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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Green Slime

MGM produced this odd Japanese-American-Italian hybrid film in 1968. It played in Japan in 1968, America in 1969. The Green Slime was shot in Japan, using western actors speaking english (though often still dubbed). The story was written by one of the writers of the Italian Gamma One quadrilogy. One of the screenwriters was from the Batman TV series.The extensive models and miniatures work was done with former Toho craftsmen, guided by Akira Watanabe -- special effects director for many of Toho's kaiju epics. The resulting film is a medley of many flavors.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Space radar has detected a rogue asteroid named Flora which will hit Earth in 10 hours. General Thompson of United Nations Space Command sends up his best man, Jack Rankin and a team, to set explosives on the asteroid and destroy it. En route, there is a stop at space station Gamma 3. We learn of a former team mate and now simmering rivalry (for command and Dr. Lisa) between Jack and Vince Elliot, commander of Gamma 3. The beautiful italian doctor Lisa Benson is also abroad Gamma 3. The team embarks and lands on Flora. They drill for their explosives, but also discover green slime which is attracted to their gear. For no apparent good reason, Jack smashes the doctor's sample in a glass jar, spattering a bit of slime on the leg of a team mate. They all return to Gamma 3. They're decontaminated, but the slime fed on the energy and grew to a monster. It kills a couple of expendable crewmen. The doctor wants to save it for study, but it gets loose and kills still more. They discover that even drops of its green blood can grow into a new monster, so shooting them is a bad idea. Instead, they try to lure the (now) herd of monsters into a store room with a generator as bait. This eventually works, but the one they trapped in the infirmary grows too strong to contain and rampages, setting the others free too. After an explosion, the creatures are on the outside of the station, gathering energy from the sun. The station crew can't escape while creature keep the hatch closed, so Vince and a team go EVA and fight the monsters with laser rifles. Two escape ships get away. The last ship is ready to go, but Earth command can't control Gamma 3 remotely (to send it to a fiery doom). Jack stays behind to set the controls manually. He gets in trouble, but Vince comes to his rescue. In the fight, Vince is killed by a monster. Jack sets the controls, sending Gamma 3 hurtling earthward. He, with Vince's body, escape and are picked up by the third ship. Gamma 3 burns up obligingly, along with all the creatures stuck to its hull. On earth, a solemn ceremony (of sorts) commemorates Vince's sacrifice.

Why is this movie fun?
GS has many faults, which can make it amusing to watch in a sort of MST3K mood, but even if enjoyed as a "serious" B-grade sci-fi, it moves along at such a quick pace that viewers never have a chance to get bored.

Cold War Angle
There doesn't seem to be any real Cold War allegories going on. Instead, GS taps into the old Space Is Dangerous theme.

Gamma Five -- Fans of the Gamma One series will see many similarities, making GS almost the fifth installment in the series. Note the very similar modern cityscape, the Jetson cars, and of course, the big-wheel space station named, handily, "Gamma 3." Also similar are the characters. You have your hunky, gruff, bossy hero type, your rebellious rival and of course, your space babe who happens to be italian. Since Ivan Reiner was producer and writer for GS AND a writer for all four of the Gamma One stories, this similarity is no coincidence.

No Trope Unturned -- One interesting feature of GS is how many tropes it uses. Many of them have been entire movies on their own. The rogue object which will crash into earth has been done several times. When Worlds Collide ('51), The Day the Sky Exploded ('61) and Gorath ('62) to name just a few. Then there is the rogue monster hiding aboard and killing crewmen trope. The Thing ('51), It: Terror From Beyond Space ('58) and many others. Innocuous slime creatures: Space Master X-7 (58), The Blob ('58), H-Men ('59) to name some biggies. Mutiny in Outer Space ('65) featured a wheel-like space station overrun with some alien life (fungus instead of slime). GS is like a sampler platter of sci-fi plots.

Cast of Cliches -- With all the action in the plot of GS, there is no time for character development. As such, the writers have relied on stock characters at every turn. The hero is Mr. Gung-Ho guns ablazin' who is (almost) always right. His commander is gruff but it's all empty bluster, as the hero can do whatever he pleases. The rival can't do much of anything right, and "screwed up" in the past. He atones for his sins by sacrificing himself while saving the hero. The love interest is beautiful and torn between the flawed nice guy and the tough hero, but otherwise she's just a damsel in distress to be rescued or a prize to be fought over. The monsters are mindless killing machines. The misguided doctor wants to save the creature for study, but gets killed by it instead. (How many times has THAT been used?) Lastly, the crew is well stocked with expendable crewmen for the monsters to kill.

Hair of Iron -- Note how Jack's seriously cantilevered hair defies being mussed up, despite running, explosions, multiple tuck-and-roll escapes from creatures, and however many times he puts on and takes off his space helmet. That's tough heroic hair.

Bottom line? GS is proof that sci-fi had not necessarily matured just because Kubrik produced 2001. GS is a campy and at times absurd B sci-fi with a very strong 60s flavor. (note the colors, the styles, the dancing, the music ! The story has huge holes in it, leaving it ripe for riffing. Fans of the Gamma One series might appreciate this film as a sort of "lost episode." Those seeking thoughtful science fiction will likely catch themselves asking, "What were they thinking?"


Randall Landers said...

Green SLIME! Most groovy theme music ever!

Anonymous said...

During the 1960's, a decade of social turmoil and change, GS seemed like a throwback to a kinder simpler time, when all you had to worry about was SLIME. ( love the Dancing).
- mgl