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AZTEC REX – AN AFFORDABLE (AND GORY) DINO MOVIE

As Aussie director Brian Trenchard-Smith wraps shooting in Hawaii on his latest feature, Aztec Rex, he talks about making this gory creature feature for a seriously low budget – and how he did it. (Extracted with thanks from Fangoria magazine.)

It was producer Jeff Hayes who got Brian Trenchard-Smith involved in Aztec Rex, the kind of movie Brian had wanted to make for a long time. “I directed episodes of The New Mission: Impossible, Time Trax and Flipper for him, plus the remake of the WWII classic Sahara, starring Jim Belushi. He asked me if I would like to make a dinosaur movie, and Aztec Rex is the result.”

And Brian couldn’t have been happier. “Back in the Stone Age [i.e. 1969], I worked on the trailer for the dino flick The Valley Of Gwangi, one of many great Ray Harryhausen films, getting an inside peek at the stop-motion master’s work as it progressed through the final stages. I became determined to make a dinosaur movie. It took only 38 years! [laughs]. You might say Aztec Is Jurassic Park Eats Cortez Or Apocalypto In The Valley Of Gwangi, with a dash of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. I like making genre cocktails that both celebrate and affectionately satirize their antecedents.”

What’s it about? You may well ask – and Brian will answer: “This is the untold story of the first scouting expedition to central Mexico by imperialist colonizer Hernán Cortes and a small band of soldiers in 1522. They are captured by an Aztec tribe who placate the last remaining Tyrannosaurus rexes in the valley with virgin sacrifices. Shocking waste of virgins, if you ask me. Our hero, Rios, a somewhat progressive conquistador, tries to prevent Cortes from enslaving the Aztecs and put an end to the human sacrifices—a time-honored plot for costume pictures of the ’60s. But we have tried, without interfering with the fun of the piece, to inject a little more plot, character delineation and interesting historical detail.”

"my mayhem is as graphic as time and money would allow"

But of course Brian also injected lots of blood …. “my mayhem is as graphic as time and money would allow. Two human hearts are ripped out, a leg is bitten off, intestines spill, ribs are shredded, half-eaten corpses fall onto wet sand, etc. These are the moments in this kind of picture I would have loved to have seen as a kid. Gore fans will certainly get some chuckles.”

Creating all this mayhem and his monster at a low cost proved to be the director’s greatest challenge. “I made this movie in a fully union community for a below-the-line budget of less than US$1 million in 15 11-hour days,” he reveals. “We couldn’t afford any mechanical or prosthetic dinosaur parts, so the creature had to be totally digital - nearly 200 shots in all. Effects maven Elliot Worman did a fantastic job animating the T. rex. Budget restrictions meant I couldn’t have it moving behind foreground foliage; there was no time to rig branches with thin wire to pull them to one side as if the T. rex was moving through, and so on. I had to be constantly aware of what my creative wish list would cost.”

Published: February 14, 2008

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