Archive for Kronos

Puny Humans

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2008 by dcairns

Danger Island

It’s a real problem, the human characters in giant monster movies. They’re nearly always boring. KING KONG is the exception, as with so many things — in all three versions of KK, the humans are a bit more interesting than they absolutely need to be. The less-is-more economy and pace of the first film make it the winner, of course. Quasi-sequel MIGHTY JOE YOUNG also does OK — Robert Armstrong is even more ebullient and explosive than he is in KK. A shame he never played anything Shakespearian on screen. What do you think: Lear? Macbeth?

The ’70s KONG has Jeff Bridges as a sort of more passionate and committed version of the Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and Jessica Lange playing the character who’s most like herself (slightly dippy blonde actress). The Jackson version has lots of “characterisation”, but doesn’t really understand the basic principle of characterisation through action, which is a bit of a shame since it’s an action film. For example, Adrien Brody is a writer. Yet, once the drama starts (an hour in) he acts exactly like Indiana Jones. I accept that we might need him to be slightly more physical than, say, Truman Capote, but what’s the point of all that set-up if you’re just going to forget it once the running and jumping starts?

Similarly, Jamie Bell is established as a kid who’s never fired a gun in his life, yet soon he’s shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates with the skill of a veritable Lee Harvey Oswald (ah, if only L.H.O. had confined his marksmanship to shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates, how different the political scene might be today).

(I remember seeing the DJ-musician Moby introduce a GODZILLA movie on TV, with the words, “As kids, we were very keen on monster movies, because the alternative seemed to be movies without monsters, and who would want that?”)

I love Ray Harryhausen’s work (he’s coming to the Edinburgh Film Festival — we’ve bought our tickets), but few of his films manage to create endearing human characters to compare to the little rubber guys. The great Lionel Jeffries in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is one (and that film is probably the best film qua filmof Harryhausen’s oevre) and Raquel Welch certainly makes her presence felt in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. but I’m not sure that’s anything to do with characterisation. I think she’s there to make the dinosaurs look more life-like by comparison. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is jam-packed with fascinating thesps, from Nigel Green to Niall McGinnis, and they’re always welcome, but they don’t make much impact as human beings, since their dialogue is a bit stiff and their scenes feel like between-monster padding. Harryhausen’s last opus, CLASH OF THE TITANS, populates Olympus with an improbable throng of thesps (Olivier & Andress! Maggie Smith and Pat Roach!) but they have little of the snazziness James Woods brings to the role of Hades in the Disney HERCULES — the high-water mark of Greek god impersonation in Hollywood cinema.

In a lot of monster attack films, like WAR OF THE WORLDS, the heroes, being unable to do meaningful battle with an enemy so much bigger than themselves, are reduced to running around helplessly and speculating about what might be going on. Spielberg’s version actually gets around this for most of its running time by putting the protagonist and his family in a lot of very dangerous situations, but he comes a cropper on the ending, in which the Earth is saved no thanks to Tom Cruise.

Actually, if we accept JAWS as a monster movie, which I suggest we have to, Spielberg and his writers deserve a bit of credit for serving up engaging, if 2D, characters who actually occupy far more screen time than the sea beast. Of course, his three leading men are very watchable anyway.

I’m going to throw in a mention of TREMORS as well, since that has enjoyable, affable lead characters also. Why is this so hard as soon as a monster rears its head? I suppose these films typically didn’t attract the best actors, as much of the budget went on special effects. And the directors were usually ex-designers, photographers and special effects men themselves, rather than “actors’ directors”. And the writers? Science fiction is full of authors whose ability to deal with wild ideas outstrips their ability to deal with human conversation, so that could be part of it. KRONOS has some decent ideas, but flat characterisation. Imagine a giant monster movie written by Harold Pinter. That would be GREAT. Giant lizard feet could trample Buckingham Palace during the pauses.

THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER, which we watched recently, suffers the same problems of boring scientists and passive protagonists. The film is the work of art director Eugene Lourie, who turned director and gave the world this thing and also GORGO, a man-in-a-suit monster movie much loved for its plot twist of the even larger mummy monster coming to rescue the baby. It’s the DUMBO of kaiju films. Oh, and he did Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, “suggested by” Ray Bradbury’s great pulp-poetry story The Fog Horn, which my mum told me about when I was little, sparking my imagination wonderfully (thanks mum!) and THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, which to my regret I haven’t seen.

The monster in BEHEMOTH is another of those radioactive dinosaurs, whose sinister emanations have the effect of turning bystanders into drawings of skeletons. Nasty stuff, that radiation.

The only human element in the film is Jack MacGowran, an actor incapable of being uninteresting for a second or of underplaying for a frame. Here he’s on good form, having not yet succumbed to the bottle altogether. By the time of Peter Brook’s glum and fusty KING LEAR, MacGowran, though still somehow able to remember his lines, was quite unable to remember what they meant. Some how he still compels attention in that film and in THE EXORCIST (that “cursed movie” which supposedly claimed his life), but he’s much better when he actually knows what he’s doing. It’s such a relief when he ambles into BEHEMOTH halfway through — an eccentric showstopper, a smirking onrush of tics and mannerisms — and such a shame when he and his helicopter are subsumed by a hungry saurian just minutes later. It’s arguable that MacGowran’s thespian rampage is far more damaging to the film than the monster is to London — he makes everything seem so dull by comparison.

The behemoth is played by a glove puppet for most of the film, turning into an animated Willis H. O’Brien creation in the last ten minutes. Too little too late, though all the rampaging provides the usual fun (only kids and monsters actually rampage. Native people go on the rampage, which seems to be subtly different). And we do get a few underwater shots, which for some reason is rare in these movies.

But apart from MacGowran and the above examples, human characters in monster films still seem like an endangered species.

I guess there’s always the Peanut Sisters from GODZILLA VERSUS MOTHRA. Their characterisation consisted of (a) the fact that they were very small, and (b) the fact that they were called the Peanut Sisters. Oh, and I think they sang a song.

That’s more than can be said for Tom Cruise.

Things I Read Off the Screen in Kronos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by dcairns

Come up to the Lab...

LABCENTRAL — the top secret government institution dedicated to spaceresearch, nuclearphysics, and weirdlyconjoinedwords.

Welcome to KRONOS!

He’s a BIG SPACE ROBOT. But he doesn’t have any personality, and neither does anybody else in the film.

the Movie

The liveliest character is the lady scientist, played in an inappropriately sultry fashion by Barbara Lawrence. What made her good was that she doesn’t behave like a standard boring B-movie scientist. Also, she’s not really interested in science, she just wants to go to the cinema all the time. When they blow up the giant space robot at the end she’s relieved, mainly because she can resume necking in the back row of the local Roxy with Jeff Morrow. So she’s the only person in the film one might want to get to know.

If you knew S.U.S.I.E...

“Why do you call the computer SUSIE?” she asks, while standing in front of a sign that explains it. Well, it WOULD explain it if the words on the sign made any sense.

Babs may not be the best scientist in the world, but Morrow and his pal are unbelievably stupid, also blind. The script requires them to speculate about an asteroid approaching Earth, which they watch on their big telescope screen / coffee table. But what they see is blatantly a FLYING SAUCER. Yet they continue to calmly talk about an asteroid for like, half an hour of screen time. This may be the worst example ever of a special effects team failing to read the script.

Hubba Hubba

Gee, can Hubbell actually be a first name? True, this guy IS in charge of a big space telescope, so the name has some resonance. But what were his parents thinking? Theory: they asked Mr. Eliot Snr. what he wanted to name his son, and he tried to say “Hubert”, but he was drowning at the time. Mrs. Eliot chose to respect her husband’s last wish.

Actually, I’d rather see that movie than this one.

News on the March!

The news looks bad! But, on the plus side, a State Survey on Housing is Advocated, and Commuter Fares will not go up, so it isn’t all doom and gloom. Chin up!

The Wonderful Dept of Disney

Hubbell, played by Walt Disney’s evil twin, lurks outside the COMPUTING DEPT. He’s been possessed by an alien force. Handed over to a shapeless psychiatrist, he is treated with electro-shock therapy, which makes him lucid, but they don’t like what he has to say so they drug him, allowing the alien force to take over completely! Another victory for psychiatry.

torn from tomorrow's headlines

Opening the paper, he reads an oddly inaccurate headline which nevertheless corresponds closely with what his “lunatic” space scientist has been ranting about. But, like the good Freudian he is, he takes no notice.

While he’s having convulsions, Dr. Hubbel’s face actually starts to GLOW, but nobody thinks anything of it. It’s that kind of film. Director Kurt Neumann was best known for THE FLY. I… I don’t think he can have been a very clever man.

Captain Kronos

The BIG SPACE ROBOT is kind of OK. When he walks about, he’s a cartoon. Otherwise he’s a tin toy. Sometimes he walks about with his legs hidden behind rocks so he doesn’t have to be a cartoon.

It’s a system!

As we were saying, re the new INDIANA JONES film, the portrayal of Latin American countries kind of sucks. Note how Mexico is always orange. KRONOS is a black and white film, so they make do with portraying the country as mostly fields, with people running about, persecuted by a giant robot from space. It’s frankly insulting.

I'm melting!

The scientists defeat the big guy using some special science. He melts like Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ, only without the dialogue. It might have been quite appropriate for him to moan “What a world, what a world!” before he goes up in a puff of A-bomb test stock footage.

“I came here with a simple dream: a dream of killing all humans. And this is how it must end? Who’s the real seven billion ton robot monster here? Not I. Not… I.” ~ Bender in Futurama.

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