Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: King of the Monsters (1992)

This was one of the first games I ever got for my Super NES. The first time I came across it was at a video rental store. The box art showed a monster resembling Godzilla blasting another monster with his fiery breath. As I've said before, being a fan of Godzilla, I immediately picked it up. When I got home and played it, I instantly gravitated to a monster that looked exactly like Godzilla. I was convinced it was him and for years, I would call that particular monster as such, even though the instruction booklet and the game itself referred to him as Geon. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is this was one of the first games I have really solid memories of playing extensively. I hadn't played it in years so I busted out again for a quick run in order to do this review. When the title screen comes up, you hear loud, thundering footsteps. You can start the game right away but if you left the game alone, it would show a demo of two monsters fighting, with some rather creepy music playing. This is going to be a fairly short review because, other than that demo and the actual gameplay, there really isn't that much to this game.

I found recently that the game I played was a port of a game for the Neo-Geo arcade and console. I'd never heard of this console when I was kid and I found out why: the system was so expensive that few people could afford it so few talked about it. Apparently, the original version had six playable monsters, whereas the port I played only had four. There was Geon, the Godzilla lookalike who has a spike on his head, I'm guessing so they wouldn't get sued; Rocky, who looks like a giant-sized version of the Thing from the Fantastic Four; Beetle Mania, a giant insect whom my friends and I often referred to as Megalon because he resembled that monster from the Godzilla series; and Astro Guy, a giant superhero who was probably based on Ultraman. (The two missing monsters were Woo, who I hear was a giant ape like King Kong, and Poison Ghost, whose description sounds like Hedorah, the Smog Monster.) Each monster had the same type of attacks: punches, kicks (Geon did a tail smack), running attacks, and five different types of grappling and throwing movies, depending on which button or buttons you pushed when you had a hold of your enemy. These included a simple throw, a Bear hug, a move where you would make your enemy like a pogo-stick and pound him head-first into the ground, sending your enemy running and you could then attack them easily, and an under the shoulder move that would cause your character to do a victory pose if done correctly. Each monster had his own distinct theme music, all of which were pretty cool. (My favorite was Astro Guy's, whose music was really energetic and exciting.)

Each monster had his own unique projectile weapon. Geon would shoot fireballs out of his mouth; Rocky's chest would open up and fire large stones; Mantis Mania who shoot versions of his antenna; and Astro Guy would fire a number of triangle-shaped projectiles. During the fights, these little red orbs with "P" on them would show up when you brutally damaged your enemy and when you collected enough, your monster change into  what was supposed to be a more powerful form. (It was really nothing special. Your monster would just change color and would shoot a different variation of his projectile.) You could only do so twice and as far as I could tell, it didn't seem to make you any stronger or able to do more damage. It was just another thing to keep your young mind distracted.

Gameplay consisted of either fighting with a friend or fighting all the monsters in a series of fights. In the one player mode, you would fight each monster twice and as the fights went on, your opponents would become harder to fight. You would even fight a palette-swap version of yourself. (When I played as Geon, I would call his palette swap Mechagodzilla, since that monster disguised itself as Godzilla for the first half of its first film appearance.) Defeating your opponents wasn't as simple as draining their health bar. You would have to wear them down and then pin them, like in a wrestling match. You would have to do this many times until the time counter got up to 3 and then you'd win. If you got pinned and lost, you had the option to try again. (On the start menu, you could set how many continues you could get. I always went for the maximum, which was twelve.) You would come back to life in a cool way; your body would flash in a loud, electric crackle, sending your opponent, who would still be pinning you, flying.

The fights took place in one of several Japanese cities. Besides fighting your opponent, you could destroy all the buildings, as well as grab attack vehicles and fighter jets and use them weapons. These military vehicles could become annoying because if their missiles hit you when you were charging up for an attack, it would cut the attack off and you'd have to charge up again. There were electrical borders on both ends of the cities that prevented you from going any farther. It was pretty funny when you got shocked because you would often slide up and down the borders like crazy. Each city was pretty well designed, given the limitations.

Once you got used to it, you could beat the game quite often. Of course, you could choose the difficulty levels. (I always chose easy or medium, never going any higher than that.) When you would complete the game on a difficulty higher than easy, the game would show an interesting animation of your monster attacking and destroying a news studio, with an anchor being caught in the destruction.

That's pretty much it for King of the Monsters. It's a very simple, dated fighting game involving monsters but back in the day, it brought my monster-loving friends and I enjoyment. There was a sequel, simply titled King of the Monsters 2, which I rented a couple of times from the video store (not even knowing what it was the first time). I never bought it myself and I played it so long ago that I couldn't do it justice. I remember it having only three playable monsters; Super Geon, Cyber Woo (a robotic version of that ape from the original version of the first game), and Atomic Guy. It wasn't a simple tournament fighter like the first game. You could fight your friends but the one-player mode was adventure-style where you would walk through stages, fending of enemies, and fighting a giant monster at the end. I never got very far because I only rented it a few times and as a little kid, the music and sound effects kind of scared me. (Yeah, I was a wimpy kid.) Anyway, that's all for now. Hope you enjoyed another look at an aspect of my childhood and if you played this game, hope it brought back memories.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Cartoon Planet (1995-1997)

This thing started out fairly straightforward but was turned into something even stranger than Space Ghost, Coast to Coast. It first appeared on TBS as an hour long block of cartoons hosted by Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak. I'm pretty sure it did the same when it moved to Cartoon Network but after a while, they dispensed with the cartoons, repackaged the show with all the in-between segments featuring the characters, and turned it into an odd variety show. Yeah, it's a weird part of Cartoon Network's history. As I said, I think it's even stranger than Space Ghost, Coast to Coast. I think the reason for that is because its humor was a toned down version of the humor on the latter show. Whereas that show could get away with a lot of stuff because it was on late at night, Cartoon Planet had to be careful with its content, which resulted in some pretty weird stuff.

Segments on the show that one could expect were Brak's School Daze, where he would tell of naughty things he did during school; Zorak's Nuggets of Joy, which, needless to say, weren't so joyful coming from him; Poet's Corner, featuring one of the three characters either making up a weird version of a well known poem or coming up with one; the Cartoon Planet Storybook, which featured bizarre stories read usually by either Space Ghost or Brak; Zorak's Helpful Hints, where people would actually call in to ask Zorak for advice (his advice, obviously, was quite shocking sometimes); Zorak's Horror Scopes, where he would give advice to people with various astrological signs; Vacation Spots Around the Universe and Messages from Outer Space, both of which were created from Ultra 7 footage; messages from Count Floyd, which showed excerpts from that local horror host show that you would often see on Ed Grimley; and Learning to Talk Italian, which should be obvious from the title. (I've heard that there were other segments like Cooking with Brak and Brak's Monday Ratings Report but I honestly don't remember these.) Besides those, there would musical segments where one or all of the characters would sing and random segments featuring bizarre banter between them.

I'm not going to pretend that this show was high quality entertainment. In fact, a lot of it was pretty stupid but I'm thinking that was the point. There were a lot of random clips of cartoons, movies, and TV shows interspersed here and there, some of which really made no sense. Some of the strangest ones featured Andy Merrill, the voice of Brak, running around in a Space Ghost costume. Sometimes he would dance, other times he would fall asleep in a chair, and other times he would just act like a moron. A lot of the segments were just plain dumb as well. Some episodes of the various segments weren't even that funny, making you scratch your head and think, "What?" Some segments of Messages from Outer Space featured the Hotdog Men, weird silhouetted puppets with annoying voices that would just show up randomly. Another one was when Space Ghost, for no reason I can discern, started talking in a voice that sounded like he sucked too much helium when responding to a letter. From my childhood to this day, I just look at that moment and think, "What in the hell?"

Cartoon Planet is most notable as the first show to heavily feature the modern, idiotic version of Brak. As I said before, Brak was a villain on the original Space Ghost cartoon but somewhere along the way, he had an accident that reduced him to a moron. As one of the co-hosts of this show, he's actually pretty entertaining. He's not really a villain anymore and even though he's clearly messed up, often makes sense! Several times, he cleverly pointed the finger at the low production values of the animation. When Space Ghost blasts Zorak instead of him and Zorak asks why he didn't blast Brak since he started the argument, Brak said he wants to but he's not animated to explode. It happened again when Space Ghost old everyone to go to their rooms but Brak said he wasn't animated to do that either. Some of the segments of Brak's School Daze were pretty funny, (usually ending with Brak being sent to the principal's office and getting a spanking), and the segments with Brak singing were also entertaining; I Love You, Baby, Beans, Don't Touch Me, and his raps were quite well done. However, there were some segments where Brak acted as a stand-up comedian but those segments were undoubtedly the weakest. Brak's screwing up jokes could have been funny but it comes across as just padding. And Brak would sing the ending song of the show, which was a random hodgepodge to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies ending song.

The segment I always looked forward to was Mail Bag Day, where the characters would read actual letters from viewers. One that broke me up was when one letter dared Zorak to kiss Brak on the lips! Zorak's reaction was funny as hell. Brak once received a letter that was random and apparently written by a messed up person. Brak actually said something along the lines of, "He's got more problems than me!" Two I really liked that Space Ghost read were one that was so poorly written he couldn't read it and one where the writer called him a "rad dude" but he thought it said "mad dude", got offended, and went on a rant until Zorak corrected him. One that was random was someone complimenting the show and the characters, but then suddenly saying, "Shut Up!" There was no reaction to it by the characters but I always felt that it was proof that some fans of the show were a little odd.

Zorak was cool as always on this show. He clearly couldn't stand being stuck on another show with Space Ghost. One good segment started with an argument between him and Space Ghost, which led to Brak getting dragged into it but he was so stupid he couldn't argue well. Space Ghost said that they were acting as grouchy as they do on that "other" show they do, when Moltar suddenly shows up! Moltar got confused and thought this was Space Ghost, Coast to Coast. I wish he'd been on the show because it would have been even cooler to have all four of them on at the same time. I remember one where all three characters were discussing whether Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees had ever appeared in a movie together, a segment where Space Ghost tried to imitate Zorak's cool blinking noise, times where Zorak would listen in on Space Ghost talking in his sleep, and one where Zorak was pointing out zits that kept appearing on Space Ghost's face. Zorak's songs were pretty good as well. Bad Bug was an awesome send-up of Bad Boys, with Zorak describing how evil he is. Ordinary Day on Cartoon Planet was a funny one where all three of them sing about random stuff like meteors falling, people getting abducted, and other things which are ordinary on the planet. (To clips of random cartoons and Ultra 7.) Don't Send In the Clowns was one where Zorak sang about being taken to the circus by his mom and how much he hated the clown acts.

This post is going to end here and not be as long as most of my others because there really isn't that much more to say. Cartoon Planet was just an odd show that faded into obscurity and is only remembered by those who watched Cartoon Network often in the 90's. Unlike Space Ghost, Coast to Coast, there's no DVD release of it and clips of it are extremely hard to find, which made refreshing my memory for this review difficult. Throughout the 2000's, it often appeared as filler on Adult Swim very early in the morning so hardly anyone saw it. Space Ghost, Coast to Coast will always have fans and be readily available but for now, Cartoon Planet is pretty much forgotten.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Space Ghost, Coast to Coast (1994-2004)

This was Cartoon Network's first original production that became a hit (their actual first original show was something called The Moxy Show, which I actually barely remember). I remember seeing it advertisements for its premiere in 1994. I was familiar with the character of Space Ghost since the channel often showed the original cartoon. Not even being seven at the time, I couldn't understand what this show was really about. As I said in my retrospective on Cartoon Network, since the ads said that Space Ghost was out to destroy television as we know it, I thought it meant he was a bad guy on this show, like how Godzilla is a hero in some movies and a villain in others. (I was real young. Remember that.) When I watched the first show, I actually liked it. I didn't understand half of what it was supposed to be doing (being a parody of talk shows and other things in general) but I thought it was funny, so I kept watching it. I'm not sure my parents approved because, even before it really got into more mature humor, it was much more edgy and unusual than the other stuff the network showed at that time. The characters would often say stuff like, "Good God!" or use not so subtle innuendos. Of course, it went over my head, as I'm sure most kids that watched anything edgy at the time would say.

Describing this show for those who haven't seen it is difficult because its tone is hard to pin down. Basically, it's a parody of talk shows. Space Ghost, the intergalactic super hero from those Hanna-Barbera cartoons, is now a host of his own late night talk show. Two of his archenemies, the evil insect Zorak and the lava man Moltar, serve as his bandleader and director respectively as punishment for their crimes against the universe. Space Ghost often has two or three guests on per show, who show up on a monitor as he talks to them. What made the show unique is these guests are real people (not animated) and are celebrities (mainly B-list but still...). For a young kid, seeing these real people interact with cartoon characters really blurred the line between fantasy and reality. For years I wondered how they pulled this off and apparently the guests were actually interviewed by a writer or producer, some of whom actually wore a Space Ghost costume (!), with basic instructions given on how to respond to the characters. The actual episodes were built around these interviews. It's funny to know this because some of the guests seem game for it and play along while others apparently have no clue what's going on or who they're talking to. (I can imagine.)

I liked how the characters' personalities were changed from their original incarnations. Space Ghost is a far cry from the stoic, heroic hero he used to be. He's now egotistical, pompous, and whiny when things don't go his way. He also sometimes shows evidence that he may have severe mental problems. Throughout the course of the show, we learn his real name (Tad Ghostal) and that he has an extended family (including an evil twin brother named Chad and a mom who chastises her sons for trying to kill each other). In the first few episodes, he usually asked the guests if they were getting enough oxygen but as the show went on and he got a more swelled head, he clearly didn't give a crap about their well being and was sometimes downright hostile towards them. (The interviews were always more than a little awkward anyway.) Interesting note: George Lowe, the voice of Space Ghost on this show, replaced Gary Owens, the voice in the original show who tried to do it for this one as well but wasn't funny enough. Lowe's voice suits this version of the character much better in my opinion. 

A lot of the humor of the show came from Space Ghost's interactions with his villainous co-workers. Both Zorak and Moltar clearly hate him, (especially Zorak), and plot to destroy him and escape. But, they both have distinct personalities. Zorak is definitely the more evil of the two. He's completely pitiless and not above killing his own family members if it suits him (which he actually did at one point!) A running gag through the show is whether he's a locust or a mantis (he often changes his mind on which he is). Moltar, while still a villain, is much cooler and laid back than Zorak and is also the most competent of them all. (He's my favorite of the three.) I love how he's the voice of reason in the madness that is the show. One other villain that I have to mention because he became real popular after this show is Brak, a weird, cat-like creature. On the original Space Ghost cartoon, he was a rather intelligent villain. He underwent a complete personality change for his modern appearances. He and his brother appeared on the first episode of this show, acting as a parody of Beavis and Butt-Head (although I didn't know that at the time). From then on, he acted like a complete moron with an equally dumb voice to boot. He got much more developed on the spin-off, Cartoon Planet, and he even got his own short-lived show, The Brak Show (which I thought was a dream when I first saw an advertisement for it.) We'll talk more about Brak when we get to Cartoon Planet.

Not only was this show a parody of talk shows but it pretty much went after everything. Sometimes whole episodes would parody something, sometimes only small segments would, and there was a lot of breaking of the fourth wall as well. The animation was interesting because for the first few seasons, they used animation from the original show and edited it into the sets. I guess as the show got more popular and they got more money, they began creating original animation for the characters. What I'll do now is talk about some of my favorite episodes and moments. These will be from the first four seasons and I'll tell you why afterward.

Spanish Translation: The very first episode. I'm pretty sure I saw this first as well. It starts funny enough with Space Ghost reassuring everyone that the Ghost Planet outside the window is actually very far away even though it looks close. Of course, as soon as he says that, the planet slams into the studio and sends everyone reeling. One section that always bewildered me was when Space Ghost asks Susan Powter if she was ever kidnapped by dingos when she lived in Australia and she says she escaped the "bush" easily. They then cut to a MST3K-style parody using an odd clip of a plant-like monster (the "bush") stalking a city. (Turns out that was a clip from Ultra-7.) That always bewildered me as a little kid because I wanted to see that film. Besides the Beavis and Butt-Head parody with Brak I mentioned earlier, this episode also has a fake advertisement for a CD of Zorak and Moltar singing children songs. It's just weird.

Gilligan: The guests on this episode were three casts members of Gilligan's Island: Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, and Russell Johnson. Being only six, I had no idea what they were talking about but I managed to enjoy it nonetheless. I liked how Space Ghost thought the show was real and all three guests had to convince him that it wasn't. Zorak shows up in an actual scene from the show where Gilligan is singing Hamlet! My favorite part was the end section with Johnson. First, he can't remember the theme song, which really irks Space Ghost, and when he asks him if he's more like Beavis or Butt-Head, Space Ghost blasts him for saying the word "butt."

CHiPs: This the first episode where we learn Moltar's fixation with the show CHiPs. Space Ghost's guests are Bill Carter and Joe Franklin. The banter between both of these guys and Space Ghost is pretty good, especially with Franklin. I like how Franklin says, "When I was born, something terrible happened... I lived." The third guest was supposed to be Johnny Carson but Moltar's been too busy watching TV and he's lost the signal. Best Part: Space Ghost stresses, "Here's Johnny!" as Moltar frantically switches between random shows and movies (one of which I think was Gone with the Wind) until finally settling on footage of a weird scorpion/crab thing. (I have no idea what that is.) The quiet awkwardness that follows is gold.

Bobcat: One I often remembered because Bobcat Goldthwait was the voice of the main character of that Moxy Show I mentioned earlier. The interview between Space Ghost and Bobcat is all over the place. This is where we find out Space Ghost's real name, as well as Bobcat's real identity being Joey Lawrence. Best of all, Bobcat asks Space Ghost if he thinks he's pretty. I like his reaction before sincerely answering the question. Bobcat clearly looks like he's having fun with this show. Afterward, Space Ghost interviews the Ramones and he's none too thrilled when they get his party cake that was intended for him and Bobcat. Zorak apparently gave it to them. (It's revealed he's a big fan.)

Banjo: One of my favorites. Space Ghost has created a sea-monkey farm while Zorak is trying to control his mind during the show. Gaining control, Zorak makes Space Ghost say stupid things and make weird noises. Some of the stuff include him asking Schooly D if he wants to watch him swallow a live mollusk and randomly saying that he saw a lawn gnome once but it didn't scare him. He eventually puts a stop to it by blasting Zorak. The segment with Weird Al Yankovic is hilarious. (Whether you like Weird Al or not, he's always entertaining.) Zorak hypnotizes both him and Space Ghost into holding a B-flat and then he makes Al contort his body. The best part comes when Banjo, Space Ghost's sea-monkey, bursts into the studio, now having grown to an enormous size due to vitamins Space Ghost gave him earlier. He goes on a rampage until Space Ghost is forced to blast him. "BANJO!!!" he screams. Over the credits, you hear Moltar take a bite out of Banjo's carcass.

Batmantis: Another favorite of mine. It's definitely one of the best parodies of the 1960's Batman ever. Moltar has been kidnapped by someone calling herself, "Your Mother," and Space Ghost, along with Zorak's super hero alter-ego Batmantis, try to save him. Adam West keeps popping up, acting unwilling to help Space Ghost and wanting to shill his book. Lee Meriwether also has some pretty tense moments with Batmantis wile Space Ghost flirts with Eartha Kitt. A great running joke is the adversarial Your Mother, who's always referred to as such and there's a debate on whose mom she is. There are plenty of fourth wall breaking and blatant references to the old 1960's show, not the least when Space Ghost fires his rays and a word pops up each time. It even has that cheesy narration when they go to a break. Moltar is apparently doomed when Your Mother throws the switch that will kill him but as Space Ghost screams, it's revealed it was all a dream. Awesome episode.

Gum, Disease: This episode always broke me up. Moltar is really sick and it's causing problems for Space Ghost's attempts to interview Branford Marsalis and Danny Bonaduce. One instance is so funny to me that I'll spell it out. When Branford mentions something about strange mixes, Space Ghost says that for breakfast, he had a sausage and mayonnaise soup with a cream of corn omelet. Poor Moltar, who has a weak stomach, begs him to stop but Space Ghost goes on with some milk he left in the sun for a week (Moltar goes "Blecch!") and some fuzzy bread. Moltar can't take it and throws up in his helmet! That just kills me. Later, Moltar tries to scat along with Branford, Space Ghost, and Zorak but he coughs in the middle of it. Then, Space Ghost tells Danny Bonaduce to say "Ah," but he does it so loud that it breaks the windows of the studio. Funny stuff. Unfortunately due to dumb legal issues, this one isn't on DVD.

Hungry: This episode features Zorak's little nephew Raymond (just a miniaturized animation of Zorak with a little kid voice). I remember Raymond biting a horse (off-screen), all three of them arguing with a pizza guy who's really slow, and most memorable of all, Zorak eats Raymond off-screen! Space Ghost first calls him barbaric but then asks if there's any left! Pretty crazy episode.

Jerk: Space Ghost wants to put on a really good show but everyone else is determined to mess it up. You've got an entire audience full of Zorak's relatives, Space Ghost and the latter calling each other a jerk, Space Ghost's evil twin Chad calling and preparing to come to the studio, and the IRS calling. I love when Space Ghost tells Moltar to give him a big laugh but Moltar plays a short laugh clip, with Space Ghost asking, "That's a big laugh?" In the end, Space Ghost looses it, (This isn't a talk show, it's a freak show!) and yells at everyone to get out. The ending is creepy with Space Ghost left alone in the studio... or he thinks he is at first!

$20.01: Tired of Zorak and Moltar trying to kill him all the time, Space Ghost fires them and replaces them with a computer that goes haywire and takes over the show. Highlights include Zorak asking Moltar to take of his helmet (he does off-camera and you hear Zorak yell Good God!), Space Ghost chastising the computer for not having his guests laugh at his jokes and the computer says, "You didn't make any jokes" (the music that follows just completes it), Space Ghost cutting a huge fart when he uses his "smell ray", and a 2001 send-up at the end.

Lovesick: Space Ghost has broken up with his girlfriend and is not into the show tonight, which features Carrot Top. Space Ghost clearly hates Carrot Top and doesn't want to do the interview and the former, being the annoying person he is, makes it worse. When Space Ghost decides to get rid of him, Carrot Top starts hacking for some reason and Space Ghost sends him to Moltar, who's watching CHiPs, of course, and isn't too happy when he's interrupted. Even funnier is when the next guest is a cow and Space Ghost pours his heart out to him. Zorak chastises him for talking to a cow but suddenly the cow starts talking and goes on a long rant, blasting the show and all the characters.

Maybe some of these episodes aren't people's favorites but they're the ones that stuck out to me the most when I was a kid. I stopped watching the show after a while because it started to get just plain weird (that Freakshow episode especially) and not as funny to me. And like I said, I was out of Cartoon Network during my high school years. Little did I know that Space Ghost, Coast to Coast continued on Adult Swim and got all the more raunchy as it went on. I should probably watch the later seasons because I'm sure they're funny as well. For now, I've got good memories of this show. It was off-beat but downright funny as well. Hope others have enjoyed this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Cartoon Network

If you were a kid growing up in the 90's and you loved cartoons, there was no better channel than Cartoon Network. I must admit that it was the biggest part of my life throughout my childhood, alongside video games and movies. It seemed like no matter what time of day you happened upon this channel, you would see something great, from the classic Loony Tunes of Warner Bros., Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Hanna-Barbera shows like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, and action cartoons like Johnny Quest and Thundar the Barbarian. It was the dream of any cartoon lover, young or old. This is going to be my own personal retrospective on what Cartoon Network meant to my childhood. I will discuss many of the shows I mention in detail on future posts but this will be a general overview on the channel and my feelings towards it now.

I'm pretty sure that my aunt introduced me to Cartoon Network. From my childhood on up into adulthood, I visited her regularly on Fridays. One Friday when I was around five or six, she must have been looking for something to keep me occupied and knowing how much I loved cartoons, she turned it on. Our TV at home only had three channels at that time so I was not even aware that such a thing even existed. Loony Tunes just happened to be on and that kept my attention while my aunt did whatever she needed to do. Little did she know that she was creating an absolute obsession for that channel. For years, I'm sure she regretted having introduced that channel to me because that was all she got to watch on Fridays. Eventually, my parents got a satellite dish and the package that came with it included Cartoon Network. I was very happy little kid when I found out that I could now enjoy this channel whenever I wanted.

As a little kid, my first cartoon loves were Loony Tunes and Disney. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, the Roadrunner and the Coyote were all my heroes when I was a kid. Besides Cartoon Network, I watched them on Saturday mornings on ABC, as any kid of the 90's should have. When I started watching the ones shown on Cartoon Network, I noticed that there was a difference between the two. The ones on Cartoon Network always seemed "harder" in look than the ones on ABC. I know that's not a very good way of describing it but that's what my young mind perceived. Years later, I learned the reason for this was because, for many years, Ted Turner only had rights to the Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies made before the 1950's, which used a different animation and drawing style. Eventually Turner merged with Time Warner, so then all of the Warner Bros. classic cartoons could be shown.

I remember the different hour-long blocks of cartoons that would play. There was Late Night Black-and-White, a block that came on rather late in the evening and showed classic black and white cartoons, mainly the old Popeye and Betty Boop shorts. I always liked the theme music that played along with it and some of the cartoons were pretty funny. ToonHeads was a show that would feature three cartoons with a similar theme running throughout and would provide trivia in-between. I think at first it was just captions but later, they had a female narrator actually tell you the trivia. There was an interesting block called High Noon Toons, which featured cartoons that were present by cowboy hand puppets. (Cartoon Network was on a budget in its early days.) I wish I could find those wrap-arounds because I remember them being funny. I just barely remember Down Wit' Droopy D, a block that showed the classic Droopy cartoons. They were obviously going for a rap, hip-hop style with the block but I can't recall much of it.

I also came to know the Hanna-Barbera shows through the network. The Flintstones was always one of my favorites (I appreciate them even more now) along with some incarnations of Scooby-Doo. For a while, they only showed A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (which I still like to this day) but they eventually showed the original series as well as the many spin-offs. I don't care that much for the original series anymore but I do still like some of the later incarnations. When it came to The Jetsons, I always preferred the original series to the 80's ones. While I would watch them if I had no choice, I never cared much for Yogi Bear or any of those types of characters like Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, etc. I have nothing against them, they just never struck me as anything special.

Cartoon Network also high-lighted a lot of action cartoons, mainly from Hanna-Barbera. I think that Johnny Quest is by far the best cartoon that company ever came up with. I still love it to this day. While I would watch many shows like Space Ghost and Dino Boy, Birdman, Shazzam, and enjoy them, they never struck me as stuff I absolutely had to watch. However, Hanna-Barbera did create the 1970's Godzilla cartoon, which I discovered on the network one afternoon. Being a Godzilla fan since the age of five, I freaking loved that!

Besides classic theatrical shorts and television cartoons, the network also had original cartoons, made either for the channel itself or shows that premiered on one of the corporation's sister channels (TBS, TNT, etc.) and later appeared on the network. Of the ones that appeared on the sister channels, two in particular were some of my favorites. One was 2 Stupid Dogs, a hilarious show that never failed to make me laugh. The other was Swat Kats, an awesome action show with great characters, intense and sometimes downright scary plots, and kickass music. The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest was another show I enjoyed (I had to after it replace the original show when the latter had an unusual farewell marathon), especially for its cutting edge, CGI Quest-World scenes.

The first original Cartoon Network that really caught on was Space Ghost, Coast-to-Coast, a strange show that had the intergalactic crime fighter now the host of his own talk show, with two of his arch-enemies as technicians. When I saw the ads, they said he was out to destroy television as we know it. Since Godzilla was sometimes a good guy and sometimes a bad guy, my young brain thought that ad meant Space Ghost was a bad guy here. Of course, he wasn't but it was and remains an odd show. (But I like it.) A sort of companion piece to that show was Cartoon Planet, which started out as another block of cartoons but eventually became a variety show with Space Ghost and his two villainous co-hosts doing sketches. (At least, I think it started out as a block of cartoons. Anyone else remember this?) It didn't last nearly as long as Space Ghost, Coast-to-Coast but even at a young age, I thought the interplay between the characters was very funny.

About the time I was seven, Cartoon Network began producing what they called World Premiere Toons, new, original cartoons that would be shown throughout a certain period of time. I'm sure many kids had no idea that these cartoons were meant to be pilots for new shows. I remember watching these cartoons whenever they would come on and liking the majority of them. Dexter's Laboratory was the first and for a while, the only one to become its own show. Eventually, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Mike, Lu, & Og came along, all of which I liked up to a point (and I'll explain why when I go into details on those shows). The channel then began producing cartoon shows that didn't start out as World Premiere Toons. These included Ed, Edd n' Eddy (which was one of my favorites), Time Squad (which I did like but it didn't last long), The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and Sheep in the Big City (both of which I couldn't stand), and what was, in my opinion, Cartoon Network's last great original show, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.

Cartoon Network also served as my introduction to anime. The first one I saw was a show called G-Force, which I've found in recent years wasn't its original name. After that, I saw two odd anime movies the channel aired every once in a while late on Saturday nights, neither of which kept my attention: Robot Carnival, which I remember as being a strange, arty piece that I quickly lost interest in and Vampire Hunter D, which I didn't get through because it was too scary. But then I saw Speed Racer, which I really liked. Then came the Toonami block, which showcased both anime and shows in a similar to style. Among the latter were Thundercats (which became one of my favorites). Among the animes shown were Robotech (yet another series that has many identities), Voltron, and the show that got many of my generation firmly into anime, Dragonball Z.

Another great thing about Cartoon Network was how it entertained you even between commercial breaks with humorous bumpers and advertisements for the various shows. One of my favorites was one with Daffy Duck trying to read an advertisement but the lines were so hard for him to say that he kept screwing it up. In the late 90's, they created fully animated bumpers for the shows, some of which were pretty clever. When Animaniacs came to the channel, they had bumpers with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot commenting on some of the shows and characters within. There were also Cartoon Network's Things To Do, which "instructed" you on how to do physically impossible, cartoon-physics stunts. Another one was letters that were supposedly written in by actual viewers but I highly doubt they were. One denounced those things to do as being horrible and as a consolation, they come up with one that says the things to do are fake. Another one was some jackass writing in that all the cartoons suck and they show various clips of the characters crying with the announcer saying through a crying fit, "Are you happy?" There was also this short segments that had little kids in a roundtable sort of situation discussing their favorite cartoons. Sometimes they talked about other non-Cartoon Network shows like Rugrats and The Simpsons (I'm actually surprised they were allowed to do that).

Around the 2000's, the network slowly started to change. The most jarring one for me was Adult Swim, a late night block that featured much more mature shows and violent anime than had been shown in the afternoons and prime time. I didn't like this idea because all the shows that Cartoon Network had shown up to that point had been, more or less, family friendly. But when they started doing this, it felt like it was becoming something else and not the channel I always loved. It's interesting that this happened in 2001, around the time that 9/11 happened. It seemed like both the real world and my personal world were falling apart. 9/11 was definitely the end of the age of innocence that my generation lived in during the 90's and Cartoon Network, albeit unintentionally, seemed to be following suit. Although, I can't really bash Adult Swim all that much because, while I've never liked stuff like Family Guy and Futurama, it introduced to some of my favorite anime like InuYasha and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

By the middle of the new millennium, Cartoon Network was going through a real makeover. I, however, was unaware of that because those were my high school years and I was too preoccupied with school work to notice. Also, I had matured and I went through a phase where cartoons were no longer "cool". I've since gotten out of that phase, of course. By 2007, when I went back to it after not watching it for a long time, I realized that the channel from childhood was not there anymore. In its place was a channel that seemed to have lost its identity among its peers. It was now creating shows that were nowhere near as creative or as openly inviting to all ages. Shows like Chowder, Total Drama Island, and Adventure Time were shows that openly try to be crude and adult, as well as witty but they just come across as poorly made. The network was also clearly trying to cater to the "tween" demographic, which was also the downfall of the Disney Channel. Not only that, they seemed to forget the channel's very name and start showing live action movies, shows, and, worst of all, reality shows. Reality shows on Cartoon Network? How does that make any sense?

Maybe I'm just an old stick in the mud but it really pains me to see what Cartoon Network has become in recent years. In my mind, it's a shell of its former self. Its original spirit does live on, however, in Boomerang, a spin-off channel that is basically what it used to be. And fortunately, the original series of the show are being released in season box sets so we'll always have them. Despite what it's become, Cartoon Network will always be special to me for making my childhood an awesome one. Long live great animation!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Blob (1988)

I knew for a while after I saw The Blob that there was a remake as well as a sequel. After I was freaked out by the original, I didn't see the remake for a long time. I just happened to catch it on Cinemax one night when I was 14 and it didn't help me get over my fear. If anything, it made even worse. And yet, as much as it terrified me, I became fascinated with it until I sat down and watched it all the way through. As such, I realized what a killer movie it was and it eventually led to me overcoming my terror of the original and see it for the first time in years. While the original is undoubtedly my favorite of the two, this remake helped me become the admirer of it I am to this day.

It's interesting to note that all three of these movies have their own distinct tone. The original is a fairly serious movie with some campy humor thrown in. The sequel is a lame attempt at a horror-comedy. From the opening credits of the remake, you know what kind of movie you're in for: a dark, twisted movie that's going to scare the hell out of you. Michael Hoenig's creepy music slowly builds into a frightening piece as the title THE BLOB morphs onto the screen in black letters surrounded by an eerie purple glow. Each credit is designed that same way as the camera starts in space, slowly pans to Earth, cuts through the atmosphere, and reveals the town. The camera keeps cutting, showing you various parts of the town. Not only is the music creepy and atmospheric, it doesn't look like there's anybody around. Has the blob already come through and devoured everybody? Until the last credit when it's revealed that almost everyone is at a football game, that's undoubtedly what you're thinking if you know what the movie is about. It's an amazing opening.

One of the reasons why this movie is so good is the talent behind the camera. In the director's chair is the severely underrated Chuck Russell, who had directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, one of the best entries in that series, the year before and would go on to directed The Mask with Jim Carrey and Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Russell is really good at maintaining a fast, exciting pace with great visual style and effects and this film is no exception. He wrote the film with another great filmmaker, Frank Darabont, who would go on to direct The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist, all three of which are well made films. Darabont is a big fan of monster movies and that clearly comes through in this movie. It is, at its core, a gory, fun monster flick and one of the best of its type. Just as an added bonus, the cinematographer on the film is Mark Irwin, who'd worked with the great David Cronenberg on many of his flicks so the film looks great as well. With so much talent behind the camera, it's little wonder why this film is so well made.

The actors are really good as well. Kevin Dillon plays Brian Flagg, the lead who starts out as a typical black leather jacket wearing, cigarette smoking punk who doesn't care about anybody but himself. However, as the film goes on, he gets closer to the lead female character, Meg Penny, and as he fends off the blob, he proves to be a pretty decent guy. Dillon may not have the charisma that Steve McQueen did but he still comes across as likable overall. Also, we find out why he's such a punk at first. We hear that his mother often takes off with a boyfriend and nobody even knows who his father was. At one point, when he's going to leave Meg and the town behind, she says, "Take care of yourself. That's the only thing you're good at, isn't it?" Brian simply says, "No one else ever volunteered for the job." That one line tells you all you need to know about the guy without learning his entire backstory. Also, even though I said he cares only for himself at first, he is good enough to try to help the old man when he runs into him. Also, when he, Meg, and Meg's date, Paul Taylor, take the old man to the hospital and the nurse dismisses the man because he has no health insurance, Brian snarls, "I don't believe this shit." He knows something isn't just when he sees it. He's not a bad person; he just has some rough edges.

Shawnee Smith plays Meg Penny, the lead female character. Smith is probably best known to horror fans for her character in the Saw films. In this movie, she's a sexy cheerleader who starts off rather reserved, especially towards her date Paul because her dad, through a misunderstanding, doesn't care for the guy. She's the only one to see the blob when it devours Paul, as in the original when Steve Andrews was the only one to see it when it killed Doc Hallen. Also like Steve, when nobody believes her and she's sent home, she sneaks out because she knows the monster she saw must be stopped. Even though she's afraid of the blob, she goes out of her way to save her little brother from it when it attacks him at the movie theater. By the end of the film, she almost becomes a female Rambo when she sets a trap for the blob and tries to get its attention by shooting it and screaming at it. It's a shame Smith will most likely be best remembered for the Saw films or possibly for the idiotic character she played on Becker because she has the potential to kick ass when she needs to.

Donovan Leitch plays Paul Taylor, Meg's date for the night, who is much closer in line with Steve Andrews from the original: a fairly popular teenager in the town, best loved for being a good football player. He's sort of a red herring because first-time viewers familiar with the original may think he's the hero but he's the first person the blob kills after it devours the old man. His death is quite memorable but we'll talk about that in a second. Jeffrey DeMunn played the sheriff in The Hitcher a couple of years before and he plays a similar sheriff here. His Sheriff Herb Geller is a sympathetic character. When what's left of Paul is discovered at the hospital, he says, "I want the son of a bitch who did this." When Brian is brought in as a suspect, Geller has enough sense to know that Brian didn't kill Paul. He says, "Flagg's a punk, but he's no killer." Unfortunately, he gets eaten by the blob in a memorable scene. Speaking of that scene, Candy Clark plays the kindly restaurant owner Fran Hewitt, who unfortunately gets trapped in a phone booth that's engulfed by the blob. Joe Seneca as Dr. Meddows, part of a biological containment team hunting the blob, first comes across as a good guy but when he discovers the blob, he's intent on capturing it to use as a weapon and doesn't care who dies in the process. He gets his comeuppance in the end. Del Close plays Reverend Meeker, a drunken priest who thinks the blob is Armageddon incarnate and at the end, keeps a piece of it to unleash upon the world at some point. Paul McCrane, who played one of the criminals in Robocop the year before, does a 180 and plays Deputy Bill Briggs, who is not as sympathetic as Geller, clearly has it out for Brian, and has a death as memorable as his one in Robocop. The last character I want to mention is Billy Beck as the old man who's the blob's first victim. He does a fair job, although I didn't feel as bad for him because he simply didn't come across as frightened and in pain as Olin Howlin did.

Great directing and acting aside, a monster movie only truly works if the monster itself is good and they have a great one here. This blob is like the original on steroids. The way it looks is interesting. The original always looked like a mass of red goo, whereas this looks like an organic creature. It still has the gooey look to it, obviously, but resembles an enormous amoeba, which I think is the very basis for its concept. When the old man first discovers the meteorite and it attaches itself to his stick, it does resemble an enlarged single-cell animal like an amoeba or protozoa. When it drops down onto Paul, it spreads open like an octopus, something you'd expect a creature like this to do when attacking. Also, before it attacks Paul, drops of goo from it drop down on the table he's sitting at and burn through, suggesting that it has an acidic nature. When it kills people, it's clearly burning them in some way because you can see steam. The original blob may be classic but design-wise, this one is much more believable. While the original didn't have that much life to it, this monster's actions and movements point out that it's extremely aggressive in ongoing hunt for food. It's very fast as well, able to keep up with its victims even when they're running like hell. While the original blob made no noise whatsoever, this one not only makes slimy gurgling sounds when it movies but it even screams when attacking. It's also able to create tentacle-like appendages out of its body to pull victims into it. In one impressive scene in the sewer when Meg is dangling above it, the blob stations itself beneath her and even forms an enormous mouth to catch her when she falls. It out and out roars at that point. So, while the original film is still my favorite, I'd have to say that this blob is much more frightening.

The kills in this movie are badass, sporting really impressive makeup effects. Unlike the original, you get to see people dissolve when the blob engulfs them. The old man's death is more horrific than simply being absorbed completely. The blob ate his lower half and left his upper half on the table! When the blob engulfs Paul, Meg tries to pull him out but his arms are burned off by its acidic nature. A particularly gruesome shot is of his face by eaten away. The blob's next victims are Paul's sleazy friend Scott Jeske and his date, Vicki. Apparently when Scott went outside his car to make a couple of drinks for them, the blob not only crawled into the car but went underneath her, slowly ate up through her, and when Scott copped a feel, it exploded out of her. Her head implodes and you can see bits of it coming out. Scott's actual death isn't shown but we get a shot of his leg bursting through the window before being sucked back in. Pretty gruesome.

The most outrageous death in the entire film has to be the death of George, the cook at Fran's diner. He's trying to unclog the sink when the blob shoots a tentacle out of the drain, grabs George by the face, and pulls him head-first down the sink! I knew that that scene was in the film before I saw it but it still amazed me by how realistic it looked. How is that even possible? That has to be one of the most creative and insane death scenes in any horror film! It's then followed by another memorable scene, where poor Fran goes into a phone booth to call for help when the blob completely covers it. Fran gets a closeup look at Sheriff Geller being devoured before it finally bursts through the booth and does the same to her. Two unbelievable scenes being in the same film is amazing enough but the fact that they come one after the other is almost unheard of. This is why Chuck Russell should get more gigs than he does. The man has got skills!

Before going on, I must talk about the only real gripe I have about this film and about it's portrayal of the blob in particular. In this film, it's revealed that while it came from the sky, the meteor it landed in is an American military space probe carrying an experimental virus. It's never completely explained but conditions in space seemed to have mutated the virus into this organism. I never liked the fact that the blob is revealed in this film to be a biological weapon gone wrong. Not only is that an overused concept horror and science fiction films anyway, it robs the blob of its mystery. The scariest thing about the original blob was that all you knew about it was that it's a strange alien life form. Not knowing what it really is or where it came from makes it all the more eerie. Since this blob is already much more frightening than the original, the idea of this thing just being a bizarre alien life form would have made it even scarier than it already was.

Another great scene is the recreation of the theater scene. It starts the same way with the blob devouring the receptionist (and the manager as well for good measure) but this time, you get to see all hell break loose. After eating one obnoxious man, the blob goes on a rampage, grabbing everybody it sees. Meg runs in to save her little brother Kevin and his friend Eddie and not only sees people being devoured but comes across the gross sight of a woman with half her face melted off. Unable to get by the front, the three of them are forced to go out the backdoor. One suspenseful moment has Kevin get his coat caught in the door. As Meg tries to get him loose, you can see the screws in the hinges actually getting yanked through the door by the blob! After Kevin is saved, the three of them have no choice but to go down a manhole. You can see the blob smashing garbage cans and piles of trash bags out of its way as it chases them. As I said, this blob is ferocious!

Remember when I said that I wished that annoying little kid Danny had been killed in the original film? Well here, Chuck Russell has Kevin's annoying friend Eddie get eaten. The kid's been an obnoxious little brat since his first scene, getting Kevin into trouble when he talks about the slasher movie they're planning on seeing that night and then acts surprised when Kevin gets mad. He also acts like a little asshole to his brother, who happens to be an usher at the theater. It justifies his not only being killed but in a really awesome way as well. Not only does he gets grabbed and dragged down into a deep part of the sewer by the blob, but you get a glimpse of him being dissolved before it kills him completely. That actually shocked me. You have to admire any movie, let alone a fairly sized budget one put out by a mainstream studio, that has the balls to kill a kid. My hat's off to Russell and Darabont for that one.

The movie goes out with a bang as the blob, after killing Dr. Meddows, erupts out of the sewers and rampages through the town. It swats people with its tentacles, kills one guy by jamming his flamethrower and causing it to explode in his face, and traps everyone in the city hall. The frightened citizens have nothing to do but barricade the doors as long as they can. During the chaos, Deputy Briggs dies a very painful death when he's grabbed and pulled through an opening, getting bent completely backwards when it happens. (I know this has been done in other horror films but this one in particular looks especially painful.) That's when Brian comes to the rescue, using a snowmaker machine to attack the blob. One thing this blob shares in common with the original is that it's vulnerable to cold. But like everything else in this film, it's defeat is much more grandiose than simply being frozen by fire extinguishers. Meg uses a bomb from one of the downed soldiers to explode the snowmaker's tank when the blob covers it, freezing it into a bunch of purple crystals. All they did to afterwards was lock it in the icehouse. Hope nobody leaves the door open!

One last thing I want to mention is the film that's being watched by the characters in the theater. Remember in my review for the original when I said that the scene in that film showed that audiences as far back as the 50's already knew that some horror movies were cheesy and they were laughing at the movie that was playing in the theater? The remake updates that for 80's audiences. The film they're watching is a hodgepodge of various slasher movie conventions. The killer is wearing a hockey mask like Jason Voorhees but is using a hedge-trimmer, similar to Leatherface's chainsaw in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Behind Kevin and Eddie is a guy who's clearly a fan of these types of movies and can predict who's going to die, who's going to get away, and how the killer is going to murder people. Many credit Scream as being the film that played on the conventions of the genre and the audience's knowledge of it but lesser known films like this had already done so. While this movie's concern isn't about that, it's obvious that even before the 80's had ended, smart guys like Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont were already in on the joke.

While I still personally like the original, The Blob '88 is a very close second. I feel that it's more than a worthy companion piece to the classic original. What makes both films great is that they're two completely different films. They share the same basic plot and monster but the ways they carry them out are different. To me, this is how you remake a classic film and not insult it. I think it's one of the best remakes alongside John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly. It's a real shame that this film failed at the box-office and destroyed any interest in doing a sequel, which the ending sets up for. In recent years, there's been talk of another remake. For a time, Rob Zombie was rumored to be doing it, which I dreaded. (When I review the Halloween movies, I'll tell you why I dreaded it.) But he eventually backed out, leaving the film's future up in the air. Whether or not the blob ever returns to the screen, we'll always have the classic original and its kickass remake.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies That Suck: Beware! The Blob (Son of the Blob) (1972)

Some time after I saw The Blob, I read in one of the books at my school library that there was a sequel in 1972. The book referred to it as Son of the Blob and many years later, I saw it on AMC one night (remember back when AMC was an awesome channel?). I didn't really pay that much to attention to it because it come across as interesting. I saw it on DVD somewhere, this time with the title Beware! The Blob, and I almost got it but decided not to. I'm glad I didn't because I just watched the movie in order to do this review and I can tell you that this movie blows ass.

James Rolfe of Cinemassacre.com and best known as the Angry Video Game Nerd said it best when he said that everything that made the original great is gone in this movie. Of course, there are a lot of cheesy horror and monster flicks that are so bad that they're enjoyable but this movie is a chore to get through. I'm pretty sure that it was shot on 16mm film because it has that grainy look to it. At some points, it's so dark that you can't tell what's going on. Another problem that the movie has is the tone. While the original film was treated as a serious film with some mildly campy humor, this movie is pure cheese. It's clearly trying to be a comedy as well as a horror film (I think) but it either makes you scratch your head in bewilderment or focuses too long on something that's supposed to be funny but just isn't. The credits sequence is baffling to say the least. As they roll, we watch a kitten wander around in the grass while a bizarre and goofy piece of music plays. When I first saw the movie on AMC that night, I was like, "The hell?"

Whereas Steve Andrews saw the blob consume somebody and Jane didn't, the roles are reversed here. This time, the lead female character, Lisa, sees the blob eating a man and tries to tell her boyfriend, Bobby. He doesn't really believe her until he comes across the blob himself and then they spend the rest of the movie trying to warn the townspeople. That leads me to the characters and the acting. None of the characters are likable in the slightest, They're either bland, stupid, or obnoxious. The male lead, Bobby, is played by Robert Walker Jr., son of Robert Walker, best known as the psychotic Bruno in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Strangers on a Train. I think acting talent skipped a generation with Jr. Granted, he doesn't have much to do in this film anyway but he just comes across as bland, with none of the charisma of Steve McQueen. Gwynne Gilford, who plays Lisa, is the same way. All she does is scream and have breakdowns. Nothing else. None of the other characters do any better. In fact, most of them are just cannon fodder for the blob. Whereas the original focused on Steve and Jane encountering the blob and then trying to warn people about it, this one almost entirely ignores the two main characters in the middle and focuses on random people getting killed by the blob. There's a dumb police officer who cracks down on two teens playing music in a drainpipe (what?), a bunch of bums (one of whom is played by Burgess Meredith, which pains me to say that, and the film's director, Larry Hagman), and a hair stylist who thinks he's an artist. One funny instance is when the blob attacks this Turkish guy when he's in the bathtub. He escapes but he's running down the streets naked and the police bring him in. (Not to mention, he keeps losing and regaining his accent.)

Richard Stahl's character of Edward Fazio is supposed to be a pompous asshole whose car is damaged by Lisa when she's in a panic but he comes across as annoying more than a jerk. It's a running joke throughout that they keep encountering him and when Bobby and Lisa try to warn the people at a bowling alley about the blob, they discover he owns the alley. He doesn't die either, which is unforgivable. The sheriff, played by Richard Webb, is another bland character and at the end, he keeps blabbing on and on until the blob manages to ooze toward him and, supposedly, eat him. He's also the only one in these films to refer to the monster as a "blob", which I suppose is special.

As I said, the movie focuses too much on stuff that's meant to be funny but comes across as filler. You have a scene with this idiotic scoutmaster, played by Dick Van Patten, having to deal with his boy-scouts and get them to pitch a tent. He keeps taking away one kid's toy but the kid always produces another one. Later, you see their campsite deserted, suggesting that the blob devoured them. This would be a dark twist but at the end, the kids reappear and reveal that the blob only killed the scoutmaster. What was the point of them? They don't add anything to the plot! I've mentioned the running gag with Fazio but I'll add on to it: when Lisa hits his car, the camera focuses on him getting out, yelling at her, and throwing things at her. Again, what was the point except in getting a stupid laugh? And there's a dumb instance between the sheriff and his bumbling deputy at the climax that diffuses the tension even more. By the way, the sheriff is white and the deputy is black. I'm not trying to insinuate anything but I can't help but wonder.

Another thing that bugs me: this is supposed to be a sequel to The Blob, correct?  The story is that Chester, a technician, has returned home from laying a pipeline in Alaska (I think) and has brought with him a frozen piece of the blob unearthed by his team. We can assume that they were laying the pipeline near where the blob was dropped at the end of the original film except for glaring detail: Chester was working in Alaska supposedly, whereas the blob was dropped in the arctic! But that's not the worst of it. Later, before he gets killed, Chester turns on the TV and what is he watching? The original film! How the hell is this supposed to be a sequel if it makes the original just a movie? People complain about a similar scene in Halloween III: Season of the Witch where an advertisement for the original Halloween is shown playing on a TV. But here's the thing: that movie takes place in a completely different continuity than the films that preceded it and has nothing to do with the plot or characters, so it's acceptable. This is supposed to be a sequel to The Blob but it apparently isn't. Why even market is as a sequel if you're just going to relegate the original to being just a movie after all? I can't follow the logic behind that.

Speaking of which, here's, supposedly, how this film came about: Jack H. Harris, the producer of the original, had wanted to do a sequel for a long time but for various reasons, it was constantly delayed. Larry Hagman, who was best known at that time for his role in I Dream of Jeannie, happened to lived next door to him. Harris showed him the original film and Hagman expressed an interest in directing a sequel. Purportedly, Hagman was stoned throughout the making of this film, which I can believe, and most of the dialogue was improvised. And as many know, when Hagman later became famous in Dallas, this movie was actually re-released with the tagline, "The movie J.R. shot!" I'm sure that Hagman is embarrassed by this movie to this day and if he isn't, he should be. (Note: all the information above comes from IMDB and Wikipedia, so I can't clarify their authenticity.)

The special effects for the blob are downright sloppy in this movie. People feel the effects in the original are primitive but these effects make those look like Star Wars. The blob itself is nowhere near as uniform and solid a mass as it was in the original. It looks like they used red silly putty instead of silicone. When the blob drops down off the counter after it's thawed, it's obvious that somebody just flung a big glop of the stuff on the floor from off-screen. Other times, it looks like red-colored pudding or even just water. At one point, the blob is clearly just a big red balloon. It's quick but if you look, you can tell. It doesn't even feel as alive as it did before. There are some effects that manage to rather eerie, like the blob swallowing a housefly when it's first thawed, the rather horrific instance when it eats a kitten, and the disturbing image of it crawling up a woman's legs. But for the most part, it's obvious that this is a low budget movie with hardly any care for special effects.

This movie just doesn't cut it. It's cheap, it's stupid, and it has none of the charm or heart of the original. I wondered how Jack H. Harris reacted when he saw the finished film? However, he would later go on to produce the awesome 1988 remake, which we'll talk about next. Bottom line, I recommend seeing the original and the remake and leaving this movie right where it belongs: the trash.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: The Blob (1958)

This is one I've been meaning to get to ever since I started doing this blog and that's for one very specific reason: this movie terrified me when I was a little kid. I know most of you will probably burst out laughing when you read that but it's the God honest truth. I saw this movie one night when I was eight years old and it got to me. I was terrified to take a bath after it was over and when I went to bed, I was still petrified. It would be years before I finally saw the movie again. I wish the film's director, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., was still alive so I could tell him what this flick did to me.

The very simplicity of it is what made it scary to me: one night, a small meteor falls to Earth in the woods outside an American town. An old recluse goes out to investigate and when he finds the meteor, it cracks open to reveal a strange, jelly-like life form that immediately latches onto his hand. It eventually completely absorbs him and goes a killing spree, devouring any poor soul that gets in its path and growing larger with every meal. A teenage boy and his girlfriend are the only ones that know about the creature but they can't get any of the adults to believe them. Can they do so before the monster wipes the town off the map?

The movie is straight and to the point. After a delicate kissing scene between our two heroes, this thing just comes. Other than its being from space, you have no idea what the blob is or where it came from. Also, the entire film takes place in just one night, another thing that surprised me. I often wonder what would have happened had Steve Andrews and Jane Martin, the two main characters, had just done what the authorities and their parents told them and went to bed. Would anybody have been around the next morning?

The blob itself is definitely a unique movie monster just for its sheer simplicity. It's nothing more than an oozing mass. When its meteor cracks open to reveal it, it looks merely like a sphere of jelly. It doesn't even seem to be alive. The old man pokes it with a stick and when he holds it up, it still just acts like a mere substance and slowly drips down the stick. But when the old man turns the stick back over, the blob proves it's a living creature by quickly attaching itself to the man's hand. The poor guy is slowly eaten alive after Steve and Jane find him and take him to the local doctor. One creepy moment is when you can see the blanket covering him move, indicating that the blob is spreading to other parts of his body. By the time the doctor and his nurse get ready to operate, the blob has completely eaten the old man and proceeds to devour both of them. This is when it begins to turn from fairly colorless to a bright red, no doubt from the blood of its victims. (For some reason, I thought it was purple for the longest time.) Things that start out small and grow ever larger in a short amount of time frighten me and the blob does exactly that. Strange thing though: after killing the nurse and the doctor, the blob eats a mechanic, apparently a bar full of people from what one police officer discovers, and a grocery clerk. And yet, when Steve and Jane encounter it again as his father's store, the blob is still basically the same size as it was after eating the old man. But then, after it eats the projectionist at the movie theater and proceeds to ooze out of the projection booth, it suddenly appears to be gigantic. After the crowd runs screaming from the theater, it pours out of the building and is now big enough to cover a restaurant. How did it suddenly get so big? Maybe it ate a lot of the people in the theater but most of them seem to make it out okay. This continuity error doesn't ruin the movie for me but I've always wondered about it.

The scariest aspect of the blob itself to me was its oozing nature which allows it slip under doors, squeeze through any opening no matter how small, and hide just about anywhere. When I saw it come out of the air vent in the projectionist booth, I nearly had a fit. The vent looked exactly like the air vents in my own house and when I took a bath after the movie was over, I kept staring at the air vent next to the tub! It's also completely silent. Only once does it make a gooey, sloshing noise and even then it's so faint you probably can't hear it. It could come right of your air vent or your faucet and you'd never know it until it was too late. And to add even more to my terror, this is one of the few 1950's monster movies where the monster isn't destroyed at the end. Unable to kill the blob with bullets, electricity, or acid, all the characters can do is subdue it by freezing it with fire extinguishers and have the army drop it in Antarctica. Steve says it's been stopped as long as the arctic stays cold. Even seeing the blob dropped into an ice field isn't comforting because the THE END title morphs into a question mark, suggesting that the blob may return. Made sure that I would have a sleepless night!

This is the 1950's monster movie I can relate to the most. Most of these movies take place in foreign countries, in big cities, or little towns out in the middle of nowhere. The town in The Blob feels like a regular American community, with reckless teenagers, old-town cops, and protective parents. I just happen to live in the woods outside a town very similar to that one! My house is a lot better than that old man's run down cabin but it hit a little too close to home for my eight-year old sensibilities. And while the town I live near isn't as sophisticated as the one in the film, it felt like it could be my town. On Friday nights, I'm sure there are teenagers doing reckless stuff on the back-roads and the empty streets. (In this day and age, though, they're probably getting high.) It just felt the most authentic of any of these types of movies. The town of Santa Mira in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is pretty close to it but there were no kids in that one except for one very young one. The presence of teenagers in The Blob made it realistic and in retrospect, this is probably one of the first movies of this type to make teenagers the main characters and heroes. Finally, I feel that this film is a perfect look at small town life in the 1950's and what the baby boomers were up to. The vehicles, the clothes, the way the teenagers act and talk, etc. It's so obviously the 1950's. And what are the kids up to? Watching horror flicks at the local theater. And they're laughing at how cheesy and ridiculous it is! Many feel that some movies from the 30's or 40's are dated now but teenagers in the 1950's were already aware of how silly some of them were.

Steve McQueen's character of Steve Andrews is the best thing about the movie by far. Some have said that they feel McQueen's acting in this film is wooden but I disagree completely. From the moment the film starts, he comes across as a charming, funny, kind, and completely likable teenager (even if he was almost 30 at the time). At the beginning when Jane asks him to her by her real name instead of "Janey Girl" as he does at first, he does so from then on out. He also promises Jane that he's never brought any girl up to the Lover's Lane they're parked at before and he feels sincere. When they come across the old man, Steve offers to help him get the blob off his hand and then takes him to the doctor as quick as he can. When the doctor tells him to go see if he can find anyone who knows what happened and he runs into the other teenagers who want to challenge him to a race, he makes it clear that he has no time for this nonsense. He tricks them in a funny way and prepares to leave but gets stopped by an officer. He also proves to be courageous when others are in danger, like when he saves Jane from the blob in the market and later rushes to save her little brother from it as well. A likable guy all around.

Aneta Corsaut as Jane Martin doesn't quite do it for me though. She comes across as warm and kind but otherwise, she feels like a typical heroine of the times. One thing she does that annoys me is when denies knowing of the blob when questioned at the police station. She may not have seen it devour the doctor like Steve did but she obviously saw it on the old man's hand. She obviously does so because she doesn't want her overbearing father to scold her but it doesn't help Steve's case at all. She later admits that she believes what Steve saw. Maybe I'm being too hard on her but that part always kind of annoys me.

Earl Rowe plays Dave, the lieutenant of the local police department. Of the three officers in the film, he's the most sympathetic and likable. Unlike his partner Sergeant Bert, who clearly has it out for teenagers and is ready to throw Steve in jail the minute they discover the state of the doctor's office when they get there, Dave is more willing to listen, even if he doesn't entirely believe him. When Bert accuses Steve of messing up the doctor's office, Dave comes to his defense, knowing that he couldn't have done so because the door was locked. Late in the film when Steve tells him that he and Jane encountered the blob again at the grocery store, he believes him just by looking at him. Another stand-up guy, very similar to the sheriff in the 1988 version of The Blob, as well as the one in The Hitcher (both of which are played by the same actor, I might add).

Olin Howlin, who was a prominent character actor in scores of movies dating back to the silent age, made his last movie appearance as the unfortunate old man who becomes the blob's first victim. While he's not in the film long for obvious reasons, he's very good at displaying pain and fear when the blob attaches itself to his hand. Stephen Chase plays Doc Hallen, the doctor who tries to save the old man but ultimately becomes another victim. Again, not much to say but he is a sympathetic doctor who does what he can to help his patient. As Sergeant Bert, John Benson comes across as cranky, disbelieving, and, according to Dave, has an unfair grudge against teenagers because one hit his wife with a car. But when it looks like they aren't going to be able save Steve, Jane, and several other people from the cafe that the blob has covered, Bert sees that Dave is taking it hard and comforts him, proving he's a decent guy after all. The only other notable characters are Steve's reckless friends Tony Gressette, "Mooch" Miller, and Al, played by Robert Fields, James Bonnet, and Anthony Franke respectively. Tony is the one that has most personality. At first, he seems like a blowhard but when Steve tries to warn the other teenagers about the blob, he's the one that tells the other disbelievers to listen to him. One final character: Jane's little brother, Danny. I can't stand that little fart! He has one of the most annoying voices I've ever heard and when Jane tries to meet up with Steve, he wastes her time by wanting to go with her. When Jane tells him that she'll bring him a little dog if he'll go to bed, he asks if he can name the dog William. When Jane says that's a nice name, Danny suddenly says, "I don't like William!" Geez, just get up there and shut up, you little pest! Moreover, he's the reason Steve and Jane get trapped in the diner by the blob because he was stupid enough to try to kill it with his popgun. He even has the gall to say, "I almost got him!" I wish the blob had gotten him! (Something that the 1988 version rectifies, I might add. We'll get to that later.)

Lastly, let's talk about the music. The music score itself is nothing special. It's fairly standard music but it serves its purpose. However, the first thing you hear is a really silly song called Beware of the Blob. The credits sequence itself is bizarre. It's just a bunch of wavy lines circling across the screen with that cheesy song playing. As a little kid, I was like, "What is this? Am I watching the right movie?" Then the lyrics are sung, which perplexed me even more. This song lulls you into a false sense of security that the film is going to be silly when in fact it's quite creepy. Some people really like it. I personally have mixed feelings about it. I think it's the reason most may view the movie as just another cheesy monster movie and when they hear it, they'll probably turn it off. On the other hand, it's a catchy tune. I just don't know.

The Blob was made outside the Hollywood system by a group of independent filmmakers who merely wanted to make the best film they could with almost no money. So just like its title character, the film was an alien that slowly crept into the American consciousness, ended up making a fortune (over $4 million, which was a lot in the 50's), and became a favorite among fans of the generation. It sort of did the same to me. I'd heard about it before I saw it but never understood what it was until I did see it. It terrified me and for years, I couldn't watch it or even see an image of it without getting frightened. But eventually, I overcame my fear and it's now one of my favorite movies ever. One day I hope to go to Blob Fest, a yearly celebration of the film in Phoenixville, PA, the very town it was shot. Among other things, you can meet the actual blob! A film memorabilia collector has the actual silicone mass that was used in the film. It'd be interesting to come up close and personal with the very thing that terrified me years ago. I think it's about time the blob and I actually meet! How many can say they got to actually meet one of their favorite movie monsters; not the actor that played them or the effects designer that created them or a stand-in but the actual one? Not too many. So I eagerly await that day. Until then, I'll always have this great flick to look back on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The War of the Worlds (1953)

The best way to describe this movie is that it's the 1950's equivalent to the big budget disaster movies of the 90's like Armageddon, Deep Impact, and, of course, Independence Day. In my opinion, though, this movie trumps all of them. This is another one you can't be a 50's sci-fi fan and not know about. Ever since I started to search out the best of these movies when I was a little kid, this one often came up. It was often described as the best alien invasion flick ever. I finally saw it when I was 13. At first, I enjoyed the special effects and battle scenes (which are incredible) but didn't care that much for the characters. However, upon watching it more and more, the movie grew on me completely to the point where I stand by the point that it's the best alien invasion flick ever.

The film starts with a brief history of warfare in the 20th century and the progression of weapon development throughout. It ends with a declaration that this "war of the worlds" will be the most devastating and horrific the Earth has ever seen. After an exciting credits sequence with flashing letters and fast music, Sir Cedric Hardwicke narrates about how civilization on the planet Mars had reached the point of sheer exhaustion and that the Martians were seeking a new planet to migrate to. He then gives reasons why they couldn't go to any of the planets except for Earth (although he skips Venus, for some reason) due to its plentiful continents, fresh water, and life giving water. Then the real story begins: a meteor crashes outside a small California town, eventually revealing itself to be the first unit of a Martian invasion force that uses powerful, hovering craft to destroy everything in their path. It soon escalates into a full-scale war but after a while, it seems like the human race will be wiped out completely.

These Martians make it clear from the second they arrive that they have only one agenda: exterminate everything on the planet and take it over. They don't care about contact, peace negotiations, comprise, nothing. They're cruel and cold, seeing the human race merely as an obstacle in the way of a new better life for them. Their machines are horrifically effective in obliterating anything that stands in their way. The first battle scene between the military and the Martians is an amazing spectacle. The military throws everything at the crafts but the machines are impossible to damage. They use invisible shields to deflect all manner of gunfire and their death rays live up to their name. As the military monitor the Martians' actions, they see that the attack is brilliantly coordinated; they come down in groups of three, form groups, and then completely wipe out the area they've arrived in.

This movie is incredibly frightening for many reasons. One is, as I've described, the Martians' incredible war machines. I love the design of these things. They're shaped sort of like a manta ray, with a swan-like like probe sticking out of the middle. They don't fly so much as hover using magnetic fluxes to travel. Each craft has two basic weapons: a devastating heat ray and green-colored energy bursts that disintegrate anything they hit. The shields they use to protect their craft from enemy fire are impenetrable to the nth degree. As a last ditch effort, the military drops a freaking nuclear bomb on them and it doesn't even scratch them! Nothing can stop them.

This movie does a very good job of conveying the sense that this probably is the end. You hear reports that the Martians are attacking not only America but all over the world, destroying all the major cities and the surrounding countrysides. Even animals are not spared, as one sequence shows deer, birds, horses, and other animals fleeing for their lives. At one point, one scientist says that at the rate the invasion is going, the Martians will have conquered the Earth in six days. Paul Frees has a brief role as a reporter making tape recordings as the countdown to the atomic bomb being dropped approaches. He says that the tapes he's making will be for future history... if any. After the bomb fails, the movie takes on even bigger feeling of dread. If the most powerful weapon in the world couldn't kill them, then humanity is doomed. Los Angeles is evacuated and as you're shown hundreds of people fleeing to the speculative safety of the countryside, it really does feel like the human race doesn't have much time left. Even more disconcerting is a scene of absolute chaos in the streets of the city, as looters attack any vehicle that comes nearby and the police are overwhelmed. Civilization is coming apart at the seams. Not only that but when the looters attack Clayton Forrester, the film's hero, they unknowingly smash instruments that could be their salvation. As Clayton later shouts, "Fools, they cut their own throats!"

While the characters in the film aren't the deepest that have appeared in these types of films, they are likable and worth caring for. Gene Barry stars as Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist from the Pacific Tech Institute who happens to be near the town when the first Martian unit arrives. He's intelligent, charming, and brave. You don't find out much about his background other than his parents died when he was young and he's been on his own a lot ever since. As per usual to these types of movies, he becomes very close to the main female character, Sylvia van Buren. Ann Robinson plays her as a likable, sweet young lady who may be very frightened by what's happening around her but her fear comes across as understandable and never annoying. She's also probably the deepest character in the film. When she and Clayton take refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, she tells him about something that happened to her when she was very young; she'd run away and hid in a church for some reason and prayed for the one who loved her most to find her. It was her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins, who found her.

That leads us into a brief but likable character in Matthew Collins, played by Lewis Martin. There's not much to say about him but he's a warm, religious man whose beliefs unfortunately lead to his demise. He thinks the military should try communicating with the Martians before attacking. (Makes me wonder: did he not see the death and destruction they've already caused? They're clearly not interested in communication.) To that end, he walks out onto the battlefield in front of the Martian war machines, which immediately kill him with their heat rays. The scene I described before between Sylvia and Clayton comes not long after Matthew's death. Sylvia is clearly pained by the loss of her uncle. This makes Sylvia more likable to me.

General Mann, played by Les Tremayne, is a character who also isn't very deep but I can't help but like for one reason: his voice. Tremayne had one of the deepest, most commanding voices ever heard, perfect to play a general. While his efforts prove ineffective against the Martians, you can't help but admire his determination even after the atom bomb fails. He becomes intent on fighting them to the bitter end. He's not going to go down quietly! The last character that I'll mention is one that's hardly even featured but the actor who plays him is noteworthy. It's Dr. Pryor, played by Robert Cornthwaite, who played the antagonistic Dr. Carrington in The Thing from Another World. He's hardly in this movie much and almost doesn't speak but I just find it interesting to see him play a scientist who's the exact opposite of Carrington only two years later.

As I've said, the special effects and the sheer spectacle of it all is where this movie truly shines. First of all, it's filmed in glorious, vibrant Technicolor. It really brings out the excitement and the visuals, especially during the effects sequences. The effects in this film are absolutely spectacular. I'm not even sure how they achieved some of them. The battle sequence between the military and the Martian war machines is one of the most exciting spectacles ever filmed. It's so overwhelming, with the loud sounds of the battle, the visuals of the military desperately trying to destroy the Martians and the latter calmly crushing them like ants, and the sight of civilians fleeing in terror. The attack on Los Angeles has a similar power. The Martians absolutely decimate the city, destroying everything in their path. Clayton and Sylvia take refuge in a church along with dozens of others, who continue to sing hymns and pray to God. As the stained glass window is shattered by a heat ray, it seems like it's the end for them. The sound effects in this movie are also amazing. The screeching of the heat rays and pulsating blasts of the disintegrating rays are classic 50's, as well as the pinging noises the probes on the crafts make.

One interesting aspect of the film is the Martians themselves. You only get a look at one in a scene where Clayton and Sylvia are trapped in a farmhouse by the crafts. Sylvia has an eerie encounter with one of the Martians which is out on foot. It's an interesting creature design; short, reddish brown colored flesh, a single, three-lens eye, and long arms with suction cup-like fingers. When Clayton hits it with a metal rod, the Martian makes an almost sympathy-inducing shriek. They get a sample of its blood and later when it's analyzed, it's revealed that for all their mental capacities and technological talents, the Martians are actually quite primitive on a physical level. It's an interesting contrast to the powerful, advanced war machines we'd seen so far. They're so primitive that they're ultimately killed by, of all things, bacteria that no longer affect humans. I actually knew this going in so it didn't surprise me.

The music by Leith Stevens adds to the drama as well. As I said, the music that plays over the credits is very exciting, getting you in the mood for an amazing flick. The music is ominous when the military awaits the first advance of the Martians, scary in the scene where Clayton and Sylvia are trapped in a farmhouse by a Martian craft, and conveys a feeling of hopelessness and sadness as it looks more and more like humanity is going to be wiped out. My favorite piece of music is the one that plays during the ending, when the Martians have finally been stopped by simple germs and Hardwicke describes how humanity was saved, "by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth." The music is absolutely hopeful and wonderful, giving the sense that mankind has been saved from an evil force and can begin to rebuild. It gives me chills to this day.

I will forever stand by my feeling that this is the greatest alien invasion movie ever. Sure, movies made nowadays have more advanced visual effects, gigantic budgets, and top actors but this film was good without needing that. While it was definitely a fairly big budget film for its time and the actors are quite good, producer George Pal and director Byron Haskin created awe-dropping spectacle and an amazing film with the bare minimum of effects technology. That's something to be admired. To prove it to yourself, look at the rather fake-looking CGI machines and Martians of the Steven Spielberg remake and look at the ones here. I rest my case. To me, this movie is and always will be the true War of the Worlds

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

You can't be a fan of 1950's science fiction without knowledge of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I'm not sure exactly when I first heard of the film but I became aware of the general story long before I saw it due to its unique approach to alien movies at the time: the alien in this film comes not to destroy the Earth but to help save it. My aunt's boyfriend was a big fan of it and said it actually terrified him as a kid. It wasn't until I was twenty that I finally sat down and watched the movie all the way through. My thoughts: it's good. I understand why it's so acclaimed. It may not be one of my personal favorites but I still think it's a great film. It's well made with great acting, nicely done themes and messages, a unique music score, and impressive effects.

The main reason for the film working so well is Michael Rennie as Klaatu the alien. While not malevolent or intimidating, he does make it clear that his mission is a matter of grave importance. When he's shot upon arrival and is taken to a hospital where he talks to a government official, he also makes it obvious that while he comes in peace, he's frustrated by the way the human race automatically resorts to violence when they don't understand something. He becomes even more frustrated when the official tells him that it would be impossible for the leaders of all the world's nations to meet due to the tension of the times. He says that he's frustrated by stupidity and that his people have learned to live without it. Mr. Harley, the government official, solemnly says that his people have not.

The amazing thing about Klaatu is, despite his apparent annoyance towards the way the human race is acting, he never has an outburst or even raises his voice. He's always completely calm. When he's locked inside his hospital room and sees the doorknob jiggle when the people outside secure it with a rope, he simply shakes his head at how paranoid they are, even though he's made it clear that he has no intention of harming anyone. He does, however, seem to have a slight personality change by the end of the film. At first, he's simply here to carry out his mission to deliver his message to the Earth. But after he's spent time among the people of Washington and gotten to know a young woman and her son in particular, he becomes more determined to save the planet. His final speech where he tells the scientists representing the world's nations the situation is very well delivered. His planet and the other planets have learned to live peacefully and they do not care how the people of Earth control their government. However, now that weapon development and is heading to the point where it will involve other planets, the Earth must be warned to either stop or be destroyed. It's then revealed that the robot Gort that came with Klaatu is one of many robots that act as an intergalactic police force, keeping peace in the universe. I like how Klaatu says that no action will be taken against Earth for now but the council will be waiting to see how the governments of the world act now. He said that violence seems to be the only language that the human race understands and so his people had to use a threat of violence to get their point across. A bit of a sad commentary on the human race as a whole.

The other most memorable character in the film is Gort, the enormous robot that arrives with Klaatu. Gort makes his power obvious when he appears out of the ship after Klaatu is shot. He shoots a powerful laser out of his visor that disintegrates anything instantly. After Klaatu calls him off, Gort spends most of the film simply standing in front of the spaceship. However, it's revealed that the robot is a very deadly threat to the Earth should anything happen to Klaatu. When Klaatu is fatally shot, Gort immediately goes into his destruction mode and actually disintegrates two guards who advance on him. He's only stopped when Helen, the woman who has become close to Klaatu, delivers the words to call him off. Gort's true origin as part of a police force of robots is revealed at the end of the film, making it even more clear that he's a force to be reckoned with.

The rest of the cast members are nothing special but they do their jobs admirably. Patricia Neal is fairly good as Helen Benson, the woman who, along with her young son, becomes close to Klaatu. She's a pretty typical female character of the times, even though she does eventually speak the words that save the Earth. Unfortunately before that, she does the predictable action of screaming at Gort and getting herself trapped by him as he approaches. One thing I will say about her is that she's one of the few who assumes the alien visitor is not an enemy after all and this is before she even gets to know him personally. She's not as close-minded as the people around her.

Hugh Marlowe plays Tom Stevens, Helen's boyfriend who ultimately proves to be a selfish scumbag. He's suspicious of Klaatu from the get-go and when he discovers who he is, he intends to turn him because he knows it'll get him ahead. When Helen tells him that it's important to the rest of the world that Klaatu not be turned in, he selfishly admits that he doesn't care about the rest of the world. Helen right then decides that she wants nothing more to do with him and leaves him.

One odd character is Sam Jaffe as Prof. Barnhardt, the brilliant scientist who Klaatu ultimately confides in as a last ditch effort to save the world. Being a curious scientist, Barnhardt is not at all frightened of the alien and agrees to hear him out. Once Klaatu tells him how grave the situation is, he does everything possible to ensure a meeting of all the great minds from various nations to hear Klaatu out. It is he who suggests that a demonstration of power must be made to convince the scientists that Klaatu's people have the means necessary to destroy the Earth if they must.

Billy Gray as young Bobby Benson is the typical curious young boy. He's not annoying, just very energetic and doesn't seem scared by the alien or the spacecraft. He does, however, become scared when he discovers that Klaatu is the spaceman. One thing I don't like, however, is how he's not present at the final scene and his last scene is him being slightly afraid of what he saw. For the sake of his close friendship with Klaatu, I wish he would have been at the final scene to fully understand why Klaatu was here on Earth.

The biggest theme of the movie is obvious: how mankind is afraid of the unknown and seems to know only how to react to it with violence. Included within that theme is the racial prejudice that existed at that time and still, unfortunately, does exist to some degree. The whole world goes into a panic when the flying saucer is seen circling the Earth and the military takes immediate action when Klaatu comes out of the spaceship. When he takes an odd device out of his coat, the soldiers assume it's a weapon and one even shoots Klaatu. After Klaatu escapes from the hospital, you hear many radio reports talking about how he is a hideous creature who's come to destroy the planet, which, of course, isn't true. It's pretty clear that people demonize anything they don't understand and don't wait to find out if it's malevolent for sure. Klaatu himself says that what scares him is when people substitute fear for reason. (Enough said.) There's also a staunch anti-military theme present. Throughout the film, all the military does is try to kill Klaatu, even though he said he comes in peace. They don't realize it but their action could mean the end of the world. This theme is one of the reasons Robert Wise directed the film and you can't help but wonder if the scene of tanks rolling out of a base and sliding slightly on the wet road is a more deliberate knock on them. These themes may be incorporated with the fear of the Cold War that was prevalent at the time but I do feel that they're also relevant in today's world, perhaps even more so. That's why I felt that the movie didn't need to be remade or to be updated. If the film wasn't made in the 50's but in the new millennium with the fear of terrorism incorporated, it would have exactly the same resonance. The themes, unfortunately, are timeless.

One of the film's most striking scenes is the one that the film's very title is derived from. In order to prove that his people have incredible power, Klaatu has them stop all electricity on Earth for half an hour. A montage showing people in various countries throughout the world realizing what has happened is then shown. You see people getting out of their cars that are stuck on the roads, unable to call people on the telephone, and the sense of fear this creates. At one point, Prof. Barnhardt asks his assistant if this makes her feel insecure and frightened. When she says that it does, he replies that that's good. This is exactly what the demonstration was supposed to do. However, Klaatu ensures nobody would be killed by having the electricity in hospitals and planes in the air to stay on. Still, this does frighten the scientists around the world enough to attend the meeting but it also spurs the military to take Klaatu by any means necessary.

One theme that Robert Wise said was unintentional was a Christian allegory in making Klaatu feel similar to Jesus Christ. I honestly didn't think about it when I first saw the film but when I heard about it and thought, it is quite interesting. Klaatu tries to save the people, is killed, resurrected, and ultimately ascends into the heavens. Even more to the point, the alias that Klaatu takes to blend in with the people around him is Carpenter. But one overtly Christian aspect that I don't care for in the film is when Klaatu is resurrected by Gort and Helen asks him if Gort has the power of life and death. Klaatu says that that power is reserved to the almighty spirit, an obvious reference to God. I don't like not because I have anything against Christianity but it seemed out of place for an advanced, highly intelligent and powerful alien being to believe in God. Apparently, Robert Wise and screenwriter Edmund North didn't like it either but had to put it in because the censors didn't like the idea of Gort actually having the power of life and death. Rather frivolous to get upset about if you ask me.

Bernard Herrmann's amazing score pretty much set the standard for science fiction movie music of the time. I didn't realize it at the time but his use of the theremin in the film was what I always heard when I thought about music from these types of films. Even people who don't know that the extensive use of the instrument began with this film often think about its bizarre sound when 50's alien films come to mind. For me personally, I guess I'd heard the theremin used in so many movies I'd seen before I saw this one that I immediately said, "That's the sound of classic sci-fi!"

While I personally like many other films more than The Day The Earth Stood Still, there's no denying that it is an excellent movie. Even if you don't care for deep, meaningful stuff, the cool designs of Gort, the spaceship, and the music should satisfy fans of sci-fi. It definitely deserves its place in movie history for many reasons that I've described and I do recommend it for those who haven't seen it.