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Gamera the Invincible (1966)

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

            The atomic bomb changed monster movies for more than two decades after it was detonated.  There was no shortage of American atomic freaks in the movies at this time; however, this cinematic phenomenon was not strictly American.  Japan had its own atomic monsters.  Unlike America, which saw atomic war as an inevitable occurrence manifesting in paranoia, Japan had already felt atomic fire first hand.  Japanese monsters were more like atomic weapons themselves than their smaller, American counterparts.   These movies used huge monsters as a thinly veiled allegory for wide spread atomic destruction.  The undisputed king of giant Japanese monsters (kaiju) in the mid-1960s was Toho’s Godzilla.  Godzilla had already appeared in five movies by 1965, and he showed no signs of slowing down.  In a shameless attempt to cash in on the kaiju craze, Toho rival, Daiei Studios, released “Daikaijû Gamera” in 1965.  It was rereleased in America in 1966 as “Gamera the Invincible.”  One thing needs to be made clear before I continue; no kaiju movie is ‘good’ in the traditional sense.  These movies are as good as any movie starring a guy in a dinosaur costume can be.  ‘Good’ in the kaiju genre is a very relative term.  This must be kept in mind.

            Oh, those dirty Soviets.  It seems like everything was there fault during the Cold War, even if it was a total accident.  Everything, including the liberation of a giant atomic turtle named Gamera from an Arctic glacier, can now be blamed on the Reds.  Predictable, this tremendous turtle heads straight for Japan, as if Japan has some kind of great happy-hour-drink-special for giant atomic monsters.  Through some kind of investigation that may have been too difficult to film, it is discovered by Japanese scientists that Gamera is not carbon based, like we are, but metal based.  For some reason that defies all basic logic, this means that he needs to literally eat fire to survive.  Moving with the care and thoughtfulness of a squirrel, the Japanese military tries and fails several times to kill the rampaging Gamera using conventional weapons.  After several ludicrous attempts to stop Gamera fail miserably, the United Nations finally passes a resolution to halt the offending monster.  This initiative, with the laughably bad title, ‘Plan Z,’ involves trapping Gamera in a titanic metal dome and blasting him into space.  So they do, and the movie ends.                    

            The U.S. distributers of Gamera, like the U.S. distributers of Godzilla, felt that the movie wouldn’t be able to stand as it was released in Japan.  In an effort to make the movie more ‘America friendly,’ extra scenes involving American actors were added.  The acting in these scenes is some of the worst ever recorded.  It’s almost like the actors had a running bet to see who could over-act the most; it’s really something to experience.  Bad acting aside, “Gamera the Invincible” is rendered virtually unwatchable by its main character, an obnoxious boy named Aoyagi.  Aoyagi is a big fan of turtles and he feels bad that Gamera gets picked on by grownups throughout the movie.  This boy, who for some reason is able to barge in on government meetings and military command posts, spends the entire movie trying to convince the foolish adults that they should stop shooting at Gamera.  At this point in cinematic history, kaiju movies were becoming more child friendly as more and more kids became fans of the genre.  This shift in the kaiju mentality from ‘mindless marauder,’ to ‘friendly protector’ is what killed the movement.  By seeing Gamera though a child’s eyes, the audience is expected to forget the fact that thousands of people are dying during Gamera’s rampages.  It’s very difficult to side with a Japanese boy in short shorts who’s trying to interfere with the military’s plans to save its citizens from a huge turtle.  Sorry, kid.  Nobody cares that you like turtles, because we like to keep civilians alive even more.  By the end of the movie, I wanted to throw Aoyagi off a bridge to silence his piercing cry.  Gamera may have been the film’s titular monster, but, for my money, he can’t compete with Aoyagi, the film’s real monster.                       

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Planet of the Dinosaurs (1978)

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

“Planet of the Dinosaurs” can best be described as a watered down lecture on human motivation with kick ass dinosaur special effects.  Pay no attention to the cool Frank Frazetta-esque movie poster, because the movie the poster sells is not even close to being good.  The dialogue comes out like a philosophy syllabus that poses questions like, ‘why do we follow the people we follow,’ or ‘should personal safety come before come before environmental dominance?’  Somebody who has never seen the movie before may say, ‘these are good questions,’ and ‘these questions should make for an interesting movie.’  This is true; these questions should make for an interesting movie, but they don’t.  Half of “Planet of the Dinosaurs” is made up of montages of people walking through the Vasquez Rocks, and the other half is comprised of the most wooden acting ever caught on film.  By the end, I was hoping the stop motion dinosaurs would just eat everybody.

A group of space explorers are able to jettison from their mother ship just before a hot reactor explodes.  Judging from the uniforms and hair styles of the crew, it seems like they all signed up at the Haight-Ashbury Space Exploration recruiting office.  Anyway, the life pod crashes on an alien world that looks absolutely nothing like the Santa Clarita Valley. Within the first ten minutes, the film makers decided that it would be a good idea to kill off the hot, busty blonde who stripped half naked to retrieve a radio transmitter from a lake.  True, she was killed by a cool aquatic dinosaur, but, more importantly, the blonde was killed.  In my humble opinion, it was all downhill from there.  The next forty minutes of the film consist of a seemingly never ending walking montage as the characters search for higher ground, and ultimately, rescue.  Once the characters reach the perceived safety of a high plateau, (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, anybody) they set up a flimsy base camp and are systematically picked off by a huge Tyrannosaurs Rex.  The only thing better than watching hippies try figure out how to kill dinosaurs, is watching hippies getting eaten by dinosaurs.  The group finally gets their shit together, and kills the T-Rex by impaling it on a big, poisonous stake.  With the angry carnivore gone, the hippies tame the landscape and make revealing clothing out of animal pelts.  The general consensus of the group seems to be that rescue is not important anymore.

I loved this movie as a kid.  The reason for this is that when I was a kid, I only cared about dinosaurs.  The movie could have been a Jane Austin costume piece, but as long as it had dinosaurs, I would have loved it.  That philosophy doesn’t work so well for me anymore.  It is true that the stop motion dinosaurs in this movie are pretty cool, but that can’t save it.  Every scene without dinosaurs is laborious and didactic as it lays out the characters and their conflict.  The awful soundtrack could be likened to a rejected Kraftwerk B-side, and it perfectly embodies the movie’s shoe string budget.  This sad combination of elements lands “Planet of the Dinosaurs” in that post-Star Wars era of film, where directors either spun gold, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or shat filth, like “Flash Gordon.”  After watching “Planet of the Dinosaurs” for the first time in fifteen years, I began to wonder how many other classics from my youth were simply pure junk.  It think it’s time to find out.

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The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

        

    There is nothing worse than a bad movie that tries to be good.  The best-of-the-worst roll in their own badness like a pig in slop and, ultimately, those movies prove to be the most entertaining.  Then there’s “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues;” a bad film that just doesn’t know its role.  The problem here is that the movie never got started.  It set out to be a monster movie, but then cringed, and changed its mind.  

            The movie begins with a nameless extra on a fishing boat being killed by an ocean creature that looks like Gorgo covered in sea weed.  This scene dissolves into the title card written in an appropriately cheesy font.  ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I will really be able to enjoy this crap-fest.’  But, it seems that my initial instinct about this movie was totally wrong.  The movie that followed was a long, boring, anemic, pallid, talky excuse for a radioactive monster movie.  The monster is only seen at sporadic intervals from the beginning on, and even those sightings are few and far between.  Without a cool creature in this feature, I was left only with the smug actors and some dreary, underdeveloped story about spies. 

            Of all the movies I have reviewed so far, “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” is the lamest.  It has no intrinsic, intangible energy that makes it click as camp, it just sucks.  I didn’t laugh out loud as I watched it, I just found myself becoming bitter and numb.  “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” isn’t a good bad movie, it is just a bad movie; a film that is ashamed of itself for being a monster movie because it feels that it could be so much more.  This thought is false, because it never once committed to entertaining.  I was seriously tempted to take a screwdriver and cut deep radial groves into the DVD to save anybody from having to suffer that same fate that I suffered.  The horror, the horror.                 

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