Zardoz. 20th Century Fox 1974

Before watching the movie:

The discourse around Zardoz typically begins and ends with Sean Connery’s outfit. Nobody has anything to say about Zardoz other than how bad it is, and at this point I wonder how many people saying that have actually seen it. On paper, there are a lot of cringeworthy elements, but I have to wonder how it manages as a cohesive whole. I have to know for myself what Zardoz is like.

After watching the movie:

In 2293, most humans live in a brutal, uncivilized state. A chosen few are selected by their god Zardoz, a flying stone head, to use weapons to exterminate the rest, in the belief that humans only destroy nature in their existence. Zed, one of the Brutals, hides inside the stone head to gain entrance into a Vortex, a utopic village of the elite Eternals who control the Brutals and force some of them to grow crops for them. Almost immediately, Zed shoots Arthur Frayn, the Eternal in control of the stone head and Zardoz identity, and Frayn falls to a death below. However, Eternals have developed a life without natural aging, where those who manage to die are immediately reconstructed in new, identical bodies. The scientist Consuella and her assistant May capture and pacify Zed with telepathy in order to study him and subject him to menial labor within the community. Another Eternal, Friend, plans to use Zed to overthrow the social order the Eternals have been imprisoned in for hundreds of years. But none of the Eternals suspect that Zed is not as mindless and savage as he seems.

At least in the British Isles, there was often a dreamy, new-age aspect to science fiction in the 70s. I feel like, by watching this movie, I’ve seen several episodes of “The Prisoner”. And I think I would have rather watched The Prisoner. This movie is full of trippy visuals that don’t make much sense, trying for something more artful and psychedelic than representative. Everything hinges on crystals, video projection is used to paint walls and people, and everything in the world of the Eternals that isn’t straight out of an 1800s Irish countryside feels so technologically advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.

The other aspect that came to dominate 70s movies was an overindulgence in the evolution of social mores caused by the sexual revolution. This movie sets up a society of haves and have-nots where the haves are as repressed and oppressed by their lifestyle as the have-nots they distantly rule over, but rather than explore that very much, it would rather exult in explicit assault and meditate on the collision of raw sexual power with a world that has bred reproduction and desire out of itself. I don’t think there’s a single woman in the movie that doesn’t spend at least a third of her screen time topless. The result is both deeply uncomfortable to watch and dramatically disappointing.

There is also an incredibly frustrating mix of over-explanation and drawing out mysteries so long the viewer decides they aren’t important. I finally found something really interesting to watch in the third act, when Zed begins to really develop into his full potential and explain his intentions, but the mysteries and tensions that set that up are so buried by exploring the Vortex and the pretenses for nudity that it affords that I had thought that Zed’s origins were just unimportant.

There’s an interesting spin on the kind of social commentary that’s been a part of science fiction since The Time Machine here, but unfortunately, it’s held back by the extravagances and limitations of the 70s. Maybe a modern remake could salvage this, but I’m sure it would be so different that it would be rejected as a remake. I’ve seen Zardoz, and in that knowlege, in this form, I can’t recommend others do so.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Castle Rock Entertainment 2002.

Before watching the movie:

I was vaguely aware of this movie coming out, and it looked vaguely interesting, but I couldn’t really tell much about it from what I saw. This poster, which is just about all the promotional material I saw at the time, tells you that it stars Eddie Murphy, that he’s having adventures on the moon, and it looks vaguely like throwback to the Flash Gordon serials.

This has since become known as one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest flops, which is a distinction with a lot of competition from the 90s through the 00s. I always got the idea it was either not the movie audiences wanted it to be or didn’t hit the tone it was trying for, or both. I can certainly see Summer 2002 being a very bad time for an homage/parody of 30s pulp sci-fi.

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Akira. Tokyo Movie Shinsha 1988.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve heard the title of this movie thrown around a bit, but I never really understood much more. I didn’t know if it was a movie or a series or what, probably anime but maybe not. I assumed it was action, and probably grim and gritty, and that’s about the end of what I thought I knew, until I saw it called out as being extremely influential on Eastern and Western animation alike, and as the referent of that one motorbike slide that’s everywhere in animation.

It turns out this seems to also be the source of that “Neo-Tokyo” I’ve heard about. And this is probably why some of the names I hear come up a bunch in Anime circles come up so much, but I don’t know what Japanese names are more generic versus more unique.

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The Night the World Exploded

The Night the World Exploded. Clover Productions 1957.

Before watching the movie:

Another one I stumbled upon that I know pretty much nothing about. It has something to do with an unknown mineral that’s been present in the Earth all this time igniting and bad stuff happens. I don’t know how the plot is going to set up that this thing can happen and is going to destroy the world if it isn’t stopped if it sounds like setting it off in one place will set it off all over the world, but that’s what I’ll find out.

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The Thing (1982)

The Thing. Universal Pictures 1982.

Before watching the movie:

This is one more legend that’s a bit of a black box. I know there’s a monster besieging a research station in the Arctic or Antarctic, and that’s about it. I think almost the entire movie goes without showing the monster? It might be an alien but it’s left ambiguous? The poster is as much of a masterpiece as the movie, they say, and it is a fantastic poster.

I dimly recall a TV special about practical and visual effects in horror movies in general that may have touched on this movie, but I’m not sure. The images I’m remembering could be almost any horror movie, but they could fit a frozen research station for all I know.

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Journey to the Center of Time

Journey to the Center of Time. Borealis Enterprises 1967.

Before watching the movie:

A nonsensical title on a movie about time travel? This should be just the kind of campy midcentury sci-fi story I’ve really been itching for. They’re getting harder to come by, at least ones that are new to me.

I don’t know much more about the plot than that some scientists get lost in time, and really, does one actually need more?

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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Universal-International 1948.

Before watching the movie:

For a long time I thought I had a distant memory of watching this movie, but it might have just been Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy. Whether I saw it or not, my memories are so dim that this might as well be my first time, so I’m doing it now.

It always struck me as strange that the Abbott and Costello movie that Bela Lugosi reprises Dracula in is “Meet Frankenstein”. It looks like they worked in as many of the Universal Monsters as they could make fit into the script, though I guess that list is longer than I generally think of. I don’t know that they ever paired the duo with, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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The Wasp Woman

The Wasp Woman. Santa Cruz Productions 1959.

Before watching the movie:

Here’s another cold watch of an old B-movie. I could try to do some quick research to get more early impressions, but sometimes it’s more interesting to know as little as possible.

Woman turns into a wasp-monster. I saw something about royal jelly, so I assume it’s an experiment gone wrong. Sounds interesting, and hopefully the fun kind of bad.

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A stitch in time

The time I planned to spend preparing to write a blog this week was consumed instead by small things causing big headaches, so in its place, have a sampler of time travel stories. I was surprised at first that I found so few in my history given how much I enjoy them, but then I began to realize I was overlooking some.

  • Primer: I don’t know if I’d call it the hardest sci-fi time travel story I’ve covered, but it’s easily the most intricate.
  • A Sound of Thunder: The only time I reviewed a movie less than ten years old at time of publication, and I was soundly let down by it.
  • Somewhere in Time: what if Christopher Reeve could meet the love of his life by meditating really hard? Surprisingly, not as goofy a story as it sounds.
  • Movies of my Yesterdays: Meet the Robinsons: still one of my favorite time travel stories ever and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia.
  • The Lake House: speculative romantic fiction is rarely done better.
  • Sliding Doors: okay, this one is more of time being the one to travel through the character or something. I don’t know if the blog is my best writing, but I’ll always be proud of the technical gimmick I was able to implement.

The Devil Bat

The Devil Bat. Producers Releasing Corporation 1940.

Before watching the movie:

Aside from what amounts to silent stock footage in Plan 9 From Outer Space and clips from Dracula movies that I must have seen, I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of Bela Lugosi’s work. I ought to track down good copies of the classic monster movies.

A mad scientist creating a substance that can drive bats to kill is one thing, but I’m curious about the summary I saw describing it as an aftershave lotion. It would be interesting to see the scientist try to create an aftershave lotion and slowly go mad with power on realizing he can use it to make bats get people out of his way for him. But with the quality of many summaries I’ve seen, I think it’s more likely that he passes it off as an aftershave lotion once or twice to get it past skeptical people.

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