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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Cosmic Man

The premise behind The Day The Earth Stood Still had enough power to spawn many remakes. Cosmic Man is yet another of these. A mysterious stranger comes from outer space to warn us to change our ways, as us earthlings are headed for trouble. This is the second remake. The first was the British film Stranger From Venus ('54). This remake pulled in a couple of other tropes from the original TDESS. The marketing was typical of the day, strong on hype and playing up the horror angle. Cosmic Man isn't a horror movie. It's basic, low-budget B sci-fi.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A mysterious UFO is tracked to a landing in the mountains of California. The military and a scientist, Dr. Karl Sorensen, search for it. They find a 10' diameter white sphere hovering a couple feet off the ground. The military secure the area. Karl and Colonel Mathews take rooms at a nearby vacation lodge run by a pretty young widow, Kathy. Karl theorizes that it uses anti-gravity as propulsion. The military are obsessed with getting at the advanced technology within, but the sphere defies all attempts to cut it open. Hints suggest that an invisible stranger is in the area and shows up at the lodge. Kathy sees a shadowy black silhouette and screams. People in the nearby village also see a shadowy black shape and get collectively upset. In Karl's lab, the shadow studies Karl and Rich's plans for solar motor (which has thus far not worked). He makes some changes to the schematic drawings, then leaves. Karl and Rich later wonder at the now-working solar motor. Proof of the alien's superiority. Worry spreads in town and among the military about this Cosmic Man. Personal danger? National Security risk? Amid this turmoil, a mysterious stranger in typical big hat and dark glasses arrives at the lodge. He's presumed to be another scientist. He befriends Kathy's wheelchair-bound son, Ken. The Cosmic Man appears to the Col. and scientists in the lodge. He delivers a monologue about man needing to change his philosophy before embarking on space travel. His message delivered, he will leave in the morning. In the morning, the stranger and Ken are missing. A fevered manhunt finds them near the sphere. The stranger heals Ken's crippled legs. Soldiers shoot the stranger as he approaches the sphere. He disappears, leaving his disguise on the ground. The sphere glows brightly, then wooshes up. Ken walks out from the rocks. Wonder, amazement, hope for the future. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
John Carradine always adds interest, even if he gets little screen time. A fan of TDESS can be amused at the reworking of the plot and premise -- imitation being a form of flattery.

Cold War Angle
As a TDESS remake, the cautionary moral is also remade. Man must be more careful with this new power. The Cold War isn't analogized, but it does act as a familiar stage for the drama. The military men banter Cold War polarized thinking about "sides", the urgency for superior technology and the pressure to acquire them before the Russians do.

Philosophical Debate -- Dr. Sorensen and Col. Mathews have a running debate throughout the movie about the right course of action. Mathews is all for blowing up the sphere or capturing the alien, and particularly keen to pry loose some secrets of the alien's technology to help give American a military edge. Dr. Sorenson, on the other hand, argues for restraint, trying to meet and talk with the alien.

TDESS Affinity -- Carradine's Cosmic Man is clearly a neo-Klaatu. He is mysterious, but benevolent. He is feared and hunted by the military. The Cosmic Man proves his advanced knowledge by solving an earth scientist's problem (on a blueprint instead of a chalkboard). He delivers his cautionary message from the benevolent powers in space. He has Christ-like powers, and (like Christ), is killed by the authorities, yet "the tomb is empty." In the end, he ascends into the heavens. As well, there is a pretty widow with a little boy who befriends the stranger.

TDESS Deviations -- The Cosmic Man comes across as more creepy than likable. This was probably an attempt at injecting some (pointless) horror or mystery flavor. Carradine has no threatening robot Gort to add a sense of danger. The only 'threat' is oblique and fairly dormant. The widow does not interact or have any interest in the stranger. Instead, the love triangle is among other characters.

Never Too Old For Love -- Producer pundits seem to have always pushed that scripts need to have love triangles in them. Perhaps they didn't think a sci-fi topic alone was enough. Cosmic Man was no exception. What was mildly interesting about this (pointless) love triangle is that all the participants were fairly 'mature.' Kathy was quite the flirt, for a despondent widow. But Karl as possible love interest? Even Col. Matthews is a bit mature to have been unattached. Perhaps people waited much longer back then to date.

Bronson Space Port -- Keen eyed viewers may recognize trusty Bronson Canyon as the site the sphere lands in. This has been the site of many an alien landing. Good old Ro-Man is never far from us.

Bottom line? Cosmic Man is a remake, and certainly doesn't surpass (or even match) the original, but it has its points of interest. For fans of TDESS, this is more of an homage than a sacrilege. Let it be a B movie and enjoy it as such.


Mike Scott said...

Not a British movie. Maybe you're thinking of "The Cosmic Monsters"?

Nightowl said...

Hi Mike,
No, I just had a badly constructed sentence. Was trying to say the first remake was British. (Stranger From Venus). Fixed that in the text.

Thanks for the keen proofreader's eye.