Archive for It Came from Outer Space

A 3D Gallery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2010 by dcairns

Just reminding you again that Joe Dante’s THE HOLE is out there, waiting to be seen. I’d have seen it myself by now but circumstances — yes, those damned things again — have so far thwarted me. Dante is particularly interesting in that he’s one of the few using the new technology who has prior experience of 3D filmmaking, via theme park show HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE. And I do think experience tells — James Cameron limbered up for AVATAR by making GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, after all, and Jack Arnold… but Jack Arnold, a good director but not the world’s best, actually defeats my argument by making his best 3D movie, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, first. But that feeds into my other argument, which is that you need a good script.

THE FRENCH LINE’s main asset, 3D-wise, is Jane Russell. The Great lady refused to wear a bikini, feeling that would be indecent, but consented to wear the above (very) little number, which conceals about 10% more skin, but which has the moral advantage of being a one-piece. These things mattered!

You’ll have someone’s eye out with that thing! In THE CREEPS, Charles Band (the son of Albert Band, forming a sort of low-rent Dynasty of Dinge) postulates a mad scientist with some kind of, like vortex, who reanimates the classic movie monsters, but in dwarf form. Dwarfs — 3D — geddit? Me neither. But I’d be willing to go along with the gag, especially as Band’s movies usually feature one or two surprisingly adroit comic performances, were it not for the fact that they also feature skin-crawling misogyny dressed up as chuckles.

The Lumiere Brothers experimented with 3D in 1930, and of course they just HAD to shoot a train arriving at a station, didn’t they? I’m betting that even in anaglyph form, it didn’t have the same impact as the first time they shot it…

3D is, in essence, an attempt to give the audience something extra, but one of the things that rightly makes audience’s suspicious is when that extra something is an attempt to cover for absent values of a more traditional kind. Which is perhaps why filmmakers like Band are drawn to it — they know they can’t make a conventional good film, so they shore up their weaknesses with gimmickry. I wonder if something similar was behind Robert Rodriguez’s use of the technique for his SPY KIDS 3D. He’s somebody who always strikes me as a man in search of the next big “will this do?” I point to the static chimney smoke in the background of one shot of SIN CITY as an emblem of the general prevailing cheese. Now, the movie is modestly budgeted and is seeking to make a little look like a lot, and I applaud that in principle. And had the frozen smoke-cloud, perched atop a smokestack like candyfloss on a stick, been a deliberately stylised effect, I’d have enjoyed it. But it’s a small detail, clearly not meant to be noticed, and it rather offended me in its complacent inadequacy. And I see a similar cheap-heartedness at play in SPY KIDS 3D, where the idea of a virtual universe in which the heroes become trapped is not so much a TRON tribute, as an excuse for really, really cheap-looking CGI.

Thank God for GOG, or vice versa! An inventive, ideas-packed and pleasingly dated sci-fi thriller, it may miss tricks in all three dimensions (an early helicopter flight has the chopper buzz the camera but neglects to provide any POV flying footage, surely the biggest potential thrill, cf AVATAR) but does have the perverse imagination to begin with a very cute monkey getting an injection. Like, “YES! This is what the public wants!”

There are drawbacks — knowing that Herbert Marshall was just trying to pay the medical bills incurred by a defective prosthetic leg takes some of the usual pleasure out of seeing him, but he’s utterly professional and authoritative as ever. Much of the science, and all of the sexual politics, has dated badly, and there’s no sense of humour evident, unless the following is a joke ~ (the two leads have just survived an overdose of radiation) ~

Hero (kissing heroine): How do you feel now?

Heroine: Radiant!

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“All the same I feel sorry for the creature.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by dcairns

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I’m pretty sure Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was the first movie I saw in 3D… unless the TV screening of the turgid FORT TI came first. Certainly CREATURE was the first I saw projected, at my school film society. Man, we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were to have that Film Soc.

The Universal logo at the film’s start may be the most successful bit of photography in the movie: the cloudless globe twirling behind the studio banner has a pleasing heft and roundness. Elsewhere, as is usually the case, the 3D figures resembles paper cut-outs in a toy theatre, flat shapes positioned at different distances from the observer. Perhaps owing to the speed of production, or to inherent limitations in Jack Arnold’s visual sense, the action doesn’t do much to dramatize the interpersonal relationships via framing, something which 3D could conceivably have played a part in. The compositions are generally a cut above the washing-line approach, but not by much.

The explosions that shower rocks on us during the opening VO went down well with the schoolkids, and watching it again 25 years later with Fiona, I enjoyed them anew with our anaglyph copy of the film and our tinted specs. The fossislized creature claw is also enjoyable, and the shot taken through a fish tank is amusing. But by ignoring the human drama, the filmmaker reduces these effects to a few isolated high points.

The cast isn’t bad. Richard Carlson is a lot more effective in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, where he’s given an actual character to work with. Richard Dennings fares better: the poor man’s Kirk Douglas, he’s effective whenever he gets to exploit his neurotic overcompensating asshole schtick. The movie is really about the conflict between the two Richards, except Dennings loses too soon and too easy, and then the gill-man gets him.

Julie Adams is there to be squabbled over by the Richards and the gill-man, and to look fairly awesome in a ’50s bathing suit, conical breasts like torpedoes aimed into the heart of the audience. She doesn’t convince much as a scientist (the script doesn’t allow her to know anything, and hints she’s only along because Dennings fancies her) and she’s required to do the all-time fakiest monster-fall. You know how the girl is supposed to trip and twist her ankle fleeing the monster? Poot Julie doesn’t even manage to take a single step, she just falls on her perfect ass and assumes an ideal position to be scooped up by the hulking amphib.

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Good monster — his lust for a person not only of a different species, genus and family (as with Kong), but of a different order and class, is unexplained, and he doesn’t otherwise display any personality, but he does have a good classic look. It can’t be that easy to design a fish-man, let alone one that can swim gracefully. The water ballet scene is a justly acclaimed highlight, exploiting the 3D, the monster design, Ricou Browning’s swimming and Julie Adams’ figure, with the strange teasing movements of the creature’s webbed claws towards Adams’ ankles creating suspense and an odd kind of humour.

I’m not altogether surprised that Universal have struggled to come up with a serviceable approach to a remake: there’s so little really going on here. Fiona pointed out that Carlson plucking a plant from the lagoon bed is like a quote from Beauty and the Beast — the stolen rose — and the creature’s depredations and romantic yearnings both follow on from this. Adams dropping her cigarette in the crystalline waters, where it drifts past the gaping monster hints at an ecological angle. But nothing is really done with this stuff. When the beast sinks lifelessly into the waters (to return for a couple of plodding sequels) one wonders what the point was — the monster gone, the movie can only fade out as quickly as possible.

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Buy here (flat) if you’re in the UK —

The Mummy / Creature From The Black Lagoon [DVD]

Lost in Space

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by dcairns

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I think this one is a pretty good example of the merits of watching minor, or even bad films. THE GLASS WEB is a Jack Arnold noir made right after IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and featuring Kathleen Hughes, who had played a telephone repairman’s slutty girlfriend in that film (“George always has a healthy appetite,”), as a blackmailing vixen.

The plot is a retread of THE BIG CLOCK, mixed up in various ways that don’t constitute improvements, but might just about pass muster, and the whole thing is set in the world of TV.  Edward G Robinson kills Hughes and tries to frame everybody in sight, while also producing a TV play for his Crime of the Week show, recreating the murder. None of it’s exactly inspired, and the moment I lost faith was when William John Forsythe, having gone over his relationship with Hughes as she puts the bite on him, has a flashback in which he revisits all the events we’ve just heard about, learning nothing new…

But then there’s this scene. Forsythe goes for a walk, panic-stricken after discovering Hughes dead. Arnold, who has restrained himself on the 3D shock effects, suddenly cuts loose and throws object after object into our faces, like an angry chimpanzee operating a tennis serve machine. It’s goofy and fun, but also effective at showing Forsythe’s sudden disorientation and vulnerability. And it’s the only time I’ve seen a filmmaker hold back on the 3D all through a film, and then go NUTS.

Too bad the film’s not better. Hughes, completely venal and without sympathetic traits, nevertheless emerges as the most appealing character because she shows signs of life. Robinson’s activities as an office sneak, maneuvering against Forsythe to boost his own career, are more compelling than his actions as murderer, suggesting that the film might have made a good NETWORK-style assault on television culture and the workplace, rather than a pallid noir imitation. Weirdly, it’s more shocking to see Robinson hinting darkly that his colleague is having marital problems, undercutting his boss’s confidence in the guy, than it is to see him dispose of his mistress (because let’s face it, Eddie was ALWAYS doing THAT).