Category Archives: Sci Fi

#318 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

(1956, Don Siegel)

“They’re here already! You’re next!”

Imagine if you will, an ordinary day, with an ordinary man, wandering through the streets as if everything is as ordinary as can be. But this ordinary man is not an ordinary man. He is something else. He is a facsimile of a man. A duplicate of a man who had his body snatched. What you are imagining is the scenario presented in Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

One of the most well-known, influential and well-respected movies of the 50s alien invasion b-movie canon, Invasion of The Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr Miles Bennell, a doctor who has recently returned from a trip and finds his hometown acting a little strange. Numerous people are coming to him claiming that their relatives aren’t who they say they are, the normally buzzing diner is devoid of customers and a resident reports a mysterious body appearing on his pool table. Something fishy is going on in Santa Mira, and Miles intends to find out what.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is definitely a b-movie, although it is one with slightly better production values than the average alien invasion flick. That said, it’s still a very ropey and slightly cheesy movie that falls flat on an awful lot of things.

First of all, the acting. While certainly a step up from the acting you typically came across in 50s b-movies, it’s still shaky as hell at times. Characters often feel a little too stoic where they really should be shocked or scared, and the square-jawed emotionless hero kind of got a little silly after a while, especially as it began to become difficult to tell the difference between the emotionless clones and the hero. At least until the end when he starts freaking out.

Also, the plot is really not consistent. Certain things move too quickly, meaning there’s never really a strong sense of dread going on. Miles and his lady-friend wander through the town experiencing weird thing after weird thing, spending very little with each weird thing until eventually there’s a body on a table slowly growing features and I feel like I skipped a few pages of build-up.

And when it’s not doing that, the movie has an alarming tendency to over-explain itself. Quite often we’ll be told of extra weird things, or we’ll get frequent summaries of the movie so far. Very rarely does the movie just stop and let the tension build. And it definitely makes the experience feel weaker. There are also some logistic issues with the way the “body snatchers” operate. There are times when the clones are created separately from the original, but other times it feels like the original body is taken over, and there’s a constant clash on this front.

But that’s not to say Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is an inherently bad movie. Far from it, in fact. The central concept is definitely intriguing and it plays itself out nicely. We get reveals at appropriate times and despite the general lack of tension, there are scenes where tension does pop up briefly, and these are probably some of the stronger scenes in the movie. A scene late in the movie where the whole town moves in sync with one another is eerie and particularly notable.

The effects are also surprisingly good for an old sci-fi b-movie. Okay, admittedly this mostly stems from the pods and the resulting pod people, but these are still things that worked fantastically well. The pods looked creepy and organic, and the unfinished clones were creepy and unpleasant in all the right ways.

I think perhaps the monster being other people also worked in the movie’s favour as it allowed it to keep its effects minimal and create a sense of paranoia instead of the shock of seeing plastic flying saucers floating in on strings. It’s easy to see how the movie was taken as a McCarthyism allegory, since the fear of other people is strong here.

Overall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a ropey and somewhat shaky movie that tells an interesting story in a flawed way. It’s a low-budget sci-fi b-movie that sits firmly at the higher end of the quality scale for the genre. It’s clear why this has endured the way it is. It has moments of tension and action, while also remaining somewhat charmingly silly at the same time.

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan & Carolyn Jones
Written by Jack Finney (novel) and Daniel Mainwaring
Produced by Walter Wanger
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen

Favourite Scene: The town moving in unison and preparing to deliver pods out of town is easily one of the more unnerving sights in cinema history.
Scene That Bugged Me: There was something very silly about the pod people casually explaining their whole plan and then gathering in a separate room expecting Miles to sit still.

Watch it if: You like cheesy 50s alien invasion movies, because this is one of the best
Avoid it if: You like your alien movies to be full of spaceships and little green men

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#302 Naked Lunch

(1991, David Cronenberg)
“Exterminate all rational thought”

David Cronenberg has built a career out of gross, weird films filled with things that shouldn’t be. But the quality can go either way. Way, way back, I reviewed The Fly and thought it was an excellent piece of tense sci-fi horror with a believable romance that left a huge impression on me. Shortly after, I reviewed Videodrome, which was a nonsensical piece of crap that existed solely to test effects artists’ skills and the viewer’s patience. But which side of the fence does Naked Lunch fall?

Based on the “unpublishable” book by Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch is a mixture of passages from the non-linear narrative text mixed with elements of the author’s own life. It focuses on William Lee (Peter Weller), an exterminator who is approached by a talking bug and tasked with killing his wife, which will lead him to a job writing reports for Interzone Incorporated, a company that does…something. There’s also stuff about drugs and homosexuality in there too.

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#299 La Jetée

(1961, Chris Marker)
“This is the story of a man…and of a woman’s face”

I know of La Jetée for three reasons. First of all, I’ve reviewed director Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (and wasn’t impressed). Secondly, I’m a fan of the band Pure Reason Revolution, and their track “Blitzkrieg” samples dialogue from this movie (the page quote, which is actually two sections of dialogue fused together). And finally, the much more well-known Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys draws heavily from La Jetée. So there’s a lot to be interested in there, so let’s take a look.

Set following World War III, a nuclear war that destroyed much of the planet and its population, La Jetée examines the attempts of scientists in the future to send people back in time to correct the mistakes and stop the war from happening. The main character, The Man (Davos Hanich), is chosen for this purpose because of a stark image of a woman (Helene Chatelain) he remembers seeing in his childhood, prior to the war, which provides him a direct link to the past.

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#281 Open Your Eyes

(1997, Alejandro Amenabar)
Abre los ojos

“Open your eyes”

In 2002, Cameron Crowe made a movie called Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. It got mixed reviews, and it did reasonably well, telling a very strange tale of romance with a bit of good old-fashioned mindfuckery thrown in for good measure.

It was also a remake, which not many people know. You see, Cameron Crowe took the entire storyline from a Spanish movie from the nineties called Abre los Ojos, aka Open Your Eyes. He also swiped one of its main cast members (Cruz) and put her in the same role as the original. Today, we’re looking at that movie, and ignoring Vanilla Sky entirely because that’s not on the list. Sorry about that.

Open Your Eyes is a hard film to describe. It’s about a man named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) who is a rich, good-looking kid living in Madrid. He’s known for womanising and generally being a bit of a smug bastard about how good-looking he is. We switch between him going about his day and enjoying his life to him sitting in prison and talking to a psychiatrist (Chete Lera) while wearing a prosthetic mask.

During the course of the movie, Cesar flirts with a woman named Sofia (Cruz), who happens to be the girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez), while simultaneously trying to avoid a crazy, jealous former fling named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). During the course of the movie, Cesar climbs into a car with Nuria, who then immediately crashes the car, horribly disfiguring him. And then things kinda go a little bit haywire…

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#279 Stalker

Сталкер

(1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“What was the point in coming here?”

I’ve watched two Andrei Tarkovsky movies before here on SvTM, and both times I was struck by how much Tarkovsky’s style seemed to be based around actively avoid telling an actual story and spending half his time navel-gazing. So here’s Stalker, another Tarkovsky movie, this time with a vaguely interesting premise, so perhaps this is a case of third time’s the charm?

Stalker starts by letting us know that something fell from space, and the area where this mysterious object landed became the site of various disappearances, causing the government to cordon it off and label it as “The Zone”, with access only allowed in special circumstances. Special people who become aware of how to navigate The Zone without weird stuff happening to them begin to guide lost souls to the mysterious room in the centre, which will allegedly make your innermost wish come true.

The movie focuses on one particular “Stalker” (Alexander Kaidonovsky) who leads two men into The Zone with their own purposes – The Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), a sarcastic and bitter man, and The Professor (Nikolai Grinko), an old and somewhat nervous man.

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#278 The Day The Earth Stood Still

(1951, Robert Wise)

“Klaatu barada nikto”

The 1950s were a haven for alien invasion movies involving floppy costumes and cheesy acting, thanks to pop culture being massively influenced by Cold War anxiety and the growing interest in outer space. Some of it was consigned to the dustbin of film history, while other movies found themselves worthy of ridicule on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But what of the successes? What about the sci-fi movies that gained genuine critical acclaim and went on to be hugely influential? Enter The Day The Earth Stood Still.

A mysterious flying saucer has landed in Washington D.C., and the public flock to the site in droves, desperate to see first contact with extra-terrestrial life. When a humanoid by the name of Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges from the saucer, he is immediately shot by a solider and taken to hospital, while his robot bodyguard, Gort, fires back. While Earth tries to figure out how to respond to this “attack”, Klaatu escapes the hospital and begins his attempt to deliver a very important message.

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#270 Planet Of The Apes

(1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

“Take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!”

Imagine if you will, a strange planet far beyond the stars where evolution did something very silly and made apes the dominant species instead of humans. Now imagine your reaction when you discover that planet WAS EARTH ALL ALONG! Yes, today we’re looking at Planet Of The Apes, with one of the most-spoiled endings of all time. It’s even on the cover of the DVD box these days! But even with the ending spoiled, how is it? Is it still good?

A group of astronauts led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) set off on a long mission to the far reaches of space, climbing into hibernation while the ship steers them to a distant planet. When they wake up, they find themselves on a desolate world. After wandering through the desert, the astronauts are all captured by strange ape men, who view Taylor with great curiosity. Taylor must now figure out how to survive in this strange new world WHERE APES EVOLVED FROM MEN?!?!

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#249 The Host

(2006, Bong Joon-ho)
괴물

It is lurking behind you

I seem to have a good relationship with Korean cinema. So far I’ve enjoyed 100% of the movies that I’ve seen that came out of South Korea. Admittedly, that’s been exactly two movies so far, but that’s still a good track record. Will The Host keep up this record or will it break that streak?

Thankfully unrelated to the Stephanie Meyer novel of the same name, The Host starts with an American scientist dumping formaldehyde into the Han River. Six years later, a sleepy and somewhat slow-witted man named Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is working on his father’s snack bar when a strange creature emerges from the river and causes chaos. His daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-Sung), is captured by the creature, leading everyone to believe her to be dead.

However, Gang-du receives a phone call while under a quarantine ordered by the US Army, seemingly from Hyun-seo. He decides to break out of quarantine and find his daughter with the assistance of his father, Hee-Bong (Byun Hee-Bong), his medal-winning archer sister, Nam-joo (Bae Doona), and his alcoholic brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il).

At its heart, The Host is a monster movie, putting an unsuspecting populace face to face with a terrible monster that terrorises their livelihood. But aside from that, it’s also a black comedy mixed in with political commentary. It’s also not quite as good as The Good, The Bad, The Weird or Oldboy.

But it’s a close one. There are issues with The Host, but many of them are fairly minor. I did have a bit of an issue with how early the monster is shown, something that seemed to take a great sense of mystery out of the movie. I like my movie monsters to be gradually revealed over time, but this one cropped up straight away and in broad daylight. It felt a little disappointing to see it so clearly so soon.

I also felt the anti-American political commentary was a little heavy-handed. Pretty much every action performed by an American within the plot was horrendously callous and destructive, and the movie seemed to go to great lengths to make the Westerners look absolutely awful across the board. There’s even an American doctor portrayed with cross-eyes just to make him look stupid. It does get a little tiring quite often.

The movie can also feel a little meandering at times, leaping from event to event as it tries to cram a bunch of ideas in. There were times when I felt a little bit lost and wanted the movie to pace itself a little better.

However, these issues failed to get in the way of making the movie highly entertaining. The movie is loaded with comedy throughout the whole thing, largely through the slow-witted protagonist, drunk brother and hesitant sister (who, it must be said, ultimately turns out to be a pretty badass archer). Just like other Korean movies I’ve reviewed on here, comedy turns up in unlikely places, and quite often you’ll find yourself bouncing between horrified and amused without warning.

The monster effects are also pretty phenomenal. The designers chose to keep the monster as close to a mutated fish creature as possible, and it actually feels like a plausible creature when it’s not doing crazy acrobatics. But even then, the acrobatics are exciting to watch, and pretty scary at times. It’s easy to forgive seeing the monster so much when it looks this good.

The Host also manages to be tense and exciting even despite the lack of mystery over the monster. It does this by cleverly matching up the mystery of what the creature actually does with the horrific actions of the Americans, with the release of an unpleasant chemical agent onto the populace being one of the more uncomfortable parts of the movie, in a good way.

All in all, The Host is flawed, but still manages to keep up a 100% approval rating for Korean cinema in my eyes, and that’s what really matters here.

Starring Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona & Go Ah-Sung
Written by Baek Chul-hyun & Bong Joon-Ho
Produced by Choi Yong-bae
Music by Lee Byung-Woo
Cinematography by Kim Hyung-Ku
Edited by Kim Sun-Min

Favourite Scene: Nam-joo making up for her earlier hesitance by shooting a flaming arrow right in the creature’s face? Yes!
Scene That Bugged Me: Did we really need the cross-eyed scientist?

Watch it if: You’re a fan of Korean cinema and/or monster movies
Avoid it if: You’re bored of anti-American messages

#222 The Last Battle

(1983, Luc Besson)
Le Dernier Combat

Luc Besson is perhaps best known for directing the excellent Leon: The Professional and the not-so-excellent The Fifth Element, but before that, he was making weird French films in the eighties. And here’s one of them: The Last Battle.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the remains of humanity live in ruined buildings in a large desert area, The Last Battle follows an unnamed man (Pierre Jolivet) as he attempts to travel the world in search of a girlfriend. During his travels, he encounters a strange gang, a doctor (Jean Bouise) and a mysterious man known as The Brute (Jean Reno) who wants something the doctor has hidden away.

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#201 District 9

(2009, Neill Blomkamp)

A while back, I reviewed Monsters, an alien invasion movie that acted as a clear allegory for US immigration policy. Well, it wasn’t the first movie of its kind, because only a year before, District 9 was released, and this time an alien invasion acted as an allegory for apartheid in South Africa.

In 1982, a gigantic spaceship descended over Johannesburg and suddenly stopped. An investigation team was sent in, discovering a large group of sick and malnourished aliens, who were immediately detained in a government camp known as District 9. After numerous conflicts between the aliens, derisively known as “prawns”, and the human population, the South African government sends in a private military contractor, led by bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), to move the prawns to an internment camp.

However, a prawn named Christopher (mo-cap by Jason Cope) has been working on something by collecting fluid from the spaceship’s debris. When Wikus comes in contact with this fluid, it has adverse effects on him, and he begins to see things from the prawns’ perspective.

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