Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Art Adams, Alan Moore and Godzilla

Comic book writer Alan Moore and artist Art Adams do Godzilla: The Musical. Adams has done a lot of Godzilla work in the past, I think he even worked on Dark Horse's Godzilla series (as a writer? I can't remember for sure.) He's a true fan and these pages look great. Moore is, of course, a genius. I remember getting some of these Songbook episodes in Negative Burn. They were weird little ditties and a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Monster that Challenged the World


I was going to go into a long description of this film and its narrative, but Exclamation Mark has already done a terrific job and hit most of the points I would have brought up. So instead, I'd ask that you look at his review and then come back for a few of my thoughts on the film. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Back? Good review, no?

First, the filmmakers chose an interesting setting for the movie, mysterious in its own right. The Salton Sea started as a basin, a prehistoric leftover of the once world-covering ocean. The basin was once the site of mining and a small town. Both were submerged after floods at the beginning of the 20th century. (All this information gleaned from Wikipedia.) The movie, in the opening voice over, points out the prehistoric origins. The Sea is also a good setting because it sits amid a desert. We get a sense of the place's isolation and are reminded of the desert settings of "Them," the template for all these giant bug movies. (The map seen here is stolen from the Notes from the Road Web site.)

The prehistoric origins and the earthquake seem to be the origin of the monster. In fact, the scientist goes out of his way to dispute the notion that radioactivity tests had anything to do with it. And that's a strange point, because later we find out that the monster's saliva is significantly more radioactive than the surrounding water. Yet the point is never broached again. Was the monster revived thanks to radiation? Or did the movie makers decide that a giant monster just had to have radioactivity tied in somehow?

Exclamation Mark points out that the movie is slow, and I agree. It plods along with little forward drive. Even once we know that the hero must destroy the creatures before it finds its way out of the sea, the pace still moves leisurely. This and a need for more monster action really doom this film from repeat viewings. It's just not that entertaining.

But don't blame the actors for that. Lt. Commander John "Twill" Twillinger is made out to be a stickler for Navy regulations. He accepts no walking outside the lines, for whatever reason. Later, we get his softer side as he plays with Gail's child and shows his willingness to forgive errors in the field. It may not have helped viewers like the character, but the choice makes for a far more three-dimensional character than in many other giant monster movies.

And the same goes for almost all the other characters. From the archives guy obsessed with a defeated proposition to a gatekeeper shooing away kids, everybody has his own personality. It's too bad they weren't in a faster paced film.



The monster design wasn't bad. Though they say it's a snail at one point and it sure doesn't look like one. It's got hard skin, mandibles and little arms. It's a bug of some kind, not a snail.

We never see more than the top of the creature. It has a long cylindrical body and we have to assume it has a shell just out of sight, since later we see the creatures hiding in their shells.

The monster's eyes are probably its best asset. They make the monster look like something from the cover of an old pulp science fiction magazine. Science fiction and fantasy author Dave Duncan wrote the story behind the script. Here's a nice paragraph about the film from this Turner Classic Movies site:


The Monster That Challenged the World was shot in sixteen days on a budget of $200,000 and reportedly Holt suffered a broken arm during one of the film's action sequences. According to co-producer Arthur Gardner in Science Fiction Movie Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver, "The mollusk monster was conceived by us and executed by a very good special effects man named Augie Lohman. Augie went on from that picture to do many, many famous special effects films (Barbarella, 1968). The monster stood around ten feet high, and the exterior was made of fiberglass. All the movements were controlled by Augie and two assistants - it took three men to operate it. It worked with a series of air pressure values. I believe it cost around $15,000 to build, and weighed about 1,500 pounds."

This is one movie where I could see a modern remake actually being worthwhile. If they maintained the design, but gave it a mobility boost, kept the interesting characters and added better pacing, this could be a great fun film. With a modern budget, you could even play out the great warning the scientist offers: "Can you imagine an army of these things descending upon one of our cities?" Yes I can, and it would be marvelous.

Anyway, the film is certainly worth a watch. However, it's not something I'll be seeking out again.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Crustacean Domination

I've been meaning to check out the work of Guy N. Smith, in particular his Crabs series, for a very long time. Fortunately for me, David Zuzelo has written extensively about just those books and what's good about them. Check out his blog Tomb It May Concern and his posts Crustacean Domination parts one and two He promises a third post in the near future.

Here's a quick quote about the first book, Night of the Crabs, as well as Zuzelo's own banner:

Night Of The Crabs plays like a classic horror film of the 50's, with a good helping of 70's gritty gore slathered on top. The prose is tight and words are not wasted-each detail furthering the story towards gory conclusions. There is the tendency in Smith's world (and it is a fairly unified place to my experience) for people to act utterly illogical. But it doesn't feel that way as you read along, instead it feels as if the writing is in fast forward.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mecha vs. Kaiju: The Soundtrack


I've found, thanks to SciFi Weekly, a new entry in the giant monster music collection. Stratos plays electronica and his new concept album is all about a battle between giant robots and giant monsters. Electronica isn't usually my thing, however, the bits of "Mecha vs. Kaiju" I've heard off Stratos's MySpace page and from the samples of the album itself sound pretty good and worth a try.

Stratos was involved in another recent project I don't think I've mentioned: Kaijuice. You can read SciFi Weekly's review of that, or check out their Web site. Among the bands on that disc is one I've mentioned before, surf punk band Daikaiju. So at least some of it should be good.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gorgo No. 15: The Land that Time Forgot

(This follows is the second in my posts about Charlton's giant monster comic books, written by Joe Gill.)


The story comes straight from the pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so much so it even steals the title of one of his books. But let's call it an homage, rather than a theft.

The story is almost certainly written by Joe Gill, but I'm a little unsure about the artist. Steve Ditko famously drew most of these comics, but this one looks very different from No. 3. Also, in No. 3 Ditko's name was right there on the splash page. No such signature here. Looking over this checklist, I only see issues #1, 4, 11, 13, 16, 18 listed, but No. 3 was definitely a Ditko issue. So we'll have to leave it a mystery for now. If anyone has further information, leave a message in the comments.

All right, on with the story. After a splash page depicting a scene we'll get to later, we start off "many years ago" as young Professor Carl Engstrom hears about a place in the African jungle where dinosaurs still live. He decides not to go, despite his interest, because of his wife and child. But his wife convinces him otherwise and they head off to unexplored African jungles where dinosaurs are expected to live. Do you see where this is going?

Of course, their "fella boys" (I assume this is some kind of slang for the black natives) jump ship as soon as they near the "land that time forgot" and Engstrom thinks they should turn back. His wife, once again, convinces him otherwise. Three days later, they see dinosaurs along the shore and they decide to head into the jungle. They are set upon by natives, Engstrom is knocked out and left behind.

Here we have a great transition between pages. At the bottom of page 5 (seen here), we get an image of Engstrom moving through the jungle and finding his wife. We don't see the wife, we only see a stressed out Engstrom's shocked face set against vines and flowers. On the top of the next page, we get a different image of Engstrom standing before a handmade wooden cross, behind him is an empty field.

He buries her body and searches for his daughter.

"But his search was in vain and finally, exhausted, mentally and physically, heartbroken and without hope, he left that land of death that time had forgotten..."


And with that, the prologue ends and we get our first glimpses of the title hero/villain. Gorgo and Orga (his mother) are swimming up river into the African jungle. On the way, they apparently fight a giant squid for food. Engorged, the duo falls asleep on the river bottom. But Gorgo, being the energetic youth that he is, swims to the surface to check things out. He smells "the odor of creatures of his own kind" and decides to go ashore.

And now, we see what has become of Engstrom. He's a bitter old professor kicking out a student for "wasting my time and yours." This student, Jay Conners, is expecting it, however, and says he's taking a vacation. Engstrom then heads off for a meeting that has been on his thoughts.

He meets a wounded explorer at the Explorers Club (what, your town doesn't have one?). It's the same place Engstrom heard about the land of dinosaurs at the beginning of the story. The adventurer tells consistent rumors of a white goddess have come out of the jungles. Also, talking about how the information got to him, the adventurer mentions this:
"No! Even the natives shun the place! You know the stories ... about prehistoric men and beasts! The other natives got their information through some mental telepathy of their own ... very strange but always true! That's all I can tell you about it, old chap!"
Telepathic natives. Fascinating! And yet this is the only mention of it. I guess telepathy comes in handy when it's hard to get a plot point to your hero.

Engstrom heads off to Africa, hoping this white goddess will be his long lost daughter. The first person he meets in Africa is his student Jay Conners who is there for his vacation, a hunting trip in Africa. The two go their separate ways, Engstrom up river and Conners through the jungle.

We follow Conners until his native baggage handlers run away. Conners, smarter than Engstrom's wife, decides he'll need to turn back. But just as he starts, he sees Gorgo tearing up trees and heading inland. So, "almost hypnotized by the adventure," Conners follows the monster into the jungle.

Meanwhile, we turn to Engstrom who is tramping through the jungle. His baggage handlers have also taken off, but Engstrom expected it. He now is hoping to find the natives that once took his wife and child. Sure enough, they come out of the trees and take him, bringing him back to their white goddess.

The white goddess has lived with the natives since she was a baby. And yet, when Engstrom starts speaking to her, calling her Gloria and trying to get her to remember him, she does! In fact, she even knows some rudimentary English. Wow! What a memory on that kid.

Now the story gets into high gear. A dinosaur attacks! It's kind of a weird looking thing.It's yellow and it's head is like an egg on its side with a mouth. It looks nothing like the more accurate T-Rex on the cover. It still looks like a dinosaur though, and it's angry. The natives decide that their goddess is no longer protecting them, so they have to sacrifice her to "Scaley." Meanwhile, we see that Gorgo's mother has risen from the river in pursuit of her child. There's a funny panel with Orga walking and all the beasts of the jungle running before her to get away. (Sorry, I don't have the editing tools or knowhow to take single panels out.)

Engstrom and daughter are tied to posts, just like on the cover. Scaley hovers over them. It seems they are doomed! That is until Conners arrives in the next panel wielding his shotgun. Engstrom tries to tell Conners that his bullets won't hurt the creature. But Conners, the able hero, says "If I can't stop it, then I can't! Anyway, I'll know I did my best!"

Conners faces Scaley down over the next page. There's one neat panel here. It's taken from the perspective of Scaley's mouth. We see black shadows of teeth above and below (picture that scene in the Empire Strikes Back when the Millenium Falcon escapes the sea slug: "The cave is collapsing." "That's no cave.") and the view below of Conners aiming at the creature. The gunshots annoy the Scaley. Conners' gun jams. It seems they are all doomed.

But then Gorgo arrives. He and Scaley rush at each other. The tremendous noise attracts other monsters and, in a scene that Peter Jackson would love, a total of three Scaleys and one triceratops join the battle. This gives Engstrom, Conners and Gloria time to escape.

On the next page, it's all neatly wrapped up in four panels. Orga joins the fight and tosses the Scaleys aside. The three explorers make it to their boat, where Conners starts hitting on Gloria. And finally we see Gorgo and Orga playing together as they head back to the river. And Conners says:

"I imagine that after they get through with it, there's nothing left of the creatures ... in the land that time forgot!"

Well, this comic book certainly had the thrills. We get Gorgo, dinosaurs and a hidden African land from the prehistoric past. We also get references to ERB, H. Rider Haggard and about a hundred other English lost world stories.

It is odd that none of the people recognize Gorgo. When Conners and Engstrom each see him for the first time, neither recognizes the creature. Which is weird, you'd think a monster that wrecked London (in the movie), New York and a few small Central American countries (early issues of the comic book) would be pretty well known by now. It's weirder because there is definitely a continuity to the stories in the earlier issues.

The art is not Ditko. Gorgo is drawn much skinnier and the T-Rex's are just downright weird. But overall I think it works. And some of the perspectives used are just terrific. The artist adds lots of fun little details in the background and other animals (monkeys hanging over Gorgo's rising form, lions and other creatures fleeing before Orga) are done with humor.

There is, of course, some racism in this story. I think that comes with a lot of these lost world type stories. They basically come straight out of an 19th-century British imperial perspective. Still, it's something that could easily have been removed. One strong African character would have done wonders for this comic.

Having said that, a lost world story is a perfect setting for a Gorgo comic and this one takes full advantage of it. A good fun story in one issue.

Next up will be Fantastic Giants before we get into Konga.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New DVD news


The always essential SciFiJapan has a new post about the upcoming Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro-Monsters DVDs from Classic Media. The post includes screen caps from the discs as well as Classic Media's press release. It looks awesome.

I'm surprised they are using the Astro-Monster title for that movie. I thought Godzilla vs. Monster Zero was Toho's preferred name. Shows what I know. But that's OK, I think Invasion of the Astro-Monsters is an awesome title.

As for Ghidorah, I've only seen that film on a screwed-up pan-and-scan VHS tape, and still it was one of my favorites. I really can't wait to see it in all its true glory.

This all reminds me that I'm falling behind on DVD buying. I still haven't picked up Godzilla Raids Again!

Now it's a movement


Thanks to a comment on my last post, I now know there's another game in town. Check out Giant Monsters Attack, a new blog about giant monsters. It's sort of like this blog, only Mysterious Pants (that's the blogger) has a deft hand in using photos and, of course, has his own voice. He's even reviewed Gamera: The Little Braves, which I have yet to see. He also has a post speculating on what monsters will be used on Godzilla: Unleashed.

Welcome to the neighborhood Mysterious Pants. I look forward to trading links and ideas about the biggest genre of them all!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Choose your own monster

SciFi Japan has the details on Atari's plan to let fans vote on the new monster that will be included in "Godzilla: Unleashed," the new giant monster videogame planned for the Nintendo Wii. (Here's the IGN article on it.) They've created four designs that "we felt were fresh, would fit into the Godzilla genre, and would fit into the group factions as delineated in the design doc for the game." Go to SciFi Japan for details about all this. Now I'm going to include my comments on each design. The photos are all snatched from SciFi Japan's page and are copyright Atari.

The Magmouth





It's a magma monster, made of molten rock and able to spew lava at its enemies. As a concept, it sounds pretty neat. I could see it fitting into the Smog Monster era of Godzilla movies, or possibly be a villain for Mothra in her solo years. In the game, it would have to be a slow, but tough monster. The only problem is it seems to lack a personality. There's no real face to it.

Firelion



My first thought on seeing this one was, why not use King Sesar? Sesar is basically the same concept, a Chinese dragon guardian, but without the flaming hair and tail. Despite that, this looks like it would be a fun character to play in the game, and the flaming hair and tail might give it an interesting look during the action. I don't like the origin story, "guardian of the lost civilization of Mu." We all know that guardian is Manda. What good would a flaming lion do underwater anyway?

The Visitor



If they actually made this thing for a film it would look ridiculous; the jaw would be flapping around in the breeze. If it weren't for that face, this could have been one of my favorites. The extra limbs could have made for some fun game play, and tying it in with the Vortaak aliens of the game is a good idea. Nice touch with the "Alien" tail, too. Even his back story is cool. It's too bad about that jaw.

Lightning Bug



This thing's wings look too small and that sack too big. The bug concept is always cool, though Megalon already fills that role. The story works fine. Despite liking some aspects of this design, I'm underwhelmed.



***


All of the images for these creatures make me think they would fit comfortably in Godzilla: The Series. I think only Magmouth and Firelion could actually work in the movies as a rubber suit.

As for my vote, I'm torn between Magmouth and Firelion. Firelion seems like he'd be a fun character to play and look at, but he's so close to Sesar that I want to stay away. Magmouth needs more personality. I'm going to tentatively side with Magmouth and hope that the designers can add some interesting details before he appears in the game.