The Cyclops (1957)

This was director Bert I. Gordon’s third movie in what would become a long line of (50’s) classic sci-fi/giant creature movies. Almost any movie Gordon directed could easily fall into a top ten of 50’s schlock B-movie sci-fi epics. Epics such as ‘King Dinosaur’, ‘Earth vs. The Spider’, ‘Attack of the Puppet People’, and 60’s legend ‘The Magic Sword’.

But like some of Gordon’s other movies (and many other movies of the time) the basic story here is all too familiar. Essentially a team of experts travel to a remote part of the world only to discover giant creatures living there, and that’s it. And yes once again the reason for these giant abnormalities is a dose of good old-fashioned 50’s radiation. The only real differences here from other similar themed movies are, the team of experts is searching for a missing person and the remote location is in Mexico; not the usual distant undiscovered island. Alas everything else we see here is by the books and highly formulaic.

The lead scientist Russ Bradford (James Craig) is a well built, well rounded, good looking chap with a stylish Flynn-esque moustache. The second expert Marty Melville (Lon Chaney Jr.) is the more trigger happy unpredictable character who gets upset and flustered quickly putting the others at risk. Pilot Lee Brand (Tom Drake) is the in-between character so to speak, he is sensible and well rounded but also easily led astray. And naturally you can’t have a movie like this without an attractive female character to put in peril and so you have Susan Winter (Gloria Talbot), the woman who has organised the search and rescue mission.

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The giant creatures discovered are all regular creatures such as lizards, birds, bugs, and some small mammals. All of which consisted of the usual stock footage which had been crudely projected against live action footage of the actors. Twas the standard effect for movies like this at the time but here it looks especially poor, mainly down to a lack of budget and time restrictions. What’s amusing is the fact that the animal footage is clearly completely different location wise to the live action location footage with the actors. In some scenes the actors were obviously in some botanical garden area somewhere (in Hollywood probably) whilst in others its clearly a set.

On top of that the actors really don’t seem to be reacting to the giant threats all that much. Clearly they had no real idea how to react and where to look, plus their lack of amazement at the discovery of giant creatures is somewhat of an eyeopener frankly. Most people would be understandably shocked and amazed by finding giant animals alive and well roaming around Mexico. Not these experts, it’s just an inconvenience for them. Also, did they actually show footage of a small rodent actually being killed by a bird of prey??

The location for all these giant radioactive animals also raised some questions. Supposedly these creatures dwell in the jungles of Mexico, but initially the search and rescue mission was clearly flying over a mountainous desert region of Mexico. And when the team land they are still in a mountainous desert region. Now I’m no expert on Mexico but the northern part is more desert and the southern part is more green I believe, so where exactly where the team supposed to be? And not one person had ever reported these giant creatures? Not even the giant human cyclops?

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Ah yes the giant human cyclops, the titular character. Now this character turns out to be the missing person but, like the animals, has mutated due to the radioactivity in the area. Not sure why he has become a disfigured one-eyed mutant seeing as all the other creatures just got bigger but whatever. Also not sure why this person didn’t manage to leave the region in search of help before he mutated into a cyclops but again whatever. The makeup for this giant mutant was actually well done (for the time) and pretty disturbing. His huge bulging non-blinking eye, bald head, and nasty disfigured mouth with protruding teeth were probably quite terrifying for folks back in the 50’s. Sure he does literally nothing other than lurch around and growl (why is he unable to talk?) but kudos on that makeup job.

In the end it’s actually pretty typical and amusing that the team of experts manages to find this missing guy…but end up killing him. Yup, they go through all that and just end up blinding him before killing him…somehow. Before the credits role we see the cyclops lying dead (in a horrendous projection shot) but I’m not really sure how. They don’t try to help this guy, they don’t seem to care about the giant animals, and they don’t seem overly bothered about the large deposits of radium in the area that caused all this. They just kill the cyclops and fly away to safety in a happy ending. Maybe they looked further into these things when they got back to the good old US of A.

So in the end I can’t really recommend this Gordon directed feature I’m afraid. I wasn’t expecting anything groundbreaking here, I knew exactly what I was gonna get, but it’s just not on the same level of enjoyment as other similar themed movies. Dare I say its actually just a poor movie? Everything about this was just badly done, seemingly lacking any sort of real passion. Not even Chaney’s stupidly rash character could elevate this much. I found myself somewhat bored to be honest although I do appreciate how this early project was a building block for Gordon and later (better) features.

4/10

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Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

The seventh movie in the Kickboxer franchise, holy crap. And lets be honest with ourselves, the first was the best and didn’t need expanding further, but here we are. This movie is a direct sequel to the last entry ‘Kickboxer: Vengeance’ which was itself pretty dire.

The Plot: Tong Po is dead, Eric Sloane was avenged, and Kurt (Alain Moussi) is now a professional mixed martial artist. After a fight Kurt is basically kidnapped and awakens to find himself back in sticky Thailand in prison. It seems he has been brought back to Thailand for the death of Tong Po. It also seems Thomas Tang Moore (Christopher Lambert), the man who controls the underground fighting competition where Kurt defeated Tong Po, wants Kurt to fight his new champion (the man who replaced the now dead Tong Po). Moore offers Kurt various deals to get him out of prison and fight but naturally Kurt refuses because he’s an idiot. This of course leads to Moore kidnapping Kurt’s wife along with other forms of intimidation yadda yadda yadda and Kurt agrees to fight. I think you know how this goes from here on.

Right so first off the baddie character of Moore has bribed the Thai police (and some US Marshal?) into dragging Kurt all the way back to Thailand and slinging him in prison. All this without any form of official intervention from anyone in America or Thailand?? I mean I’m sure Moore is wealthy and could bribe some Thai cops and bigwigs but somehow I doubt he could bribe that many people across two countries in order to extradite Sloane with no questions asked. The fact that Kurt is tasered in the US and only wakes up back in Thailand is just beyond ridiculous.

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Whilst Sloane is in prison (held by Moore’s bribes it seems) Moore actually offers him 1 million Dollars to fight his new champion! Aaand of course Kurt declines this rather excellent offer, because of course he does. Predictable cliche one, whilst in prison all the other inmates wanna fight Kurt. Of course Kurt defeats them all easily because all these guys are your typical undernourished looking Thai males. Predictable cliche two, whilst in prison Kurt makes friends with other inmates who just happen to be really good fighters (and they’re cameos). This includes Mike Tyson, various real MMA fighters, and…footballer Ronaldinho?

Predictable cliche three, whilst in prison Kurt also stumbles across Master Durand (JCVD) again, because of course he does. It seems Master Durand is now training prisoners for some reason. Not sure why he would be allowed to do this but whatever. So of course he decides to help Kurt once again. One problem, he’s now blind due to Moore’s treatment. Luckily that’s really convenient for all that Jedi-esque type fighting where you rely on your senses and spiritual side etc…

Predictable clic…oh for Gods sake there are just loads in here. Kurt’s new inmate buddies help him train for the big fight once he agrees to it. So Tyson teaches him boxing, the other MMA fighters teach him…umm…more MMA. And Ronaldinho teaches him…dodging? By kicking footballs at him?? What??? What I don’t get is Kurt is supposed to be this ultimate MMA fighter who already proved his worth and skills by killing Tong Po. So why does he need training from these bums in a Thai prison??

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After all the obligatory prison set guff and a complete rip-off of the famous Bruce Lee ‘Enter the Dragon’ mirror sequence; we eventually get to the big showdown between Kurt and the new champion who is basically some massively overweight white guy. Sure he’s big and wide, but he’s also fat. The difference in this movie is that Moore and his scientists have been experimenting on the new champion with a combination of steroids and adrenaline making him über strong. So now not only does this final showdown look like a scene from a Mortal Kombat movie complete with Lambert sitting on a throne in a dingy torch lit dungeon setting. The big villain Kurt must fight is some gigantic roided up monster who literally roars all the time.

This is the main problem with this movie, the big finale is essentially a remake of the classic finale from the first classic movie. Its not a scene for scene remake but they have clearly copied it visually with all the usual beats. But again there is one main difference with this movie, and again its not good. In this movie the bad guy does actually kill Sloane in the finale. Yes you read that right, Kurt Sloane is actually killed in the finale. But fret not because Kurt’s kidnapped wife manages to bring him back from the dead with one of the adrenaline/steroid concoctions used by the baddies (despite her not being a doctor, but I guess he was dead so…what the hell). Kurt comes around, shakes off the fact he had just expired for around 10 minutes and goes on to win the fight. Merica!

So basically what I’m saying here is, this movie offers nothing new whatsoever. Its exactly the same spiel as almost everything else that has come before it and is literally a complete waste of time and money. This is the seventh movie in the franchise, what is the bloody point in redoing the same final showdown from the first movie??? The plot is so fecking mundane and basic, so many tropes Jesus! Van Damme wasn’t required, he was more of a token to lure in fans as was Lambert. And not only that the fighting wasn’t even that good! Yeah sure if you’re into MMA then you may get a kick out of this (no pun intended) but in all honesty watching a real MMA fight would probably be better.

I think the issue here is thus. Back in the day with the original you had a young, somewhat mysterious, up and coming martial artist from Europe with a curious accent. You had Jean Claude Van Damme in his glistening prime. The genre was ripe for the era and Van Damme (along with other classic action stars) was simply at the right place in the right time. Those early flicks were just lighting in a bottle and I don’t think you can recapture it. Plus these days there are so many martial artists/musclemen with rippling physiques, there’s nothing special about it anymore.

3/10

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The Meg (2018)

Amazingly this movie is an adaptation of a series of books! Yep, we could actually get sequels to this, hmmm.

The Plot: A team of very clever people financed by a millionaire are all exploring the depths of the Marianas Trench. They believe at the bottom of the trench there is a thick layer or (thermocline) cloud of Hydrogen Sulfide which is hiding an even deeper section of the trench. Of course they are correct and discover another deeper world. Shock horror this new world is the habitat of a huge Megalodon. By accident (a hole is punched through the thermocline cloud) the Meg gets loose from its hidden world and is now free to eat (or swallow) its way through the South China Sea.

Yes that’s right, I did say the South China Sea. Did you know this was apparently a movie specifically aimed at the Chinese market? Nope neither did I. Well I say that but the story is set around the Marianas Trench in the western part of the Pacific Ocean and Hainan Island of the coast of China, so I guess that covers it. But its a hell of a coincidence that this movie just happens to be somewhat aimed at one of the biggest and most important movie markets of the time (cynical much?).

The Team: OK well we’ve got a sexy blonde, a fat white guy, a nerdy looking Chinese guy, an attractive Chinese lady, a middle-aged Chinese scientist bloke, token black guy, the somewhat annoying and heartless white guy millionaire, a sexy inked up white goth-esque chick, a middle-aged white guy scientist, and a middle-aged New Zealander scientist bloke. Diversity box well and truly ticked.

This movie is pure cheese, that should not be of any surprise. The movie confirms this for you straight away with Jonas’ (Jason Statham) backstory. Jonas was part of a top deep sea rescue team. On his last mission things didn’t go as planned and he ended up leaving some men behind in a sunk submarine (they died). Since then he’s been a drunk layabout in Thailand feeling sorry for himself. He is asked to help the rescue mission at the Trench where a few of the team are stranded at the base (large prehistoric shark attack). At first he declines basically stating that his war is over, but is eventually talked into it. Yep this is basically the Rambo III of the sea.

So the Meg/s live down in the Trench in this hidden realm that is home to prehistoric creatures (remember, sequel). Apparently one reason they can’t leave this zone is because of water temperature, the ocean is too cold for them. Down is their habitat it’s warmer presumably its closer to the Earth’s centre? Anyway this is why the shark swims near the surface all the time, it’s warmer. But the other reason was this thermocline cloud of Hydrogen Sulfide. Now a touch of homework will tell you this chemical isn’t good but would a cloud layer of this be able to stop a creature as large as a Megalodon?

The first issue we witness surrounds the first teams venture down into this new zone in the trench where they are attacked by the Meg. Of course they get stranded down there hence the need for Jonas to be called in. But in order to get Jonas they had to fly to Thailand to meet him. But the team stuck at the bottom of the trench had around 16 hours of oxygen left I think it was. So would that be enough time to fly all the way to Thailand, find Jonas, convince him, fly back, get to the bottom of the trench and then rescue them??

Its also during this movie when I had to ask myself, is this shark really this stupid? At one point it tries to swallow an entire plastic and metal cage. Now I realise sharks might not be that clever and I realise a shark this big would need lots of food to keep going. But surely any creature would understand there’s no point in eating/swallowing something that is clearly not edible (not biteable or chewable) and doesn’t even fit in its mouth! It’s a bloody shark not a snake. I might also add that the shark doesn’t even really eat people here, it merely swallows them. The sharks mouth is so big compared to a human there’s nothing for it to chew, which kinda takes the horror out of it for me.

Did…did we actually have a chase sequence in this movie?? We did, we actually did! Statham is inside a small submarine and is being chased by the Meg. In order to try and escape he’s piloting this small submersible through all these little holes, cracks, and caves on the ocean floor whilst the shark chases him smashing through it. It was like something outta Star Wars. Would a shark be that bothered to eat this thing? Surely it can find easier prey? Isn’t it hurting itself?

Oh we had a topless scene for Statham, just thought I’d point that out. Yep he’s getting out of the shower, all wet and glistening, someone knocks on his cabin door, its the attractive Chinese lady and she falls for him instantly. Awkward, embarrassingly hammy, cringeworthy…yeah this scene had it all. Also the inked up rock chick (Ruby Rose), what was with her hair? Was like permanently soaked in gel. And her face was always covered in obvious thick layers of makeup and fake tan, always looked perfect even after getting out of the water. Really movie? Really?

K so this movie is obviously popcorn trash that does exactly what it says on the tin. Everyone knows what they’re getting with this so there should be no complaints right? Well no. Despite that this movie is bad, real bad, and its a huge anti-climax. There is virtually no gore or shocks which surprised me. The effects are pretty lame for a modern blockbuster. Why did I not see that shark leap out of the water and take down one of those helicopters??!! Why movie?? It was right there, you had it. It would have been silly but with a flick like this I don’t think that’s anything to worry about. I mean I kinda respect director Jon Turteltaub for not going down that specific (B-movie) route but damn, that money shot went begging.

Alas this let me down. A third-rate, sanitised copy of ‘Jaws’ essentially. ‘smile you son of a bitch‘ now becomes ‘chew on this you ugly bastard‘. Bottom line, this is the quintessential example of a movies poster being infinitely more awesome and captivating than the actual movie.

4.5/10

Space Cowboys (2000)

Teaming up aging iconic stars, a kind of elderly brat pack if you will. Always a solid formula that generally wins over all viewers of all ages. On one had these movies are usually great fun, on the other hand a little sad because you know they’re kinda doing it before the inevitable

The Plot: Its the 50’s and our four protagonists are in the US Air Force. Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones) is a pilot. Tank (James Garner) is also a pilot and navigator. Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) is an engineer. And Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is pilot also. Both Frank and Hawk are two of the best pilots in the Air Force that are aspiring to be astronauts. Alas their dreams are hampered when the Air Force is relinquished of space test flight duty and its handed over to the newly created NASA.

Fast forward to the present day (back in 2000) and NASA has an issue with an old Soviet satellite which is on a collision course back to Earth. NASA needs this satellite working again but its electronics were designed way back in the 50’s…by Frank. So NASA begs Frank to help them, he agrees with one condition, that they allow him and his old team go into space to fix the problem seeing as no one else knows his old design. At first NASA scoffs at this but eventually, knowing Frank is the only man who knows the workings of the satellite, they agree.

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This movie is pre-digital de-aging so for the early sequences which show a young Jones, Eastwood, Sutherland, and Garner, young actor look-alikes were used. But that wasn’t all, these young actors were given a touch up with makeup to highlight some of the iconic stars features. For example the young Eastwood had a little mole on his face plus some extra recognisable Eastwood facial wrinkles (by the looks of it). At the same time all the young actors had their voices dubbed over with the actual older stars voices. Sounds cheesy but it worked flawlessly for a very good overall outcome finished off in black and white.

As for the characters themselves, well they’re a sweet cliche bunch to be sure. Let me be honest here, this movie isn’t really stretching any limits, it plays it safe and straight. Clint plays gives us his usual tough guy persona, the ‘don’t take no shit from anyone’ routine which he does so well. Garner plays the more sensible down to earth type fella. He was a preacher before joining in with the mission, but one gets the feeling he may have been a bit of a slightly dodgy geezer behind the scenes; not as Godly as one might presume. Then you have Sutherland as the ladies man who literally chats up every woman in the movie. And lastly we have Jones as the fast talkin’ daredevil wildcard who acts first and thinks second.

As you might expect these old fogies have to go through the rigorous training programme to prove they can make the grade. And as you might expect this is where most of the charming chuckles come in as we see these old men trying to keep up with the youngsters (and impress the officials). The entire notion of this is of course completely and utterly ridiculous but you gotta just go with it and enjoy the light-hearted ride. Watching these guys puffing and wheezing as they try to get through the daily workouts is definitely amusing and genuinely tiring to watch. The best sequence (which is coincidentally their best performance in these tests) is when they get through the eyesight test. Although the idea that O’Neill memorised the eye chart and it hadn’t changed since he was a young man (a good few decades) is somewhat preposterous.

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Twas pretty creepy watching Sutherland’s character chatting up all the women in the movie. Every time he sees a woman he leers at them and tries on his best lines (even when naked). Can you imagine that these days! That kind of thing is virtually forbidden. But to make things even more corny, creepy, and cheesy is the fact that some of these women actually liked these old geezers coming on to them; and both Hawk and O’Neill actually manage to get something going with two women! Hawk manages to pick up one of the NASA officials for crying out loud (hardly professional). Although this was clearly to give the movie some extra emotional oomph in the big finale.

The meat of the movie kicks in when the team eventually get into space to carry out their mission. Naturally all is not what it seems as the Soviet satellite turns out to be an old nuclear warhead launch platform. And of course one of the young astronauts has an alternate mission (ordered by the slimy NASA project manager Bob Gerson, played by James Cromwell) which leads to all sorts of problems. I wasn’t entirely sure why Gerson wanted to keep the satellite in orbit though, surely it would get discovered eventually and the accidental launch danger would always remain. No win scenario for him, might as well just reveal it and get it sorted.

But yeah basically what we get is a long section of the movie with loads of high-tech space jargon that none of us civvies would understand and loads of very cool but very complicated technical visuals. Don’t get me wrong the visuals are wonderful considering how old this movie is, lovely CGI all round. But half the time the various satellite sequences are simply a mass of glistening metal, hoses, nuts and bolts which you just take for red as realistic (because basically, who the flip knows). Sure there are some shots and sequences which highlight some obvious CGI and greenscreen, but like I said this is quite an old movie now. They do also utilise some stock footage of real rocket launches and landings but its blended in well.

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For all the visual glory and charming performances the plot here is pretty predictable and hammy frankly. I mean they literally hit every emotional cliche you can think of. Everything is blatantly obvious, all the characters are dated stereotypes, and the action is very tame. You know someone isn’t coming home, at least one, and you do get a clue with Hawk earlier in the movie. But credit where credits due, it’s not overly obvious. The only thing I would say is the moment its time for the grand sacrifice it’s not as emotional as you’d think. Director Eastwood really missed a chance to pour on thick layers of easy schmaltz if you ask me.

In the end this is a by the numbers affair really. Eastwood plays it so safe it’s almost unforgivable, almost. But at the end of the day the movie is just so damn delightful and endearing it’s really hard to not enjoy it. I’m still not sure if the final little sequence at the end of the movie is a happy ending or not. I suppose it is kinda, depends on how you look at it.

7/10

Long John Silver (AU/US, 1954)

(aka Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island)

Back in 1950 Disney Pictures adapted the classic 1883 Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. In that now classic (but long forgotten) movie the titular pirate of Long John Silver was played by British actor Robert Newton. Now even though Newton was a well known and respected actor throughout the 40’s and 50’s (actually more of a tough guy role model for young men), it was this Disney movie that really catapulted him to worldwide stardom. Newton became famous for his pirate performance which he continued in 1952 with ‘Blackbeard’ and then with this sequel to ‘Treasure Island’.

So as mentioned this is indeed a sequel to the 1950 movie ‘Treasure Island’ but I am unsure if this is actually based on any novels. I have to admit I never knew until a few years back that there were actually more stories in the Treasure Island universe, so to speak. I have since discovered that Stevenson did write some other stories with various characters from the original book, but most actual sequels and prequels seem to have been written by other people. So whether this is accurate to any other books I don’t know.

The plot follows John Silver (Newton) as he is recruited by Governor Strong (Governor of somewhere in the Caribbean I believe) to retrieve his daughter and Jim Hawkins from a Spanish pirate by the name of Captain Mendoza (Lloyd Berrell) and deliver a ransom. At the same time, Silver discovers the whereabouts of a second treasure cache on Treasure Island. Of course this being a pirate movie there is much double cross. Silver tries to set up Mendoza, I think for the ransom along with the Governor’s daughter and Hawkins, but then Mendoza was planning to double-cross Silver all along. In the end Silver manages to win the battle.

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During this time Silver has discovered that Hawkins has a medallion which locates the second treasure cache. So Silver wastes no time in chartering a ship from Captain MacDougall. But again Silver is planning to double-cross MacDougall. Alas MacDougall finds out and maroons Silver and his men on an island which just happens to be Mendoza’s hideout. Silver steals Mendoza’s ship and sets sail for Treasure Island. Upon reaching the island Silver and his men find the treasure but again Mendoza is hot on their trail. A fight ensues, Silver wins and it’s a happy ending all round, hurrah!

As with the previous Disney movie the overall look of this film is still pretty good, although not as good. All the costumes and sets generally appear to be of high quality and do look both believable and authentic. Naturally the sets do look like sets but that’s to be expected. As I’ve said before many times it’s those little elements that all add to the overall charm. The scenery and location work is also pretty good here but not as good in scope as the original movie. The rugged coastal scenes normally look the best.

Unfortunately in this film the ship sequences appear to be models. They are all very nice models mind you, very detailed, flapping sails etc…But they are obviously models which is a shame. In the original film they did actually use a real replica ship at sea which was amazing looking. Again the on-ship sequences are sets, clearly so, but again they are delightful and really quite amazingly detailed. It really is obvious that a lot of time, effort, and money went into getting the overall appearance of the ships decks, interior cabins etc…all historically accurate as possible. Something of a surprise to be honest considering the smaller production.

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I guess one downside to all this would be the fact it all feels a bit too similar to the original Disney film. For starters we have Robert Newton doing the exact same thing all over again in the exact same attire, almost. I mean surely they could of changed his outfit a bit? Newton also appears to rehash some of his old lines from the original Disney film. I’m not sure if this was just the writers being lazy or maybe wanting to hark back to the popular first picture. I get the impression they wanted to mirror some of the same classic moments from the first film to make theirs look and feel closer to the original Disney production. Riding the old coattails a bit methinks. This becomes more obvious with some scenes such as Hawkins overhearing Silver planning a mutiny and then informing the captain (same thing happened in ‘Treasure Island’).

Another issue would be the near constant mutines and double-crossing that goes on. I mean it happens so damn much it almost becomes a parody. You just know that whenever someone decides to do something, or some people agree on something, one of them will double cross the other. And when one character turns up with one objective, another character on his side will suddenly double cross him! Was also surprised to see the pirate Israel Hands pop up in this, especially after he got shot in the face and fell from the top of the rigging in the previous movie (not the same actor).

But back on the plus side, I was impressed with the visual continuity of the old fort on Treasure Island. I’m not sure if they used the same sets or not but it looked spot on to me, as did the surrounding jungle overgrowth. Add to that the overall acting of all involved was solid and pleasant to watch. There’s something hypnotically relaxing about listening to these old classic actors speaking proper English and olde worlde pirate English…for me at least. Connie Gilchrist adds some comedic relief as Silver’s wife-to-be Purity Pinker. I especially liked how she kept nagging him and giving him milk instead of Rum, much to Silver’s chagrin. And then of course we have the man himself Newton who gives us yet another perfect rendition of how to be a British pirate. Still to this day I think about how he accomplished this quintessential pirate performance; especially when he spoke with a pitch-perfect posh neutral British accent in reality.

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So overall this film does not better the first Disney picture, I don’t think that was ever possible. But overall this is a perfectly enjoyable rollicking 19th century set adventure. It’s certainly no classic of the silver screen. It is a bit hokey at times and it certainly aims for more swashbuckling rather than overall historical accuracy that’s for sure (although the accuracy is still good). This film came about mainly because of the popularity of Robert Newton as Long John Silver. That is the main reason why anyone now (who’s seen the first film) would probably be interested in this; for Newton’s over the top pirate.

That aside, I wholeheartedly recommend this for anyone of any age with an interest in swashbuckling adventures, dastardly villains, and enduring one-legged rogues. Definitely worth showing your kids, but show them the original Disney film first.

7/10

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Back in 1973 Disney obtained the rights to Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydian. A series spread over five novels aimed at children that are based around ancient Welsh mythology. This feature-length animation is loosely based around the first two books in the series.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the concept for these stories is high fantasy. Magic, dragons, witches, goblins, the undead etc…Its essentially like a children’s version of The Lord of the Rings from what I could tell, although I have never read the books so I could be wrong. But in all honesty that was the first impression I got when I sat down to watch this movie. The visuals very much reminded me of the classic Ralph Bakshi version the of the classic Tolkien story, but with classic Disney designs.

The plot surrounds the young boy Taran (Grant Bardsley) who tends pigs on a farm belonging to Dallben the Enchanter (Freddie Jones), a kind of wise old mystic, I think. I’m not really sure of the relation between Taran and Dallben, the boy just seems to work for Dallben and Dallben looks after him. Anyway Dallben learns that the evil Horned King (John Hurt) is after the Black Cauldron and fears he may come for his pet pig Hen Wen. Why? Because this pig has the power to predict or see the future somehow. I’m still not entirely sure why this would help the Horned King to be honest; how does seeing the future help find an object? Surely you need a map or something. Also no clue how this pig got these powers or how Dallben got the pig, oh well.

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So Dallben sends Taran away to go into hiding with Hen Wen. Unfortunately and predictably Taran manages to lose Hen Wen (well Hen Wen stupidly runs off in the middle of the dark woods) and both are eventually captured by the Horned Kings men. One thing leads to another and Hen Wen manages to escape but Taran does not. Back in the deep dungeons Taran bumps into some other prisoners and together they manage to escape. Their plan now? To find Hen Wen, locate the Black Cauldron and destroy it. That wasn’t what Dallben wanted of course, but since when do young protagonists ever listen to their wise elders?

Yes so straight away the main problem with this film is the plot and its characters. As I already said we don’t really get much background on Taran, Hen Wen, or Dallben. We are simply thrust into their lives and straight into the crux of the plot. The Horned King is another main character that really isn’t explained much. He wants the power of the Black Cauldron so he can raise his dead army (what happened to them?) and take over the land. I mean I could ask why but I suppose this is a fairytale so…But also, who or what exactly is the Horned King? He is clearly undead and powerful, what’s his deal??

Later on as Taran tries to escape from the Horned Kings dungeon he meets up with Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan). Now this is where things get really vague. Eilonwy is also escaping from the dungeons but we have no idea what she did to get there. Add to that we have no idea who she is, where she comes from, and why’s she’s called Princess. Is she from another realm with another King and Queen? She also has a small hovering/flying ball of light that accompanies her, like a pet or something. No clue what this little thing is or where it comes from, Elionwy merely says [i]its magic'[/i]. And then we come to Ffewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) a middle-aged bard with a magical harp which snaps a string every time he lies (but why????). Again this chap is picked up in the dungeons and simply becomes the comedic relief for the most part…and nothing else. No exaggeration, he literally does nothing.

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But in all honesty, all the characters do nothing. Taran is your typical young Disney hero who aspires to become something better, a great warrior or hero, usual stuff. Thing is he never achieves this, in fact he doesn’t really achieve anything. In the dungeons he finds an ancient magical sword that helps him fight off enemies but its the sword doing the work…literally! Taran does absolutely nothing except show some kindness and maturity…before going back to tending pigs. Princess Elionwy seems to be merely there for female/Disney Princess representation. To be the heroes bit of fluff, but that never actually happens sooo…why is she there? Ffewddur Fflam is a bumbling fool for the kids.

Let’s not forget about Gurgi, a small furry creature that Taran meets in the woods and is essentially there to boost plush toy sales. This little guy is really annoying, looks like he’s got a handlebar moustache, and he sounds very much like Gollum (ahem!). Again this guy does nothing really until he inexplicably sacrifices himself towards the end. But this lacked any emotion because he’s an annoying character and (again) had no real need to be in the story. He had no real need to even join Taran on his quest, especially as Taran clearly disliked him. He originally pinched an apple from Taran, Taran scolded him, and Gurgi just kinda followed him ever since.

But anyway speaking of merchandise sales, I would say the Fair Folk Kingdom would fall into that category. A large underground world of little glowing pixie or dwarf-like people with little fairy wings. Probably the worst characters in the film. They looked crappy and just felt like padding and pointless.

The only good character is the Horned King simply because he looks so damn awesome (think Skeletor), sounds cool, and lives in a cool creepy castle with an undead army. He also has a throwaway goblin sidekick which is again comedic relief for the kids. Yeah sure the King isn’t exactly an in-depth character, like I said we get no information on him or any of his aides, but he’s just dark and sweet looking. The best part of the entire movie is easily the ending when he brings all of his undead army back to life and they start to attack his living men. One cut sequence has a guy being dissolved or melted by these undead warriors (for some reason), incredibly gory for Disney. But again I have no real clue why the King’s undead army would kill his living army and what exactly these undead warriors are gonna do, melt everything?

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The only other characters to mention are the three witches Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen. Taran and co have to try and talk these witches into revealing the location of the Black Cauldron. Long story short, these witches are basically Mad Madame Mim clones. One is tall and skinny, one is short and fat, and one is medium build. They are all bat-shit crazy and not to be trusted. Expect lots of flying objects and trickery from these characters. Oh and one very awkward sequence where they turn Fflam into a frog and he gets stuck in between the big boobs of witch Orwen. No I’m not joking, big cartoon boob visuals galore.

So yeah the plot is just really poorly constructed in this movie. It apparently incorporates the first two books in the series and it kinda shows. Everything moves so fast and it feels rushed. One minute Taran is happy and with Dallben, next minute he’s kicked out and off into hiding. Before you know it he’s lost his pig and at the foot of the Horned Kings castle! This is obviously set in a large fantasy world but it comes across as very small in this picture. One scene shows Taran looking at the Horned Kings castle from a great distance, next scene he’s at the door!

The three witches spend ages trying to talk Taran out of his magic sword, in exchange for the Black Cauldron. But then at the end when the cauldron has been drained of all its powers the witches want it back again and offer the magic sword! So…why did they want the sword so bad in the first place? And why would they want the cauldron now it’s useless? Also, as the tale goes, the only way to stop the cauldron is for a living creature to get inside it. So when Gurgi jumps into it, why does that not stop it? And lastly, its really odd how the entire plot revolved around Hen Wen the pig for so long, then all of sudden it didn’t. Everyone is trying to find Hen Wen before the Horned King, everything depends on the pig; and then the plot just diverts and leaves the fate of Hen Wen up in the air right until the very end.

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On the positive side: The visuals in the movie are incredible. The animation is classic Disney with easily recognisable designs (although a bit too recognisable). From the rolling green countryside and Hobbit-esque woods. The towering shadow covered castle with its deep dark maze-like interior littered with dungeons, catacombs, skeletons, and cobwebs. To the gorgeous vistas, high detail, glowing magical effects, and a pair of awesome pet dragons. This movie looks flippin’ amazing on every frame. Sumptuous colours, silky smooth animation, and some truly excellent artwork all the way through from top to bottom.

There’s just a few problems (but they’re big). The plot is terribly formulaic and dull with literally no background history for anything. The opening narration speaks of the origins of the Black Cauldron and how an evil King was, basically, boiled alive in it which led to his soul being trapped within the cauldron. Well…was that supposed to be the Horned King? I don’t think it was, I think this was another character from the book. And that’s another problem, I feel like you need to know the book to understand this better because the movie is pretty loose. The final problem is the awful, bland (some badly voiced), one-dimensional characters that just don’t do anything. Almost all of them have no need to even be there and present no arcs at all.

Totally torn on this. This was my first time seeing this movie so I was unbiased and actually really hoping for a cracker going by the posters and images. Alas even though it is a visual treat and I adore this fantasy realm/world, it’s a huge misstep by Disney and such a waste. A handsome spectacle of fairytale folklore and myth to be sure, but unfortunately lacking in any real depth.

6.5/10

The Abominable Snowman (UK, 1957)

So as the title of this movie suggests, this is all about the mysterious age-old legend that is the Yeti. A fabled creature that dwells within the snowy Himalayas. And again as you may well have guessed already, this movie is all about trying to capture said creature (think King Kong). Hey, its a 50’s flick people.

Dr. Rollason (Peter Cushing) and his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) are on a botanical expedition in the Himalayas and are staying within a monastery. Everything is going swimmingly until a second US expedition arrives lead by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) who are wanting to hunt down the Yeti. At first Rollason isn’t convinced about going off in search of the mythical beast, but eventually he succumbs to his scientific curiosity and agrees to accompany them. Rollason thinks this is an expedition to learn and study, he is unaware that Friend wants to capture the creature for fame fortune and American way dagnabbit! As you can imagine things don’t go as planned, team members start getting killed and Rollason learns Friend’s true goal.

So again, as you can imagine, there is a lot of dialog in this film. This film takes its time getting going with a long slow laborious build up. The monastery we find our protagonists in is of course a mixture of sets, matte paintings, and some locale work. Of course its all gonna be rather charming by today’s standards but overall it’s actually pretty top stuff all things considered. The sets are really quite good and atmospheric. Sure you can tell its all a set but it still looks really well detailed from the basic structure of the monastery to the intricate internal decorations and various traditional carvings. The external distance matte painting was glorious, a lovely cliff edge setting highlighted by the black and white film (always helps these old films).

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These sets were later utilised for a few Fu Manchu films throughout the 60’s which is no surprise considering how well designed and built they were. Apparently production designer Bernard Robinson, art director Ted Marshall, and draughtsman Don Mingaye studied and researched numerous books to get the look just right. I find that so darn adorable.

I was quite surprised to actually see a lot of very good location work here too. I knew there would be some of course but I really just expected the bare minimum and a load of stock footage. But no director Val Guest actually did some shooting in the French Pyrenees with a team of professional climbers and a helicopter for the panoramic shots. They even used a cable car for some shots whilst going up and down the mountainous region (Pic du Midi Bigorre). Overall they did a great job with the actors all dressed correctly matching the stunt doubles footage; and the actual real climbing footage looks perfectly believable (well snowy mountains are snowy mountains).

Obviously when we see the actors they are on somewhat obvious sets with somewhat obvious snow. These tend to range from not too bad looking to really quite obvious looking. Its here when the quality of the acting is really put to the test (as with all these old flicks). Can the actors make the hokey sets come alive? Can they make them come across as believable? For the most part that’s a no in all honesty, but that’s all part of the charm with these movies.

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The basic story is of course rather bland and predictable. Cushing is his usual well-spoken, gentlemanly self and never puts a foot wrong. The man is always totally engaging but if I dare to make one negative point, he (generally) always looks and sounds the same. This could be any one of his many horror/thriller characters because he generally plays the same type of chap (wonderfully of course). The rest of the team are kinda your stereotypical Yanks to be honest. They are played as somewhat aggressive, eager to set traps and use guns, no real interest in learning from this marvel of nature. As I’ve already mentioned it’s your typical giant gorilla scenario really, the gun-toting Yanks just wanna make big money and are completely blasè over little things like safety.

One good choice by Guest was to keep the Yeti hidden from view for almost the entire film. We only get to see little snippets of the animal, the odd hand, leg, arm, footprint etc…They don’t reveal anything right up until the finale when we see a couple large lumbering humanoid creatures hidden by shadows. Then just when you think we won’t see anything at all, we get a closeup of one Yeti’s eyes and surrounding fur. I think this was perfect because chances are the entire Yeti suit may have looked crap, plus it leaves more to the imagination. I should point out that the bit of face we do see is actually pretty good, some very good prosthetic work (for the time).

All in all I was relatively engaged here, but I have to admit it was a tad slow. It is entirely predictable in every way and it’s not really very creepy or eerie (probably because everything was light and white). I also didn’t really like the last part of the story surrounding Rollason, bit silly. Its certainly a well made production with quality acting and direction all round, just not overly exciting truth be told. Still worth a watch if you like Hammer productions.

6.5/10

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