Mars Needs SOMETHING

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“One is starved of Technicolor™ up there.”

I’d been interested in ANGRY RED PLANET ever since I saw pics of the rat-bat-spider-thing in Famous Monsters magazine, probably. Though I came to know it would be disappointing in many ways.

It IS a cool monster. Better joints and better puppeteers could have lifted it a little (when the left leg goes up, the right leg goes down, hinting at an unlikely skeletal structure: the leg bone’s connected to the… leg bone?), but it’s superior to the predictable man-in-suit approach. With that rather nifty design, it could have made an ace stop-motion effect, if the movie had a budget.

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I confess to mixed emotions about the giant amoeba. The idea is sound, and being able to see the most annoying character (Brooklynesque comedy relief astronaut) dissolved in its transparent stomach is a big plus, but the rotating eyeball is goofy. Its endless gyrations, as if the amoeba had gotten clonked on its “head” and was dizzy. made me wonder if this creature were in fact biomechanical, which might have been cool, but it’s still a silly way of suggesting it.

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“There are two kinds of oxygen consumption in this world, my friend.” The prototype for Ben Grimm’s Thing waits patiently to be dissolved in a giant amoeba. This audience member was less patient.

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What are the chances of me seeing two films in two days with two entirely gratuitous flesh-eating plants? The frog-eating bloom in WEREWOLF OF LONDON is just as ickily orificular as this Martian womaneater, but the designers have chosen different organs to base their plant-puppets on…

The film’s best feature is its novel use of tinting and solarisation to make its Mars-scapes truly alien. A cheap trick, but a stylish one — and it blurs the difference between the cramped studio environments and the crude painting — I won’t even call them matte shots because they aren’t usually composited in with anything live action. Having established what Mars is like, the movie feels the need to keep its astronauts returning to their rocket, because somebody has realised that heavily processed colour has an airless, claustrophobic quality to it, and we’ll need short breathers before we start getting restless. But these breathers serve no other purpose — there is no interpersonal conflict between the astronauts (though if I were cooped up with any of them for weeks, I would get at least a BIT snarky. In fact I’d probably take to booby trapping the airlock) and no driving external tension for most of the story. The film moves along in a series of separate blocks — solarised suspense alternating with sitting about chatting.

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Actors are generally repulsive. The “best” is Naura/Nora Hayden, who overplays every moment and grins a lot. The actor, as opposed to the character, comes across as naively likeable. Space is fun!

Film is by Ib Melchior, associated in various writerly ways with PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and REPTILICUS! He has the true pulp writers gift for wacky ideas and total inability to do characterisation or human drama. But most of his work is enjoyably DIFFERENT…

 

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7 Responses to “Mars Needs SOMETHING”

  1. Mars Needs Moms was such a flop for Disney that they decided that “Mars” was word that should never be used. And so their (not bad) adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars became simply John Carter — and flopped because the title character’s name was redolent of NOTHING.

  2. Alternative reading: the new regime at Disney sabotaged the project so their predecessors would look bad. An incredibly irresponsible act.

  3. Possibly. Its happened in Hollywood before.

  4. chris schneider Says:

    Two other Melchior-connected projects which should be mentioned are DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), for which he provided the story, and THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964). The latter was both written and directed by him. It had cinematography by “William” Zsigmond and Joan Woodbury, a Warners actress from the ’30s, as one of the performers, and as a youth I was *most* impressed by its accelerando ending.

  5. I still have that one to look forward to! I’d forgotten about DR2000 — like I said, a good sci-fi ideas man.

  6. Melchior was, moreover, a real WW2 hero. Highly decorated. I suggest checking out his Wikipedia page for fascinating, and I think admirable, details. And he died last year, at the age of – my goodness! – 97. Nor must we forget, please, that he wrote the beloved and very wonderful ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS. Not to mention JOURNEY TO THE 7TH PLANET, as gloriously enjoyable as ARP.
    Re: TIME TRAVELERS – a truly wonderful B movie, graced by one of Forry Ackerman’s many movie guest appearances. FJA was *always* in on the joke.

  7. I’m glad I still have a few Melchiors to look forward to. The American B-movie is a true bottomless well of bizarro enttertainment.

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