…is another sci-fi film eclipsed in fame by a fragment of it’s own iconography. “Everyone” “knows” the image to your right; you’ll have “seen” it in a thousand places. Possibly a thousand-thousand if you go to any decent number of sci-fi conventions. But can you name that man-in-suit monster without resort to Wikipedia? I couldn’t, until I watched the film again for the first time in far too long…and remembered why it’d been so long in the first place. I’ll take it over Lady and the Tramp or fucking Oklahoma! any day, but as paragons of its era go, it’s no Day the Earth Stood Still. Or Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Technical movie nerds remember it primarily as one of the last films to use three-strip Technicolor, but as far as technicolor SF goes, War of the Worlds will give you more bang for your buck (literally). So what is it about This Island Earth that I like so much? All the pretty, pretty colors? Am I that shallow?
Cameras that printed color on one strip of film were available as early as 1941, which is where Ken Burns found all that color battlefield footage from World War II. If you watched The War you probably noticed how grainy and soft-focus everything looked. It took almost fifteen years to refine that out of the process, but it happened. That’s why movies from before 1954 look the way they do – all the colors are brighter – they “pop” at you – and I’m willing to bet that was this movie’s primary selling point. It looks, in almost every detail, like a parade of pulp magazine covers. Continue reading This Island Earth (1955)
John W. Campbell Jr. published the novella Who Goes There in 1938 and went on to inspire the next generation of alien invasion stories, usually involving duplication, replacement, and the resulting paranoia. Who Goes There escaped the printed page in 1951 and became The Thing from Another World. That same, year Robert Heinlein published The Puppet Masters, which non-Heinlein fans might facetiously describe as “Who Goes There v. 2.0.” (If we want to be dicks about it.) Two years later, our “friends” at 20th Century Fox chose to distribute a little independent horror movie called Invaders from Mars. The year after that, Collier’s Magazine began serializing a novel from 5 Against the House author Jack Finney called The Body Snatchers.
With all these other Alien Invasion films making such a big splash, Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures had to snatch up the film rights. It had no choice, having been around since 1931 and gained a well-deserved reputation for low budget Westerns (which weren’t all that bad), Bowery Boys comedies (which weren’t all that funny) and Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (which really were all that racist and then some). Like any small timer, Monogram hoped for some respect, and so transmuted itself into Allied Artists Pictures. It began fielding “B-plus” films with at-the-time-insane production costs, sometimes climbing north of one million dollars. Continue reading Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
3D is bullshit. You know it, I know it. But movie studios and the technology companies allied with them are, as of this writing, wasting billions of dollars on an international propaganda campaign to convince us otherwise. (I know – “Duh!” right? Well, since I currently can’t spit without hitting a trailer for the 3D Phantom Menace, you get to watch me vent about it.) This has happened before, but those who forget the past are condemned to…do something. I forget what just now. Strain their eyes, get headaches and have seizures if this Cal State study from last August is any indication.
Most of us are old enough to remember the 3D craze of the mid-80s. Even if we aren’t, a casual viewing of Friday the 13th Part 3-D or Jaws 3-D will tell us everything we need to know. But tonight I want to go back – way back – and talk about the wave that struck Hollywood in 1952.
A little-remembered man-eating lions epic called Bwana Devil formed the leading edge of that one. One day, I hope to read someone with a bit more clout than I correctly label Bwana Devil “the James Cameron’s Avatar of its era.” Then as now, the novelty of a “new” viewing format (which is as old as film itself, but never mind that now – 3D is the future!) allowed slack-jawed idiots to pretend the crappy, derivative film they just watched somehow “immersed” them in a “new” and/or “visionary” “experience.” Continue reading It Came from Outer Space (1953)
There is no human achievement more complex, daunting or inspirational than the “conquest” of outer space. I put “conquest” in sarcastic quotes because we really haven’t conquered jack shit. We’ve played golf on our nearest satellite and left a plaque for the cockroaches to find. By the standards of SF in the mid-60s, we’re way behind schedule.
We should’ve discovered our tenth planet by now. Instead we’re down one and the space shuttle’s been mothballed. Robots do all our exploring for us because it’s cheaper and “safer.” As if anyone said space would be “safe.” We’ve known there were monsters out there since before we knew how out there could really be. Martians invaded in 1898, 1938 and 1953. Earth itself faced off against (not just any ol flying saucers but) the Flying Saucers in ’56. The Mysterians came for our women in ’57, Krankor came for our rocket fuel in ’59, and in ’61 the Neptune Men came for…umm…yeah…something…I forget because that movie was so boring. King Ghidorah’s arrival in 64 was only the icing on the cake. And in 196X, we discovered Planet X. Continue reading Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)
How about I take cheap shots at a film I love for a change? I seem to be running on a solid three-to-one ratio. And Japan was still synonymous with “cheap” back when this film came out, despite it being the most lavish Godzilla movie ever made…a title it would hold for a full year.
As I’ve said, with Mothra vs. Godzilla the Ishiro Honda repertory company came into the full force of its power. Its international success, combined with that of its prequel, King Kong vs. Godzilla, ensured everyone, from series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka on down, access to more cash. This allowed the Godzilla series, for a few brief, shinning years, to top itself with each subsequent entry by doing something anathema to modern Hollywood. I think they used to call it “innovating.” Continue reading Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)