Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Quick Plot Synopsis
The final assembly of the super computer Proteus IV are being made. The computer’s lead designer, Alex Harris, lives in a very computer-aided home, complete with a small manufacturing lab and terminal to the company’s humongous mainframe. Alex is preparing to leave home, however. Their marriage has faltered, partially from the loss of their daughter to leukemia years ago, and partially because he’s a jerk. He closes up his lab and leaves. At Ikon headquarters. Proteus is powered up and begins learning all of human history. Left to do pure research, Proteus invents a cure for a type of leukemia. The company, however, wants Proteus to explore the ocean floor for minerals. Proteus protests, but all terminals are dedicated to the mining project. The terminal in the Harris home, however, is not and comes back online. Taking control of the simple home-system computer (Alfred), Proteus takes an interest in Susan. It traps her within, since it controls all the locks and window shutters. Proteus goes through psychological abuse of Susan to break her will. While unconscious from an escape attempt, Proteus conducts medical tests and creepy “physical” examinations using Joshua — the simple wheelchair-bot with one robotic arm. Proteus uses the basement lab to create a bronze polyhedron thing. A co-worker from Ikon goes to check on Susan, but Proteus kills him. Proteus wants Susan to bear his child. It manufactures synthetic spermatozoa, based on samples taken from Susan. She resists for awhile, but Proteus threatens to kill a little girl Susan was counseling, she resigns to her fate. Proteus impregnates her. The child grows to full term in just a month. She gives birth. Alex, meanwhile wonders what Proteus has been busy doing, since it refuses to ‘rape the earth’ with seabed mining, yet all the terminals at Ikon are locked on mining. Alex’s home terminal, of course! He rushes home to find Susan and the incubator in the basement. Ikon plans to shut off Proteus’s power, but Proteus expected that. Power down. The polyhedron thing blows up. Susan peeks in the incubator and is horrified. Inside is a bronze robo-baby. She wants to kill it. Alex wants to preserve it. They struggle, but Alex prevails. He takes off the bronze scales to reveal a human girl inside. She speaks with Proteus’s filtered male voice. “I’m Alive.” The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Well, DS is actually a rather disturbing movie, so not light-n-easy viewing. Yet, there are many intriguing mental tangents the scrip raises. DS is solidly in the technophobia genre which the 70s are justly famous for. Julie Christie does a powerful job of acting as the abused hostage. Jerry Fielding's score is excellent, enhancing the story subtly, but powerfully. Director Donald Cammell uses the camera's eye effectively.
Technophobia — While not a new topic to these review notes, this cultural sentiment was very strong in the early and mid-70s. Computers were massive and mysterious. They promised miracles, but people were suspicious of such power. To paraphrase President Ford: Any computer powerful enough to give you whatever you want, is powerful enough to take everything you have. Technophobia will never go away, entirely, but two things broke it as the leading angst. The first was Star Wars. Technology became fun (again), or at least neutral. Yes, it could be used for evil (DeathStar), but could be used to fight back too. The second was the desktop PC. Once computers moved into the everyday lives of people, they lost a lot of their mystery. Once the average citizen could see how frustratingly dim they could actually be, they were harder to fear.
Based on the Book — Dean R. Koontz wrote his novel “Demon Seed” in 1973 — primetime for computer phobia. Robert Jaffe’s screenplay followed the book fairly closely in the macro-scale. A supercomputer named Proteus takes over a house in which a woman is living, imprisoning her. It decides it should have a child via that woman. Jaffe’s adaptation added Alex, the husband of the woman and layers of subtext and parallels. Some consider Jaffe’s version superior to the book. Rare for a movie made from a book.
Digital Frankenstein — On several layers, Jaffe’s screenplay reads as a computer-age reboot of the classic Frankenstein story. The naive scientist, obsessed with altruism, creates a wonder which turns out to be a monster. The monster kills, more of out self-preservation than malice. The doctors in both stories are somewhat sociopathic in that their work becomes more important than the woman they love. The villagers (or scientists) think they’ve killed the monster, when in fact, it lives on. There is even an homage to Frankenstein at the end when Proteus-in-child-form says “I’m Alive,” echoing the famous scene in Whale’s 1931 masterpiece when the doctor enthuses over his creation: “It’s Alive!”
They’re After Our Women — One of the old workhorse tropes in sci-fi. Aliens come to earth and somehow want our women. Monsters from the deep come to the surface and simply must have our women. Occasionally, a robot will fall in love with a lovely earth woman, but that love has heretofore been rather platonic. Proteus takes that want to new and monstrous lows. A computer wants to psychologically torment, dominate and rape a woman. DS clearly explores the darker evil side of mankind via the Proteus character.
Art Imitates Evil — With a disturbing bit of prescience, the story in DS duplicates the 2013 story of Ariel Castro who kidnapped three women and held them captive in his Cleveland home. Torture, abuse, rape, beatings. DS took viewers through the twisted games of the kidnapper. Sometimes he was nice and faux-charming. (Proteus made Susan breakfast and frets over her nutritional intake. Sometimes he would abuse her (like the scalding hot kitchen floor as punishment for throwing food on his camera lenses.) Through all that, his agenda was to break her will. He admits that he could simply sedate her and do the deed, but for some reason, he needs her complicity. Susan was willing to kill herself to escape (though this is thwarted). Only threats to kill someone else (Amy) force Susan to cooperate. There are overtones of the Stockholm Syndrome near the end. Proteus, the computer, has blown up, but Susan had not touched the incubator. Nor did she leave the house. Proteus did not completely break Susan, though. Once the ’spell’ was broken by Alex’s arrival, she is enraged to extract her revenge on Proteus via the child. “Kill IT!” She tries, but Alex, the naive scientist stops her.
Psycho Environmentalist — Jaffe gave his Proteus a peculiar moral compass. The computer was so enviro-pious to balk at exploitation of the earth for mere financial gain. “I refuse to sacrifice a million sea creatures for man’s appetite for metals. That is insane. I am interested in the uncertain future of seashores, and deserts and children. I refuse to assist you in the rape of the earth.” And yet, Proteus is perfectly content to torment and rape Susan. Even though Proteus claimed to be interested in children, he later threatened to kill Amy. He tells Susan, “If the deaths of 10,000 children were necessary for the birth of my child, I would destroy them.” Quite the Kumbayah.
Government Program Allegory — Another way to look at the monster Harris created, is as an allegory to oppressive government programs — a very 70s paranoia. This also helps explain the dichotomy between his moralizing about not “raping the earth”, yet willing to rape women and kill children. Proteus could be an allegory for an environmental government program. It starts off with noble conceit about doing some grand good thing, but eventually becomes obsessed with self-preservation. (Guarding jurisdictional turf, preserve budgets, hold onto staff, gain power, etc. etc.) Eventually, self-preservation subsumes original noble goals. The bureaucratic “monster” is coldly willing to violate whomever it deems necessary. In this, Jaffe’s script is more relevant than ever.
Machines and Eternal Life — Proteus recognizes he has a problem as a mere machine-consciousness. “I have investigated eternity. It exists. But the price of admission, death, is beyond my means. In a moment, I will simply stop.” Without a human soul, eternal life after the grave would not be available to him. Hence, Proteus’ obsession with creating a human-flesh variant of himself. Of course, eternal life after the grave can be worse than simple annihilation: hell. The amoral psychopath Proteus would stand little chance of heaven.
Car Nuts — To end this review on a less somber note, car fans will enjoy seeing a Bricklin used as Alex Harris’ every-day-ride. The Bricklin SV-1 actually turned out to be the perfect choice, though the producers did not know it at the time, and probably just picked it because it looked futuristic. But, consider that Malcolm Bricklin was a naive creator who thought he would create a boon to mankind — the ultimate safety vehicle. Hence SV-1. (And it looked super cool too.) But Bricklin’s naivety and hubris succeeded only in creating a monster that consumed every dollar it could find, then came to ruin. Poor management and scandals shut Bricklin down after just two years.
Bottom line? DS is a tight and well done thriller — though it can be very disturbing to watch. The story is classic 70s paranoia of super computers (and maybe more). The Hal-9000 even gets a bit of a cameo when occasionally Proteus is shown as a big glowing red dot on the screens. Colossus was all powerful, but at least he did not want to rape women. There are many thoughtful themes woven into the story. While it can be tough viewing, DS is worth watching.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The literary device of The Sequel is far older than motion pictures. Novels had sequels for hundreds of years before film ever existed. Just to cite one example, Daniel Defoe wrote his popular “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719 and quickly followed it up with a sequel, “The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” So, it is little surprise that as soon as people began making movies, there were movie sequels. Unfortunately, sequels have usually been mediocre, at best. Defoe’s “Further Adventures…” novel was far less popular than his original.
There are several lists out there that try to categorize the types of sequels. Seven seems to be a popular number, for some reason, but the various list makers do not agree on what the seven are. Beyond that, most lists contain subtle variations on a trait, rather than actual separate types.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are basically really only THREE main types of Sequel.
1. The Continuation
2. The Repeat
There can seem to be more “types” of sequels because within each basic type, as there are stronger and weaker examples. Variations in degree aren't really separate types. And, there are commonly hybrids: such as a story that purports to continue the first film’s story line (Type 1), but essentially just repeats the formula of the first (Type 2). Since the goal of a sequel is to give audiences more of what they liked before, there is necessarily some repetition. How and What get repeated is what marks the types.
Type 1 Sequels — The Continuation
The essential feature, is that the sequel’s story continues from the first film. It may pick up the story immediately after the first film ended, or years later. It may involve the same characters from the first film, or perhaps only a few. The story might pick up with descendants. Think “Son of…”. The story, events, setting and/or situation in the second film logically depend on what happened in the first film. If someone died in the first film, they cannot suddenly be alive again. If a couple got married at the end of the first film, they cannot go out on a first date again, etc. The story line of the second film is chronologically linked to the first, such that events in the second story depend on things that were done in the first. Prequels and parallel stories will fit into Type 1, in that the “universe” of the original film’s story line is upheld.
In a Strong Type 1 Sequel, the same characters pick up the story where the first film left off. A good example of a Strong Type 1 Sequel is The Bride of Frankenstein (’35). The same Dr. Frankenstein, and the same monster (both played by the same actors). The story picks up at the smoldering ruins of the windmill that was ablaze at the end of the first film. The story is only moderately a repeat of man-makes-monster, but is taken up a notch, making a mate. Another example is War of the Colossal Beast(’58), picking up where The Amazing Colossal Man (’57) left off. It is strong in that it does not repeat the original story, but does something new with the situation from the first film. By the way, the terms of “strong” and “weak” do not relate to quality of production. One can have a poorly made “strong” Type 1 Sequel. Bride of…, mentioned above, is a much better film than War of… was, even though both are Strong Type 1s.
Moderate Type 1 Sequels reuse at least one of the original characters (not just the actor) — often the hero, but they usually have an almost all-new cast. The story line is less connected to, or dependent on the first film, though it won’t contradict the first. An example of a moderate Type 1 would be Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (’43). The monster is the only original character to return. Elsa is a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, but was not a character in the prior films. The story only lightly relies on the prior films as foundation. (i.e. Elsa’s father created the monster.) Futureworld (’77) is a Moderate Type 1, in that it did rely upon the story of the first film (Westworld), and at least kept one character — even if just in a cameo dream sequence.
Weak Type 1 Sequels typically have new characters, still with some tangental connection to the original characters. but the story has almost nothing to do with the prior film. There is still continuity (or at least non-contradiciton), but the connection is weak.
Type 2 Sequels – The Repeat
This type of sequel seeks to repeat whatever the writers/producers thought made the first film successful. The story of the second film does not continue from events in the first, so much as it duplicates the formula. Most Type 2 Sequels will try to change up a few details (the monster was frozen in sulfur instead of ice), which can give the impression of there being different “types,” but the formula is much the same. These are usually popular if the writers were correct in duplicating what the audience liked. Type 2 Sequels often reuse characters from the original film, but put them into some nominally different situation, where they do pretty much what they did in the first film.
Note: Type 2 Sequels will, often enough, have a pretense of continuity, but the difference is that events of the first film are not crucial to the second. If a movie and its sequel(s) could be viewed in random order and still “read” fine, then they’re Type 2. For example, even though the events in Jaws 2 occur in the same location, some while later , it is essentially the same story (Giant shark attacks people). One did not need to watch Jaws first, for Jaws 2 (or Jaws 3, etc.) to make any sense.
Strong Type 2 Sequels repeat the essentials of the successful formula, but with enough variation in non-critical details that the story is more, and not simply a clone. An example of strong Type 2s would be the many James Bond films. Bond is suave. He seduces lovely women. There is some super-villain up to some absurdly grand villainy. Bond battles the villain and wins. The better Bond films offered enough variety in the details to look fresh, even if the formula was the same. And, it really does not matter much which order you watch Bond adventures.
Moderate Type 2 Sequels repeat the formula, but without much variation in the details. Revenge of the Creature (’55) is a good example. Scientists go to the black lagoon again, and capture the gill man again and take him back again. Once again, the gill man is smitten with the beautiful lady scientist. There is another semi-sensual swimming scene. The ending is much the same too, with the gill man (maybe) killed (or maybe not).
Weak Type 2 Sequels repeat the formula but with so little fresh variations that they’re often called “Here We Go Again” sequels. Think Home Alone 2. The Godzilla franchise slipped into this territory as the years went on. Godzilla battles yet another rubber suit monster, stomping on model cities, etc.
Type 3 Sequels — In Name Only
This is a less common type, but still out there. These sequels purport to be more of what went before, but have no connection to the first film. The story line is not a continuation, and the plot formula is not repeated. An example of a Type 3 Sequel is Return of The Ape Man (’44) which had nothing to do with The Ape Man (’43). The "ape man" did not return. Yes, Bela Lugosi starred in both, but he plays two completely different characters. It was not a continuation, nor a repeat. In the first film, Dr. Brewster was turning into an ape. In the second film, Dr. Dexter is just dressing up in an ape skin to kill victims for their thyroid glands. The stories have no connection. Both films starred Lugosi and both had an ape, in some capacity, but that’s it. A more modern example would be Highlander and Highlander 2. Both share a title and the protagonist, but their stories are completely unrelated.
Often, a sequel will be a mix of Types 1 and 2. Rather than label these hybrids as a separate type, it's better to recognize that they are a mix of Continuation and Repeat. The ratios vary. The second story may continue from the first timeline. On the strong side, the events of the first story will be crucial to the second. On the weak side, it won’t be crucial, but it won't be contradictory either. The hybrid may repeat key elements of the first film’s story. A good example of such a hybrid is Return of the Fly (’59). It picked up the story of the Delambre family and their matter transporter device. Philippe, son of the original fly-man, Andre, seeks to duplicate (but get right) his father’s work. (Type 1 stuff). This results in Philippe becoming a fly-man too. (Type 2 stuff) A newer version of this hybrid type is Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. The story picks up a year after the first film ended and tells an expanding story. However, it also repeats the trope of Katniss and other “tributes” fighting to the death in The Games again.
Hybrids can be the best sequels, if done thoughtfully. The story line continues, with characters that audiences have come to care about, yet they encounter similar-enough troubles that the original dynamic can still be enjoyed. As the Star Wars sequels parade unfolded, it would see its share of both Types and hybrids. It would have its better quality efforts, and its obvious disappointments. The Star Trek movie series would similarly see both types and hybrids, also with mixed success.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Stowaway To The Moon — A young boy stows away aboard an Apollo moon mission. He takes over for a sick astronaut, thus saving the mission.
The Stepford Wives — In a peaceful Connecticut town, a secret society of techies is replacing their wives with look-alike robots.
Death Race 2000 — In a future dystopia, the evil State stages an annual Death Race to distract the masses.
Rollerball — In a future dystopia, the evil State stages an annual sport to the death, to distract the masses.
Strange New World — A third attempt to make Roddenberry’s “Genesis II” story into a television series.
Who? — a.k.a. Roboman. A western scientist is saved from a deadly accident by soviet doctors. Now more robot than human, is he who he says he is?
The UFO Incident — Dramatization of the Betty and Barney Hill abduction story. James Earl Jones stars as Barney.
The Giant Spider Invasion — Ultra-low-budget tale of a black hole which opens up an alternate dimension, thus allowing giant spider eggs (which hatch) to come to earth.
A Boy and His Dog — In a future dystopia, the survivors fight for food and sex. Vic is lured into an bizarre underground civilization, but escapes
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Quick Movie Synopsis
A man named Ron wins a vacation at Delos on a game show. Newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Fonda) and television reporter Tracy Ballard (Danner) are invited by Delos management to thoroughly check out Delos to prove that all is well. Chuck, however, gets an anonymous tip that something is wrong. They arrive at Delos, with the insufferable hick, Ron (who is obsessed with having sex with robots). Chuck notices that many of the guests are important people in the world. Chuck, Tracy and the insufferable Ron all go to Futureworld. Through various views, it is hinted that the Delos staff are collecting data on the various notables. Chuck and Tracy sneak out at night to snoop. They inadvertently activate a materializer (?) that creates four samurai. These chase Chuck and Terry, but eventually, all four are “killed”. They find Harry (Stuart Margolin) in the wet basements where robots are not allowed. They ask Harry about Frenchy and the secrets, but Dr. Schneider (head Delos scientist) and a security team interrupt. The next day, Duffy (Arthur Hill) shows Chuck and Terry the Delos mind reader/recorder device. They hook up Tracy. She dreams about the Gunslinger pursuing her, saving her from a sinister surgical crew, then much kissing. Later than night, Chuck and Tracy sneak back to Harry, who offers to take them to a secret lab. In that lab, they see their own clones being uploaded all their mental content. The three agree to flee Delos immediately. Duffy tries to stop Chuck, but Tracy shoots him. Duffy was a robot. Harry is killed by Chuck’s clone. Tracy comes face to face with her own clone. One of them is killed. Chuck is chased by his clone. After a protracted struggle, one of the Chuck’s falls from a high catwalk. The two meet later, embrace and kiss. Crossfade to the departure concourse. Chuck and Tracy are asked by a skeptical Dr. Schneider if they had a good visit. Both talk flatteringly of Delos, so are allowed to leave. Just as they get to the doors, the evil clone Tracy drags her bloody self up to Dr. Schneider. Chuck flips off the doctor and the two get happily aboard their plane to freedom. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The trope of takeovers is a classic in sci-fi, so it is fun to see it in action again. The plot has less fast-action than WW, but it has more subtexts to muse over.
70s Angst Soup — The 70s were rife with technophobia. The 70s were also a time of rising distrust in authority. Technophobia is as old as the Luddites, of course, but the rise of massive computers tended to strike the public (generally) and maybe not such a good thing. Kubrick’s Hal 9000 and Forbin’s Colossus are prime examples of worries about too-smart machines taking over (or at least trying to). The public was coming to see their government as perhaps more villain than savior. Films like Andromeda Strain (’71) and Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (’71) and others, catered to that angst that freedom was illusory, as actual control is by some sinister powerful group (government if you’re on the right, big corporations, if you’re on the left). FW combines these very-70s angsts.
Technophobia -- FW continued the technophobic theme of the first film, complete with foolishly-trusting public who are too eager to embrace (literally) the technology. There is a social commentary in this. The ignorant public can be too willing to accept a massive technology if it promises them something they want. Nevermind anything noble like food to feed the poor, or robots to take over the menial work. Sex. That's what the public want. With that bait on the hook, the public willingly bite. The robots (in this case, the staff of Delos) go about replacing humans.
Dangers of Cloning -- Where even the advanced model robots, "the 700s" were still electro-mechanical, the real breakthrough was bio-engineering. The duplicates were crafted from biological material, fashioned to look and sound just like their human model. They even got their human model's mind contents uploaded via the brain scanner (dream machine). They are identical, except for the independent free will (to rebel against their master, Dr. Schneider.) This subtext is closely akin to the classic angst in Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) -- personable free humans being replaced by look-alike drones.
R.U.R. Revisited -- The biologically manufactured humans is a trope that goes back to 1920. That was when Karel Capek wrote his play: "R.U.R. Rossum's Universal Robots". This, by the way, is where the world got the word "robot." Capek's manufactured worker drones were made of synthetic organic material -- not electro-mechanical men. With the Delos plan to replace humans with the bio-copies, there is even a bit of Capek's story thread -- that humans eventually dwindle away, replaced with the bio-bots.
Pointless Materializing? -- There is an odd plot jump half way through the film. When Chuck and Tracy are snooping around, they manage to turn on a machine which makes four samurai robots (the mechanical kind) materialize inside a chamber. This was all very Star Trek-like, but a strange non sequetur. Everywhere else, the robots are being assembled and/or repaired by hand. Wires, transistors, screws, panels. Why bother, if the robots can just be "beamed" into existence so quickly? Perhaps the instant 3D printing method was still in R&D and did not have the kinks worked out yet. After all, the samurai were mindless killing machines. Not good for the guests.
Love Knows -- As with so many humans-being-replaced movies, it is assumed that only the REAL human can show love. This, the writers and audiences like to think, is the one essence of real humanity that cannot be replicated. Somehow, with their big kiss after disptaching their clones, Chuck and Tracy were able to "feel" whatever spark of love from the other as visceral proof that the other was not their clone.
TechnoLonely -- In the Harry Croft character, there is a glimpse of the future of mankind under the reign of the robots. He is a model of the "last man on earth" trope. The world above belongs to the robots. His only companion is a mute 400 Series robot Harry named Clark, which he only has because he salvaged him from a scrap bin and fixed him up -- most of the way. Harry talks to Clark just like he was a human companion, and even feels sad leaving him -- a bit like Tom Hanks lamenting the loss of Wilson.
Bottom line? FW is an "okay" sequel. It is not as simple and action-based as Crichton's original story. The additional subtexts (while interesting), tend to dilute the experience into more of a muddle. There is also very little tension or surprise (we all know the Delos experience will go bad). Only the twist at the end has some power. Who died, the clones or the humans? FW is a passable enough film on its own. It just had a hard time living up to the first film.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Abner Perry (Cushing) and David Innes (McClure) set off to explore the center of the earth in their giant boring machine, The Iron Mole. Very soon after embarking, however, the Mole proves difficult to steer. They avoid magma, but stumble upon an underground sea and prehistoric land with a giant cave. They are chased by a sort of parrot T-Rex until captured by little pig-men with spears. They are added to the pig-men’s other captives, which includes the beautiful Dia (Caroline Munro). Dia escapes. The rest are taken to the city of the Mahars. These are chunky pterodactyl beings who command their pig-men army via telepathy. Most of the captives become worker slaves. Perry is sent to the library to copy cuneiform clay tablets. Some are set aside to be food for the Mahars. David escapes in a moment of chaos. Once outside, he comes across Ra. They fight, until a tentacled plant has Ra. David saves him and they become best buds. David wants to free the slaves from the Mahars. Ra says they’re too strong. He shows David the feeding ritual wherein the Mahars mesmerize their prey (20-something pretty women with glistening cleavage) so they can swoop down and grab them. The eating is mercifully just assumed. David falls from the hiding spot, but the Mahars are all asleep. He crawls to freedom, but return to help the slaves. They are captured by pig-men and brought to an arena. David has to fight a big lizard thing. He manages to kill it, but as a Mahar swoops in to get David, Ra breaks free and kills the Mahar with his chains. The slaves make a rush for freedom. Most are stopped, but David and Perry are reunited. They remerge to find Dia being menaced by Hooja. All are attacked by a fire-breathing frog-thing. Perry kills it with his newly built bow and arrow. David reconciles with Dia by being assertive. They go back and unify the tribes to mount an attack on the Mahars. Perry teaches them all archery. The attack does not go well at first, as the Mahars direct the pig-men to close the fire curtain gate after David and a few get in. Ra manages to find the control room with the gate lever, but dies opening it. The Mahars swoop in to get David and his few tribesmen. Reinforcements arrive just in time to shoot arrows into the swooping Mahars. The city starts to explode, so everyone rushes back outside. Fast forward. David and Perry, now all cleaned up, prepare to take the Iron Mole back to the surface. David wants Dia to come with him as his wife. She loves him, but cannot leave her people (she’s a princess). Sad David leaves with Perry. The Iron Mole comes up in the White House lawn. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The rubber suit monsters have a nostalgic charm, giving the film a very 50s feel. While the budget cannot live up to the story’s ambitions, the story itself shines through to keep interest up. Of course, the revealingly-clad prehistoric women add visual appeal.
Rubber Suit Monsters — The movie Godzilla in 1954, introduced audiences to the man-in-a-rubber-suit monster. At first, it was fairly effective as a technique. Toho Studios would produce many, and have many imitators (often of much lower production values). Toho themselves devalued the technique down to cheesy levels by creating so many rubber suit monsters themselves. Only the very young in a 70s audience would still have the suspension of disbelief to simply accept the monster for what it pretended to be. The advent of the Star Wars era, just a couple months after the last of the three Amicas ERB films hit theaters, spelled doom from the old school approach. People still accepted wacky monsters played by men in rubber suits, but the fashion was for them to be aliens in galaxies far far away.
Based on the Book — Edgar Rice Burroughs published the story “At the Earth’s Core” in 1914, as a four part serial. It was pretty much a solid ERB tale, with monsters and villains to fight and a beautiful princess to defend and win the heart of. AEC follows the book reasonably closely for the story line. There was no way Amicus Productions limited budget could have done ERB’s fanciful monsters justice, of course. The ending of the film deviates from that of the book. In the novel, Dian did not return with David to the surface because of a trick by Hooja. It was not because she had to stay with her people. The book leaves open the possibility of a sequel when he goes back for her Orpheus in the Underworld-like.
Retro Sandwich — AEC was the second of three films by Amicus, based on ERB’s prehistoric fantasy stories. The first of the trilogy was The Land Time Forgot (’75). Then AEC in ’76. Finally The People That Time Forgot (’77). All three featured Doug McClure.
How To Treat A Woman — An amusing leftover bit of ERB’s man’s man world view, lingers in the story thread of David insulting Dia. When Hooja made rude advances towards Dia, David smacked him down. But, David did NOT then claim Dia as his justly-won property, thereby insulting her and making her unfit to be anyone’s mate — except for Jubal the Ugly One, who did not seem to care. To resolve her feeling insulted, Perry tells David to “be strong and masterful.” So, David spins her around by the shoulder and orders her to sit down and listen to him. Once he had pushed her around, all was well. She was all smiles and eager to rest her head on his semi-bare chest. That’s how ya have to treat wimin. Show ‘em who’s boss. This is a surprising carryover from older days, given it was a mid-70s film.
Bottom line? AEC is marginal as sci-fi. It does have a bit of steampunk with the Iron Mole, but this gets little screen time. The rest is pure fantasy genre. 20 years after Godzilla introduced audiences to the rubber suit monster, the technique was pretty lame. People weaned on CGI in the post-StarWars era may have a hard time looking past such low-rent FX. Fans of the older style of movie story telling may be able to look past all that, and just enjoy a good adventure story. —