is that, you may ask? Because CGI monsters and characters are never convincing in low budget independent movies. Just look at 99.9% of what the SyFy channel makes in-house. I was eventually relieved when I saw the first trailer years later and “Paul Bunyan” turned out to be basically a man-in-a-monster suit greenscreened into the movie.
Good, I thought. I can work with this.
But before I start preaching the pros of this movie, there are a few cons I need to point out. Despite the greenscreening and the use of miniatures in the movie, Jones still decided to employ some CGI. Despite all the old-fashioned cinema techniques I could see in that trailer, I kind od knew he would. All I can say is thank God Jones doesn’t have the SyFy channel mentality and the CGI I took issue with was only on screen for a short period of time. It was mostly Babe, the Blue Ox, and one of the actors that got computer generated for a scene where Bunyan picks her up by the legs and gawks at her that had me momentarily cringing and wishing these two had been practical effects somehow.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, for the most part the integration of Murderous, Giant Paul into the movie was very well done indeed. I was very impressed, too, with the practical FX used to actually create Murderous, Giant Paul, and Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps did all that.
The movie starts out with a prologue. It’s 1894 in Minnesota, and what appears to be a settlement is cooking up a huge animal for lunch while Dan Haggerty’s (Grizzly Adams, Elves) character, Foreman Bill, heads out into the snowy words to chop down some trees. By the time he gets back every one has been horribly killed. It’s not long before he comes face-to-face with the deformed axe wielder who did it. After a brief struggle Dan quickly departs for angelic lands unknown as he’s shoved into the giant circular saw inside this saw mill.
Back in 21st century Minnesota the movie focuses on five teens, CB (Amber Connor), Zack (Jesse Kove), Trish (Jill Evyn), Marty (Clifton Williams) and Rosa (Victoria Ramos), who have all been sentenced to one of those first time offenders camps where they are carted up into the woods and demeaned for a period of time by a Sergeant Hoke (Thomas Downey) in hopes they will learn from their mistakes do the right thing the next time criminal urges start to well up. Their caseworker, Ms K (Kristina Kopf), accompanies them hoping to be the ying to Hoke’s deplorable yang.
First night at their cabin they meet crazy old Meeks (Joe Estevez—Martin Sheen’s younger brother) who lives up there on the mountain, and is indeed a few drinks shy of a good time. He spouts some cryptic stuff to the kids as they bond over their campfire, acts nuts and then takes off.
Basically, everything’s playing out as planned, until during a moment of respite from an exhausting hike, two of the kids, Zack and Marty, split from the group and come upon the skull of some animal that once had great horns. Zack thinks the horns are cool and decides he wants to keep one as a memento.
Paul Bunyan sees that someone has violated Babe’s final resting site and goes in search of them, eager to get that horn back. It’s not long before Buyan and the city dwellers come face-to-face back there in thar woods. And it’s not hard to guess what transpires next. Thirty-foot tall Paul doesn’t go anywhere without his gianormous axe and the expected gore ranges from split in half bodies (horizontally as well as vertically), the loss of crucial body parts like heads, an impalement, and death by being swung violently into trees.
Thanks to another more pivotal visit from crazy ass Meeks we learn the tall tale truth of “Paul Bunyan.” Did you know his real name Gunnar Wolfgang Bunyan? Neither did I. His physical deformities weren’t the most amazing thing about him either. He grew. Fast. But mentally stayed a child and his only friend was an equally deformed blue Ox he called, Babe.
Meek goes on to explain that murder spree we saw him commit in the prologue was because Haggerty and his men killed Babe and used the animal as food. But no murderous deed goes unpunished. The nearby townsfolk threw Bunyan in a mine and sealed it shut for his punishment, but he got out and has lived up there in thar mountains for longer than anyone cares to remember.
Did I mention that CB chick is the Sheriff’s daughter? No, I guess, I didn’t. Well, she is, and Sheriff Ray Tanner (Tim Lovelace) gets pulled into this whole bloody mess when he goes up to check things out.
The kids, despite being punks on one level, are likeable, and relatable. Sgt. Hoke, while being your typical douche with delusions of grandeur, is also somewhat relatable, more so when in his dying moments he tries to distract Buyan to give the survivors enough time to hightail it back to the cabin.
Good for you, Hoke. Good for you.
There’s a vague King Kong vibe where CB resembles a girl Bunyan had a crush on back when he was more normal sized, but it’s not played out to the extreme Kong’s was, and the major action piece of Bunyan running after a pickup with Tanner in the back unloading his rifle upon the Giant reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex was pursuing a jeep with Jeff Goldblum seated in the back trying in vein to stay in the vehicle and in one piece. Nice homages, if that’s what they were.
Tim Lovelace made some trivia comments on his Facebook about the movie:
- "Ray Tanner" was also my name in Mosquito. It was also Bruce Campbell's name in Moon Trap.
- The camouflage coat Bryan Jones was wearing in the final shootout scene was the same one worn by John Reneaud 20 years ago in Mosquito when he was killed by a giant mosquito.
- The Carhart bibs worn by one of the militia members in the final shootout are the same ones worn in Mosquito by the guy who gets the stinger in the eye in the boat scene
- When I walk into the bar and say hi to "Ronnie" that was a tribute to Ron Asheton who was in Mosquito and Dead City with me. He was a good friend of both me and director Gary Jones. He passed away 4 years ago.
Interesting that Lovelace’s character in this movie was named the same as the one he played in Mosquito, one could go so far as to theorize that this is the same character and for those fans of Mosquito curious as to what became of Ray, well, take a look at this movie and you’ll see he eventually became a Sheriff.
Axe Giant was filmed across three states, California, Ohio and Michigan, and the terrain Jones chose to showcase is gorgeous. I may be a bit biased here since I currently live in the country myself and rural set genre flicks do make my radar more than urban-based ones.
There’s no aspect ratio listed on the back of the DVD, but from the looks of it it’s either an anamorphic 1.77:1 or 1.85:1 one. Either way the transfer is crisp and clear. I had no problems with the audio either and the options you get in this department are both in English with either a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track or a 2.0 Stereo.
And here’s what you get for extras. I personally like extras, especially commentaries and with Axe Giant you get two: one with the director and actors Tim Lovelace, Kristina Kopf and Chris Hahn (Paul Bunyan) and one with the producer and actors Amber Connors and Tom Downey. Both are informative and neither repeats the information of the other. You also get two deleted scenes, which seems like they were excised for pacing, and their exclusion doesn’t really detract the story in any fashion, and, finally, a theatrical trailer and a teaser.
In closing I’d would completely recommend this flick to die-hard B-movie fans. One final piece of trivia, actor, Jesse Kove, who plays Zack in the film, is the son of actor, Martin Kove, who you may have seen in an assload of B and A movies, most notably as the “evil” karate instructor from the original Karate Kid (1984). I can’t believe I had to put the word, ‘original,’ in front of that movie. I feel so old now.