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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kronos, Destroyer of the Universe

This movie is a cut above the usual B-grade sci-fi. For one, it was shot in "Regalscope", which was a widescreen format, though still black and white. It gave the movie a grander presence. The production team also had some depth via Twentieth Century Fox studios. Kronos also had above-average acting from its principle cast. Jeff Morrow ("Exeter" in This Island Earth ('55)) plays the lead. Morris Ankrum (sci-fi regular) plays a doctor (for a change). John Emery (
Rocketship X-M
('50)) does a good job as the alien-possessed project director. Kronos was co-written by one of the writers who gave us Forbidden Planet: Irving Block. The plot was not quite unique, but has a timelessness which transcends the typical Cold War ecosystem. It's almost two movie plots in one. The first is the evil rampaging alien (in this case a giant cubic robot "accumulator" dubbed "Kronos"). The second is the alien-possession theme as the aliens take over the pick-up driver and then the Director in order to give Kronos target info and trick the authorities into feeding it energy.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A flying saucer approaches Earth. It sends down a small "light" object which lands in the American southwest desert. The light inhabits and takes over a random driver who then drives to a research lab. Once there, it jumps to the lab's Director. Scientists at the lab observe that the saucer (they call it an asteroid) is approaching earth. The possessed director recommends hitting it with nuke missiles. Three are fired, but the saucer only grows. It then flies down into the Pacific off the Mexican coast. The scientists go investigate. Out of the sea looms a 100-foot tall cubical machine with four piston-like legs. The possessed Director looks up nearby power stations. The machine, now named Kronos, marches to a Mexican electrical generation station. It destroys the station as it absorbs much power. Kronos grows. The possessed Director looks up nuclear facilities. Kronos marches towards Los Angeles and a nuclear weapons facility. Conventional weapons cannot stop Kronos. The Director suggests the Air Force drop an H-bomb on it. Dr. Gaskell (Morrow) argues that it will only feed Kronos power, but it is too late. Kronos jams the bomber's controls so that it crashes into Kronos. After the mushroom cloud, Kronos glows, then grows even larger. In a struggle between the Director and Gaskell, the Director receives a high voltage shock, this de-possesses him temporarily. He says they must reverse Kronos's process. Gaskell's plan is to drop special isotope particles on top of Kronos, thereby changing the polarity of his antennae. This is supposed to make him feed on his own stored power, making him consume himself. A lone jet drops the parachute bomb with the isotope powder. It works. Kronos begins sparking and glowing as he consumes himself. After awhile, only a pile of smoldering rubble remains. Los Angeles and the earth are safe. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
The story, while not entirely fresh, interweaves two familiar threads: alien-possession and consuming-monster. It's a good addition to the "They want our..." sub-genre. The acting is pretty good. See Notes section for other details of interest.

Cold War Angle
On the surface Kronos has an energy & natural resources moral to it. The notion of a all-consuming, unstoppable power was an easy resonant theme in the Cold War climate of the mid 50s. The feature of a turncoat "spy" helping direct the power against us, is yet another Cold War angst theme.

Everybody Wants Us -- A frequent plot motivator in 50s sci-fi is that the hostile aliens want what earth has. They want our world to live in: Zombies from the Stratosphere ('52) Robot Monster ('53), War of the Worlds ('53), Killers From Space ('54). They want our men: Devil Girl from Mars ('53). They want our scientists: This Island Earth ('55). They want our blood: Not From This Earth ('57). In Kronos, they want our energy. The theme of they-want-our-(whatever) will be re-used in years to come. While the innuendo of they-want-our-women has danced around the genre for years, it won't actually be until 1958 in I Married a Monster From Outer Space and 1959 in The Mysterians that "they" are unambiguously after our women.

The Other Side -- Sharing a plot detail with Forbidden Planet ('56), the nameless aliens have figured out how to turn energy into matter. This allowed them to make whatever stuff they wished. The trouble was, it takes massive amounts of energy to make even simple matter. The aliens' lust for stuff consumed all their own system's energy, hence the scout ship with Kronos aboard, to go get more.

Consumption Personified -- Where Godzilla was the personification of atomic power, Kronos is the visible metaphor for unbridled consumption. In its emotionless drive to find and consume all available power, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. Finding power doesn't satisfy it, but instead makes it grow into an even more powerful and hungry energy consumer. Unless it is stopped, it will consume every last scrap of energy on the earth.

Conservation Message -- Rather than the usual nuclear cautionary tale, Kronos cautions viewers not to use up earth's resources. "(The aliens') planet has become depleted of energy. What has happened to them may happen here, if we continue using our resources at our present rate," says Dr. Elliot in his brief lucid moment. This moral plays pretty well to today's audiences, making it remarkable that the story was made in early 1956. (except for the note below)

Great Timing! -- The mid-50s was a time of cheap and plentiful power -- an unlikely place for an energy conservation message. However, when Kronos was released, it found a very receptive audience. In late 1956, the Suez Crisis cut off oil supplies from the mideast. The oil shortage (felt mostly in Europe) shocked people into awareness of our energy supply limitations. When the script for Kronos was being written, none of this had happened yet. Kronos was released at the peak of the West's first oil shortage (not due to war rationing). What an amazing coincidence!

Why Kronos? -- Gaskell says the cubic robot reminded him of a huge metal statue of Kronos, but where was this statue? In Greek mythology, Kronos was one of the Titans, the father Zeus, but hardly any fearsome destroyer of worlds. Kronos was a harvest god, therefore often depicted with a scythe. Perhaps this suggested a "bringer of death" association to the writers.

Checkers! -- Here we have yet another movie using footage of captured V2 rockets. We see some assembly footage, and a bit of transporting them and V2s on launch pads. Among them, if you look, is our old friend Checkers. We get to see him take off twice as part of the nuke missiles sent to destroy the "asteroid".

Bottom line? Kronos is worth well watching if you're a 50s sci-fi fan. Its visuals and effects are pretty good for its day. You can still appreciate the race to stop the energy vampire and the thoughtful script.


Palomar Observatory said...

I just watched this movie last night and was happy to see that it is yet another 50s sci-fi movie that has Palomar Observatory in it. If anyone cares put a post up about it on my blog at http://bit.ly/4P9DU1

Anonymous said...

A terrific sf movie, and definitely one with a message. The only thing we can conclude is that solar power obviously doesn't work for the aliens. Hopefully it will for us.

Darci said...

As you said, the writers confused 2 legends. The metal status was Talos. Cronus was the leader of the Titans, overthrown by his sons Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.

Anonymous said...

I'd never seen this film before but watched it a few nights ago and was really impressed. When Kronos finally started to move, I flew out of my chair! Really good 50's sci-fi. Best wishes, Zokko

Unknown said...

Howdy SciFi Film Fans,

First off, let's suspend disbelief.

This is a fun movie.

The acting is pretty good to excellent.

The plot is fine, just ignore some of the holes in it.

The visuals are excellent for their time.

In typical 1950's fashion, the scene where Jeff Morrow is lost in thought trying to figure out what is going on in the water and Barbara Lawrence climbs out of the jeep in a white one-piece bathing suit is great.

That would bring me back to reality in a hurry too.

What a doll.

One thing I just did not get.

When Morris Ankurm is toasted by the giant bug zapper in his office - who keeps one indoors? Let alone one big enough to smoke Mothra?

Arnie needs to spend less time with SUSIE and get a real girl friend.

Have a good time at the movies and please shut off your cellphones.