Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Phantom Planet (1961)

Like many of these oldies I chose this purely based on the absolutely epic title. After that I then followed up with a touch of research into the plot and looked at some images on Google. I quickly came to the conclusion that yes, this is a movie I must watch.

Plot you say? Well allow me to enlighten you. It's the futuristic year of 1980 and mankind (and by that I mean the US) is now firmly set up on the moon. Alas there seems to be a problem, a few US astronauts and their ships have gone missing. So the stiff short back and sides Colonel orders a two-man search party. The surprisingly blonde Capt. Chapman (Dean Fredericks) and Lt. Makonnen (Richard Weber). It's not long before this young all-American duo suffers damage to their ship from a meteor shower which forces them both outside to try and fix it.

During this spacewalk Chapman is knocked-out after a meteor-like particle pierces his oxygen hose. Something that you'd think would kill him pretty quickly but nonetheless. Makonnen manages to get him back inside the ship before he is also struck by a meteor-like particle which sends him floating off into the cold depths of space. Sometime later Chapman comes to and finds the ship being drawn down to a large asteroid, forcing him to land. Upon landing and still suffering the effects of his incident Chapman exits the ship and collapses. He briefly awakens to notice tiny six-inch tall aliens approaching him, before passing out again.

No this isn't a space set Gulliver's Travels, but it is very much a blend of The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek series. Basically these little aliens (Rhetonians) are trying to keep their existence (on the asteroid Rheton) secret from other lifeforms mainly down to their superior technology (gravitational control). So naturally Chapman isn't allowed to leave. But naturally Chapman wants to escape despite being welcomed into the alien race with his choice of attractive female companions. Yes it's at this point I must mention that the aliens do in fact look exactly like humans, because of course they do.

It's also at this point that I should point out that when Chapman lifted the visor on his space helmet, the alien asteroid 'air' or 'atmosphere' was breathable and instantly shrank him down to the alien's size. So obviously I needn't point out the complete lunacy of this. Firstly, asteroids do not have an atmosphere to breathe, and secondly, even if it did why would it instantly shrink a lifeform to the exact size of the aliens? In fact, why are the alien that big anyway??

As you might expect Chapman does start to settle in with his new alien hosts but all the while he is scheming to escape. And again as you might expect there is romantic jiggery-pokery afoot as one attractive alien female wants to get in Chapman's pants but this makes one of the male aliens jealous (cos he wants to get inside her knickers). Naturally this leads to some stern but polite language between the pair and eventually the alien custom of battling to the death in the movies main Star Trek moment. Think Kirk vs Spock but way way more crappy and without that classic tune.

Anyway after all this cliched nonsense (Chapman wins the battle but doesn't kill the alien cos basically he's a decent chap) we eventually get to yet another plot detour. Turns out this little human-like alien race has enemies. Enter the incredibly cliched rubbery monster-esque alien race called the Solarites or 'fire people'. Because the technologically advanced goodie race of aliens look like humans, whereas the baddie war-obsessed alien race look like large bug-eyed bipedal lizard monsters. Oh and the ships they fly seem to That are actually engulfed in flames? I guess that's why they're called fire people...monsters. Fun fact, the Solarite we see in the movie is Richard Kiel in his first film role.

Long story short, with Chapman's help the Rheton's beat the fire people and all is well with the universe. Chapman is now allowed to go back to Earth when the very conveniently timed US spaceship arrives in orbit. Chapman crawls back inside in spacesuit and automatically grows back to his regular human size because...he breaths in atmospheric gases from Earth?? Huh?? Firstly, why would Earth 'gases' undo the shrinking process? And secondly, how was there any Earth 'gases' left inside his suit when his visor was left open this whole time!

There are lots of solid goofs and cringeworthy moments to be found. The fact that the astronauts move quite normally when doing their spacewalk. Also, neither of them are actually tethered to the ship, they are 'walking' freely. In fact there doesn't seem to be any attempt at the effects of zero gravity at all which is most amusing. Why didn't Chapman's spacesuit shrink with him? It's things like this, the goofs, the errors, are exactly why we (the fans) watch this stuff. Glorious.

Overall this is definitely an entertaining bit of sci-fi hokem which definitely gets more and more ridiculous as the plot goes on. The introduction of the Solarites was but the icing on the cake frankly as I didn't expect that. The movie does have some nice effects here and there and the costumes, mainly the spacesuits, are well done. Set wise it's as you might expect with everything looking rather flat and obvious but it does the job. It's mainly the space sequences that showcase the thoroughly enjoyable clunky effects at their best. It was also surprising to see a blonde male lead as often you get a tall dark handsome hero. Fredericks hair definitely gave him some much-needed edge. So yeah, this space mystery adventure pretty much provides you with everything you could want in a cheesy old black and white early 60's peek into what life would be like in 1980.


Monday, 25 May 2020

Unknown World (1951)

So I found myself craving some classic black and white science fiction once again, after a prolonged period of modern-day crap (it just gets worse). Having a stroll through whatever a simple Google search would find me, I came across this little number. I read the plot, it sounded sweet, so here we go. I might add this movie is available to watch on You-Tube, so go watch it now.

At a rather compact 74 minutes this movie can't hang around too long, yet it does. As you might expect with many of these old flicks the start of the movie is one long narration explaining the current situation of mankind at the time. This narration is intertwined with scenes as the key characters set up the basic plot. Nonetheless this entire setup does take around the first five minutes of the film. Add to that the usual long period of talking and debate amongst the key characters and other background characters as they decide on what to do.

So what is the plot? Well you've probably guessed the basis seeing as this is a 50's flick. Yep it's all based around atomic bombs again, ugh! Bottom line, Dr. Morley (Victor Kilian) is concerned about mankind if a nuclear war were to start. So he manages to create a small team of various experts in order to burrow down into the Earth in order to find a safe haven just in case. At first he can't get the funding, but then he does via a rich young tycoon type (Bruce Kellog) and all systems are go. 

Yes this is essentially an early Doug McClure movie minus the gloss. The team of experts are all men with one attractive woman, which seems to be (an amusing) contractual part of all these old adventure movies. And as you might expect there is the obligatory tension between a couple of the male experts over the lady. The vehicle they use has a neat little name, a Cyclotram. Essentially a pod-like featureless submarine with a big drill nose. As you might expect visual effects are pretty basic and what you see is an obvious small model being tugged along. The interior is a simple layout with all the characters sat neatly behind each other. There are various dials and pipes on the walls as you might expect. Although it amused me how there only seemed to be a few other quarters, very little space for seven experts. Where's the toilet?? No need for a kitchen in this futuristic vision though as everyone is living on tiny pills that constitute a meal. 

Anywho after much adventuring around underground and the death of a few experts from toxic gas and one falling into an abyss, the team discovers a vast underground cavern. This cavern is yet again everything you might expect from a silly fantasy flick. Firstly it's enormous, like a valley with its own mountains, ocean, desert, nice climate, convenient light reflected off the phosphorescent cavern roof, and a weather system. And secondly, it's conveniently absolutely perfect for human life to survive. BUT there is one small problem, for some reason this cavern renders all living things sterile. The pregnant rabbits which the team brought gave birth to dead rabbits. This is of course makes no sense because the rabbits were pregnant before they reached this cavern and I don't believe they were fed anything from the cavern. So just being in the cavern made them sterile? Does that mean the humans are now sterile? Something in the air is that powerful? Oh I should also point out flaw number two, no dinosaurs.

Unfortunately this apparent oasis turns out to be an oasis for the dead. Humans could probably live and prosper but would not be able to have children and would die out after one generation. Thing is old Dr. Morley doesn't accept this and still has hope as he thinks life on the surface is doomed anyway. Morley has also lived through two wars so he holds little affection for mankind as it is. But before you can self-destruct, a volcano erupts and seemingly destroys everything. Morley is depressed and allows himself to be killed whilst the others escape into the underground ocean. They happen to surface just by an inhabited island, lucky huh.

Watching this on You-Tube probably didn't allow for the best visual representation but the movie still managed to entertain me. Naturally the effects are limited and quaint but still utterly charming. The view through the cyclotram cockpit summed up the corny charm. Portions of the movie were filmed in and around various real caves in America which definitely helped. The huge underground cavern seemed to be a matte painting and a very nice one at that. As already explained model shots were pretty basic but they do the job. The cast seemed to be taking things seriously which also helped sell the adventure, unlike their rather dapper attire and juvenile equipment but it's all good.

Of course the science is silly and of course it's all very hokey, but movies like this paved the way for your modern-day blockbusters. How many big CGI spectacles have taken inspiration from old movies like this eh. Fans of things like this know what they're getting into, you don't need me to tell you this stuff is great. Just a shame there weren't any monsters, this movie actually took a more intelligent route, surprising really.


Monday, 11 May 2020

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020)

So this is a movie that has gone down in the annals of movie history, or is that infamy? 

I think everyone who has a slight passing interest in movies knows the story behind this long-gestating project. Long long story short, there has been interest in making a Sonic flick for decades. Ever since Sega introduced the zippy blue hedgehog the idea has been floating around. Alas with the epic infamous flops of videogame adaptations 'Super Mario Bros' and 'Street Fighter' the idea took a backseat. I think it was the surprising success of 'Mortal Kombat' in 1995 that probably got people thinking again.

After much studio faffing Paramount Pictures acquired the rights and announced the movie would be released in November 2019. And this is where the fun begins. The visual effects were handled by a few effects studios and all under the understanding that making a more realistic Sonic was the way to go. The idea was to create a more human-like appearance for Sonic so that he would blend into his live-action feature more easily. As we all know this included realistic fur, separated eyes, human-like legs, human-like hands, human-like teeth, a realistic nose, and actual realistic sneakers. Apparently they were going for the 2012 'Ted' look. Unfortunately someone forgot to them Ted was a teddy bear and still looked like a teddy bear. At no point was Ted ever made more human-like. 

Oh, the team also looked at the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for inspiration too. Feck me! Yeah apparently they expected Sonic fans to outrage but thought the general audiences wouldn't care about the redesign as that same thing happened with the Turtles. This goes to show how these 'creative people' think with these franchises and explains why so many tank.

Of course we all know what happened next. The trailer for this movie was released in May 2019 to astronomical levels of backlash. It seemed all the Sonic fans didn't like this ugly freaky human-like nightmare of a vision and actually wanted Sonic to look like...Sonic, you know, from the videogame. So with their tails set firmly between their legs the studios withdrew the movie and got to work on fixing the problem. But did they??

Well in my opinion no they didn't. OK let's be real here, yes I can fully appreciate the director and co listening to the fans and going back to fix the visuals on Sonic, sure. But the movie is still a pile of garbage. The visuals before the backlash were pretty bad granted but at least they had an original spin to them...I guess. The new visuals were fine and looked like Sonic should but it doesn't help the movie in any way. The plot is weak as hell and merely involves Sonic getting thrust into our world and having to find his magic rings. He manages to find some human friends along the way to help him oh and the evil Dr. Robotnik is chasing Sonic too to harness his power (yawn!).

As you might expect it's actually the small snippets from Sonic's world and the mushroom world Robotnik is banished to that are of more interest than anything else in this movie. Setting the story in our realm was positively the worse decision you could make. Has no one learned from previous videogame fudge ups?? Everything takes place in boring settings with boring characters that do cliched unfunny boring things. James Marsden is simply your average good-looking lead that is ten-a-penny in Hollywood. He isn't particularly good with comedy...or acting frankly. His partner is played by someone called Tika Sumpter who has no chemistry whatsoever with Marsden. Literally to the point where I don't understand how she was cast. 

And then we have good old Jim Carrey who is admittedly the best part of this lame flick. Of course, as everyone knows, Carrey's performance feels like it's been ripped from the 90's, back in his heyday. In turn this makes the entire movie feel completely dated in an odd blend of nostalgia and pure crap. It is very bizarre how one person can make an entire movie seem dated, but Carrey does just that. His performance is little more than his 'Cable Guy' and 'Liar Liar' characters rolled into one and regurgitated. So yes while Carrey is the best part that still doesn't help the movie because we've seen his schtick many many many times before decades ago.

Yup I know this is essentially a movie for children, I know that. But it was always gonna lure in the aging fanboys, like myself, from back in the golden days of videogaming. Call it a case of morbid curiosity I guess, on my count anyway. But yeah this turned out exactly as I expected it would with or without the creepy Sonic visuals. The CGI is generally poor and obvious all round. The acting is generally poor and cringeworthy all round. Sonic does all the stupid childish goofy things you'd expect him to do in a kid's flick. The movie has all the usual big blockbuster tropes and cliches that get used ad nauseam to the point of switching off (you see the same crap in all the Marvel fluff or any other big blockbuster). 

Overall this was very basic generic guff with poor visuals and bad acting. Simply sticking 90's Jim Carrey in there doesn't save the day in my opinion, nor does the 'upgraded' Sonic design. In fact, I'm more curious to see the original movie with the original Sonic design because I genuinely feel it might be better. Yeah, how bout dem apples.