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Monday, August 20, 2012

Project X

Paramount released a nice, if modest, William Castle sci-fi thriller that seems to have gone largely unknown. Project X (PX) might have been better known if it hadn't been release in the spring of 1968, when blockbusters like 2001 (MGM) and Planet of the Apes (Fox) drew all the limelight. Christopher George stars as the square jawed hero. Greta Baldwin plays the later love interest. Henry Jones plays Dr. Crowther. Use of ample stock footage lends the film a 50s flavor, despite the rather 70s-TV sets and directing.

Quick Plot Synopsis
In the year 2118, Hagen Arnold is a dead spy who is kept cryogenically frozen after dying in a plane crash. He was returning from a secret mission inside "Sino-Asia" -- the "other" global super power. His last transmitted message said the West would be destroyed in 14 days. His memory had been wiped clean by a drug spies take in case they're captured. The authorities order him thawed and his mind probed to tease out what his message meant. Dr.Crowther (Henry Jones) leads a team who use "lasers" to read images from his mind. They create a remote farm house in 1968 (handily enough) and a fake identity for Hagen as a bank robber hiding from the police, so he'll stay at the house and get his mind layered when he sleeps. A mysterious other man lurks in the woods. During the mind probes, they learn details of his mission, his meeting George, his partner, and getting captured. The sinister Sen Chu boasts of his super weapon, but reveals no details. George breaks Hagen out of an undersea prison complex. In between laser-readings, Alan is not quite accepting his fake identity. He escapes the farmhouse and meets a pretty woman who knows nothing of 1968. The lurking man is actually George, who frightens her off with a laser blast. Alan returns to the farmhouse, tells of the pretty woman he met. The authorities pick her up for questioning. She knows nothing, but they keep her. George sneaks in to Karen's room and tells her that he's trying to rescue Alan from Dr. Crowther, who is really an agent of Sen Chu. The Colonel orders Crowther to probe more deeply into Alan's mind to learn the secret. The overdose of lasers causes Alan's mind to create an angry-faced red tornado that is his subconscious. Everyone is scared. George sneaks in to Karen to recruit help, but the angry red tornado tortures and kills George. Karen screams a lot. Karen tells the Colonel what George said about Crowther. He is arrested. But wait, what if they use their laser probes on dead George's brain? They do, and read the true story. George was the double agent, not Crowther. He injected Hagen with bacteria from all the world's famous plagues. They have a 14 day incubation period. Hagen was to be the carrier of bio-doom. The 14 days are up, everyone feels gloom and doom, but wait. Hagen was frozen for seven days after he died. They still have seven days left to distribute vaccines and antitoxins. Yay. Crowther fashions yet another new identity for Hagen, as David, a technician type, and husband of Karen. She wants to have children. Kiss, Happy music, Roll credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
For the most part, the story keeps moving and shifting. There are ample active sequences, so it's never boring. The plot twists add some cerebral interest. The colorful "mind reading" sequences offer some typical late-60s oversaturated visuals. Greta Baldwin, who plays Karen, is not hard to look at either.

Cold War Angle
The whole East vs. West mindset of the Cold War is projected, pretty much unchanged, 150 years into the future. That shows how permanent people thought the Cold War world was. The two big players still plot to annihilate each other by nasty terrible means.

Pre-Matrix -- Way before the famous films of that name, were humbler dabbling in the topic. The authorities create a set of fake memories, and fake environment for their subject. Unlike the Matrix movies, the fake world is still physical. Yet, Crowther refers to all this fabricated identity as "a new matrix."

Dark Glimpses -- Sprinkled throughout PX are references to a dark, brave new world, come 2118. Characters boast of how "all sickness" has been cured, yet whatever they did, it really just made them more vulnerable. They boast of how there is no more crime (such that there are no bank robbers), yet their capacity for abusing each other and killing each other seemed unabated. There is talk of overpopulation. Some women are "Steri" and unable to bear children. Yet Karen (the hot young ones) are still fertile. "Ferties"? Darkest, perhaps is that science is able to reprogram people's minds to whatever the authorities like.

Id Beast 2 -- Like the Id monster in Forbidden Planet ('56) the screenplay of PX presumes that the human mind can somehow actually spin off a separate "being" made up of powerful energy. Not much is made of this new energy life form and it's quickly forgotten about. Is it still out there somewhere? Is it still "haunting" Hagen?

Fleeting Beauty -- The female eye candy of the film is Greta Baldwin. This was her only prominent movie role. She did no other movies after this. Looking beautiful and sexy was easy for her. Acting did not seem to come quite as easy.

Traces of Quest -- Hanna-Barbera provided the many animated sequences. Many of them were vague and atmospheric effects for the mind reading. Some of the animated bits looked an awfully lot like clips from Jonny Quest, a TV series that Hanna-Barbera produced in the mid-60s.

Ming Returns -- The sinister Sen Chu looks vaguely like Flash Gordon's old nemesis, Ming the Merciless. Asian stereotypes ran deep.

China Rising -- The Soviet threat seemed to have cooled somewhat in the popular imagination by the mid-60s. China, however, was looming larger. A couple of similar examples include Bamboo Saucer ('68), and Battle Beneath The Earth ('67).

Bottom line? PX has it's somewhat hokey moments, but overall offers some sci-fi value. Cut PX some slack on the special effects because of its limited budget. Instead, let the complex story entertain you. ---


Randall Landers said...

As a child, I never could follow this one. I'll have to check it out when it gets to Netflix...

Paulo Corceiro said...

posted some free science fiction movies and other stuff: http://braineatingcom.blogspot.pt/2012/08/free-science-fiction-movies.html