I apologize for the lack of material these past weeks.  I needed to devote some time to other things, and took a break. A break that turned out to be much longer than intended. Although this may be an old topic at this point, I feel that I say a few things.

Honestly, this is as much a comparision as it is a review. While the remake of the Day the Earth Stood Still is a fair movie in itself, it strays considerably from the intent and theme of the 1951 original. Its the same situation as King Kong (2005).  Just as that movie drastically changed the plot from the original by altering the relationship between the damsel and the monster, the new Day the Earth Stood Still alters the plot by giving a certain pivotal character a certain disposition.

For those that have yet to see either the original classic, the general plot has to do with how an alien might percieve and react to humankind if it had a horrible first impression. What happens is quite predictable. We see it in all of these 50’s era monster/space invader flicks. The military rolls out the weapons and considers the visitor a threat, and this leads to drastic problems. The visitor, who answers to the name Klaatu, begins to realize that humans are violent and divided. They cannot even agree to give him a proper audience. At least, that is one supposed reason the US government refuses to let Klaatu speak before the UN. Even so, he is determined to make a mysterious announcement to the world, but refuses to tell any one person exactly what that announcement is, although it is clear that it is important. Eventually, he gets through to a celebrated scientist, and the two concoct a plan to get the military to understand that it won’t resolve anything with brute force.

The remake differs radically from this by making the alien being more unknowable and threatening, sometimes even violently so.  His intentions are incredibly hostile, and he manipulates those around him coldly. Whereas viewers see  the old Klaatu as curious and compassionate, the new one is detacted, fatalistic, and dangerous. This is how the remake is a thriller, whereas the original was simply a sci-fi drama. Klaatu went from being the main character to a potential villian. The tension and the seemingly inevitable apocalyptic senario are bound to sell box office tickets, but unfortunately it misses the point entirely. The alien race’s cosmic views seem almost nihilistic, and incredibly hypocritical. It makes no sense for an extremely intelligent race to punish destructive violence with its own destructive violence.  To a certain extent, this is also true for the original Klaatu, but in that version he made threats out of desperation rather than cynical xenophobia.

Now of course, the reason a monster movie becomes successful is when it emulates something we truly fear. In the 50’s, that fear was communism and widespread nuclear destruction. This is why Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)and Godzilla (1956) became so popular. They were symbolic of real threats, but could be quickly confronted and dealt with by a quirky scientist and/or a small military outfit. Today, the big scare is terror, mostly inspired by 9/11. The most modern monster movies seek to emulate the devestation of that tragedy- Cloverfield (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), and finally, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still all portray seemingly helpless citizens with no real power trying to survive in seemingly apocolyptic situations. There is little room for escapist heroic fantasies in this approach. In fact, some of these movies don’t even attempt to provide much in the way of comic relief, leaving the films without a lack in tension. In a time where people see so much of this kind of bedlam on the news, it seems illogical to deviate for the heroic Hollywood fantasy when movie goers need escapism now more than ever.

That being said, this approach to monster flicks can work wonderfully, depending on how they are presented. Cloverfield is an excelent model for monster flicks that resemble disaster films. Often, images of terror or disaster are recorded on low quality electronic devices, so JJ Abrams was smart to go with the Blair Witch Project approach. It was also effectively advertised for what it was- a horror film, as opposed to a sci-fi drama that happens to have monsterous creatures in it.

The Day the Earth Stood Still takes the less successful path of War of the Worlds. Its classic Hollywood action movie look gives the movie-goer the impression that the film will have a traditional story structure. Instead, they get doom and gloom in the extreme, with no relief in sight. In the original Day the Earth Stood Still, there wasn’t such an omnipresent feeling of dread, and for those that have seen both the original and the remake, the difference is unmistakable, and possibly somehow inappropiate.

I do have to give the filmmakers some credit though. The explanation for why Klaatu looks human was fairly interesting and well thought out. The image of the alien being as being more of a celestial being rather than a stereotypical grey man with spiffy toys also has a certain appeal, even if they take it a little too far sometimes.

If this film was not a remake, it would be much easier to appreciate. In some ways, the grim Klaatu works. It just isn’t the same plot at all, and even by itself it seems a little forced. Regardless, there probably isn’t an actor in Hollywood that could be better for such a role than Keanu Reeves. He seems to have mastered the role of the Shatner-ish speaking sci-fi demi-god. The visuals are obviously mesmerizing. The only thing it is missing is the comic relief. But when you choose to remake a classic, certain things will be expected of it, and even with this new interesting spin on the plot, it wasn’t thought out as thoroughly as it should have been.

5.6

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I guess I get to say I called this one. Well, kind of anyway.

It turns out that not only are they going to remake Barbarella  and Plan 9 from Outer Space, but there are possible plans underway to remake one of the movies on my poll in the last post. Believe it or not, J. Michael Straczynski has been publicly talking about redoing Forbidden Planet. However, according to Filmstaker.co.uk, he says that what he is planning isn’t truly a remake, and it won’t even involve the same plot or the same look as the original. The site also hints at the possibility of producer Joel Silver being involved somehow.

The trouble is that if screenwriter claims that what he’s working on is no remake nor  re imagining, what the hell is it? No one seems to know, and many seem to have become rather cynical about it. To be fair, many remakes of classic sci-fi movies don’t really turn out so great. Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds (2005) comes to mind. There is a certain point where a filmmaker takes a little too much creative licence sometimes.

In any case, the amount of science fiction remakes is becoming quite large. Lets take a look…

  • War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Forbidden Planet (1954 )
  • Lost in Space (1998 )
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 )
  • Barbarella (2009)
  • Plan 9 (2009)
  • Godzilla (1998 )
  • the original version of Star Trek (2009)
  • King Kong (2005)

Now, of course, this list is not in any particular order. They also are not all coming from the 50’s.  Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that as time goes on, the more of a trend this becomes. All of these remakes have been done in the last decade, so clearly these things do have a following of some sort. The obvious explanation is that Hollywood figured post 9/11 America would eat up re-interpretations of these movies the same way Cold War era America indulged in the originals. While this is certainly true to a certain extent, it still leaves one wondering why it is so necessary to alter so much of the original movies’ plots.

Ghosts of Sci-fi past

December 7, 2008

So why am I on this kick about old 50’s monster flicks?

Well, because for some reason filmmakers feel the need to revive all of these old dinosaurs. They even decided to redo some of the cheesier ones. For instance, director Robert Rodriguez is in the process of filming Barbarella, with Rosie McGowan as the seductive spacewoman. The original Barbarella (1968) was an erotic science fiction-comedy which starred Jane Fonda, and wasn’t only cheesy but featured infamously suggestive content. It generally had that corny Flash Gordon look and its thematic elements, but with sexuality injected into the mix. At one point, there’s is even a strange torture senario invovlving a device that causes its victim to experience sexual pleasure so intense it is practically fatal.  While this film may have a special niche in the cinematic world, it seems rather random to do a remake of it. Yet, they even got the original’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis, to produce the remake as well. The writers of Casino Royale (2006) are also invovled in this new sci-fi flick.

But it gets even weirder than Barbarella. If you’ll remember, it wasn’t too long ago that I reviewed one of the 50’s most laughable science fiction films; Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Well, rumor has it someone intends to do a remake of that, too. John Johnson and Darkstone Productions not only plan to recreate the film in honor of Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood, they want to make a serious horror movie out of it. According to the film’s website (that’s right, its far along enough they already have a web site for it) the movie will be released on the 9th of September next year, titled simply as Plan 9.

http://www.plan9movie.com/

But not all of the coming sci-fi remakes are based on silly movies. After all, in just five days we will get to see the remake of one of the 50’s greatest alien hits, the Day the Earth Stood Still. While they changed the form that the ship comes in, they have otherwise seemingly remained faithful to the original. This film truly did have a fairly intelligent subtext to it, and the remake will retain that. They even kept the original look for the giant robot, and it doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous in the trailer. I would have never thought that would be possible. Apparently, they decided to go with Keanu Reeves hoping his experience playing Neo from the Matrix (1999). The choice might be a little obvious and cliche, but at least there’s a good chance it’ll work.

This isn’t the first time that one of the more serious classic sci-fi movies have been remade. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was remade on several occasions, the latest being the Invasion in (2007).If the Day the Earth Stood Still is successful, it will bring a great deal of dignity to a genre that had none for a good long while. Unfortunately, that dignity may soon dissapear the following year. It will be interesting to see what happens.

"Can you prove it DIDN'T happen?"

"Can you prove it DIDN'T happen?"

If you’ll remember, for Thanksgiving I reviewed a venerable ‘turkey’- Attack of the 50ft. Woman (1958). Even the title alone suggests that the film was awefully cheesy, and it truly was. Still, it was not quite as bad as it could have been. However, it did spur my curiousity of the fabled ‘worst movie of all time’…

Plan 9 From Outer Space is one of many B-movies directed by Ed Wood. This strange crossdresser is still the object of many a film snob’s bittersweet fascination. After all, he was considered to be the worst film director ever. But it isn’t that simple. They aren’t just bad, they are delightfully bad. We say that about many of today’s B-movies, but this fellow made their production almost  as an artform. If Ed Wood was the master of terribly cheesy movies, this was his masterpiece. 

Plan 9 From Outer Space  is about a detachment of spacemen who are at odds with Earth’s many governments. They resent that man develops weapons of mass destruction so quickly, and that the world’s governments keep the existance of aliens from the public eye, so they take drastic actions. Apparently, many of their plans failed, but the latest scheme is re-awakening the dead. The spectacle is such that the American public must come to terms with the existance of aliens. This new undead army would also be the weapon with which the spacemen would crush mankind in an effort save the universe. Meanwhile, a series of policemen, an airplane pilot, and a military officer have witnessed the strange operations the spacemen carry out. They eventually band together, to stop the vile interplanetary menace.

Somehow the idea of extraterrestials resorting to re-animation and necromancy in order to get attention and conquer Earth doesn’t make sense. With such technology as the  ‘electro-gun’, it seems like the spacemen should be able to take over Earth with their own high tech weaponry. Zombies seem like a pretty poor way to conduct a planetary conquest. What makes even less sense is that they started making their slow zombie hoard in California, but they want their army to march on the capital. Why would they start on the wrong side of the continent? Why do they only manage to make three? Even the alien’s reasons for doing this aren’t all that great. Humans are too warlike and irresponsible, so spacemen react by using new and dangerous technology to destroy them?

The dialogue suffers from horrible writing even more than the plot does. The things the characters say are absolutely ludicrous. Often they are incredibly redundant, and just about all of the dialogue is incredibly cheesy. Even parodies of these movies aren’t as cheesy as the dialogue in Plan 9 From Outer Space. On a positive note, this makes the film very quotable.

Here are some examples of really stupid dialogue:

 “Inspector Clay is dead, murdered…and someone is responsible!”

“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events like these will affect you in the future.”

“Why is it so important for you to make contact with the governments of Earth?”

-“Because all of you Earth men are idiots!”

“You just hold on, buster.”

While this may very well be some of the most ridiculous stuff I’ve ever heard in a movie, it makes for a really good laugh. Somehow, I can’t help but think that was what Wood was going for anyhow. I understand he was quite aware of how poor the quality of his horror flicks were.

Perhaps what some of the most distracting and poorly done aspects of this movie are the set design and production screw-ups. My favorites are the cockpit scenes and the graveyard scenes. The cockpit doesn’t even remotely look like an airplane. The joysticks are made out of cardboard, and I believe you can see a large boom mike shadow on the wall, dead center. The graveyard is pretty much the same. Cardboard crypt, cardboard gravestones. At one point when the actors are diving from swooping saucers, someone manages to knock over a gravestone. he doesn’t even notice he did it either.

This is film could be important because it shows filmmakers all of the things not to do. The low production values are so bad, that they are incredibly hilarious. However, there really isn’t anything in this film someone today couldn’t do with a home movie. While bits and pieces may be entertaining, viewers will likely grow tired of the movie within a short period of time. After a while, the goofs just get old. Furthermore, the nature of this film is almost exploitive. Bela Lugosi died long before this movie was ever finished. By that time, he had started working with Wood, but they had only a few minutes of footage of Lugosi. At one point, Wood’s wife got her chiropractor to act in Lugosi’s place when neccessary, even though he looked and sounded completely different from Lugosi. Is it really ethical to use someone’s image this way when they died only recently? In any case, this movie may be good for a laugh if you like Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is the one old bad movie they didn’t show. For anyone else, this is a fairly poor choice with so much else out there.

2.7 out of 10

50ftwoman

In celebration of Thanksgiving, I decided that I would leave my readers with a turkey. Gobble gobble!

 Attack of the 50 ft. Woman has maintained a reputation and a cult following for being a particularly ridiculous movie. Make no mistake, this movie truly is silly. The 1950’s were pretty much a golden age for science fiction movies, especially ones that featured some kind of monster. In fact, during this time the giant monster trend was in full swing. Godzilla came out in 1956, and before that were several other classic massive monster hits. Most movies from this era had a theme going on that reflected a real world fear held by society. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (also 1956) embodied the fear of communism coming to the United States. Godzilla was a representation of the terror of nuclear warfare. Attack of the 50 ft. Woman symbolizes…the threat of powerful, liberated women. Of course, you can only find such silly things in America.

Attack of the 50 ft. Woman is about a millionaire woman (Allison Hayes) married to a cheating scoundrel (William Hudson) who desperately wants to murder her so he can get at her money and run off with a slutty blonde. He sees an oppurtunity to get rid of her when she shows signs of insanity and drunkeness. She claims she encountered a giant and his space vessel. No one believes her, although the police play along out of a weird sense of respect. Best not to upset the highest paying taxpayer. After some time, contact with the alien has exposed her to some strange form of radiation, which causes her to grow. At this point, she decides she has had enough of being taken for a fool. The story is about as short and sweet as it sounds. The entire movie is barely over an hour in length.

While the premise is pretty hokey, the plot and its delivery are actually much better than you might think. During the 50’s, these monster movies weren’t exactly intended to be A list masterpieces. The acting and writing in this one are pretty good, comparatively speaking. Many of the characters are not purely good or evil. Some are, but it isn’t as overdone in many modern monster movies. The only man with a heart of gold is the butler, and he makes a pretty inept kight in shining armor.

That being said, there are plot holes so large an oversized Allison Hayes could fit through them. No bystanders ever see the giant alien, even when it moves in populated areas. The sheriff in town hates wasting taxpayer money, but he still lets his sidekick dink around when he should be on duty. Hayes wears the most desirable diamond in the world around her neck, even though anyone could snatch it off her neck. These might seem like trivial gripes, but when you put them altogether they are very noticable. Of course, its things like that that make this a B movie.

50’s monster movies might be notorious for poorly concieved monsters and plastic and rubber costumes, but the effects in this movie are pretty bad-even for the time. This was released just one year after the Amazing Collosal Man. The visual effects in that film were pretty good at the time, and created an acceptable image of a rampaging giant. The supposed giants in Attack of the 50 ft. Woman look more like large ghosts. They are almost transparent. While todays special effects surpass the technology of the 50’s by leaps and bounds, there really is no reason for me to be able to see through someone that is supposed to be a massive powerhouse.

Make no mistake, this movie is most definitely a turkey. It was always pretty much meant to be. However, it is a turkey that at least tries to be serious with at least some success. The characters have some personality to them.  While this movie is something to laugh at with a friend, it still at least has a semblance of quality. In the end, I suppose this as being a turkey…with some extra flavor to it.

5.0 out of 10