Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Spaceman and King Arthur (aka Unidentified Flying Oddball, 1979)

As the title might suggest, this is an adaptation of the Mark Twain novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. To make things more interesting Disney flipped the idea on its head and made it a spaceman going back in time, thusly adding much more scope for visual fun and games.

NASA are trying to send a manned crew to out nearest star Alpha Centauri with the use of a new flashy super fast shuttle. This shuttle will fly faster than the speed of light by collecting atoms and ionising them, all through magnetic fields fitted to the wings. No idea how this is suppose to work but its heavy foreshadowing that's for sure. By mistake Trimble and his android replica get blasted into space and on this perilous journey, but they don't get too far before ending up crashing back on Earth in the Middle Ages. Once discovered Trimble must convince the locals he's not an alien or monster, get to grips with medieval life and eventually try to stop Merlin and Mordred from overthrowing Arthur.

Right so this is a Disney movie, an old Disney movie, so you know to expect slushy crapola just like all old live action Disney movies. I mean straight away, this professor dude at NASA rings up the main character Trimble and tells him to make a humanoid android for the shuttle project...and he does! He just says 'yes sir' and gets right to it, creating the perfect human looking android with perfect senses, reactions and even emotions, just like that. If people in this universe have those kinda of skills why are humans still stuck on Earth? Anyway this isn't about scientific authenticity, its a pure fantasy aimed at kids to enjoy, and back in the day I did enjoy this thoroughly.

The lead character played by Dennis Dugan is terribly wet and preppy that's for damn sure, but I'd imagine he is appealing to the younger generations with his quirky, jaunty self. Other cast members are a who's who of classic British talents. Jim Dale of the famous British Carry On movie franchise plays the baddie knight Mordred and gives quite a surprisingly solid performance to be honest. Ron Moody is Merlin and looks like your typical evil wizard mixed with Fu Manchu, couldn't help but think it was Fagin in the Middle Ages though. John Le Mesurier plays Sir Gawain adding some nice light-hearted humour to the role, whilst Kenneth More completes a little double act with Mesurier as King Arthur. This duo really played off each other well, like a little bickering old couple, its quite cute and charming, very childish, but adorable. Good old Pat Roach is in here too as Merlin's main henchman and muscle, what else would he be.

The cast was pretty epic looking back, like many of old movies, but for kids at the time it was all about the adventure really, and this had all the right ingredients. Medieval knights, jousting, large scale battles and space technology. The movie was shot in and around a real castle in Northumberland, UK which really added to the realism and excitement when you were a kid. Everything looked like a giant adventure playground with lots of wondrous (yet dangerous) toys, the weaving dimly lit castle corridors, secret passages, the space shuttle in the courtyard, swords, crossbows, various futuristic gadgets, a moon buggy etc...Everything in the film does look pretty good too, considering the films age it still holds up well today. All the sets and costumes look terrific too, very accurate for a Disney kids flick, it does appear that this movie had a reasonable budget and plenty of tender loving care lavished upon it.

Yet despite the fact this was indeed a kids flick, it didn't shy away from tiny moments of edgy material. For starters they actually have a full scale, full view burning of Trimble at one point. Even though everyone knows its not real they don't actually cut away from it! you actually see the stunt guy in there burning! or at least close to the flames with clever use of forced perspective...I think! Put it this way it looks pretty realistic for a Disney movie sheesh! Then you have the jousting contest where we see Trimble's android getting taken apart piece by piece until his head is speared off, and yes there are no cuts, you see it fly off. Lastly there are actually references to Playboy magazine here, its actually shown, front cover en all! Of course you don't see anything but the fact its in there, presumably as product placement, is quite bizarre frankly.

Yes this fantasy adaptation has something in it for everyone, lots for the boys of course, romance with a maiden for the girls, and the legendary actors hamming it up something rotten for the adults. There is plenty of silly hokey stuff naturally, yet some quite clever stuff also, and what's more the special effects and props all add to the atmosphere perfectly. The big battle finale set in and around the castle at the end is the coup de grace, chock full of fun little moments. To be honest this whole thing feels a bit like a pantomime for kids, you half expect to hear hissing when the villains walk in shot. Its all so horrendously good-natured and delightful, its sickening...but in an acceptable way, nice score too.


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