Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dino Squad - Attack of the Brain-A-Saurus

We open on the lighthouse where Moynihan is, I’m not kidding, giving the kids check-ups. Giving their dino forms check-ups anyway. Even though she admits she doesn’t have the equipment to do anything more than check their tongues and listen to their hearts. Wonder if she hasn’t got the equipment as a result of her supposed limited funding or the inexplicably low demand to medically analyze living dinosaurs in her state. You really can’t tell with this show.

Rodger comes in listening to “some rocking beat,” but his ipod turns out to actually be a gizmo he invented that pick up someone’s heartbeat, even if they’re a dinosaur. So he was dancing to the sound of his heart. Who does he think he is, Danny John-Jules?

He declares this “the greatest advancement in dinosaur health care in the past 250 million years” because with it “you can listen to our hearts and see them at the same time.” She was able to listen to their heartbeats anyway, now she can do it from arm’s length when she doesn’t have to worry about any of them getting snappy anyway.

Moynihan says she’ll forward the results to a herpetologist friend of hers (is there any field she doesn’t have a friend in?) to get a better idea of the results. Will it not be evident that the examinations were on reptiles too big to be alive anymore? Or does she know whoever this is can be trusted to keep their mouth shut?

Rodger basks in Moynihan’s praise that he’d win the Nobel Prize for dino medicine, if there was any such thing. Max warns him not to get a big head, and he and Fiona talk about things they’re better at than Rodger (football and motorcycle racing). He counters those are things you get better at through practice, and some people are just smarter than others. I don’t want to sound like a douche or anything, but some people do just excel in the academic arts, either through talent or plain old interest.

“You’re all very special in my eyes,” Moynihan breaks this up. The writers do know that even though they all turn into dinosaurs, she’s not in fact their mom, right? She goes on to say self-confidence is a powerful thing, but the scene cuts away before she says anything about making sure it doesn’t turn into arrogance. Maybe that explains the gob-smacked looks on everyone’s faces.

Things switch to Veloci’s lab, where he’s mad that a new formula for his mutation juice (“primordial ooze”) only makes animals monster out when they’re scared. He’d hoped adding petroleum to the mix would make the changes more complete. He doesn’t say why he added that, but with a chill I think I may have watched this show too much because I get the feeling it’s because petroleum’s “fossil fuel” and its inclusion would make a dinosaur mutation formula more effective in the mind of a bad writer. He orders it dumped into the ocean.

Because she has cameras trained on where his company’s pipes let out but thinks it’s better letting a bunch of teenagers deal with the results than turning the tapes over to the authorities, Moynihan sees him doing this. Fiona grouses that the evil mastermind who turns animals into dinosaurs and terraform the world to be more hospitable for them has no concern for the environment. I know, what a jerk, right?!

Max and Moynihan notice the ooze is acting strangely, in that it’s floating on top of the water instead of dissipating. That’s the real reason they had Veloci add petroleum to the juice, but is that strange? They’ve only been looking at it for like a minute, and the blob they swam through in the pilot (which was written by the same guy as this episode, thank you) didn’t dissipate in the water either. At least not until long after they were done with it, and they make it sound like they’ve seen Veloci do this a lot.

Max thinks they should do some more research on it before going near it. I’m all for knowing what you’re up against, but what exactly would they be able to learn there in the lighthouse that they haven’t already? While leaving the blob of dino juice out there free to mutate anything that gets too close.

Rodger comes in with his new invention, another stupid-looking gun that acts like a super vacuum cleaner. He wants to get right out there, but Max says if he’s learned anything from football it’s you’ve got to practice. And if you want to be good at saving the world, you have to recognize a threat and neutralize it as quickly and efficiently as possible. With emphasis on the quickly.

Will fish shy away from the floating dino juice? Do most fish stay deep enough that this is a problem they can afford to wait on? Remember, the kids were menaced by a shark when they went swimming through dino juice in the pilot, and they stayed on the surface the whole time. I don’t see how this is something they should sit on, and like I said I don’t see how they’d learn more without getting out there to see it for themselves.

Moynihan ends the discussion by praising the value of practice, and I love how she says “even” astronauts practice on the ground before doing their thing in space. As if they’re not working in extremely expensive operations where even the slightest mistake could mean their death. However, she adds the blob of dino juice is expanding “at an alarming rate.” No cliché left unturned.

Once they get to the dino juice slick in their stupid dinosaur-faced boat, Rodger hands out neoprene tubes to link together and form a ring around the dino juice, preventing it from spreading any further. Max asks if Rodger’s sure he doesn’t want to practice, and I ask what there is to practice. Their ability to connect one tube to another tube? Especially with that blob getting bigger every second. I admit I get little sense Max is supposed to be “the leader” after watching this for a while, but as the quarterback I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be the guy who’s good at strategy and thinking on his feet. Does he really think that’s something they need to rehearse, and does he think taking their time’s better than containing a rapidly-expanding flood of mutation juice as quickly as they can? They do form the ring and stop the spread without any problems, or any practice.

Rodger bumps the ring with the boat and pushes the dino juice into a fog bank while trying to get close enough to suck it up. Fiona suggests maybe she should drive, so the episode’s decided to actually raise a valid counterpoint to Rodger’s runaway arrogance. Having the person most suited for the job do the job’s a bit different than saying these guys who’ve been saving the world together for a while and should know a few things about working with each other need to practice a simple task before they do it for real.

With Fiona steering they do get close enough for Rodger to suck up the dino juice (what do they do with that stuff when they’re done with it?), and he praises his vacuuming. Max and Fiona ask about their “slick corralling” and “slick steering” and I ask what happened to them thinking Rodger’s the one with the big head.

They get a call from Moynihan, who goes by the radio handle “mothersaurus” (sigh), saying she’s picked up some blips on the dino radar not far away (double sigh). They follow her directions to a little island where a ship’s run aground.

Fiona recognizes it as belonging to an organization that rehabilitates injured animals and releases them back into the wild, but Buzz recognizes that something with BIG feet was there before them. Before we move on to them following the tracks inland, I love how safe this show is that Max automatically assumes the crew escaped in the life boat and they leave it at that.

The tracks just end after a while, but Fiona finds the tracks of a baby gorilla leading off in another direction and assume the mutant scared it away (I won’t ask how Fiona knows what baby gorilla footprints look like). Buzz asks how they’re supposed to find the thing without footprints to follow, and…damn. Look for the twenty-foot monster. You’re not trying to find a dropped contact lens, guys. They don’t stop to think why it suddenly stopped leaving tracks, for that matter.

Rodger asks, “what detects mutants, ooze, and came from the magnificent miracle between my ears?” His scanner, by which he means the thing that was checking out heartbeats with before, I think. It can do that too? Then why did he just describe it like we should’ve known about the mutant-detecting feature all along? Before he gets a chance to use it, Caruso breaks it when he tries to use it like a backscratcher. So the only point in mentioning it could detect mutants was to kill a minute of runtime. And set up “Scents and Scents Ability.”

Fiona suggests they go dino and sniff out the mutant. Why not have Buzz change and then circle the island looking for something giant and semi-prehistoric? Yeah I know it wouldn’t work, you know it wouldn’t work, but they didn’t watch the scene in Veloci's lab.

Max goes dino, and because he suddenly has to prove he can compete with anyone on the team without using his brain for some reason, so does Rodger and the two wander through the jungle sniffing for giant monsters. This results in Veloci picking them up on his long-range dino detector and scrambling a chopper to go capture them. Also around here we get the start of a stupid, unfunny and pointless running gag (my favorite kind, just ask Stephenie Meyer) where Caruso decides to capture their hunt on video with his cell phone and share it over the internet when they get back.

As it turns out, Rodger does find the monster first. He smells something “dangerous,” but what Max smells “isn’t threatening at all.” It turns out to be the cute little gorilla baby. Who has a tail. And can jump into a human’s arms.

Rodger gives her a balloon (something else his vacuum does), but when the little primate pops it, she freaks out and turns into the giant thing they’ve been looking for. Max dinos up to keep it busy, but when Buzz trips trying to get around his own t-rex buddy to get a good shot, Max tries to help him up.

With Max making the brilliant move of turning his back on his enemy in the middle of a fight (one that’s bigger than he is and has usable arms, yet), the gorilla slips away from him, grabs Buzz, and escapes into the jungle. You know, it’s sort of hard to focus on how the supposed lesson of Rodger needing to learn he’s not always right when it’s everybody else who’s coming across as stupid, useless and incompetent.

To quote a great madman, never, ever do this.

The kids reason the gorilla grabbed Buzz wasn't because she was going to crush him, but because he was nice to her and she thought the giant carnivorous lizard was going to attack him when it turned to face him. After getting to the top of the tallest mountain on the island, he lets her listen to his ipod, she dances, and calms down and changes back to normal. The others show up in no time, because it’s not like they had to climb a mountain to get there and Buzz is the only one who can fly.

Yeah, that really tall one.

Rodger wants to de-ooze the gorilla, but Caruso stops him because it would be a lame ending to his video. He spots Veloci’s chopper approaching and the others want to go dino but Rodger chides them for having brute force as a knee-jerk reaction to trouble. Fiona reminds him of all the mistakes he’s made on this trip. Like when? Maybe it was when Max said they needed to rehearse sticking lengths of tubing together? Or was it when Caruso used his delicate scanner as a blunt instrument? Oh, wait, it must’ve been when Buzz wasn’t looking where he was going when trying to line up a shot (learned to run and gun from playing Halo, probably), fell down and Max let the monster out of his sight to help him up. Which was what made her grab Buzz and run away with him! Or, no! It was when Caruso stopped Rodger from de-oozing the gorilla, which if he’d done they’d have completed their job and would be on their way out of there already.

If Rodger didn’t come up with the plan to contain the dino juice, he at least had enough intelligence and possibly faith in his teammates to think sticking lengths of tube together wasn’t something that required practice. He found the mutant they were tracking first. He not only invented the scanner they used to find it after she got away, he fixed it after Caruso broke it by acting like a total moron. Yes, he bumped the dino juice with the boat, but that only stopped them from collecting it for another thirty seconds after they’d already contained it. Yes, he gave the balloon to the gorilla that scared her, but it’s not as if he or any of them knew they were up against a different kind of mutant.

Was Caruso using the scanner as a backscratcher deliberate? Yes. Was it stupid? Yes, because Caruso’s this show's Wheeler and he's who they go to when they need a character to do something stupid, and his action cost them something useful. Was Max taking his attention off his opponent deliberate? Maybe not, but it’s unnerving for someone who's in an activity where huge guys try to run into him as hard as they can. He’s lucky he’s in a kids’ show or he’d have ended up like Giant.

I’m finding the balloon thing hard to consider a screw-up considering it solved the mystery of what they were after, and Rodger was the one who was in the right about what they (or rather, he) found being a potential danger.

Shut up, Fiona. No, Rodger’s record today isn’t perfect, but if anyone should be learning from the day’s events it’s the rest of the group.

In fact, Rodger’s the one who points out that if they go dino, Veloci will have a way easier time finding them. Not just because they’d be huge and prehistoric, but because his scanner can detect dinosaurs. If they stay human, they’ll be harder to spot and his radar won’t pick them up so they can just make their way back to the boat and leave. They listen to Rodger too, so what’s the moral supposed to be again?

I haven’t forgotten how I kept ragging on Twilight for the constant overtures to Edward’s perfection, and you’d think I’d be annoyed at Rodger for always being right. However, mainly my annoyance with Edward sprang from how the book tried to tell us he was one thing, but showed him to be another. He was supposed to be the ultimate boyfriend but we were shown someone who seemed more like the villain. This episode’s likewise supposedly trying to make Rodger out as someone who’s a little too convinced of his greatness, but instead shows us someone who’s surrounded by incompetents and has pretty much every right to think he’s smarter than they are.

The episode keeps trying to hammer home its stupid moral by having Veloci’s guys continue to cut them off. Moynihan guesses it’s because Veloci can detect the ooze Rodger’s still got in his vacuum pack, but because she doesn’t say she can detect it too, I can only assume that’s an educated guess on her part. This leads to Rodger thinking he’s “even more of a failure,” and deciding he should be “sticking to what I’m good at and letting you do what you do best.”

If I were writing this episode, I would’ve let Rodger have some successes for a while, but gradually the problems get bigger and bigger. Show that these are things the other kids can handle because the problems call for things they’re good at, and have Rodger get mad as he tries to compete in areas where he’s unskilled and meets little success, especially compared to the others. Finally, have them face a problem that’s so big none of them can handle it alone, and have Rodger admit there are things he can’t do and they need everyone’s help to get out alive.

This…this comes a bit out of left field. Yeah, Rodger’s slipped up a few times this episode, but the others haven’t exactly been coming across as anyone with a good handle on things.

Since they’re evidently unwilling to do anything permanent about Veloci even when they completely outnumber and outmatch him, a quiet exit seems like the ideal way out. And with how Veloci was never able to track the kids by the ooze sucked up by their guns before, why would Rodger think he suddenly could? The show doesn’t bother to explain what’s different now, and I'll point out that nothing was done to show Rodger's mutant scanner was being screwed up by the ooze in his vac-pack, a possibility brought up by Moynihan when she mentioned how Veloci's probably tracking them. Instead, when the scanner didn't work it was messed up after Caruso used it as a back scratcher, but then shown able to tell them where the gorilla had taken Buzz after Rodger got a minute to fix it.

I can see how this might be a lesson in how even a brain as powerful as Rodger's can’t anticipate everything, but it sort of feels like the universe is punishing Rodger for not knowing he’s in an action cartoon and thinking they’re allowed to leave without a battle sequence.

What I’m saying is this episode’s badly written even for Dino Squad, and doesn’t make much of a case for its central point (coming off a 500-page book that did the same thing, writing this review wasn’t fun). The fact that their solution to being surrounded is to have some of the group (including the gorilla) change to their super-powered forms and fight it out doesn’t make me think the others have their bright moments too.

Buzz goes dino and lets himself be grabbed by a claw from Veloci’s helicopter, which makes the gorilla turn into her monster form at about four times the size she was before (she could pick up a person then, now she can pick up a helicopter). I’m pinning that one on bad animation rather than bad science. In any case, she grabs the helicopter. Veloci thinks he can fight King Kong as a raptor, and he’s beaten by the gorilla’s breath.

Veloci’s goons try to catch the dino-kids with guns that shoot what I guess is tar, because you know, dinosaurs and tar pits, and there’s an awful pun from Rodger to confirm it (if you really must know, it’s “That’s some tar-iffic teamwork”). The kids win by dumping them in their own tar. Because t-rexes have prehensile tails.

With the villains seen off (I have no idea what happened to them, but it’s not as if that’s a change in the writing quality), the kids finally de-ooze the gorilla as she cradles Buzz in her arms and Caruso gets the Hollywood ending he wanted. They mention they’ll be giving the gorilla back to the relocation people, and I notice there didn’t appear to be any other animals back on that island. Did they die when it ran aground? Did sweetums there eat them after they scared her?

Rodger apologizes, “I just thought being smart meant my ideas were better.” They were, because your friends acted like complete idiots back there.

“Confidence is a good thing, Rodger. But knowing what you don’t know can be as important as knowing what you do know,” adds Max. WHATever, Mister Turned-His-Back-On-King-Kong.

Caruso’s rhapsodizing about the awesome little slice of life he captured on his cell phone and how he’ll get an Oscar for sure. Rodger bursts his bubble by telling him at the resolution he had it on, you can only capture a few seconds of footage, and only the only thing he recorded was footage of himself. Not much without his fruity hand cream, is he?

And you thought my reviews couldn’t get any more incoherent than the sparkly vampire ones.

1 comment:

  1. See, this is what happenes when you make a show with more focus going in on how much you can hammer the moral in instead of making a decent story and interesting, likable characters. I actually agree on one of the points you made, having a situation where Rodger and the others are faced with task and challenges they are not good at and either learning from it (as in finding ways to overcome it using their own methods and such) or learning that having some faith in the team can go a long way yadda yadda...

    From what I can gather from the review, Rodger was in the right in so many points but the episode is so focused on making him out to be in the wrong they never really set up a true situaiton for him to be wrong but instead rely on the others to tell him his wrong. But in the end, even this doesn't work because their actions were no better than Rodger who more or less provided much of the carrying weight in the story by giving everyone what they needed to through the mission.

    Whomp whomp.

    The biggest gripe I always have about DS and shows like it that they were too carried away with getting the message out first rather than the story and by that I mean they try way too hard to get a simple-ass message of 'don't be a pretentious jack-ass' into a story that has no meat or even logic to it, especially for a show that tried so freaking hard to be the best edumutainment show on the block.