That first film, after all, demonstrated how Dr. James Franco's search for an Alzheimer's cure lead to the creation of a super-smart ape, whose mistreatment eventually lead to a small army of super-smart apes that kicked a little human ass in San Francisco before running off to live among the redwood trees.
This one, set some ten years later, shows how a super-disease—I forget if they called "simian flu" or if I just assumed they should have—decimated the human population of Earth, followed by wars and suchlike that killed off still more human beings. Meanwhile Caesar, Franco's super-ape from the previous film, has established an ape culture in the forests, one that, by film's end, will come into violent conflict with what's left of San Francisco, currently lead by angry, anti-ape militant Commissioner Gordon.
Maybe they would have done better coming up with titles if they knew they were making a second one before releasing the first; personally, I think they should have gone The Planet of The Apes Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and Part 2, but no one ever asks me what to entitle their films.
This go-round, directed by Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) and written by a three-writer team that includes the two who wrote Rise, is almost exactly the movie I wanted to see as Rise was coming to a close: Caesar and his ape army vs. humanity.
There's a whole lot of plot going on before we get to the man vs. ape species war (with poor horses caught in the middle), as the wise and noble Caesar is concerned first and foremost with protecting his family and his people (and, incidentally, doesn't fear and hate human beings as much as the ape hardliners, having grown-up with James Franco, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto, while other apes like Koba know humanity mostly through having been experimented on and tortured by them).
Caesar finds a human brother in Jason Clarke, a character who also cares more for protecting his family (including doctor Kerri Russell, and a sullen teenage son in a hoodie who befriends the chimpanzee by reading Charles Burns' Black Hole with him in the rain) and what's left of his people than in warring against the neighbor apes.
The specifics of the conflict come from the fact that SF is almost out of electricity, and their only hope for restoring it is to fix a dam found in ape territory. Clarke's character and Caesar work together so they can get the dam going and then get the hell out of the Forest of the Apes, but bad actors on both sides, specifically an evil ape who flagrantly breaks the first commandment of Ape Law, force the two sides into conflict.
I suppose it's nice that there's a story to it, even if some of it is manipulative and lends itself to problematic readings*, but the nice thing about making a Planet of The Apes movie is that anyone involved can always point to, let's see, any previous Planet of the Apes movie (except maybe Rise, although I think this is probably a more ambitious and better-made film) and say, "Well, it could have been worse."
Props to Andy Serkis for a superior job of acting and the effects team of turning him into a chimpanzee man, and while the action scenes in this film are much less surreal and more typically big, summer blockbuster in style compared to those of the previous one, they are all pretty effective.
I imagine that if this is creatively (and, more importantly, financially) successful then they'll keep making Planet of the Apes movies for at least another installment or two; they seem like they have a long, long, looong way to go before we get to the point in time at which the original film started, a point at which human beings have lost their ability to speak, however that happens. I'm pretty fascinated by the between-the-movies bits of this world, as it's hard to imagine humanity becoming that degraded while another species or three becomes more and more populous...especially considering our current population advantage over apes. Many ape species are within a generation or so of extinction at this point, after all.
I found myself wondering about other primates while watching this movie, and I'm not sure if it's addressed in other parts of the franchise, as I've only seen Rise and the two Planet of the Apes films, the 1968 original and the 2001 remake (although at the time, before the word "reboot" was used so commonly in conversation about film franchises, I believe director Tim Burton tried to insist upon the word "reimagining"). How do the apes regard monkeys? Or lemurs? Do they treat them as just another bunch of animals, the way we do?
I also found myself wondering if anyone would ever get around to telling a story about homo sapiens versus neanderthals, set at a time when there were more than one species of homo something-or-other on Earth. Is part of the reason that the ape vs. human war on the screen so compelling is the fact that similar events actually did take place in the real world before, albeit long, long ago, and in likely more gradual and less filmic events?
Also, because of the Pacific rain forest setting of most of this film, I found myself wondering what Bigfoot was up to during the conflict.
So in that sense, I think this was a pretty good summer movie. It got me thinking about lots of stuff.
I still went to see this movie, because it is set in and was filmed in Cleveland (In fact, its shooting schedule overlapped with that of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which parts of Cleveland played parts of Washington D.C.).
And I liked it well enough. It held my interest, and left me reasonably entertained at almost all times, so I think, by at least that one rubric, it was a well-made film: It amused a person who knows nothing about its premise! (Maybe this is a terrible criterion by which to judge a film though? Like, I would have enjoyed the G.I. Joe and Transformers movies a lot more if I knew nothing about those intellectal properties, and had never seen superior, animated film versions of them before).
The entire film is set on draft day, which is a very big day in any NFL season, and apparently involves an elaborate, great game, in which general managers talk, cajole, negotiate and yell at each other over the phone, basically playing poker with one another, but instead of using a normal deck of cards, they are using football cards? Have I got that right?
For fictional Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Conster), son of a deceased, beloved fictional Cleveland Browns coach or something, the day brings to head a whole mess of conflicts, personal as well as professional: Most of the city of Cleveland hates him from afar due to a conflict with his father that no one is privy to the details of, his co-worker/on-the-DL girlfriend Jennifer Garner doesn't like being a poorly-kept-secret and everyone who crosses his path constnatly questions his judgement about how to run a football team. (I had trouble suspending my disbelief enough to take seriously a relationship between the 42-year-old Garner, who still looks to be about 28, and the 59-year-old Costner, who looks to be about 59, but when I whispered, "Isn't she a little young for him?", the lady I saw the film with whispered back, "Yeah, but he's Kevin Costner").
TV's last Superman, Tom Welling, has a small role in the film, playing a Cleveland Browns quarterback that was injured the previous season, and is a point of controversy in the organization. He shares a scene with Man of Steel's Pa Kent Kevin Costner, but they don't seem to recognize each other...maybe because Smallville and Man of Steel are set on alternate Earths...?
You would, of course, be wrong. The Dinobots—which, for the uninitiated, are giant robots that turn into robot dinosaurs instead of the normal trucks and planes that the other Transformers turn into—do appear in this film, but just barely, and play nowhere near the role that Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and new-to-the-films Autobot
Even new, unaffiliated villain Lockdown and Megatron/Galvatron, Ratchet and Frenzy (making what amounts to little more than cameos) get more screen-time. The Dinobots, none of whom are named, not even collectively as Dinobots, don't get any lines, but are simply referred to as "Legendary Warriors."
At the climactic battle in Hong Kong, when the Autobots are getting their asses kicked by an army of new, man-made (but Megatron-controlled!) Transformers, Optimus (still voiced by Peter Cullen) retreats to a valley to find reinforcements, which he does by beating up the T-Rex, and then riding him ahead of a small herd of large dinosaur/monster-shaped Transformers into battle (I was particularly fascinated by the make-up of the ranks of these Dinobots vs. those of the original, as I assume it says something about which specific kinds of dinosaurs are popular in 2014 vs. the 1980s. The originals were a T-Rex, an apatosaurus, a triceratops, a stegosaurus and a pterodactyl; these consist of a T-Rex, a triceratops, a spinosaurus, and a two-headed and two-tailed dragon**).
Rather than being properly foreshadowed, and there is plenty of opportunity to do so, the moment comes across more as filmmakers Michael Bay and company panicking, and remembering at the last moment that they were supposed to have some robot dinosaurs in here somewhere, so a deus ex machina appearance it is.
Despite the film's many weaknesses—including the groan-inducing attempts at humor, the uncomfortable depictions of non-white people that teeter-totter between clumsy stereotyping and racism, and the incompetent plotting—this is probably the best of the four Transformer films. This has mainly to do with the Shia LeBoeuf-less cast, which has excised all of the horrible, human repeat offenders and thus their slapstick antics and weightless conflicts, like whether or not
The humans in this film are—surprise!—broadly-drawn and unrealistically portrayed, but they are not as annoying as those in the previous three. That might be because they are new and familiarity breeds contempt, or it might be because Bay's tried to tone down the jokes "jokes" a bit in this entry, which I am shocked—shocked!—was not entitled Trans4mers: Age of Extinction. I mean, the comedy relief character (James Bachman, I think?) is killed off fairly early on.
Our heroes here are lead by poor widower father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who the script tells us is so obsessed with his robotics and inventions that he sometimes forgets to eat, but apparently never misses a set of pull-ups or push-ups, based on Wahlberg's ripped arms. Replacing Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely in the eye-candy role is Yeager's jail-bait high school daughter played by 19-year-old Nicola Peltz, her Irish racecar driver secret boyfriend Jack Reynor, Steve Jobs-if-Jobs-had-discovered-"Transformium" (the metal from the opening scene) Stanley Tucci, and his lovely assistants, Binbing Li and Sophia Miles.
Following the generally just-vaguely-referred-to previous films, this one finds a world transformed (get it?) by the events of the previous film, which all but destroyed Chicago. The American government is hunting down any and all remaining Transformers and giving them to their contractor Tucci to reverse engineer. Unbeknowest to all, even the president, the human hunting of Transformers is being lead by CIA guy Kelsey Grammer, playing a sinister xenophobe whose politics seem to be a slightly exaggerated version of the conservative politics of the real Grammer, an all-around bad guy who has struck a deal with a mysterious Transformer that is recently arrived and apparently hunting his own kind.
This is "Lockdown," voiced by Mark Ryan, who can turn into a car and a giant gun. He was minor enough a character that I had to look him up online to see if he was a pre-existent one, and apparently he was a Transformer bounty hunter with no allegiance to either the Autobots or Decepticons, which seems to fit here; he's collaborating with Kelsey Grammer to capture and/or kill Transformers, his ultimate goal being to capture Optiums Prime and return him to "The Creators" (a plot line to be addressed in the next film, apparently; Prime flies off into outer space at the end of this film, saying something like, "I"m coming for you Creators, whoever you are, and when I find you, it will be in a big, expensive, summer movie!").
Wahlberg's Yeager finds and repairs the damaged Prime, and soon they are targeted by Lockdown, Grammer and Tucci. Eventually, Prime re-unites with Bumblee and the other annoying, borderline offensively depcited Autobots (Drift, who turns into a helicopter and is a fucking robot samurai; Crosshairs, a race car who wears a long metal trench coat; and Hound, a pot-bellied and bearded military stereotype who says "bitch" a lot more often than you might imagine a Transformer might). Eventually, the good guys are sorted out from the bad guys, and there's another huge, city-leveling battle, this one in Hong Kong, to better sell the movie to the Chinese market (in a touch typical of Bay's cultural sympathies, all Chinese people seem to know kung fu; not only Binbing Li, but just, like, a random Chinese guy she and Tucci meet on an elevator).
Is it a terrible movie? Yes, of course it is. Is it the least terrible of the four so far? Thankfully, yes.
here!), I did my best to avoid seeing it for years. Heck, I used to close my eyes during the parody of the film's most famous scene when watching, re-watching and re-watching Spaceballs.
So it was particularly surreal watching the film for the very first time in 2014, after having seen only the later sequels as an adult (Alien: Resurrection, Aliens Vs. Predator, Aliens Vs. Predators: Requiem) and having read dozens and dozens of Dark Horse's Aliens comics. That original film is so influential though, that I imagine it would have been a surreal viewing experience even if it was my very first exposure to the Alien-with-a-capital-A Alien franchise; a good 98% of every science fiction movie made since seems to fall somewhere between inspired by and ripping-off various aspects of the film's design, with the sort of submarine interior-with-sliding doors still the default look of most spaceships in movies.
I was particularly struck by a scene in which the crew explore the derelict ship, in response to what they think is an SOS signal. The fantastic interior looks almost exactly like the inside of the ship part of this summer's Transformers movie was set in, if you stripped out all the CGI steam, slime, giant robots and cyborg dog monsters in this year's model; it also looks more "real" than most modern science-fiction movies do, thanks to the fact that the filmmakers didn't have access to the sorts of special effects technology we have today, which affect a sort of hyper-reality that reminds viewers that they are watching a movie constantly.
Also striking? Just how 1979 the film was, from a few establishing spaceship shots that seem borrowed directly from Star Wars to the fashion and technology. I was surprised to see all the smoking, too. I know smoking used to a be a more omnipresent aspect in our culture—was it Exorcist I saw where there was a doctor smoking in a hospital?—but I was still somehow surprised to see smoking in a spaceship in the future. And they weren't even electronic cigarettes! (Oh, and I was also surprised to see a cat on the ship, for some reason. If I were to take a list of everything to bring on a journey into space, cigarettes and cats would be pretty low on that list).
There were no real surprises among the stuff that I was supposed to find surprising, though, which is simply because of how present the film has become in our culture and my own pop culture consumption. For example, I was already well-versed in the life-cycle of the Aliens in minute detail, so there was no surprise in the egg opening, face-hugging, acidic blood, chest-bursting, secondary mouth inside the big mouth, prehensile tail, etc. Even when the film was nearing its climax, I found myself wondering if there wasn't supposed to be a robot crew member in this movie, or if I was confusing it with Aliens or Aliens 3, which I had seen fragments of on HBO or wherever as a child, shortly before Ian Holm started malfunctioning.
Like Jaws, with which it shares a reputation for being terrifying and making the most out of not-showing the monster as much as possible, the end shot of the title character is extremely goofy, when it looks like a guy in a rubber suit, or perhaps even a mannequin in a rubber suit, jumps/is thrown off an escape pod set and into a waiting net, which defuses much of the tension that came before. But maybe that shot aside—I guess the 2003 director's cut is a minute shorter than the 1979 theatrical cut, which I watched, and I wondered if maybe that minute that was cut was simply the long shot of the Alien falling out of the escape pod to be incinerated by an engine—the film holds up remarkably well some 35 years after its initial release.
It kind of made me want to watch/re-watch all of the Alien/s films in order. Maybe when I finish with the Godzilla films...
Whitney Moore, whose character we are told is a "fashion model" but who works in the back room of a photo store and who has just landed a contract with Victoria's Secret, appears in her underwear. Those seconds are worth watching, and have some actual value to them. Beyond that? No, writer/director James Nguyen's film is as close to unwatchable as anything this side of a solar eclipse.
Having suffered through it—a feat that took me several attempts spread over several nights, watching 15-30 minutes at a time—I am tempted to call it the worst film ever made, but I'm not sure if that's quite fair. In Nguyen, Moore and company's defense, this is a movie made with apparently no budget, and without the benefit of the know-how needed to make a film (writing, editing, foley work, sound mixing, etc). As awful as it is, I wonder if it's fair to compare it to other terrible movies made by professionals with big budgets, of which there is no shortage. Nguyen and his collaborators at least have excuses for why their film might be so terrible.
The plot, which is promised by the DVD cover and tagline, seems to be something like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds on steroids...or at least meth. The truth is that it will eventually involve birds attacking humans, but these birds also spit acid for some reason, and explode when they fly into things. Which is one of their methods of attack. They dive into things, making them explode and, when they dive, they make a cartoon dive-bomber sounds, as if they were huge, World War II-era planes with propellers.
The birds, which I cannot stress enough, only make up a very small part of the film. It is mostly a film about two boring people with strangely lucky lives, courting one another until they finally maybe commit some sort of sexual act (In the scene in which Moore is in her underwear, she and the male protagonist Rod—played by one Allen Bagh—start to kiss, and then wake up on top of the covers in the hotel room they shared, both still dressed as they were when they started kissing).
The birds are are not as realistic as those in The Birds. Or as toy birds on visible strings might be. Or actors dressed in tights and feathers saying "Caw, caw, I'm a bird!" Or Nguyen holding photos of birds in front of the camera he's filming his actors with.
They are instead some weird-ass species of computer-generated effect, loooking like something that might have come from a video game several generations ago. They are not limited to the attacking birds, either. In maybe the strangest bit of the strangest movie ever, Moore and Bagh's date montage is broken up by a couple of CGI parrots that fly over them and hover in front of a tree.
It is not the special effects or the non-existence of a plot or characters that makes this film so terrible, though. It basically comes down to the way it's made. The editing could use some editing, as every scene is apparently shot a few seconds before and after the scene begins and ends, so there will be an awkward second in which the actor looks silent and unmoving at the camera before and after performing. Establishing shots of building exteriors will stretch on three or four times longer than necessary. There's a POV driving scene at the beginning that goes on for what I want to say is 15 years, but that's probably not possible, and a scene in which Moore and Bagh dance in an empty bar that feels twice as long as that.
The sound work is really unbelievable, with the volume increasing and decreasing dramatically in different shots, most frustratingly during conversations between characters, where each half of the conversation has a different volume level, and background noises like wind and traffic will appear and disappear.
Regarding the poverty of a plot, which is not simply "birds attack people, for some reason" (that would actually a decent plot), here is a complete synopsis of the film.
Rod drives for about four minutes, parks and enters a diner, where he sees a beautiful woman (Moore's Natalie), eating. She leaves. Rod pauses for a bit, then hurriedly leaves the restaurant, catching up to her and having a brief conversation with her; at first it seems like she's just being overly gracious to a random guy who ran her down on the street, but it turns out they went to the same high school. She tells him she's on a way to fashion shoot, and gives him her card, saying they should get together some time.
Cut to the next morning. Rod eats breakfast and watches the news, which is about how there were some dead birds found somewhere, and that global warming is killing polar bears. Rod gets in his car, drives, stops to get some gas, drives some more. At work, we see him in a cubicle with a headset, making a big, $1 million dollar sale (which he does by offering the client 50% off, or, as Dennis Grisbeck points out in his thorough review of Birdemic at monstershack.net, means he also lost a million dollars). Rod is apparently a salesman of some kind. His friend Rick comes over to ask about the big sale.
Meanwhile, Natalie is having her photo taken at a gig. Afterwards, her agent from the modeling agency calls to let her she just got hired to do some work for Victoria's Secret. Rod, in his car again, calls Natalie, and she tells him her good news. Rod asks her to go out to dinner to celebrate. She agrees.
Rod and Rick play basketball, and, after their game, Rod wonders if he's so hot because of global warming (Global warming comes up a lot, either because this movie has a message, or because Nguyen saw Day of The Animals as a child and then forgot about it, remembering only subconsciously that global warming can cause animals to want to attack humans). They chat about Rod's upcoming date with Natalie, and the fact that a big company might buy their company, leading to a big payday for them all.
At home, Rod gets a visit from a solar panel salesman, and decides to buy solar panels from him in a scene that felt way too realistic (It's like you're there! Having solar panels sold to you! By a door-to-door salesman!).
After one of those way-too-long establishing shots, Rod and Natalie have their dinner date, and it all seems to go well for them as a couple. They see the CGI parrots.
With one successful date behind them, Natalie visits her mom, and, when her mom notices that her daughter is glowing, Natalie tells her about Rod and how much she likes him. Natalie asks Rod to go on a double-date with her friend Mai and Mai's boyfriend...who just so happen's to be Rod's friend Rick's girlfriend! Weird!
Cut to wherever the boys work. They're company has indeed just been sold, for one billion dollars. They are totally rich millionaires now! That night, the two couples take in An Inconvenient Truth together, and then split up, so Rick and Mai can do it (Natalie is making Rod wait, as she's "not that kind of girl.").
The very next day, rather than enjoying being a retired twentysomething millionaire, Rod starts his own new green energy company; that Al Gore movie and the news about dead birds really set a fire under Rod's ass about the environment!
Then Rod and Natalie go on another date, a pretty weird one: An "Art and Pumpkin Festival." Walking on the beach after the festival, they find a dead bird, which Rod warns Natalie not to touch. Then, he meets Natalie's mother. Then they go on another date, this time dancing for 30 years in an empty bar.
Then they retire to a hotel room—despite the fact that they both have their own homes, where they live alone. Maybe they went out of town to take in the Art and Pumpkin Festival...? This is where the movie becomes watchable, as Moore flritatiously models her aquamarine undergarments for Rod, who was watching TV.
The next morning, after maybe kinda sorta doing something sexual, they awake to find the world has gone mad! CGI birds have been dive-bombing parts of town—Nrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeew!—and causing stuff to blow up. (Please note: This is the end of The Random People Dating half of the movie, and the beginning of the Post-Apocalyptic Survivalism half). A small brown eagle flies into their hotel room window (but doesn't explode), and, seeing the eagles hovering outside their window, they barricade it with their bed.
Then Moore puts her clothes back on, and it's all downhill from there. See girls, this is what happens when you kiss boys in your underwear in a hotel room! Even if it is your fifth date, he's already met your mom and he's a millionaire environmental entrepeneur! Kissing boys can lead to the end of the world. (The "world" here being a metaphor for "your virgnity").
When the bird siege lets up, Rod and Natalie attempt to make a break for it, meeting Ramsey and Becky, two new characters about their age. Rod lost his car keys, so Ramsey offers to let them come with them, and back-to-back-to-back-to-back, the quartet heads toward's Ramsey's van, the setting of the rest of the film, using hotel coat hangers to fend off the hovering CGI birds.
Luckily for our heroes, Ramsey is some kind of gun nut, having a machine gun and pistol in his van...? (Birdemics, like zombie apocalyses, are just one more reason why the Second Amendment is the most important institution in all of American government). They drive aimlessly about for a while, kind of like the beginning of the film, when Rod and Ramsey have my favorite exchange in the film: "Hey, there's dead people on the side of the road. Let's see if there are any survivors."
The dead people are, indeed, dead, and did not survive being dead. They were apparently killed by the birds the old-fashioned way: Pecking and clawing, rather than exploding. There are some survivors though, two little kids, one of each gender. The kids whine that they are hungry, so Rod and the gang stop at a convenience store, steal all the food they want (the shopkeep has been birded to death), and then drive on to a picnic table, where they have a picnic. Out-of-doors. The birds respect this decision and do not attack them; perhaps the birds have also broke for lunch?
At the park, Rod notices an older gentleman wearing a suit coat and a SARS mask, regarding a pile of dead birds from a little bridge. The man, a doctor, joins the party long enough to make explicit the link between global warming and disease outbreaks, before going back to look at the dead birds from ten feet away (Research...?).
Ramsey's girlfriend Becky has to have a bowel movement, having not gone in the public restrooms at the picnic grounds, like Natalie and Rod did. This will prove her undoing, as just when she squats in the field, an eagle slashes her throat.
They drive on until they see a tour bus being attacked by birds. Wanting revenge, Ramsey cajoles Rod into rescuing the tourists, but these killer birds spit acid, and Ramsey and the tourists are killed, leaving only Rod to flee back to Ramsey's van and drive on with Natalie and the kids.
They stop to get gas. Then they stop to help a man seemingly stranded on the road. The man pulls a gun on Rod though, attempting to rob him of his gas. A bird kills the man, and Rod drives away.
They stop to get water from a creek (?). There, they meet a guy IMDb calls "Treehugger Guy." He gives them a brief ecological sermon and then tells them to run, as he hears a mountain lion. And then a CGI forest fire breaks out.
They drive on until they see another car on the side of the road. They stop, and find the mildly pecked-at bodies of Rick and Mai, there friends from their second date. What about Natalie's mom? Is she dead?! We may never know.
Then they drive some more. It's unclear what Rod is trying to accomplish by all this driving; perhaps they think the birdemic is a local event and are trying to get away from it, but it's never revealed. Presumably they would be just as safe in the van if it were stationary as if it were moving.
Then...they run out of gas! And the kids are hungry again! Damn kids. They just ate like 45 minutes ago! Rod finds a fishing pole and a grill in the back of the van—Ramsey was a survivalist, maybe?—and so they all go to the beach, where Rod successfully catches a fish while Natalie gathers seaweed. Just as they are about to eat the results of their ten-minute foray into the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the birds attack! And when all seems darkest, the ammo gone and the CGI birds all over their van, the birds give up and fly away, over the sea, a too-long, lingering shot that allows viewers to note how unrealistically the birds flap, showing them disappearing over the horizon. The end.
So, what was that all about? There's a Birdemic 2: The Ressurrection, which might offer more insight, but, at this point, I think I'd rather try Flu Birds, or maybe re-watch The Birds in order to cleanse this film from memory.
I think the message is this: Stop global warming, or else James Nguyen will make you watch Birdemic. That is an incredibly powerful motivator.
Oh, and if there are any Hollywood casting agents reading this for some reason, please, please, please, I beseech you: Hire Whitney Moore for something good and make sure she gets paid a lot. After being in this movie, she deserves it. She looks great in her underwear, and while it's difficult to judge one's acting ability on this film alone, I'm sure she could play a role like, say, Nicola Peltz's from Transformers.
I wanted to discuss this particular volume though because it contains the episode "Buckeye Bigfoot," a season two episode that aired in 2012 in which the team comes to Ohio to look for our Bigfoot.
I knew that Matt Moneymaker, the leader of the team and the Bigfoot Field Reasearchers Organization, lived in Ohio for a time, having written about Bigfoot's likely deer-hunting methods (A Moneymaker-penned piece appears in Joedy Cook's Traces of the Grassman, which I discussed in this previous installment of this feature). It turns out he spent four years here, while attending school in Akron.
The team visits the Salt Fork State Park in south eastern Ohio, lured by a not-very-convincing video shot there...and which they eventually dismiss as particularly inconclusive, but they stick around to investigate anyway, as Moneymaker says it's "One of the squatchiest parts of the squatchiest states in America."
They use the word "Grassman" in reference to Ohio's Bigfoot on at least one occassion, and Bobo Fay says Ohio is ranked fifth among all states for Bigfoot sightings and Moneymaker says it's ranked first among states east of the Mississippi.
What explains the number of sightings? Well, lots of Bigfoots, obviously. And why are there so many here? Corn, they conclude. There is a lot of corn here, in addition to all the deer, and, "Where there's food, there's squathches."
The episode is spent entirely in southeastern Ohio, in and around the park, and in the city of Cambridge, where their town hall is held. They interview Tim Stover, who says he saw a whitish, grayish, silverish Bigfoot pass below him from a treestand while bow-hunting in 1992.
Spoiler alert: They do not find Bigfoot, but Fay does manage to use derivations of the word "squatch" more times in a single sentence than I would have thought possible. I took notes while watching, but I'm missing a few words, so this is a paraphrase, but I believe he said "Salt Fork is one of the most squtached places, with squatchers just squatching all the time."
Pretty sure they all get paid a bonus every time they use the word "squatch"...
Seen in 2014, it seems a little bit like The Avengers of mid-sixties giant monster movies, as it gathers together the stars of several previous monster movies—Rodan from his self-titled 1956 movie, Mothra from her own 1961 film and 1964's Mothra Vs. Godzilla, and Godzilla himself, making his fifth film appearance—and having them all join forces to form a loose-knit team of sorts, all in order to battle against a new foe that none of them would be able to defeat by themselves.
In addition to weaving several monster movies into a single, cohesive shared-universe setting, the film's also notable for being the first in which Godzilla is thrust into the hero role (even if reluctantly); for its introduction of the title monster, who would go on to be dubbed King Ghidorah and be a Godzilla movie regular; and for the degree of kid-friendly, slap-stick style fighting between the monsters (Mothra Vs. Godzilla engaged in a bit of this, with a clumsy Godzilla falling all over the place like a stumbling drunk, but here the monster-on-monster battles begin to resemble Three Stooges sequences, albeit with the participants in elaborate rubber monster suits).
I think it's also the first in which the presence of giant monsters is treated more-or-less as an everyday, inconvenient fact of life; rather than apocalyptic, world-shaking, game-changers, the emergence of giant monsters is treated by the Japanese people more or less like something they have to put up with, like droughts or tsunamis, earthquakes or economic slowdowns.
The regular core creative team of director Ishiro Honda and writer Shinichi Sekizawa concoct a rather elaborate plot, one that in many ways seems like it could have made for a decent monster movie in the older, earlier format of Gojira/Godzilla or Rodan, in which humanity must fight a monster, save for the fact that here rather than the genius of human scientists or the power of military might, it's other monsters that are called on to save the day.
So the film opens with Yuriko Hoshi, playing a reporter working on a vague story about "the mystery of the 20th century," going to an observatory of some sort to cover the appearances of a UFO, but what she witnesses instead is a sort of meteor shower.
Meanwhile, her brother Yosuke Natsuki, a policeman, is being assigned to provide security for visiting dignitary Princess Salno (the ridiculously beautiful Akiko Wakabayashi), from the fictional country of Selgina, where everyone looks Japanese, but dresses funny, with the men wearing big Shakespeare-style collars. Her plane never arrives, however, as she sees a mysterious light in the sky, and then opens the plane door and walks out...moments before the plane explodes.
Not long after, a beautiful woman looking just like the princess, only wearing baggy old man's clothes and an ill-fitting fisherman's cap, appears, claiming to be from Venus (or Mars, in the U.S. cut). She says she's a prophetess, and is trying to warn the people of Japan of the coming disaster that wiped out her people on Venus (Hint: His name is the title of the movie).
Hoshi pursues her for a story, Natsuki pursues her because he thinks she's the Princess Salno, and assassins from her home country pursue her, for reasons of political intrigue (and to provide human action scenes to correspond to the monster action scenes).
Before the big menace she is predicting arrives, she first correctly predicts the rebirth of (a) Rodan, who was apparently volcano-ed to death along with his mate back in 1956. She says something like the volcanic gases will revive him (?), and they do; he must be as much phoenix as pteradon. In this outting, Rodan looks far goofier than in his own film, with more expressive, googly eyes that better match the U.S. posters for Rodan than the actual monster in the actual movie did.
She next tries to warn people away from boarding a ship that's leaving Japan for Infant Island, a ship containing the Fairies from the two Mothra movies (they were in town to appear on a variety show; when asked how the two Mothras from Mothra Vs. Godzilla were doing, they say one died, but the other still protects their island). The prophetess is convinced the ship will be destroyed, and Godzilla proves her right when he rises out of the water to blast it with his atomic breath for no reason. Godzilla may be one of the "good" monsters in this outting, but he's still a petulant asshole.
Rodan and Godzilla then spend much of the rest of their scenes in the movie fighting one another.
When Ghidorah finally makes his appearances, he emerges hatching from a msyterious meteor that is actually some kidnda egg that houses his electrical essence that coalesces into a pretty goofy-looking puppet. Ghidorah's design is pretty neat, but the execution isn't quite as accomplished as some of the other monsters; when in flight, his legs, heads and tails flail around, and he looks a bit like a man zip-lining. Those heads, each controlled by a wire, have a tendency to bend extremely far backwards, so the tops of the heads nearly touch the backs of the necks, and then to bend just as far forward. They are always moving, like antennae. (I do love the sound he makes though).
Ghidorah then goes about destroying shit, on a scale and with an efficiency that makes Rodan and Godzilla's battling throughout the movie seem more like innocent rough-housing. Ghidorah's wings allow him to cover a lot of ground, and he creates a hurricane-like wind beneath him that tears up buildings (ala Rodan and Mothra), and all three heads spit some kind of huge, animated, super-lightning that plays across the miniature sets at high-speeds.
Who can save Japan, and the world, from this threat? The Infant Island Fairies, of course. They sing up the surviving Mothra larva, and she tries to convince Rodan and Godzilla to cease their squabbling and join her in defending the Earth from Ghidorah. There's a pretty awesome scene in which the monsters' battle is interrupted by Mothra, who gets their attention by spraying them with webbing, and then starts "talking" to them. They all converse in their various roars, growls and squeals, and apparently understand one another; the telepathic fairies translate their conversation for the benefit of their human friends (and the audience, of course).
Mothra's words can't convince the other monsters, but her actions can. She eventually gives up on talking to them, and crawls off to fight Ghidorah alone. Ghidorah's knocking her all over the place with his lighting breath, at which point Godzilla and Rodan charge into battle, eventually overwhelming the invading space monster (in the goofiest bit of the rather goofy fight scene, Mothra climbs onto Rodan's back, and Rodan flies her up so she can get a better shot at Ghidorah with her webbing). Ghidorah turns tail—well, tails—and flies off into space, never to be seen again. Until next year's Invasion of Astro-Monster, anyway.
The humans all get a bit of denouement, and Mothra and the fairies return to their home country (this would be the last appearance by the fairies, as played by The Peanuts), but Godzilla and Rodan just kinda of wander off. I guess no one's that concerned about them at that point...
Kaiju Daisenso (The Great Monster War), aka Invasion of Astro-Monster, aka Monster Zero aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, is set in the far-flung future of 199X (which only narrows the action down to one of ten years in a single decade). That was the decade, you will remember, in which the United Nations had its own space program, based in Japan and devoted to exploring the solar system.
Their latest exploratory trip is set for a moon of Jupiter, and will be conducted by two brave astronauts in a toy rocket—American Glenn (played by Nick Adams, who was the gaijin doctor in War of the Gargantuans) and Japanese man Fuji (Akira Takarada). Fuji's little sister (Keiko Swai), who also works for the space agency, is currently seeing a nebbish inventor Tetsuo (Akira Kubo), whose latest and greatest invention is a sort of high-tech rape whistle the size of a compact that sends out an annoying ear-splitting shriek. Fuji doesn't think Tetsuo is manly enough to stick up for or support his sister, although Tetsuo hopes his latest invention will make him rich enough to change Fuji's mind.
On the Jovian moon, dubbed Planet X (even though it is a moon), the two astronauts encounter a mysterious and advanced race that vaguely suggest slightly less-goofily attired versions on The Mysterians (from 1955's The Mysterians). Midway through the conversation between Earth explorers and alien race, a monster dubbed "Monster Zero" attacks—This is the aliens' designation for King Ghidorah, who apparently flew straight to their moon after Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra ran him off of Earth on a rail in the previous Godzilla movie, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (above).
The aliens, known as the Xians, want to make a deal with the Earthmen: If they will allow them to take Godzilla and Rodan, who they say they can use to defeat Monster Zero, they will pay them by giving them the cure to cancer. The astronauts seem oddly suspicious of the offer, which sure sounds win/win: We give you two of the monsters that are always destroying our cities and killing hundreds of people, and you give us the cure for cancer? We'll have to discuss it with the rest of the planet and get back to you.
It turns out that Glenn and Fuji were right to be suspicious, and to remain suspicious. The Xians come to Earth, and find Godzilla and Rodan engaged in their between-movies hibernation. They capture them in special effects bubbles, and fly them, along with Glenn, Fuji and their boss Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) back to moon Planet X. When Ghidorah next shows up, Rodan and Godzilla kick his ass in short order (they didn't even need Mothra's help this time!), and Ghidorah flies away, as per usual. Godzilla is so pleased he dances a triumphant jig (Please note: No jigs are danced in the new Godzilla movie that came out this summer).
Satisfied with the trade, the Earth ambassadors head home, leaving Godzilla and Rodan, who look up at them like confused and saddened golden retrievers. They may cause some trouble from time to time, Glenn says, but he still feels bad leaving them on Jupiter's moon. "Trouble"...? Try telling that to the thousands they've killed, Glenn!
Soon the Xians return, with all three mind-controlled monsters, which they sic on planet Earth. If Earth refuses to submit to their rule, they will use the monsters to destroy Earth (Mothra sits this conflict out). The monsters get a few scenes of mass destruction, while the scientists and astronauts seek to find a way to interrupt the control of the monsters. They succeed, along the way discovering that Tetsuo's device produces a sound capable of driving the Xians mad and blowing up their space ships. With the monsters released from Xian thrall, Godzilla and Rodan again tag team Ghidorah, and the battle ends in the way most Toho kaiju battles seem to have ended up to this point in their history, with them all falling off a cliff into the sea together.
Ghidorah is the only one to emerge, and he flies off into space again (see you again in a few more movies, King G!). Rodan and Godzilla don't reappear, although the latter likely danced an underwater jig, and he and Rodan split up to go back to sleep until they're next called for a new movie. That, or maybe they headed to Infant Island to ask where exactly Mothra was while they were fighting to save the Earth.
This is one of the the two Godzilla movies to have had been used as instruments of experimental torture on the hostages of the Satellite of Love in episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Both were featured in 1991's season 2; the ohter film was 1973's Godzilla Vs. Megalon). That could and should be regarded as a statement of the film's overall quality, but it's well worth keeping in mind that quality in Godzilla movies is relative quality. And this film, more than any of the previous ones, was a family-friendly action comedy, rather squarely targeting children (Additionally, it's probably worth noting that the version that the MST3K writers used for fodder was a U.S. version re-distributed in 1991, and, as is usually the case, the U.S. version is somewhat inferior to the Japanese).
The film is notable for its dramatic change in venue, which the Japanese title or Gojira, Ebirah, Mosura: Nankai no Daiketoo spells out: Godzilla, Ebirah, Mohtra: Big Duel in the South Sea.
It takes some perhaps overly complicated shenanigans to get our cast of four Japanese men to the South Seas. There's Ryota (Toru Watanable), a teenager convinced with a madman's zeal that his brother lost at sea is still alive, and he wants to go search for him himself; Nita and Ichino, a pair of young men Ryota meets at a marathon dance competition in which the main prize is a sailboat; and Yoshimura (Akira Takarada), a bank robber posing as the owner of a yacht that Ryoto hijacks and sails to the South Seas when the other three are all asleep.
They are attacked by a giant lobster that snips their boat in half with a giant claw, and then they wash up on what at first seems to be a desert island. In actuality, it is the base of a military organization named Red Bamboo, with its own small fleet, its own air force and a high-tech headquarters powered by a nuclear reactor. They regularly visit Infant Island, kidnap natives, and bring them here, where they are forced into manufacturing a special yellow berry concoction that keeps Ebirah, the giant lobster guardian that lives in the sea around the island, at bay. The sea monster thus serves as a sort of watchdog for them, attacking anyone that's not wearing yellow berry juice.
The Japanese men meet an escapee from the Infant Islanders, Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno, who played a Xian spy in Astro-Monster, and was the scientist friend of Frankenstein in Frankenstein vs. The World), and, before long, they also find someone else on the island—Slumbering in a cave is Godzilla.
Pursued by Red Bamboo, the ragtag group eventually concoct a plan so crazy it just might work. Using an improvised lightning rod, they awaken Godzilla, who takes an unusual liking (unusual for Godzilla) to the lovely Daiyo, and goes about the Godzilla-like business of fighting Red Bamboo's military and the closest giant monster.
The Godzilla/Ebirah fight is a little on the schizophrenic side, going from a goofy beginning, in which the the two monsters bat a giant boulder back and forth like a soccer ball for a while, to a rather savage ending, in which Godzilla rips the arms off Ebirah, and taunts the dismembered crustacean with them, opening and closing the claw at him.
Meanwhile, the island is set to self-destruct, as most island headquarters eventually are. How will the good humans, including all of the freed Infant Island slaves, escape? Two words: Mothra airlift. Mothra, one of the children of the original Mothra in Mohtra vs. Godzilla, and last seen in larval form in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, has since become a titanic moth, and she arrives in time to pick up a huge vine net her faithful have weaved for her at the instruction of her twin fairy priestesses.
Either because he doesn't recognize previous ally Mothra in her new form, or because he's still filled with battle lust after taking on Ebirah and Red Bamboo, or because he's just being a dick, Godzilla tries to start some shit with Mothra. She blows him back with a few flaps of her massive wings, though, and flies away. Godzilla manages to escape the explosion, diving into the sea. Yes, it would have been much cooler if he was shown silently striding away through the water and not looking back as the island exploded in the background behind him, but such scenes weren't yet a thing in 1966.
In addition to the fresh setting, this particular Godzilla movie has a surf music-esque 1960s rock soundtrack going for it.
This is the film that introduces Milla, the King of the Monsters' son mentioned in the title and, as such, introduces many questions of Godzilla reproduction to be glossed-over. Minilla hatches from an egg on Sollgell Island, which Godzilla is shown to be stomping to at the beginning of the film, following brain-waves emitting from the egg. Where did the egg come from? Did Godzilla lay it and leave it, only to return when it got close to hatching? Does that make Godzilla a female, or do Godzillas reproduced through some form of parthenogenesis?
Or was the egg a relic egg, somehow more gradually awoken by the forces that awoke Godzilla and Anguirus in the first two movies? Or did the first Godzilla, the one that perished in the first film, lay eggs from which the Godzilla of the rest of the Showa films hatched from, as well as Minilla, making the pair brothers, rather than father and son?
I have no idea but, as always, it's best not to dwell on the science in a Toho monster movie.
Science is the reason that Dr. Kusumi and his team are on Sollgel Island, however, an island that seems completely uninhabited save for man-sized praying mantis-like creatures with glowing eyes called Kamacuras (although they would later find the native girl, and a huge spider named Kumonga). Kusumi has developed a way to radically change the climate, which he hopes to use to make more parts of the world able to grow food...although his current testing is in changing a tropical paradise into a snowy, frozen island, which is kinda sorta the opposite of that.
Smelling a story, intrepid, anything-for-a-story reporter Goro Masaki (Akira Kubo, playing a role not unlike that of Frankie Sakai's in Mothra), parachutes in, and soon finds himself living side by side with the scientists as they go about their work. Unfortunately, something goes wrong with the experiment, that something being a radioactive storm that mutates the already quite formidable Kamacuras into Godzilla-sized menaces.
Three of them gang up on the poor, just-born Minilla, who Godzilla arrives just in time to save. He begins raising his son or "son" in relative piece, teaching the curious, human-like monster how to breathe atomic fire, until things come to a head, when Kumonga awakens. The monster battle threatens to destroy the island and kill all the humans, who play the only card they have: reactivating the experiment and freezing the monsters (Which they do, Godzilla and son falling into a sort of peaceful hibernation).
This was one of the more explicitly "for kids" installments of the franchise up until this point, although I suspect adding a child version of Godzilla was something that appealed to children more in theory than in practice (I never took to Minilla during my childhood viewings of this film, for whatever that's worth, and he strikes me here as an almost Scrappy-Doo like addition to the monster menagerie, although the fact that he can't talk makes him infinitely less annoying than Scooby's young family member).
The Kamacuras are rather interesting creatures, only vaguely mantis-like, and already monsters before they mutate; afterwards, they have the ability to take off like jet planes. Kumonga, however, is by far the best special effect in the film. As for Godzilla himself, his suit in this installment looks dumpier than usual, moving about in very fabric-y ways, and his head was redesigned to make him look more like the wide-eyed, more anthropomorphic Minilla than he ever had before.
Which monsters, you may ask? A lot of them. There are 11 in total, four of whom are here added to the Godzilla franchise for the first time (King Kong Escapes' Gorosaurus, Frankenstein Conquers The World's Baragon, Atragon's Manda and Varan, The Unbelievable's Varan...the unbelievable). Those reappearing include Godzilla, Minilla, Rodan, Ghidorah, Anguirus (returning for the first time since Godzilla Raids Again), Kumonga (called "Spiega" in the dub I saw) and Mothra (once again in larval form, which would make this Mothra IV in the franchise so far).
The year is 1999, the narrator tells us, and mankind has established a colony on the moon, with rocketships launching to and from there on a daily basis. All of Earth's monsters (that is, everyone mentioned above save Ghidorah) live peacefully on "Monsterland," a giant island refuge for the creatures where they have plenty of food and are kept at bay with gasses and forcefields operated by the scientist team deep within the bowels of the island.
And young Caleb Mozzocco is 22, has just graduated college with a bachelor's degree in English, and will take three different jobs that year: Janitor at a mall in Erie, Pennsylvania for 11 days, circulation clerk at a tiny library in Ohio for four months and as a staff writer in the newly-opened bureau office in his hometown, for the Mentor, Ohio-based daily paper The News Herald. None of these jobs involved moon travel of monster care; two fields he was completely unaware of at the time.
More successful in the exciting new fields of the year 1999 are Captain Katsuo Yamabe of the rocketship Moonlight (played by Akira Kubo from Son of Godzilla) and Kyoko Manabe (Yukiko Koboyashi) who works for the United Nations Science Council at Monsterland. One day, Earth is attacked by Kilaaks (pronounced "kee-locks"), who look like Japanese people but are actually super-heated metal in the shape of Japanese people, and they revert to rocks when they cool off. They are super-advanced scientists, hailing from one of the asteroids in our solar system's asteroid belt, and have developed a way to mind-control both man and monster. They are lead by a beautiful woman (Kyoko Ai) who, like the rest of her people, dresses head-to-toe in glittery fabric that even covers her head like a shower cap.
They bust all the monsters out of Monsterland, and sic them on major cities all over the world, leaving Tokyo oddly unaffected for a while...until they eventually send Godzilla, Rodan and Manda to tear shit up in Tokyo. Captain Yamabe and his crew perform some daring raids on various Kilaak bases, but Earth is pretty much at the mercy of the Kilaaks until humanity can figure out how to block the aliens' control of the monsters.
Once that's accomplished, the monsters all convene at Mount Fuji, the location of the Kilaak base, knowing instinctively who their enemies are. Godzilla is about to lead the monster charge on the Killaaks, when the alien invaers summon the ace up their shiny, silver sleeve: Ghidorah, who has no instinctive loyalty to Earth or humanity.
And this leads to the movies big monster fight, which is essentially Anguirus, Gorosaurus and Godzilla vs. Ghidorah. Rodan helps out a little, flapping wind in Ghidorah's direction, while Mothra and Kumonga shoot silly-string in the three-headed space dragon's direction. Varan, Baragon and Manda watch from the distance, and Minilla provides pantomime color commentary, his sole contribution being to blow an atomic smoke ring at the dying Ghidorah as a finishing move.
The monster battle is pretty brutal, and awfully lop-sided. Rather than strafing the Earth monsters from above with constant streams of lightning breath, Ghidorah gets up close and personal, and gets beat down three-on-one from Godzilla, Gorosaurus and Anguirus, who finally succeed in killing him (Kumonga and Mothra then provide celebratory "confetti" with their webbing).
The day is finally saved by monsters and man fighting as one, with Yamabe and his ship defeat the Killaak's final "monster," a flaming UFO they call a "fire dragon." Everything returns to normal, with the monsters returning to their habitats on Monsterland.
The next film, 1969's All Monsters Attack, will take place in the "present," but also on an island of monsters, now called "Monster Island." But the monsters in that movie are mostly imaginary. At this point then, Godzilla continuity is starting to get superhero comic-complicated.
Our protagonist is Ichiro, a tiny little Japanese boy with tiny little Japanese boy shorts who is a latchkey kid in a run-down, industrial area. His hard-working father is glimpsed only when the train he engineers on passes by Ichiro on his way to or from school, and his hard-working mother sometimes has to pull double-shifts, as she does on the momentous day in Ichiro's life during which the events of this film are set.
Ichiro likes to play in an abandoned warehouse near his apartment, but there he encounters local bully Gabara. On this particular day, he comes home and takes a nap, during which he dreams that he takes a commercial flight to Monster Island. He will return there in various dream and day-dream sequences, sometimes willing himself there, as if he's performing some kind of lucid, guided dreaming thought-experiment.
The boy's kindly neighbor, and old man who invents toys, looks in on Ichiro and feeds him dinner. Meanwhile, the neighborhood is abuzz with news of "The 50 Million Yen Thieves" a pair believed to be holed-up somewhere nearby with the spoils of their robbery (guess how much they stole?). They manage to evade the police for quite awhile, but, by film's end, they'll be revealed to be only slightly less bumbling than the crooks in Home Alone.
On Monster Island, Ichiro meets Minilla, who is his size now, and can speak fluent Japanese in what sounds like a woman's voice (Minilla can also grow back to his giant-size, as is revealed a few fantasy sequences in). Minilla has his own bully problem, as he's chased around by a big kaiju that Ichiro dubs "Gabara" in honor of his own bully. Miminilla's Gabara is a long-necked, bipedal monster that looks a bit like a cross between a lizard, a man and a cat. His cry is a particularly good one, a sort of gargling, braying, throaty laugh, and he has a peculiar power that, when his horn glows, allows him to generate lightning from the palms of his hands.
Minilla spends much of the movie running away from Gabara, while fretting that Godzilla tells him that he can't always run away, and must eventually stand up and fight for himself. Together, Minilla and Ichiro watch a variety of Godzilla battles, all recycled from Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla (The fight with Ebirah and the Red Bamboo air force from the former, and the fights with the Kamascuras, Kumonga and a scene in which Godzilla trains Minilla in fire-breathing from the latter).
The sole original monster fight is one between Minilla and Gabara, in which the diminutive monster knocks the new one on his face after some coaching from Ichiro. When Godzilla comes to congratulate his pupil, walking and slowly clapping at the same time, Gabara sinks his teeth into Godzilla's meaty thigh, resulting into a more savage battle between the two bigger monsters, in which Godzilla beats the hell out of Gabara.
Having learned to stand up for himself and fight bullies from Minilla and Godzilla, Ichiro takes on first the 50 Million Yen Theives and, later, wrestles and head-butts his own Gabara to the ground, which ingratiates him to Gabara and Gabara's gang.
Ichiro's neighbor provides some weird-ass, probably lost-in-translation theology to the news reporters who show up to interview Ichiro the day after the brave little boy helps capture the thieves. The reporters are confused by the boy's insistence that he was not alone, but was with Minilla at the time.
The neighbor explains:
There is a God in the adult world. But children have their own God. Minilla the God.Think on that, won't you?
(1959): This late fifties black-and-white monster movie is an American/British production, and it was released on the other side of the Atlantic under a less redundant title: Behemoth, The Sea Monster. The film bears a rather striking resemblance to the superior Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), and has several elements in common with the original Gojira (1954) and Lost World (1925).
It opens with American marine biologist Steve Karnes giving an impassioned lecture to his British counterparts about the extreme dangers of nuclear weapon testing and radioactivity on sea life. Yes, the water they tested may not be radioactive, but the plankton are, and the fish that eat the plankton are more radioactive still and the sea birds that eat the fish that eat the plankton are more radioactive yet. He warns of a "biological chain reaction," which, wouldn't you know, comes to pass within the very next scene!
In Cornwall, an old fisherman is struck by a blinding light from some off-screen horror, and collapses to the sand, covered in terrible burns. When his daughter and her friend finally find him, he utters his last words, "It came from the sea...burning like fire...behemoth." (Behemoth is, of course, a monster of the Bible that we've discussed here in the recent-ish past).
Either the fisherman's daughter didn't tell the minister about her father's last words, or the minister went ahead and decided to give the least tactful Bible reading at a funeral ever, reading from the Book of Job about The Behemoth, a few lines about how awesome, powerful and unstoppable The Behemoth is.
When news of the fisherman's death, and that of thousands of fish that wash up in Cornwall, reaches the big city, Karnes and his British science bro James Bickford rush to investigate, eventually finding traces of radiation. A few more mysterious killings later, and they get a footprint, which they present for identification to eccentric paleontologist Dr. Sampson, who immediately identifies it as a well-known prehistoric reptile, The Paleosaurus, which looks like a longer-necked, more sauropod-like version of the Rhedosaurus from The Beast From.... Sampson tells them that the Paleosaurus can project electricity like an electric eel (and is apparently using that ability to project extreme and lethal doses of radiation at its victims), and that it is likely headed for the Thames, as Paleosaurs will return to the shallow riverbeds like those they were born in as they near death.
So the scientists race to London to try to mobilize the authorities and come up with a workable solution (like Reptilicus, discussed below, Behemoth can't be attacked with bombs, as breaking him into pieces will do more harm than good—here, the harm will come from bits of its highly radioactive body being dispersed all over London).
At about the 50-minute mark, the stop-motion animated Behemoth finally emerges from the sea, after first being seen overturning a ferry, and it goes on a short rampage, stomping on cars with its huge feet, swaying back and forth as it strides down the crowded streets. It shrugs off gunfire, topples buildings and, now and then, releases concentric circles of deadly radiation, burning victims. It eventually retreats to the river, where humanity is able to kill it by firing a radium-tipped torpedo down its throat, thus accelerating the radiation sickness that is slowly killing it.
The Biblical nature of the creature is a neat twist, and it is extremely well animated. The Behemoth's screen time is fairly limited, and it lacks the personality and pathos of The Beast that so clearly inspired it, but its design as a powerful-looking, reptilian sauropod is remarkable. There are a few scenes of it swimming underwater, which border on the amazing.
Not much can be said for The Behemoth's human co-stars, who are fairly universally dull, but not given much more to do than advance the plot. The most interesting characters, the beautiful young daughter of the first fisherman victim, and her fisherman friend, disappear rather abruptly from the movie, once the scientists conclude their seaside investigation.
Legend of Hercules (2014): Well this is a rather odd Hercules movie, made odder still by its title that promises, you know, the legend of Hercules. Instead, the film ignores the legends and/or myths of Hercules to come up with something almost entirely invented, including a weird family psychodrama, a secret identity and the role of freedom fighter that allows him to give the 300-like inspirational speech, apparently now required in all swords-and-sandals films.
There are rather few elements of the Herakles/Hercules stories that make it into the film—the Nemean Lion, Hera—and these are opposite of what might be expected.
For example, Herc's with his invented-for-the-movie half-brother when the lion attacks them; Herc sleeper-holds it to death, but his bro claims the credit, and wears its skin—no explanation on how they skin an animal with impenetrable skin. And Hera is Herc's benefactor, rather than his antagonist, taking a much more active role in his life than his father Zeus, who only appears as lightning and POV camera shots in order to make it with Herc's mom and give our demi-god hero super-strength on a couple of occasions.
Perhaps most egregiously, director Renny Harlin (what?!) and the three guys who helped him write the movie import a scene from the Samson story, in which Hercules is chained to a pair of pillars, prays for strength from and rips the pillars down with the power of a heavenly father figure. Wrong legendary strong man, guys!
The title role is played by the weakly-bearded but handsome-enough slab of beef Kellan Lutz. He is the second son, called "Alcides," of tyrant king Scott Adkins and Roxanne McKee (although Zeus is the real dad). Their douchey first son, Liam Garrigan, is set to inherit the throne, but he also wants Alcides/Hercules' girlfriend Hebe (Gaia Weiss) to be his wife, a conflict that ultimately sees Lutzcales sent off to fight in an Egyptian campaign and hopefully be killed, although he survives to become a gladiator for like 20 minutes, and then ultimately returns home to free his hometown from his step-dad and older brother, finally using his real, secret name of Hercules.
Almost nothing occurs in the film that dictates that this is a plot that needed Hercules in it, aside from his divine parenthood, perhaps, although that plays a relatively small role, and it could have been any deity and any demi-god involved. I think you could call that a pretty big weakness in a film, then, if it's about a well-known figure, but revolves around the figure so weakly that figure could be switched out and easily replaced with plenty of others, or an original, made-up one.
I liked two parts. One was the scene where McKee's Alcemene conceives Herc with Zeus, who here visits her in the form of a thunderstorm. So basically McKee is laying in her bed in her nightgown while lightning flashes all around, pretending to have sex with no one, and climaxing just before her husband storms in (And here she prays for a hero to deliver the people from the wickedness of her husband, so she's kind of expecting to have sex with Zeus. In the myth, Zeus visits her disguised in the form of her husband, so I guess this way is actually a lot less rapey).
The other is the opening scene, digitally constructed to resemble a long, continuous shot of a battle, beginning from ships out of sea and flying over the armies and city walls and so on until it reaches the Herc's step-dad engaged in battle with another king.
The rest of the movie? Fairly generic, post-300, sword-and-sandles soap opera, made extra frustrating by including one of the greatest and best-known mythological heroes of all time, and yet taking nothing but some footnotes about his family life to extrapolate a weird, random melodrama out of.
I remain confounded by the fact that there isn't a movie that's just, like, Hercules doing his Labors.
It apparently had an extremely troubled production, filmed in both Danish and English with the same cast, although the English version still needed to be dubbed, and the two versions had different directors; apparently, the English version needed to be re-written and reworked to make sense. Obviously, it needed a lot more work to be any good.
Danish miners find a big chunk of red, bloody reptile meat wrapped around their drill bit, and send it to the Danish Aquarium in Copenhagen for study. There, one of the scientists falls asleep at his microscope, accidentally leaving the door of the refrigerated room the tissue sample is being kept in ajar. To everyone's amazement, not only does it not rot, it grows, turning into a huge tail of some kind.
The scientists realize that whatever the prehistoric creature was, it can apparently regenerate itself, and they move it into a large, special tank to feed it nutrients, essentially growing it to see what it turns out to be. It turns out to be a giant monster, which breaks out of its tank and goes on a Copenhagen rampage, frustrating military authorities.
Conventional weaponry like machine gun fire and tank shells can't pierce its thick, chain mail-like armored hide. Bombs might do the trick, but they can't risk blowing chunks off the monster, as such chunks could then regenerate into more monsters.
As for the monster, the basic idea of the design is alright, if not exactly anything from the fossil record. It's long and serpentine, with a pair of talon-like legs, a pair of small vestigal wings, a gargoyle-like fanged visage and that armor-like plating.
The effect used to create the monster for the film, however, borders on the ridiulous: It's basically just a completely unarticulated puppet, held and wiggled menacingly at the camera, and cut so that it always appears behind buildings or over the horizon. It rarely shares the screen with human beings, and, when it does, the results are devastatingly fake, as one instance in which it swallows a person. The beast also spits some sort of poisonous, acidic slime, which is affected by animated droplets appearing out of the general vicinity of its gaping, immobile mouth, and then being used as a wipe to transition to a different scene, the deaths of those it hit being implied by screams.
The movie screens like the answer to a challenge, as if an editor was given a pile of different, barely-related footage, and asked to assemble it into something vaguely movie-shaped in appearance.
And so its narrated by American General Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen), who doesn't appear until relatively late in the film, and serves as the military man in charge of first guarding and then destroying Reptilicus. It opens with the head miner, who sticks around as the occasional protagonist. There are a pair of scientists, with hot daughters, who appear briefly and then disappear for most of the film. There's a goofy, comic relief character named Peterson (Danish comedian Dirch Passer). Before Repticilus escapes, Grayson, his Royal Danish Guard liaison Captain Brandt and curvy American scientist Connie Miller (Marla Behrens) go sight-seeing in Copenhagen, and then for a night out on the town, during which Ottosen's narration appears over what appears to be stock footage borrowed from a tourism promoting film of the city.
The most amusing parts are those that occur after Reptilicus' rampage begins, and the citizenry is instructed to stay indoors. There's one scene in which a beach is filled with people, just in time for Reptilicus to surface and wiggle around at them, and several in which what looks be the entire population of Copenhagen—so many white, blond-haired people!—are out running the streets of Copenhagen.
As for suspense, it comes mostly from wondering if Reptilicus will ever blink, or flex one of his perfectly stationary, petrified claws. He does not. The film ends with a shot of a severed leg underwater, promising that Reptilicus will regenerate itself. It never does.
Apparently Charlton produced a Reptilicus comic, which I imagine is much better, and, when they lost the rights to the monster, they simply recolored their green monster red and renamed it Reptisaurus The Terrible (According to Wikipedia, Reptisaurus was himself later renamed Scarysaurus The Scary for a reprint project, which is an awesome name).
Anyway, "Reptilicus" is an awesome name for a giant monster, the film has a pretty awesome poster, but the movie itself? Not so hot.
And it works. Remarkably well. I imagine some of that comes from the fact that the characters were so thoroughly defined by the previous cartoon, but even if this is your only exposure, they all generally have a few immediately recognizable, distinguishing characteristics, exaggerated slightly here as compared to in Teen Titans (with no Go!) for comedic effect (The sole exception is Robin, who is here a much sillier character and no longer plays straightman to the more extreme characters that make up his team).
The original voice cast all return to play the five leads (plus Starfire's pet Silkie), and while they occasionally do things like save the city and/or the world, much of the action takes place during their down-time in Titans Tower, with silly, absurdist plots, as in, for example, "Meatball Party," in which Cyborg (here presented with Dyno-Mutt or Inspector Gadget-like features) attacks his teammates' mouths with a variety of meatball guns and missiles until he accidentally cracks Raven's tooth, unleashing a horrifying, black, octopus-shadow monster that tries to hurt and devour her teammates any time she opens her mouth (Obviously, a trip to the dentist office doesn't go well for the dentist).
Other Teen Titans characters appear, notably the anti-Teen Titans The HIVE, Raven's dad Trigon and Terra, while wider DC Universe cameos are fairly frequent.
The best episode in this collection for that is "You're Fired!," in which Beast Boy is given a pink slip from "Gail from HR" after he takes too long deciding which animal he should turn into during a battle. The Titans hold try-outs for a replacement hero with animal powers, with Vixen, Detective Chimp and B'Wanna Beast all trying out ("B'Wanna Beast?! Ah ha ha ha! I bet you b'wanna new name!" Cyborg heckles him), but they ultimately go with The Wonder Twins, or, at least, Jan, who can turn into animals. Zan, who can only turn in to different forms of water, becomes the Teen Titans' receptionist, until he and Beast Boy conspire to get Jan canned so BB can get his old job back and Zan can lose his new job.
I noticed the names of comics writers Sholly Fisch, Adam Beechen and Amy Wolfrman (Teen Titans: Year One) among the credited writers on various episodes. It's a damn shame the comic book Titans can't retain at least the sharp designs and strong characterization of these Titans, as silly as the show they appear in may be.
The differences between the two series' interpretations of the Turtles characters is actually the motivation for and the conflict that drives this movie, which was constructed in such a way that it could easily be split into three episodes of the television show. It was also released the year in which Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's comic book-turned-IP goldmine celebrated its 25th anniversary, making the ultimate plot that emerges (at about the 50-minute mark) particularly apropos.
In the world of the second Turtles cartoon series, in which the Turtles live in secret, television news footage captures a grainy image of four anthropomorphic turtles with ninja weapons fighting members of the Purple Dragons crime organization, which, at that point, are the major opponents of the "2003 Turtles," Shredder apparently being...dead, or something (I saw a few episodes of this series when it originally aired on Saturday mornings, but didn't stick with it long).
To figure out what's going on, the "2003 Turtles," who weren't the ninja turtles captured on film, break into the Purple Dragon HQ and rescue the four lookalikes, who turn out to be the "1987 Turtles," transported from their dimension/cartoon into this dimension/cartoon during a fight with their Shredder that ended with an explosion inside his high-tech, Dimension X-built fortress/weapon, The Technodrome.
The first two-thirds of the film consists of the clashing aesthetics, narrative styles and general "rules" of the two shows. The 2003 Turtles and their adversaries can't believe how goofy and prone to jokes the smaller, softer, cuter 1987 Turtles are, and they grate at their lax attitude toward secrecy and their interest in pizza (All except 2003 Michaelangelo, who loves them; as in most of the attempts to reboot the Turtles after the first cartoon and live-action movies, Mikey is, in the 2003-2009 series, the sole repository of the sense of humor from those earlier interpretations, while the other characters are played straighter).
The eight of them meet up with this world's Splinter and they fight 1987 Shredder, Krang, Rocksteady, Bebop and the robot Foot Soldiers. Seeking his own counerpart in this world to team up with, 1987 Shredder finds and revives 2003 Shredder, who is apparently a Utrom alien...? (I did not know this). He looks nothing like Krang, of course, aside from the fact that they are both small, pink and have tentacles.
Eventually, the 2003 Turtles journey to the home dimension of the '87 Turtles to get some equipment with which to fight The Shredders, where they meet the first cartoon's April and Splinter. Then 2003 Shredder in a big, bad-ass robot body launches his ultimate plan. Having assumed control of the Technodrome and kicked Krang and Other Shredder to the curb, he realizes that there are nearly infinite numbers of Turtles in many different dimensions of "the multiverse," and, to destroy them all, he must find and destroy "Turtles Prime."
During the sequence in which he looks for the Prime Turtles, we see images of various other incarnations of the characters from various other media all flash on the screen briefly—the live-action movie, the 2007 TMNT computer-animated movie, various comic book incarnations (I recognized images drawn by Michael Zulli, Michael Dooney, Mark Martin, Eric Talbot and at least two by Jim Lawson).
They follow The Shredder to where else but inside the pages of 1984's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 which, I can honestly say I did not see coming, perhaps because I didn't see any commercials for this thing before watching it, five years after it was originally released.
Similarly, they strike poses from panels in TMNT #1...
Eventually, all twelve turtles, and even the bad guys from the cartoons, team-up against the power-mad 2003 Shredder, eventually saving the worlds.
While bits of the film might get a little tiresome, particularly if you're not particularly well-versed in or interested in the 21st century iteration of the cartoon, all of the comparing and contrasting does have its moments, some of which are merely absurdist (like the 2003 characters' confusion as to who 1987 Raphael talks to when he looks at the screen to directly address viewers), some of which are more organic (like the 2003 Turtles, who make fun of the 1987 Turtles' having their initials on their belts, getting similar treatment from the original, comic book turtles, who call them sell-outs).
Even still, this is a made-for-TV animated film where the casts of a cartoon series based on a comic book and of a reboot of that cartoon series based on that comic book journey inside the pages of a 1984, self-published, black-and-white comic book in order to save a valuable media property from destruction.
That is insane, but its the best kind of insanity—the awesome kind.
There are probably some (hopefully accidental) problems with the social politics of the film as well. It takes its title from the slang terms assigned to the situation in which a woman travels from the place of a one-night stand to her home, usually identifiable by a combination of a disheveled appearance and/or the fact that she appears to be dressed as if she's going out for the night, even if it's early in the morning (I've only heard it used first-hand in college, where walking is more common than driving).
Writer/director Steven Brill tries to give Banks a Network-style, speaking-truth-to-power moment at the climax in which she disavows the term and for there being any shame in having sex on a first date (Certainly not with smart, handsome, charming James Marsden), but its contradicted by the very title of the film, many of the gags that precede it, and how much energy is spent on defining Banks' character as "a good girl." And, of course, that her one-night stand with Marsden, unlike that of her best friend played by Gillian Jacobs, is portrayed as the start of a romantic comedy-style, happily-ever-after, long-term relationship, rather than a hook-up for sexual gratification.
Banks gamely plays local television anchor Meghan Miles (the film is on strongest footing when parodying the inanity of TV news, local and otherwise), who is one of the last two candidates for a job at a major, national news network.
The night after her final interview, her friends Jacobs and Sarah Wright discover her wallowing alone in the dark at home, her fiancee having just left her (and taken everything with him). She then
receives the call telling her that she did not get the job after all.
To cheer her up, they force her into something "slutty" (Wright's short, tight yellow dress) and take her out, where they all precede to get trashed. She goes home with handsome bartender Cyclops, and they drink much more at his apartment (so they're both trashed, so it's not like date-rape, is the point being made).
When she wakes up in the still-dark, wee hours of the morning, she receives a phone call from her agent that the network has decided to go with her after all, as it was discovered while vetting the other candidate that she was not a good girl, and they are going to be watching the next newscast as a sort of final test. So Banks needs to be there and be brilliant. She goes out to her car, only to see it being towed away and finds herself locked out of Cyclops' apartment complex, her phone still inside it, and her purse inside the towed-away car. She has no way of getting back in, as she doesn't know which room to buzz (or what his name is).
Thus begins her Epic Quest Of Shame to get her car back from wherever it was towed to, get home and then to work, while dressed in a tiny dress and huge heels, with no purse, money, ID or cell phone. Mishap after mishap and complication after complication ensue, with everyone she meets along the way assuming she is a stripper or a prostitute; even when she meets with a pair of police officers, they refuse to listen to her and tell her if they see her again, they'll arrest her for soliciting.
So she therefore evades all contact with the police throughout the rest of the film for some reason, even though being taken to a police station and given a phone call and phone book would solve all of her problems within, say, the first half hour of the film.
The only people she receives any kind of help from—even a little boy she ends up stealing a bike from says he'll let her borrow it, but only if he shows him her breasts first—are a trio of crack dealers, one of whom recognizes her as "Bitch From The News," which they proceed to call her throughout the rest of their conversations.
Banks is a charming presence, and gives an incredibly game performance, which, coupled with the few jokes that really land, might make this worth watching, but are far from enough to make it good.
Well, this was a fun book. As the title suggests, its a sort of field guide to the various unknown hairy, humanoid or simian (or admixture of both) creatures that are so often sighted the world over. Coleman and Huyghe attempt to classify the creatures into nine broad categories, based on and/or inspired in part by the work of others like Bernard Heuvelmans and Mark A. Hall: Neo-Giant, True Giant, Marked Homonid, Neandertaloid, Erectus Hominid, Proto-Pygmy, Unknown Pongid, Giant Monkey and Mer-Being (while noting how controversial that last and newest category might be).
After the case for the need for some classification of all these sightings is put forth, the pair discuss and define each of the categories, and how they were arrived at and named, what parts of the world the categories of creatures might appear in, and what separates one from the other (size, shape of feet, number of toes, use of tools, et cetera).
From there, the bulk of the book is devoted to little profiles of various creatures in various sightings, organized by region of the world. This then, is the basic format:
I was particularly fascinated by Trumbore's artwork, as he's given a particularly difficult challenge. Certainly, many of the beasts sited are dramatically different from one another—The Devil Monkey, the Menehune, the Negroes-of-the-Water (!), the various mer-beings—but the bulk of the creatures fall into a more generic hairy hominid category, and Trumbore must therefore pick up on slight details in the descriptions (the size of the belly, the length of the arms, how height might affect how lanky a creature is) to draw very different looking versions of very similar looking creatures over and over and over again.
He does a fairly fantastic job of illustrating the book, even when he's essentially called upon to visually make a case of a fairly incredible reach, as when Coleman and Huyghe classify the Japanese kappa, which is almost certainly a creature of pure legend and folklore rather than a real cryptid akin to the yeti or sasquatch, as a merbeing.
I found this entry to be the second most amusing. The authors write:
The traditional kappas—the so-called reedbed man—is described as amphibious with a monkey's head, three-toed webbed feet, three fingers, triangular eyes, long pointed ears, and a "shell" on its back. In other words, it definitely resembles a bipedeal humanlike primate.Yes, definitely. Except for the part about the webbed feet and the shell, of course. And the details left out, like the bowl-shaped indentation in its head always filled with water, from which the little turtle-men get their super-strength.
Trumbore dutifully tries to reshape the kaapa into a more ape-like form, giving it a "shell" of thick fur.
The first is the inclusion of the epic poem Beowulf as evidence, in which the monster Grendel is labeled as a True Giant sighted around A.D. 550, and Beowulf, Hrothgar and his warriors are listed as witnesses.
Look, I think it's perfectly acceptable to point to an ancient epic like Beowulf or Gilgamesh (with its hairy-man hero Enkidu) and similar works of myth, folklore and fiction as evidence that human beings have long been fascinated by large, hairy cousins of some sort, and to suggest that perhaps that fascination stems from some long ago race memory of a time when we co-existed with such creatures, or that perhaps they were always sighted in numbers similar as they are today, but to go so far as to list Hrothgar as a witness, as if he were someone who was definitely real, and was filing a police report about Grendel, and who could be interviewed about his experiences, well, that's the sort of stretch in which someone could hurt themselves performing.
There are a few other credibility problems with the book, which come more from the time it was published more than anything else. The Thetis Lake Monster, described to resemble The Gill-Man from The Creature of the Black Lagoon, but reconfigured as a hairy humaoid in Trumbores illustration, was an admitted confabulation by one of its witnesses, but it appears in here as an example of a Mer-Being. Sallie Ann Clark, author of The Lake Worth Monster, which is one of the several sources cited as being consulted on the entry on the Lake Worth Monster or Goatman, admitted to greatly embellishing and/or making up large parts of her book (Additionally, the goat-like appearance of The Goatman would seem to disqualify him from being any kind of pongid, unkown or otherwise, wouldn't it?). The Chupacabra also appears as form of Mer-Being, but its existence has been pretty thoroughly debunked.
There's also a cringe-inducing instance about the birth of the name "Bigfoot" that refers back to the 1958 article that coined the terms in covering the large footprints found around a northern California construction site—an incident that was admitted to be nothing but a hoax after the 2002 death of Ray Wallace, one of the primary hoaxers, a hoax the newspaperman who wrote it was apparently in on. This book refers to Jerry Crew, who was photographed with a plaster cast of one of the footprints that Wallace apparently made with outsized wooden feet strapped to his own shoes, as "a credible, churchgoing bulldozer operator."
Perhaps a revised version of this book—it was published 15 years ago—would take all of this into account. But again, regardless of how convincing the evidence mustered, or how questionable a handful of the entries might be, the book is fun as both a collection of anecdotes leaning towards a form of encylopedia of sorts, and as a bravura performance by an illustrator. I had a blast reading it, and would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.
Released the year of the first American Godzilla movie, this awfully slim 145-page volume (particularly slim for a book with the word "compendium" in the title) was released before that Godzilla film was, and, obviously, before the six-film Millennium series or this year's American Godzilla film. Covering only the Showa and Heisei series, it's therefore probably more than ready for an update and rerelease.
The bulk of the book is devoted to a fairly thorough, heavily-illustrated filmography, in which each film is given a synopsis and (always pretty positive) assessement, and then to a series of profiles of the monsters, mostly illustrated by Arthur Adams, who provides many original illustrations for the book. These include a two-page piece on "The Three Godzillas," the 50-meter tall Showa Godzilla, the 80-meter tall early Heisei Godzilla, and then the 100-meter tall later Heisei Godzilla, and a two-page spread entitled "Monster Lineup: The Usual Suspects," in which various monsters and the U.S. Capitol building are lined up in front of a size chart stretching from 70-140 meters with trees and a car for added scale (The Ghidorah an Godzilla must be the later Heisei ones, as they dwarf Rodan, Anguirus and Gigan).
For us comic book fans, there's an essay by Dark Horse Comics' Creative Director Randy Stradley about their time with the license for the character, and two pages of Dark Horse Comics covers coming in the books color section (which also includes what appear to be Japanese posters from all of the films, and two pages on Random House's Godzilla books, which includes a pair of Godzilla story books, one of which I've previously reviewed here).
There's an essay by Kenneth Carpenter from the Denver Museum of Natural History entitled "A Dinosaur Paleontolologist's View of Godzilla," in which he discusses his life-long love of the monster and tries to put what we know of the character's biology into scientific terms.
"Unfortunately, we do not have the body or skeleton of Godzilla to study, so I must confine my remarks to what is said and shown in the original movie," Carpenter writes, and goes on to discuss the way various features suggest relations to certain other dinosaurs. For example, his bipedal posture marks him as a theropod, his sharp teeth and forward-facing eyes suggest a predator, and so on.
This was probably my favorite passage, as it mixed two things I like a great deal—Godzilla and dinosaurs–and Carpenter gamely picks apart aspects of the character and films, coming up with some interesting theories, and even picking out what may be Godzilla's closest relative among other dinosaurs, the Ceratosurus and other relatives (Me, I woulda guessed Spinosaurus, based simply on the plates along Godzilla's back).
As I said, the book is fairly dated, covering the franchise fairly well, but only up until the point at which it was published (16 years and eight films ago), and certainly much of the material seems a little too cursory (personally, I could have read a whole book on applying modern paleontology to giant monsters from the movies like Godzilla, King Kong and the like), but despite its limitations, it's still a fun read for fans, and, I imagine, a nice introduction to more causal observers.
At 24 or so CDs, this monster of an audiobook may have been the longest I've ever listened to. It took a lot of 90-minute drives to visit my family to get this whole thing listened to. I was initially attracted to it when a copy of the book passed through my hands at the library, and the cover image of a snowy mountain and the title put the idea of yeti in my mind.
I scanned the back-cover synopsis for confirmation, and when I hit a sentence about a something pursuing them across the top of the world I stopped: Yes, it did indeed have something to do with an Abominable Snowman of some kind, so I was in.
The brick of a book was 670+ pages though, so I opted for the audiobook.
The story wasn't quite what I was expecting...in fact, it was not at all what I was expecting. There is no mention of a yeti or monster of any kind until about disc 7 or so, and no siting of anything vaguely snow-monster like until much, much later than that. And when we do get to the things that inspire the adjective of a title, well...like I said, it wasn't what I was expecting.
I mean that in the best possible way though, as even though this wasn't the yeti-fighting adventure story I thought it would be, it was still very good, very engrossing and, I fear, very educational: I find myself questioning scenes in films and comics that are set in the Himalayas all the time now.
Author Dan Simmons offers a very long foreword of sorts, one that fills the first disc or so, so that when the novel's story begins in earnest, I had nearly forgotten that what I was listening to was simply the story of the novel. Simmons talks about meeting an extremely old man in a rest home of sorts, and their brief, awkward conversation over some of his artifacts, and the fascinating time he spent in the Antarctic.
Years later, after the man has died, Simmons says he receives a package of notebooks from him, telling of his extraordinary adventure to get to the top of the world, and that is what Abominable is concerned with.
The man is Jake Perry, who at the time of his tale—not long after the conclusion of the first World War, just as the seeds of the second one are beginning to blossom—was a young American climbing enthusiast enjoying Alpine climbing in Europe with his climbing bros frenchman Jean-Claude and mysterious, older Englishman "The Deacon," a decorated war vet.
They decide to try and conquer the at-this-point still unconquered Mount Everest, under the pretense of recovering the body of a young English royal who went missing there under extremely strange circumstances, and, after all the introductions are out of the way, much of that massive page-count is spent on showing how they get there. As much, I'd guess, is as spent on what happens when they get there (Like Fellowship of The Ring, this is a book about a journey told in such detail and over such a length that the
From meeting with and convincing a royal patron to pick up the bill, to some intense interviews with the last climbers to have seen the young lord alive and on the mountain (including one in a Nazi beer hall), to a great deal of talk about equipment, to a stop at tea plantation where they pick up their co-adventurers (the cousin of the lost royal, who runs the plantation, and her doctor/friend Pasang), to a long journey to the mountain itself.
Mountains and mountain-climbing are discussed in near-exhausting detail, and the 1920s setting makes it all the more dramatic, as so much of the gadgetry and science of today was far from in existence at the time (oxygen tanks for high-altitude climbing were, at that point, only tried once or twice on Everest).
Those better-versed in the subject matter might get a bit more out of Simmons' concern with exacting detail and verisimilitude than I, as I had to take pretty much everything he said at face value, not actually knowing who climbed which mountain in which year first and so on.
It's pretty damn exciting stuff though, and my words can't really begin to capture what an exotic, alien place Simmons' Everset is. It's a great adventure novel though, a "Man (and one woman) Vs. Nature" conflict in which the odds are stacked pretty highly in Nature's favor. So highly, in fact, that its the highest point above sea level on Earth.
And the snowmen, are they abominable...? Yes, but spoiler alert, they're not snowmen—just men. Nazis, to be exact. Indiana Jones hates those guys.
(I wonder if Simmons' novels ever get discussed by folks who use the term "spoiler alert"...?)
I'm not sure who read and performed the book, but they did a hell of a job playing so many different people. It probably helped that the various players all had accents, but his Jake and Deacon and Jean-Claude all sounded like different people, and I really enjoyed his hiss-able Nazi villain Meier.
One would think that would mean it would lacks a great deal of the drama of the first race, which had a field twice the size, given the fact that both the Democrats and the Republicans had primaries, and, I suppose, to a certain extent it does. The Clinton/Obama feud that propelled much of the original book is barely here, for example; the Clintons are featured, but, by this point, they are pretty thoroughly on Obama's side.
That makes the most interesting part of the book the Republican primary, which, you'll recall, was a particularly insane affair, with Mitt Romney seeming like the likely, inevitable candidate as far back as early 2011, and then all of 2012 spent with primary voters desperately seeking out someone—anyone!—other than Romney to pin their hopes on, elevating one never-serious contender after another just to watch them implode. (And, in some cases, explode. Spectacularly.)
These types political tell-all books, no matter how respectable and how well-researched, almost always need to be taken with a grain of salt, political books about campaigns more than any others. This is, of course, not because history is written by the winners, but because it is written by those with the most to say, which tends to be the proudest of the winners and the bitterest of the losers. So, on the Republican side, for example, when Mitt's people and Chris Christie's people talk venomously about one another and, for example, how one candidate or one candidate's people might have stabbed or betrayed or ignored the other, well, both Romney and Christie are still ongoing concerns, with reputations and/or futures to protect (and, of course, political operative have to keep operating, so failures of any kind need to be justified and explained).
None of this is to say that the authors are overly credulous, of course, just that all of their sources tend to have particularly charged agendas, and, were those sources talking about these events with them in 2035 or 2059, for example, they might say rather different things.
These particular books are also fascinating because of the recent vintage of the history they offer though. Enough time has passed to give the subjects, the authors and the readers perspective, but the events are still fresh in the readers' heads; I can remember reading tweets and reading articles about almost everything in the book, and hearing the spin offered by the players at the time, but here there's a great deal of discussion of what was going by behind the scenes.
Romney is a pretty fascinating character, as the book shows he was pretty much doomed from the start (which I thought based simply on the fact that he lost to 2008's loser, but what do I know?). Feeling he lost the 2008 nomination contest because he was labeled a flip-flopper, he refused to flip on any issue no matter what, which meant he was all but stuck with his far-right (and getting farther) opinions from 2008 and the 2012 primaries.
When the book gets to the general election, it becomes particularly interesting that the two candidates don't seem to be running against one another at all. Instead, Romeny is running against himself, shooting himself on the foot (and/or having his political advisers shoot his feet for him) on a near-daily basis, while Obama is running against the circumstances around him, ones he has relatively little control over, even if he is the most powerful man in the world (the weather in the Atlantic, terrorism in the Middle East, the economy, etc).
The parts I enjoyed the most were about the early possible contenders for the Republican nomination, some of whom never made it into the general public conversation (i.e. being made fun of on The Daily Show and Colbert Report, being reported on extensively on NPR, my main sources of political news that aren't the Internet***).
The discussion of Tim Pawlenty and why he ultimately left the race was pretty fascinating, and al lnews to me, and the John Hunstman campaign and its implosion was pretty interesting as well (I didn't know of the Hunstman vs. Romney history, nor how much behind-the-scenes work was done to make Hunstman into a potential Obama challenger; he seemed like a pretty decent, stand-up guy from my far remove. His daughters seem just as awesome in the book as they seem online, though).
The same goes for the Christie passages, a "character" who will likely appear in the books about the next campaign. He was much, much further along and closer to announcing than I knew, and he turned to be a pretty pivotal player—the pivotal player, in winning the election for Obama, according to some from Team Romney.
Two couples were planning on spending a weekend in the wilderness of Idaho, taking a survival class with an expert at a camp site. On the first night, Reed and Beck, who beat their friends Cap and Sing there, hear a strange cry like a shrieking, wailing woman, and are chased and assaulted by a group of huge, hairy...things. Before it's all over, one of these giant shadows scoops up the unconscious Beck and disappears into the night with her.
Reed and his friends are not coincidentally perfectly-suited to the task. Reed's a deputy in the county sheriff's department. Sing is a crime scene investigator with her own mobile lab (and also of Native American descent, so she knows of cultural traditions of the big, hairy people who live in the woods) and Cap is a former, disgraced biology professor who still knows his way around the university and its primatology labs well enough to get hair and scat samples analyzed.
Before long, the story divides into three different threads. Reed, the sheriff's office, volunteer trackers and hunters and others set about searching for Beck, most of them convinced Reed is crazy at the outset (the popular opinion is that they're hunting for a bear that killed Beck, though the evidence doesn't support that, and soon more and more become convinced that there's something out there, and it ain't no bear).
Beck is essentially taken hostage by a large, female Bigfoot, that has adopted her as a surrogate child of sorts, and she is gradually ingratiated into this red-haired, beta-female's family unit, which she gives Bibilical names in her own head: Her "mom" is Rachael, the alpha-female is Leah, her human-sized on is Reuben, and the huge male leader is Jacob.
And Cap's investigation of some of the clues leads to a big, weird conspiracy that, in a more unlikely still coincidence, involves his old colleagues and bosses at the university being up to something involving combining ape and human DNA in the woods, not far from where the attacks took place.
The first of those two threads are pretty engaging, even if the book is just a straightforward, Michael Crichton-like, film adaptation-ready adventure novel. The third worried me throughout much of the book, mainly because I was afraid there was going to be some big revelation about the university's resident mad scientist having created the Bigfoots. Given the lengths that Peretti went in making the Bigfoots seem like real animals, with a wide range of convincing, primate-like behavior, it would have seemed a betrayal of his own book to go reveal that...which he doesn't, ultimately, coming up with a suspend-your-disbelief-please solution that allows Beck's Bigfoot to remain "good" and for there still to be a big, scary, killer monster out in the woods too. (Um, spoiler alert?)
A few discs in I noticed Peretti being referred to on the back as a leading Christian author, which, of course, colored my
For the most part, it didn't strike me as all that Christian. The main characters prayed a lot, and talked to God, but then, but then, one of them is abducted by Bigfoot, and the other fears his wife is dead and so on. And then there's the names of the Bigfeet, for whatever that's worth.
The only place where the book gets a bit dicey is in the Cap sections, as it is gradually revealed that the reason he is disgraced is because he is an anti-evolutionist "Creation scientist," albeit in likely in the softer side of that camp. Peretti doesn't get too far into it, but Cap ridicules the mad scientist's belief in evolution (and his totemistic worship of various specimens said to prove it), talks the line about how evolution isn't entirely provable and, in one weird scene, a fellow scientist confesses off the record to something of a big science cover-up of flaws in evolution science. Cap doesn't go so far as to discuss a literal interpretation of Genesis or a 6,000-year-old world though.
These are brief passages though, and, of course, gobbledygook. I'm not sure Peretti was really making an argument in them though, as dismissal of science in favor of faith-based "I dunno" shrugging tends to occur only in conversation or stray thoughts, and the most anti-science bit of the book is simply the fact that it's real villain is a guy who believes in evolution. I'm sure if Peretti was gong to make that argument, he wouldn't do it in a book that suggests Bigfoot is real.
I suppose there's an exploration of the parallels between belief in Bigfoot and in God that a smarter writer could fold into a review of this novel, but, well, I'm not that writer.
And for what it's worth, I don't believe in the former, but I do believe in the latter. I like reading about both subjects.
Regarding the performance of the book, Peretti himself reads it, and, I have to admit, his reading was so over-the-top that there were a few minutes at the beginning where I wasn't sure I'd be able to stand listening to the whole book. The tension between husband and wife at the beginning, before any monsters show up, is pretty sitcom-style, and bordering on unbearable. Additionally, Peretti gets pretty over-the-top with his readings, and, because Beck suffers from a stutter and there's a lot of growling, grunting, whistling and so on...well, it's a pretty in-your-
I got used to it very quickly though, to the point where I didn't notice, let alone mind, after about a chapter or two. I thought Peretti did a hell of a job on a few of the voices, too. I particularly liked the quite, laconic voice of Pete, a tracker whose reading of the evidence leads him to ally himself with the Pro-Bigfoot camp, and of the evil university administrator, who talks like a sinister-sounding version of Paul Lynde's Templeton from the Charlotte's Web cartoon.
What was the Jewish religion like 2,000-ish years ago? What was the Roman Empire like 2,000-ish years ago? Was Jesus the first, only and last Jewish man to preach about the end times, to be hailed as the messiah, to come into conflict with the Jewish religious authorities and to be crucified by Rome? (Spoiler: No, no, no and no).
See, while there may not be all that much surviving writing about Jesus of Nazareth, there is a lot of writing about the details of the worlds in which he lived, died and, his followers believed, rose again—the political world, the religious world, the geographic world.
Much of Alsan's work is supported by pretty rigorous research (although it is presented in an extremely reader-friendly, almost novel-like style here at times), but some of it is simply a matter of etymology. For example, if Jesus was a tekton (as Mark 6:3, and only Mark 6:3 said he was), then that means he was a "woodworker or builder," but "The Romans used the term tekton"—a Greek word—"as slang for any uneducated or illiterate peasant."
And, more saliently to the ultimate picture of Jesus that Aslan paints, is the word used to refer to who Jesus was crucified with, lestai, plural of lestes. A word meaning not "thieves," as Christian tradition refers to them, but "bandits," a very specific type of criminal in first century Palestine, one which essentially means someone challenging Roman authority, seeking to overturn the political status quo. The titulus hung over Jesus head reading "King of The Jews" wasn't a sarcastic joke on the part of the Romans, it was literally his charge: He was killed for trying to assert himself as the King of the Jews, and thus he was killed for sedition.
Wait, I'll let Aslan explain it himself:
Consider this: Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. The plaque the Romans placed above Jesus's head as he writhed in pain—"King of the Jews"—was called a titulus and, despite common perception, was not meant to be sarcastic. Every criminal who hung on a cross received a plaque declaring the specific crime for which he was being executed. Jesus' crime, in the eyes of Rome, was striving for kingly rule (i.e., treason), the seam crime for whcih nearly every other messianic aspirant of the time was killed. Nor did Jesus die alone. There gospels claim that on either side of Jesus hung men who in Greek are called lestai, a word often rendered into English as "theives" but which actually means "bandits" and was the most common Roman designation for an insurrectionist or rebel.
In chipping at the marble of the historical record to carve his radical, zealous rebel Jesus, Aslan naturally chips away a great deal of what is believed rather than known about Jesus story. Like, for example, the infancy narratives, of which Aslan points out there are no mentions of anywhere, despite the fact that a king ordering all the male children slain in a particular area during the time of the meticulous at record-keeping Romans would surely have been noted somewhere, or some problems with the noble, sympathetic, victim-of-circumstances Pontius Pilate we get in the Gospels. It is at odds with everything else we know about Pilate from outside the Gospels, and the story tellers responsible for the Gospel accounts would have had ample reason to flatter Pilate and/or Rome, reasons both political and evangelical.
It's probably worth noting that Aslan took some heat on Fox News for essentially having dark skin and a funny-sounding name and still daring to study Jesus (A really, really weird segment in which the Fox lady seems unprofessional and weird, and Aslan comes across as sorta pompous, perhaps thrown by the weird line of questioning, or perhaps because he was expecting it; it gets more and more painful to watch the longer it goes on, though, and it's clear the interviewer is completely unfamiliar with the short, read-it-in-a-couple-sittings book).
As Aslan explains in his author's note, the Iranian-American was technically raised in a Muslim tradition, but not a very serious one, before it all but disappeared from his life ("After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household"). At 15, he found Jesus and attended an evangelical youth camp. Evangelical Christianity, "at least as it was taught to me," he says, was based on "the unconditional belief that every word in the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant," so it didn't take too many years for that brand of Christianity to crumble (One need only read the Bible to know it's not inerrant; heck, one need only read the Gospels and see that there are mutually-exclusive facts in them. Inspired by God? Sure; but literally true? Inerrant? Not on your life. Or soul.)
Still, as he says in his note, "Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ."
Far from somehow anti-Jesus, Aslan's book is extremely pro-Jesus, albeit a Jesus we don't see much of or hear much of in our popular culture. I was actually somewhat struck by how Aslan doesn't even address what many readers would consider the most fantastical and hard-to-believe aspects of Jesus' life: His miracles.
Aslan notes that no one in the ancient world, no one opposed to Jesus, ever denied the fact that he was performing exorcisms and doing great deeds that disrupted the natural order of the world. In the ancient world, magic and miracles were taken as a fact of life. The only argument regarding Jesus' deeds were whether they were "magic" or "miracle," with the former being regarded as ignoble, "a form of chicanery" and the latter noble. Magic didn't mean some sort of smoke-and-mirrors illusionist act, just that the magician wasn't using his powers correctly.
It's an extremely compelling read, and one that will likely introduce many readers to a whole new side of perhaps the best-known figure in history. That more people don't know this particular Jesus, Aslan concludes his book, is a shame:
Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.And doing so doesn't necessitate a rejection of Jesus the Christ. Catholic thought preaches that Jesus was both wholly man and wholly God...is it really so shocking, so surprising that the man is also an awesome aspect...?
*The one part where I would really disagree with Khosla is the bit where he says that nothing was done to round out the character of the jackass ape in the same manner that Commissioner Gordon was rounded out. Commissioner Gordon wasn't just a short-sighted military a-hole, he was given a motivation or explanation for being that way, in the scenes where we see him crying over his dead sons' images on a mobile device. The jackass ape, Koba, is given a similar scene. When Caesar tells Koba not to worry about the humans, to just let them get their "human work" over with so they can go away and everything will go back to normal, Koba points to his various scars sustained in his past as a captive of humans, and says of each, "Human work...human work." Granted, the scene isn't as long or thorough as the one involving Commissioner Gordon, but then, Koba's not human, and I guess it will always be easier to humanize human characters played by human beings than it will be to humanize talking apes played by humans...?
**According to the Internet, the toyline includes a velociratpor, a stegosaurus and an apatosaurus. T-Rex Grimlock and stegosaurus Snarl are the only ones who keep their original, "G1" names in the new, movie-related toy-line. Triceratops Slag is now Slug, apataosaurus Sludge is now Slog and the flying pterosaur Swoop is now the flying dragon Strafe.
***Although I watch those shows online, and listen to NPR online, so I guess they are also the Internet...?