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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles...

I was staying up late last night when I realized that Turner Classic Movies was showing 20 Million Miles to Earth as part of their Science Fiction Films of the Cold War Tuesdays. When I was a kid I used to love this movie in a completely non-ironic, would watch it a hundred times, way.

But some time since then, my innocence was shattered. Oh sure, if you'd asked me then what I liked the most about it, I would have said, "the special effects," and, absolutely, Ray Harryhausen's work is great. But sometime between then and now I began caring about the plot, and the characters, and the dialog, and the acting - those little things.

Actually, I think I can date when I began to care. It was in '82 or '83 when Paul Mazursky's Tempest first came to HBO. Granted, I liked this film because when I initially saw it, I developed a huge crush on Molly Ringwald. To express my love for her, I watched the movie over and over and slowly started paying attention to the movie as a whole. I came to appreciate that movie for what it was, and learned that I could like many different types of films. Molly Ringwald took my innocence from me (of course, you could also say that Paul Mazursky took my innocence, but that just leads to a scary visual place).

So anyway, I was watching 20 Million Miles, and it occurred to me how bad - how truly atrocious - the movie was. Just as an example, about a third of the way into the movie Ymir, the monster from Venus, has escaped and is being tracked by Col. Calder and a few other people. They come across Ymir hiding in a barn just after it's killed a dog, and Calder says, "He's actually docile unless threatened." And just to prove his point, the Colonel proceeds to poke at the creature with a big stick.

A bit later I'm still sitting there watching, half laughing my butt off and half just agog that I used to think this was good, when the thought came to me that if I had any faith whatsoever in the talent of the screenwriters that the whole thing could be seen as a cautionary tale of Imperial hubris. Not just is everything bad that happens, everything, America's fault; but if we'd bothered for one moment to pay attention to the concerns of the locals, it could have been nipped in the bud.

First, we go to Venus without telling anyone. I'm not sure why our scientific leap forward should have been kept a secret, but there you go. However since it was classified, when the rocket goes off course during re-entry, we can't exactly ask for help locating it and, of course, we don't warn anyone about the potentially hazardous cargo it's carrying.

Surprise, surprise that hazardous cargo, the Venusian monster Ymir, escapes. Initially, the Italian authorities go along with the US' plan to capture it, but following the incident with the stick and the poking that I mentioned above, which ended with a local being mauled, the Italians say, "bugger that, we're killing the beast." They are reasonably concerned that this creature is going to go on a rampage and kill lots of natives.

The Americans though wheedle, argue and beg, until the Italians give in allowing the American's one last chance to capture it. The GIs do, but shockingly enough while they're studying it Ymir escapes again. Hello, the 20 foot-tall creature is only sedated by a precisely regulated electric current, and it doesn't occur to the government to keep a back-up generator around?

So, the monster's out again, killing Italians and tearing up ancient Roman architecture, before finally the Italians are allowed to do what they should have done in the first place and put the poor thing out of its misery.

All in all, this could be seen as a subversive critique of American arrogance. Unfortunately, I don't have faith in the writers and have to conclude that the story just sucks.

After 20 Million Miles, TCM showed The Blob, about which I have only two points:

  • This move has the absolute funniest theme song ever. I've never been a fan of Burt Bacharach (nor Mack David either, but who cares about him), but I figured, 'if Elvis Costello, one of the coolest people to exist on this planet, does a duet with him, perhaps he's worth a second listen.' Screw that. I don't care if he went on to become the next Norman Borlaug, saving the lives of a Billion people; to me he would always remain the man who wrote the Theme to The Blob
  • Steve McQueen is supposed to be a teenager? He makes Beverly Hills 90210 era Luke Perry look like a toddler.
  • Okay, I lied, I have one more thing. It looks like some idiot is shelling out money for (yet another) remake of this movie, and this time it's been written by the same people who penned this years regurgitation of House of Wax. Oh, joy.

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