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augmentation of Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality; shoot pool;
semi-retired chess and tennis player; world politics; music in general, guitar in particular; and kitchen alchemy.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Forbidden Planet: A Revised Review
The 1956 movie, "Forbidden Planet", was the first science fiction film produced for $1 million by a major studio, MGM. The film excels in many aspects, particularly its exceptionally intelligent story. Its flaws are minor. The film is based on a story/screen treatment, "Fatal Planet", by special effects expert, Irving Block and his writing partner, Allen Adler. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume; directed by Fred Wilcox. Filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor. "Forbidden Planet" boasts of great technical achievements in special effects,set and art design for that time period: Art Lonergan's sets of the spaceship, Morbius' home and the Krell laboratory were lavish, massive and stunning. The planet Altair IV's strange but beautiful atmosphere was achieved via a 10,000 ft cyclorama painting. The 6'11" Robby The Robot was a superb effects design, as was the "Id Monster", created by Disney Animator, Joshua Meador. The eerie, all-electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron, was a first, originally planned to be only a special effects subpart of Harry Partch's traditional score. Under the patronage of avant garde' composer, John Cage, the Barrons created a score more experimental than compositional: modeled on emotional reactions of human nervous systems through cybernetics. The story, set in 2257 CE, involves Commander Adams and crew travelling from Earth to Altair IV, some 17 light years away, to investigate the whereabouts of an Earth expedition sent there 20 years earlier. They find only Dr. Morbius, his daughter and their trusty robot, Robby. Morbius tells Adams that the Belleraphon crew died at the hands of a mysterious invisible monster. Morbius tries to discourage the investigation, but to no avail; matters worsen when Adams and Altaira become romantically involved. Suddenly, various members of Adams' crew are mysteriously killed; it turns out that Morbius, having gained great knowledge and power via technology of the Krell - a super-advanced civilization who once inhabited Altair IV - is once again subconsciously creating via telekinetic materialization, the very monster he claimed to have killed the Earth colony. In the end, Morbius is destroyed along with his Id Monster, while Adams, Altaira and remaining crew return safely to Earth as Altair IV blows up via a thermo-nuclear detonation device. FP's story,loosely based on Shakespeare's "The Tempest", features Walter Pigeon(Dr.Morbius)as similar to Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan; Anne Francis(Altaira) as his beautiful daughter like Prospero's daughter, Miranda; Morbius' Robby The Robot similar to Prospero's dutiful servant, the spirit Ariel; Leslie Neilson(Commander Adams) analogous to Ferdinand, Prince of Naples; and Morbius' subconscious "Id Monster" paralleling Caliban, the Witch Child. Comparative Analysis: Similarities between "FP" characters and those of "The Tempest": Morbius and Prospero both live in remote locations, the first on a planet, latter on an island. Both have sheltered daughters who have had little human contact and are to be romantically involved with suitors from afar. Both men have acquired great power and knowledge, Morbius via advanced alien technology and Prospero by magic. Both have non-human faithful servants, Morbius has Robby while Prospero has the airy spirit, Ariel. Commander Adams is the suitor of Altaira and Ferdinand,Price of Naples is suitor of Miranda, both men have honorable titles. Altaira and Miranda are similar young women who have been raised solely by their fathers for many years and know little of the world. Morbius' "Monster of the Id" and Caliban, the Witch Child, are analogous insofar as they are evil, elemental, bestial entities. Both are called "monsters" in respective dialogue. Differences - Morbius is fatally flawed, while Prospero is not. Morbius' possessiveness of both daughter and Krellian knowledge proves to be his undoing. OTOH, Prospero uses his knowledge and power to punish and discipline in a constructive way to benefit of all, including his enemies. Morbius' "Id monster" and Caliban are different in that former is an internally projected-outward materialization, while latter is a true entity unto himself. Prospero always has Caliban under control, even to the end, while this is not the case with Morbius. It is interesting to note that in "The Tempest", Ariel oscillates between visibility and invisibility, while in "FP" , it is the "Id Monster". (The Id, a Freudian conception, denotes an instinctual part of the psyche seeking constant gratification, regardless of the consequences to others; e.g., Caliban attempting to rape Miranda, in spite of previous kindness from her and her father.) The film and play end differently due to character differences in Morbius and Prospero: "Forbidden Planet" on a bittersweet note, and "The Tempest" on one of a fairy tale.
Concluding Comments: Dr. Morbius called the Krell, "A mighty and noble race", yet they vanished thousands of years earlier, leaving one to presume that they had psyches similar to Earthians, and like Morbius to come, succumbed to powerful subconscious "Id Monsters", i.e., the dark sides of themselves. Seen thusly, "Forbidden Planet" is a cautionary tale about various civilizations and individuals limited capacities to control immense power. "Forbidden Planet" always seems to inspire awe and wonder,as well as intelligent discussion and rightfully deserves a place alongside other enduring sci-fi classics as "Metropolis", "War of the Worlds" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".
The Man from Planet X (1951)
A Shoestring Budgetter.
A shoestring budgetter directed by Edgar Ulmer. One of the first (if not the first) alien invasion films. The little alien, a child-like being with a big, solemn face, is known to Scottish villagers as 'the bogey' and strikes mortal terror into their hearts with his HypnoRay, a laserlike beam which reduces them to easily programmable zomboids. His motives are unclear throughout the film until a hypnoidal Dr. Mears 'spills the beans' near its end. Strong points: eerie atmosphere, production design; moody 'film noir' photography, engaging music score and interesting story. Weak points: muddled script(more plotholes than a Stephen King cemetry); stilted dialogue and wooden acting. Recommended only for diehard 1950s sci-fi fans(like myself)- this film is both a joy and a disappointment.
The Puppet Masters (1994)
Entertaining, But Flawed.
An entertaining film, marred by a ridiculous ending. What's that you say? Hmmmm...let's make like the parasitic aliens and tune in on Sam's thoughts: "Yeah Dad, I'll obediently comply with your orders
and go off to stoke my relationship with Mary, while ignoring that I had only recently, and of necessity, fired a bullet into you, and then to effortlessly eradicate any concern whatsoever for your welfare as attendants cart you off to the hospital, in inexplicable contrast to what I had experienced emotionally a few minutes earlier as you lay on the ground bleeding, and me thinking that you might possibly be dead. And I so wish you could be here now, watching me and Mary walk down the street as One in the final shot." But what the heck, I like the movie for the most part - as I did "Predator" with it's absurd ending. "The Puppet Masters", as Maltin has said, lost some of it's potential edge, due to it's well-worn theme (initially made in 1958 via the low-budget, unauthorized version entitled "The Brain Eaters"), but it's nicely paced, with good performances, convincing, if revolting special effects, and a script at least moderately faithful to the Robert A. Heinlein 1950 classic novel bearing the same title. Maltin awarded "The Puppet Masters" with 2&1/2 stars out of a possible 4. Me too.
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
A Cult Classic!
Richard Matheson's seminal sci-fi horror novel, "I Am Legend", published in 1954, is first and foremost, a character study, and any film producer must come to terms with that, if there is to be a successful adaptation from print to screen. The novel was adapted to screen in 1964 as "The Last Man On Earth"; producer Sidney Salkow, hampered by a tiny budget, intuitively did the best he could and came close to pulling it off! What Salkow did was convey the novel's mood, tone, atmosphere and plot in primitive fashion, crudely capturing the gist of the novel - that of one man, Robert Neville's confrontation with a horrendous existential dilemma - to be, himself, that is; or not to be, a plague- induced vampiric shell. While "TLMOE" was not entirely successful in translation, especially in the ending - co-scripter Matheson ultimately distanced himself from the final product - it nevertheless, clearly outshines a later, technically superior 1971 remake, "The Omega Man" in the aforementioned aspects. "The Omega Man", taken on it's own, is an interesting, entertaining film; but when referenced against the novel, falls flat on it's face. (Matheson himself stated that that film and his novel are two completely different animals.) In contrast, "TLMOE" fares much better when referenced: it shows that Morgan's (Neville's) battle is more with reactions within himself than with the vampires as a physical threat per se, as it becomes obvious that the vampires are slow-moving, dull-minded individually, and disorganized as a group, each instinctively and savagely interested only in HIS blood. Besides the perpetually nightmarish nuisance of the vampires, who have a collectively demoralizing effect on him, Morgan (Neville) must fight against the horror generated by the desolation and doom of a post-apocalyptic world, against the loneliness of being the last human on earth and against the agony of tragically losing his wife and daughter to the plague. In the final analysis, "The Last Man On Earth" could be likened to a series of crude, but brilliant brush-strokes of feeling-tones. As such it fully deserves cult-classic status.
Just Fair Entertainment.
I saw this film as a child and recall it being moderately frightening, but when viewed recently as an adult, the scare-factor was zilch. This is the result of the unconvincing special effects and script dynamics; for example, the spider attack scenes appear too late in the film and are totally lame - at the end of each attack scene, the camera angle shifts to the spider´s perspective as it descends upon it´s victims with pincher-jaws. Unfortunately, the jaws are never shown touching the victims, much less multilation or devouring. Contrast this with the classic attack scene in ¨The Black Scorpion¨(1957), where a giant scorpion stings a telephone pole lineman to death with it´s deadly tail. The special effects in this scene so artfully crafted that one can rapidly and deeply suspend disbelief for a quick thrill. Not so with anything in ¨Tarantula¨, nothing thrilling at all, even the climatic battle scene was a letdown. This lack of any thrilling experience left a bland taste, although I did enjoy Leo G. Carroll´s performance as The Professor, the only redeeming feature of the film. I wasn´t nearly as impressed with this film as movie critic, Leonard Maltin, who gave it 3 stars. I give it 2 stars, just fair entertainment. In the final analysis, ¨Tarantula¨lacks spunk.
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
Perfect Popcorn Fodder
In spite of it's multitude of shortcomings, (for example, in the acting department, Colonel O'Bannion's demeanor in the first half of the film seemed more like that of a gigolo than a spaceship commander), I found "The Angry Red Planet" to be a delightfully entertaining film. Very original and creative in certain respects: the CineMagic red filtering gives the Martian atmosphere and landscape an eerie, glowing quality; the artwork, while evident, is impressive, especially the Martian City across the lake; the giant Venus (I mean Martian!) flytrap was barely passable, but the bat-rat-spider-crab creature was cool and well-constructed; the giant ameoba with the rotating eyeball is an incredible, hilarious sight - intended or not, it's got to be one of the most comically imaginative creatures ever conceived! I would place "The Angry Red Planet" in the third tier of the 180+ sci-fi films made during that era - better than dozens of dull, boring, unimaginative low-budgies in the fourth and bottom rung, but well below the second tier ("When Worlds Collide"; "This Island Earth",etc.), and the "cream of the crop" top level, ("Forbidden Planet"; "The War of the Worlds", etc.). Perfect popcorn fodder for both the 50's sci-fi fan and general family entertainment.
The Black Scorpion (1957)
A Fun Popcorn Movie
Viewed as a child in the 1950s, this film made a lasting impression upon me; the scene where a giant scorpion snatches a telephone lineman off a pole and impales him with its tail stinger has remained vivid in memory throughout the years. The trainwreck scene where many giant scorpions kill dozens of passengers remains a classic. Perhaps somewhat inferior overall to "Them"-1954 (the first giant bug movie of the 50s) - "The Black Scorpion" has superior special effects, thanks to stop-motion animation wizard, Willis O'Brien. Unlike "Them" and other giant insect sci-fi films of that sub-genre during that era, "The Black Scorpion's" scientific premise does not involve the effects of atomic radiation, but rather due to long term isolation deep with volcanic caverns in Mexico. Not only scorpions are affected, but worm/catepillar-like creatures and spiders. Richard Denning plays another geologist, as in the earlier release, "The Day The World Ended"-1956; however, the real stars are the marauding, vicious, slobbering giant scorpions. Highly recommended for children and adults with childlike imaginations.
Day the World Ended (1955)
For DieHard Corman Fans.
Director Roger Corman's first sci-fi film effort in 1956, "The Day The World Ended", is a low-budget, marginal film. The story involves an older man(Paul Birch) and his lovely, grown daughter,(Lori Nelson) who are holed up in their house after a nuclear holocaust has decimated most of the worlds population; their home has been protected from radioactive fallout by the surrounding mountains. The setting is limited to the house and its immediate surrounding area; Corman makes some attempt at post-holocaustic atmosphere by using smoke-generators in the surrounding foothills. At the start of the film, Birch and Nelson are suddenly besieged by five survivors, including a burrow - who all inexplicably arrive within a short time of
one another. One of the survivors has been affected by radiation and is horribly disfigured on one side of his face. It struck me as unusual that some of them appeared remarkably clean and well groomed for this sort of situation. The characters are varied and much of the conflict results from the contrasting personalities, especially in regard to the limited supplies and to geologist(Richard Denning's) and tough guy(Mike "Touch" Conner's, later TV's Mannix) heated competition over the young Nelson. Denning and Conners give the best performances in this film, Adele Jergens(Connor's girlfriend) also delivers an entertaining bit when reenacting her striptease dancing act. However, the interactive scenes within the house drag on and
on for most of the movie without a glimmer of the "mutant monster" (Paul Blaisdell); the monster finally appears after some foreshadowing, but is remarkably inept in its attack on Denning and Nelson and quickly dies from exposure to the "pure rain" that comes just in time. Anti-climatic; with Denning delivering the cliche', "Man created him, God destroyed him". Not much comic relief except for the ridiculous looking monster, who wouldn't frighten anyone but the very young (I saw it at a local drive-in when aged 12 or 13, and although it appeared interesting at the time to my youthful eyes, it was certainly not scary), and a laughable scene where Conners sticks his exposed hand out a window to collect rainwater in a container to see if it's contaminated by radiation. Some of the dialogue is atrocious, for example, one of the
characters suggests that human skin exposed to radiation could be called "atomic skin" - I rolled at that one. A one-time viewing of "The Day The World Ended" should be more than enough for most, except for perhaps the most ardent Corman fan.
This Island Earth (1955)
Follow-Up: My Complete Review
The 1955 sci-fi film, "This Island Earth" was spoofed in the film,"MST 3000: The Movie"; but in actuality the film got good reviews from Leonard Maltin, The Motion Picture Guide, not to mention Bill Warren's monumental opus, "Keep Watching The Skies!". The acting in this film is not exceptional, but not dismal, I would say adequate. My favorite character is the Metalunan, Exeter - this dude is one smooth talker, oozing a sinister coolness, while displaying a funky appearance: neatly coiffured white hair, bushy eyebrows, a high indented forehead, coppertone tan and dressed in a conventional Earthian suit and tie (he would have made a great politician or televangelist!). His assistant, Braack, is a carbon copy, as are the other Metalunans. There is an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue and the plot is credible enough. One the technical side, a Metalunan communication device called an Interociter remains a centerpiece throughout the film; it is very versatile, able to incorporate an Interplanetary Generator, Volterator, Astroscope, Electron Sorter, and a deadly Neutrino Ray (all of these are not in the script, rather I got them from the Raymond F. Jones story the film is based upon; however, the Neutrino Ray was demonstrated by Exeter to Dr. Cal Meacham on occasion); Meacham pulled the plug on one of them in his lab, causing it to self-destruct; leading one to wonder if that device were so advanced, then why didn't it have a backup internal power source and safety feature to prevent that sort of sabotage? Moreover, why did it have to rely on an external power supply at all?' The highlight of the film is the voyage back to Metaluna with Drs Meacham and Adams on board; the distant planet is being attacked by enemy Zahgon guided meteors. The Drs were recruited to help the Metalunans rebuild their war depleted uranium supply which sustained their protective atomic force shield- the Earth is rich in uranium supply. The Metalunan spacecraft looks like a cheap, plastic toy pulled from a crackerjack box, but as it cruises through the "thermal barrier", the fiery special effects around the craft look way cool. And the special effects, set design and artwork of the war-ravaged planet and the ongoing battle there are simply excellent for that time period. In addition, the Herman Stein musical score is a tasty delight- the organ parts are simply an ear to behold! No, "This Island Earth" does not have the Oscar-Winning effects of "The War Of The Worlds", the snappy, overlapping dialogue of "The Thing From Another World", the abundant richness of ideas of "Forbidden Planet", nor the spine chilling suspense of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers"; but what it does have is an irresistable charm, the result - I suspect - of having a peculiar combination of outstanding qualities coexisting alongside of much inferior ones. "This Island Earth" should definitely be part of every 50's sci-fi film connoisseur's collection.
Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
Little Cheapie With Some Atmosphere
The best things about this ludicrous little cheapie are young Frank Gorshin's ("The Riddler" on the 1960s TV Series, "Batman") acting performance - a shame he was killed off fairly early in the film - and Paul Blasidell's alien creature designs, the bulbous-headed little devils are so pugnaciously cute as to be irresistably charming. However, to cite the film's shortcomings would take several pages. Probably only the 1950s sci-fi film aficionado would want to watch it with an degree of regularity. The best scene is also the most hilarious, which features a gory battle between one of the aliens and a bull! The alien spacecraft, which is accidentally blown up by a human's cutting torch, is also good for a few chuckles.