Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954)

So when this movie starts we get the standard introduction for a watery monster flick, a live action shot of the ocean rolling and crashing against the rocks. Over said standard introduction we of course get the opening credits which lists our main players. The interesting thing was, once the credits had finished we get some narration. This narration informs us of where and how this movie was shot. I’ve never come across that before, it was odd to say the least, kinda took you out of the movie…for a moment.

The plot to this deep sea tale is a very basic affair, let me explain in the simplest of terms. Julie, a beautiful young woman (Anne Kimbell) goes on vacation in Mexico. Whilst there she meets young handsome marine biologist Dr. Baldwin (Dick Pinner) and they slowly fall in love. The end…nah only joking.

After Julie hears a mysterious story about the death of a diver she becomes curious and decides to do some digging. Naturally Dr. Baldwin is skeptical but because he loves her so much he goes along with the investigation. After much deliberating, various tests and chats with the locals, the duo eventually discover that there is indeed a large monster on the rampage in this sleepy Mexican coastal region.

So what is the monster you ask? Well its obviously not gonna be a shark, crab or giant eel or whatever because that’s too boring. At first I thought it might be a giant octopus, which we are presented with at one point. Luckily its not that either. During the brave duos investigation they actually discover (by accident) a strange piece of gloop. Now because Dr. Baldwin is of course a scientist he knows exactly what to do, stick it under his trusty microscope. After much important scientific type spiel which I’m sure nobody would really listen too intently, they come to the conclusion its a piece of mutated amoeba. Its right at that moment that you the viewer realises that the large roaming monster is in fact a large mutated amoeba. A result of atomic testing? Actually this time I don’t think so.

Yes the big beastie is actually a large, umm…octopus looking amoeba with one huge comical eye that glows. It looks more like a space alien really. The creature in question looks to be a puppet on strings against an underwater set of varying quality. The creatures large glowing eye is actually pretty cool I thought, definitely brought it to life and gave it some character. Alas it also made it look like a Scooby-Doo monster from the cartoons.

Next to that you of course have a lot of stock footage of various sea creatures and a reasonable amount of underwater sequences shot with real divers. There does in fact appear to be a real sequence where a diver fights off a real shark with a knife, and the production does seem to have and utilise a real minisub. Its also worthy to note that this movie does appear to have a score that closely resembles a certain Steven Spielberg movie. Believe it or not but that famous/infamous musical tune does actually appear in this movie. Not the exact same score of course but its damn close. Hmmm I wonder Mr. Spielberg.

Other than that its all business as usual really. The Mexican locals are all your bog standard, obligatory stereotypes. Horrendous accents, the men have huge moustaches and the women are all old and covered in veils (although the director, Wyott Ordung, is actually the main stereotypical Mexican local). Dr. Baldwin and all the other scientist blokes generally act like male chauvinists, patronising Julie all the time. Julie often speaks sense, is hard working and is willing to go the extra mile to get to the bottom of the mystery. On the other hand Dr. Baldwin merely thinks this is adorable and treats her like a puppy.

Heck there’s even a sequence where Dr. Baldwin serenades Julie on the rocks by the ocean in a highly cringeworthy scene that feels somewhat out of place. Not that it matters because the movie was lost way before this. The reason being its just too boring, nothing really happens…like ever! We only see some monster action right at the very end and even then its woefully brisk. We don’t see any other creatures or people getting eaten, no carcasses, no tension, no thrills, just lots of talk, some romance and underwater jiggery-pokery. Yeah the giant amoeba is kinda fun to look at but there needed to be way way more of it.

3/10

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Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

There have been many tales of the infamous 1789 incident at sea. The 1984 movie with Mel Gibson was by far the most realistic, but I have not seen the 1935 Clarke Gable movie. And then we have this 1962 movie with the one and only Marlon brando. Another American vision of the events but this time a highly fictionalised vision.

So as we all know by now, the story of the HMS Bounty briefly goes like this. The mission of the Bounty and her crew was to reach Tahiti, pick up a cargo of breadfruit and take it to the Caribbean (amongst other things). Upon reaching Tahiti and whilst carrying out their mission, the crew slowly become infatuated with the tropical lifestyle. The prospect of many more months at sea and going back to the cold island of the United Kingdom seemed bleak (can’t blame them). Once the crew do set sail once again months later, tensions are running high and eventually boil over with half the crew backing 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian. They cast Captain Bligh and his loyal men adrift and head back to Tahiti. Arriving back at Tahiti they aren’t welcomed as much as they were before by the natives. Christian and his crew realise that the British Navy will come for them and Tahiti will be their first port of call. So once again the mutineers set sail and eventually end up on Pitcairn Island, their new home for the rest of their lives.

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So that’s pretty much how things went officially (I believe), but that’s not how this movie went, oh no. Lets cut straight to the chase here, apparently Marlon Brando took the reigns on this film without telling anyone, including the original director Carol Reed. He just assumed control and caused a bit of a shitstorm. I won’t go into the complete ups and downs of the situation behind the camera but I believe this heavily fictionalised version of the story was down in part to Brando. Mainly Brando changing his mind on what he wanted to see, his lines, the script as a whole etc…Just the entire shoot in general.

The fact that Brando wasn’t even a good match for the young Christian kinda makes it even worse really. Fletcher Christian was a young, fresh faced man with thick dark curly/wavy hair and pale skin, a typical Brit essentially. Brando had blonde straight hair, was very tanned and was shorter than Christian. Brando clearly had problems with the accent which is cringeworthy to listen to these days and he portrayed Christian as a bit of a dandy. Sure he was dashing and admittedly an actor doesn’t have to be a clone copy of a historical figure for sure, but come on guys.

What’s really terrible is the fact that you can spot the sequences in the film which are fiction (if you know the story that is). For starters, there is absolutely nothing in this film that shows us the relationship between Fletcher Christian (Brando) and the native girl he fell for. One of the main reasons Christian is thought to have mutinied was for the love of a native girl on Tahiti, along with the lifestyle. But this is absent here, Christian seems to just mutiny because he doesn’t like Captain Bligh (Trevor Howard) and how he runs the ship, which was part of the issue but not all of it.

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This leads into Captain Bligh’s relationship with Christian as a whole. There is no relationship here, its ignored and Bligh is shown to be a vicious cruel man. Once again this is far from the truth. Bligh and Christian were known to be friends before this mission and carried on being friends throughout. Bligh was not an evil dictator who had men beaten for little reason. He may have been strict and ran a tight ship but this was very common. But in this movie Bligh is portrayed as a merciless madman, its not that long into the voyage that Bligh has one of the men lashed. Don’t get me wrong, Trevor Howard is wonderful as Bligh, his harsh, cocky, elitist persona is practically infuriating as he struts around having men keelhauled and lashed left right and centre. Its just unfortunate that this portrayal is completely wrong and almost on a superhero level of wickedness.

Keelhauled by the way was a punishment at sea where a man was restrained in rope and via a manpower pulley system, dragged along the underneath of a ships hull. Mainly port to starboard or vice versa. Once again I don’t believe this actually happened on the Bounty. Much like Bligh’s other punishments of restricting water and food rations, may have happened but I haven’t read about it.

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Some of the other evil scenes from Bligh are comical they really are. He deliberately packs the ship with twice the amount of breadfruit to look good to his superiors. But in order to accommodate this he reduces the water storage on-board. To punish the men for drinking too much water he has the drinking ladle hung from main sail rigging, so if anyone wanted a drink they’d have to climb the rigging to get the ladle. There is also a scene where Bligh is stabbed! And punched by Christian (giving Brando a conveniently butch heroic moment to revel in).

I have to mention the films finale because its literally a complete joke. According to this movie adaptation Christian and his mutineer crew do indeed reach Pitcairn Island to set up shop so to speak. But then Christian decides he and his mates should return to old blighty to face the consequences and testify against Bligh and his evil actions. The other mutineers are naturally shocked by this and decide to take matters into their own hands, they go about setting the Bounty on fire. Christian and a few others try to save the vessel but fail. Christian is mortally wounded in the process which conveniently gave Brando a juicy death sequence to revel in. This ending literally shocked me, my mouth was wide open in horror at the utter disrespect and sheer amount of pure bullshit.

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Visually the movie is incredible looking, partially shot on location in the South Pacific. The scenery, the bold colours…the lush greens and blue skies, the landscapes etc…You can’t deny these old movies could look utterly sumptuous despite being nonsensical. The Bounty was also recreated for the movie and it too looks fantastic set against the rolling blue Pacific ocean. Some shots, like the 84 movie, are so beautiful, they could be framed and on your wall. It was also very cool to see a sequence/shot that replicates the famous 1790 painting (by Robert Dodd) of Bligh and co set adrift whilst the mutineers toss breadfruit overboard.

Whilst I have to admit I did enjoy this movie, mainly down to the visuals and classic story, it is horrendously flawed as I’ve explained. All the acting is reaching an epic level as you would expect for an old silver screen classic such as this, despite all the fictional claptrap. The extra scenes set against bluescreens is unfortunately very obvious though, as are the wigs the actors are wearing because they had all had their haircut since wrapping (kinda amusing actually). In short, the scale of this production is epic, it looks epic, the cast are epic and the acting is just about reaching epic levels. Alas they butchered the story turning it from a potentially historically accurate epic, into a corny Hollywood epic. But if you love these golden oldies (as I do) then this will satisfy you I guarantee. My score reflects the loss of historical accuracy which I can’t overlook.

6.5/10

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The Neptune Factor (1973)

OK let me just start by saying, this films opening credits sequence looks so cool. The way they have rendered the movies title, text and colour wise, is super sweet. I realise this is a minor thing but I notice these little things and this just looked nice to me, kudos.

Anyway so what the heck is this all about? The title could be mistaken for a hardcore fantasy flick or a hardcore space set sci-fi flick. It is in fact a sci-fi movie all about deep sea exploration and research, dare I say a kind of very early version of ‘The Abyss’…kinda. But don’t get too excited because this movie isn’t that awesome. The plot is set deep deep beneath the ocean waves (Off Nova Scotia, north Atlantic) where a small team of scientists research undersea earthquakes. Ironically the undersea lab they are all living in gets hits by an earthquake which sends the lab tumbling down a deep ocean trench. Luckily just before this happened a few team members were leaving the lab for their leave, so now they must go back down to try and save the remaining stranded team members. Time is of the essence.

So this is an early 70’s movie and boy can you tell. All the blokes look like amateur porn stars and their hair is…lets just say dated. Its really quite amusing to see all these blokes clearly with receding hairlines but trying their best to pretend otherwise. But the women don’t get off that easy either, its quite hilarious to watch Yvette Mimieux’s hair change from scene to scene. She clearly has curly/wavy hair and has it straightened here, so in one scene you can see its been straightened (with the usual static electricity side effects). Then in the same scene but seconds later it might be all over the place as if someone just ruffed it all up.

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The technology is also fun to observe, indeed its incredible to think we could do such things back then with such outrageously dated equipment (same with the moon landing). The small submarine the team use looks quite agreeable, in other words it looks like what you’d expect a small deep sea sub to look like these days, but chunkier. Its all the internal controls which makes you smile, the array of big coloured buttons, huge metal gear-like controls and levers, massively dated VHS looking recording equipment and monitors etc…Its all so corny looking but also so heartwarming. Of course much of it may be pure fantasy and artistic license, I don’t know what the cockpit of a deep sea sub would look like so….

But here’s the thing, from the start of this movie you kinda assume its gonna be a realistic take on deep sea research. Apparently producer Sanford Howard did a lot of research himself to try and show a highly realistic vision of oceanographic research, aquanauts and the danger they encounter. For the most part this all goes well…right up to the point when they go down the deep sea trench and discover gigantic monster sized fish, anemones, crustaceans etc…All of a sudden we go from a pretty technical looking flick with real threats and real science, to an all out fantasy flick with giant crabs. Worth mentioning the fish are actually tropical yet the ocean is the Atlantic, hmmm. The crew do mention the bottom of the trench being warmed by undersea volcanoes though, but still, hmmm.

Truth be told this was a lifeline for the movie because up until that point everything had been going pretty slowly. But do the various giant sea entities help matters? Well again not really because nothing actually happens. They go down the trench, they encounter giant creatures, watch them through their viewport and that’s it. The giant fish merely swim past or have a nose, the crabs and lobster merely walk around, sea anemones react as they do and that’s it. One crab does try to push the sub around a bit, as does a fish, and apart from losing power for a short time that’s about the height of the excitement you get folks. Don’t get me wrong its still kinda fun in a cheesy, Doug McClure kinda way, but its also underwhelming. Really wanted someone to venture outside and get eaten.

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Effects wise its a mixed bag. All the internal sub sets and gear looks really good, very authentic. The equipment the crew use, their outfits, terminology, the oceanlab, ships on the surface etc…its all spot for the time. They do in fact use real minisubs, ships, cranes, undersea labs etc…its all real footage and at the start they clearly shot underwater for a time (using stunt doubles). As the movie proceeds underwater for the exploration things continue to look good within the minisub, I have no complaints here. Apart from the obviously dated equipment it all looks really neat and nicely claustrophobic. The problems start when the crew discover the giant sea creatures, which are actually real creatures not made up monsters (alas). All they have done here is shoot real footage of real creatures and fish, then blown up that footage and used rear projection against the actors to give the impression the fish are huge. At the same time they also used small models of the minisub against real sized fish which looked so flippin’ cute. Remember when you’d put little toys into your goldfish tank…there you go.

Another major issue I had with the movie is how the oceanlab got to its final resting place in the deep sea trench. There was an earthquake and we see the lab topple down the side of the trench, OK. So the lab will presumably just go straight down and crash at the bottom, supposedly implode too it was mentioned but that never happens for some reason. When the minisub ventures down into the trench the crew discover an undersea world, they’re travelling for quite some distance along this trench floor apparently. When they eventually find the lab it feels like they’ve being searching for miles and miles, so how did the lab somehow go all this way? Also when they find the lab the survivors are outside fighting giant eels…but but the pressure??

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The movies poster is epic, it drew me in, I knew I had to see this. Alas the movie doesn’t quite live up to said poster, something I have grown accustomed to with these old movies. But nevertheless the movie is still a fun time it must be said. Part of this is down to the hilarious performances from the cast. Ben Gazzara’s over acting as he tries his very best to be this tough, macho, über cool, smooth talkin’ deep voiced sub Commander. I haven’t seen anyone try to look so cool in front of the camera for some time, loved it. Then of course we’ve got the legendary Ernest Borgnine as one of the oceanlab crew, a chief diver. What can I say? The man is epic, he looks his usual gruff self and what’s left of his hair literally goes everywhere when its wet, brilliant stuff. I just adore how bad hair was back in the 70’s. Naturally you can’t have an adventure movie without a bit of young totty to show off, hence Yvette Mimieux and her flowing locks.

If you like classics like ‘Fantastic Voyage’ then this movie will be right up your particular alley of enjoyment. Yes it might be hokey as hell, kinda lethargic and the threats aren’t really that threatening. Yes you aren’t gonna feel that much tension or excitement with this movie, but its still a good old fashioned romp.

6.5/10

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

K so this movie is of course yet another adaptation of a young adult/teen book that I’ve never heard of. I guess there’s no reason why I should have heard of it though seeing as I am neither a young adult or teen, I digress. The title of the movie (and book) is admittedly pretty cool, indeed the whole vibe I got from this movie did kinda remind me of the 2004 movie ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Serious of Unfortunate Events’. At the same time it also got me thinking along the lines of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Funnily enough a quirky little book about weird monstrous children by the one and only Tim Burton. So it was of no surprise to me at all that Tim Burton ended up directing this movie (which is almost a rip-off of his ‘Oyster Boy’ book in part).

So, very briefly, the film is set in Wales of all places and sees young boy Jake (Asa Butterfield) learning about the mysterious school for peculiar children from his grandfather. After his grandfather dies in a very disturbing way Jake travels to Wales to look for the school, following instructions from his grandfather. Jake discovers that the old school was destroyed during WWII, but through a set of mysterious (this word will pop up a lot) circumstances which include a time portal, Jake goes back to 1943. A time when the school was in its prime. Turns out the school and its students all live within an infinite time loop (the same day in 1943), created by Miss Peregrine, where they never age, solely to avoid persecution from the outside world. Jake also learns of monsters called Hollowgasts (disfigured peculiars) led by the evil shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). These monsters led by Barron hunt down ‘peculiars’ (or ‘Ymbrynes’) for their eyes. They consume the eyes which enable them to retain their powers and human form (which apparently makes them ‘Wights’). Did you get all that??

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So lets take a quick look at the peculiar children (children with paranormal abilities). Now even though society has discriminated against these kids, rejected them out of fear, their powers are clearly of benefit to them. Its the classic narrative, the kids have special powers which are seen as negative in the film, but to you the viewer they come across as actually being really cool. Wouldn’t we all like a special power. And if any of this sounds familiar…yes it is indeed exactly the same notion as Marvels X-Men.

So anyway who’s who. Notably there are characters that clearly play an important role in the movie with their powers, and others that do not. Emma Bloom is aerokinetic, meaning she can manipulate air, breathe under water and she floats because she’s lighter than air oddly. These powers seem pretty useful. Enoch O’Connor can resurrect the dead and make inanimate objects come to life, very useful. Olive Abroholos Elephanta (say what?) is pyrokinetic meaning she’s basically Pyro from the X-Men. Very useful power. Millard Nullings is the invisible boy, say no more, highly useful power. Bronwyn Bruntley is a little girl with superhuman strength, highly useful power. Fiona Frauenfeld can control plant life, so she’s basically Poison Ivy. Reasonably useful power.

The you have Hugh Apiston is a little boy with…umm…bees in his stomach…what now? Pretty bizarre and useless power here methinks. Claire Densmore has a mouth full of razor sharp teeth…on the back of her head. K…errr, whatever. And finally the two very young twins (no names apparently) who are both in fact gorgons. You know, a creature that can turn living things into stone, Medusa. Yeah well these two little terrors can do just that and have to wear masks all the time. Chilling power right there folks.

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So whilst most of this X-Kids team have some pretty sweet special powers that would obviously come in handy in times of peril. Four of them seem utterly useless to me frankly, in fact I wouldn’t even call them paranormal powers but more circus freaks. I get that’s all part of the story but it just comes across as odd that the author would give half the kids solid powers and the other half useless powers, so useless to the point that those characters needn’t even be in the book. Why would shooting bees out of your mouth be of any use unless you lived in a Nintendo platform game.

As for the bad guys, they were all peculiars originally I think (including Mr. Barron who’s power is shapeshifting), but the failed experiment disfigured them. Now they hunt down peculiars for their eyes (yes eyes) because some how that enables them to retain human form. I’m not sure why they are called Hollowgasts though, considering they are merely disfigured peculiars. Not sure why they all look the same or why they look like large demonic Jack Skellington’s? Probably because Tim Burton directed the movie (or maybe they look like that in the book). I’m also not sure why they are referred to as Wights when in human form when again, essentially…they are still peculiars. I dunno, I’m probably getting it wrong. Lets not forget that peculiars are actually called Ymbrynes just to make things even more confusing.

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So aside from the myriad of characters and funny names what is the movie actually like? Well quite frankly its your typical Harry Potter-esque adventure really. I really do hate referring back to Harry Potter but unfortunately that franchise pretty much set the ball rolling for children/young teen book adaptations so its hard not to. But yes in general the fantasy element of the movie along with the children does all seem very familiar these days. Don’t get me wrong its not the exact same kind of fantasy with unicorns and goblins or whatever (in this one movie anyway, unsure about the book), but there are many similar elements involving magic, sorcery, shapeshifting, monsters etc…

Clearly Burton revels in the kids with quirky paranormal powers and of course the visuals. As you would expect the whole movie has that dark twisted fairytale vibe about it, helped by the WWII setting of course. Some of the kids are gaunt looking, slender, dare I say a bit goth with period attire in typical Burton colours. Its not blatant Burton but you can still detect it. The baddies look more Burton-esque as they are generally dressed in black and look more like vampires. Overall not a lot actually happens in the movie action wise, there are obviously some action sequences but nothing much of note. Obligatory sequences where the Hollowgasts attack the kids whilst they try to escape, the predictable showdown at the finale where Barron and co are defeated.

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The whole sequence where they discover a huge sunken ship (ocean liner) and then proceed to raise it seemed a bit ludicrous even for this universe. Sure these kids have weird powers and I mock by mentioning the X-Men but at this point the movie does actually go full X-Men. Then in the finale there is a long battle against some animated skeletons which all seem rather stupid really. How strong were these skeletons geez! There is of course lots of time jumping between 1943 and the present, the setting being the UK does actually give the whole movie a cheaper look which I’m sure wasn’t the idea. Indeed the whole idea that these kids and Miss Peregrine have to live in an infinite time loop just to avoid the general public’s negative opinion of them seemed a bit daft to me. I mean surely you could just live somewhere secluded? Also this specific point in time is just before the school gets destroyed by German planes (WWII remember), so everyday they have to prevent this by winding back time. I mean, couldn’t you just chooses a earlier point in time?

The problem here is I haven’t read the book and like many of these fantasy books there is probably a lot more to it, more books and things that have been cut out. These types of movies always seem to raise so many questions also, questions and confusion. Like, when the Wights have successfully killed all the peculiars and run out of eyes, then what? I mean…I dunno, its not a bad movie, its perfectly entertaining to a degree, but everything is so by the numbers, so mediocre. The visuals are nice but predictable, the acting is fine, the effects are pretty bog standard CGI stuff apart from a nice small sequence of stop motion. The bad guys are spooky looking and generically bad, the Hollowgast monsters are unoriginal looking, a mix of Jack Skellington and [i]Resident Evil[/i] creatures, oh and Tim Burton makes a cameo.

There was a time when a Tim Burton movie meant something, it was almost like an event. Nowadays its more like yet another corny gothic escapade drenched in gaudy CGI. Admittedly this movie isn’t quite as bad as that, its definitely more grounded looking. But with a plot that becomes more convoluted as it goes (all these stupid names), weak humour and very generic villains, its just not really good enough to stand out within a packed genre. Its also clearly unsure in which direction it wants to go, dark fantasy or light-hearted fantasy. I dunno, I still can’t escape my feeling that Burton only made this movie because he liked just one aspect of it, the kids with peculiar powers. That aspect comes across nicely here, I wanted more of that, the rest of it not so much.

6/10

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Journey to the Beginning of Time (aka Cesta do pravěku, CZ, 1955)

Although this may sound like your typical Doug McClure type romp, is it in fact something a little more original. Directed by the famous Czech animator Karel Zeman, the film is actually more of a documentary first and an adventure second. The plot surrounds a group of four young boys in a boat who journey down a river and into a mysterious cave. When they emerge from within the cave they find themselves back in time in a primeval landscape. As they slowly travel down the river they soon realise they are in fact travelling back through the Earth’s various time periods, back through time, to the beginning of time itself.

Interestingly, the movie I am reviewing here is in fact the American version from 1966. This US version has a different title, has obviously been dubbed and has new footage added. The footage was shot in 66, New York, and gives a different opening (and ending) for the four boys (obviously a different cast of boys). Here they go to the American Natural History Museum and, apparently, all fall asleep together (or imagine together?) and have the same dream, the dream being their boat trip through time. That being said, the film also seems to hint at the possibility of a Native American statue possibly hypnotising or casting a spell on them, it isn’t too clear.

Anyway the Czech film was originally called ‘Cesta do Pravêku’ and you do see the majority of that film with the US version, its just the beginning and end that are cut. I have titled my review with the US version/part English translation simply because that is probably how its best remembered. The 1966 US footage of the boys for the beginning and end of the film is generally fine. The two sequences blend in relatively well, although I’d like to see the original film footage too.

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This film was quite unusual for the time due to its documentary angle. Aimed squarely at children the film is more of an educational feature rather than an all out adventure. Yes there are sequences of exploration and danger for the four boys, but essentially each time period, with its own unique inhabitants, is discussed or narrated by the boys to relay information to you, the viewer. Most of the time the boys are drifting along in their longboat, a safe distance from the various mammals and dinosaurs they witness. At times they do get into minor trouble, they do come ashore and they do explore further interacting with some creatures and plant life. There are no dinosaur battles, guns, human fatalities, blonde dames or atomic bombs in this feature.

Apart from the unique educational aspect of the film, it was Zeman’s fantastic stop-motion animation that was the real crowd-pleaser. Turns out that Zeman was a master of stop-motion, the European equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. His combination of stop-motion clay models and 2D hand drawn profile images was pretty ingenious and new at the time, I think. Where many Hollywood movies would use stop-motion models for their monsters or beasties, usually against other models or a matte painting, Zeman actually combined the two. So what you would see is a static hand drawn profile image of a dinosaur, but with a stop-motion head and neck (all against a small model set and rear projection live action shot of the actors). It sounds very basic and cheap but believe me it looks great and you’d never notice it, you’d swear you were looking at a full model. Zeman would also combine static paintings of creatures and their landscapes with just one lone fully animated model.

Not just content with that, Zeman and his crew also created numerous full sized puppets for some dinosaur sequences. Generally this would simply be a full sized head or body for some close up shots. There are two sequences of a dinosaur head and mammoth body breaking the water which are basic puppets. Zeman and co also created full sized prehistoric plant life, one prehistoric lizard thing that looked like a Muppet, and one full sized dead stegosaurus which looked really fantastic. The four boys inspect this dead dinosaur, the scale of the body along with the paint detail is really impressive. Not only that but it did get me thinking, did a certain Steven Spielberg see this film and copy this scene?

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So it turns out that Zeman was a master of animation and visual trickery, but he also drew inspiration from others. For the most part Zeman got his visual inspiration from famous Czech paleoartist Zdenêk Burian. Burian was/is well known for his incredible artwork surrounding all manner of prehistoric life and ecosystems. Pretty much all of the 2D matte painting and dinosaur profile work was based off Burian’s imagery. Its clear to see if you compare Burian’s artwork with the films prehistoric landscapes, much of the films imagery looks like animated artwork.

Concerning the plot, well naturally I did find myself asking why on earth these boys didn’t ever turn back, I mean surely you’d maybe have a look around and then go back through the cave right, for safety reasons. But no, off they go, cruising down the river into the unknown and eventually camping out! Not too sure where they got the wood from for that campfire either, seeing as they were in an ice age. Now I think of it, how did they not freeze to death?? (they’re wearing shorts). OK, so its all completely ridiculous how these boys don’t actually end up getting eaten, bitten, stung or mauled to death by some prehistoric monster, poisonous insect or early plant life. I guess we should look past that, but hey after all, these are 50’s kids, a lot tougher than kids today, more world savvy too, probably.

I was genuinely taken aback by this film and its visuals. Granted the film quality wasn’t too good and if you saw this on bluray I would imagine all the tricks and faults would be easily exposed. But the sheer scope along with obvious care and attention to detail is astonishing. The four boys do a sterling job with their acting considering they are mostly acting against nothing and this is a 1955 film (acting not always too good). The story is as basic as it gets but again it doesn’t matter because firstly, its supposed to be educational, and secondly, its all so wonderfully charming and gorgeous to look at. Any stop-motion fan needs to see this its as simple as that. Some of the animals and creatures we see are admittedly a bit jerky, a bit rough around the edges (on close up), but most are superbly created and animated (a galloping herd of giraffes for one).

This film is unique in many ways, its an eye-opener and a very pleasant surprise. If you’re expecting rampaging dinosaurs fighting other giant insectoid-like monsters with screaming damsels, I hear you and I understand your cravings. But no, this is not the film you’re looking for. This is virtually like one of those films you would watch inside a museum or theme park. You are presented with mammals and dinosaurs actually normally in their proper environments, as observed by the four boys. It offers some simple thrills but its mainly for teaching or introducing the young to the fascinating world of palaeontology (with the information known in the mid 50’s).

9/10

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King Dinosaur (1955)

Move over Godzilla and King Kong, welcome to the planet Nova where there are lots of giant…umm…iguanas, yeah, take that. Yeah the poster makes this look like a Godzilla type flick but really it isn’t, alas.

OK so you might think the plot to this would be obvious, well it is and it isn’t. For some reason a planet moves into close proximity of the Earth, close enough for 1960’s humans to reach after some tech building. This is the planet Nova and amazingly it appears to be just like Earth. So a team of astronauts are sent to explore Nova (three blokes and one woman, usual thing). Once they touchdown on Nova they discover that its basically a virtual clone of Earth. There are trees, water, animals, plants, a breathable atmosphere…the works! Its only as they start to explore deeper into the lush wilderness that this new world unleashes its hidden secrets. And by that I mean the planet is home to large reptiles just in case you missed the flippin’ poster (ugh!).

The beginning of this film is pretty bad I’ll be honest, you like stock footage? well you’ll like this then. Honesty the first like…10 minutes of the movie is stock footage whilst having the plot narrated to you. Sure the stock footage is interesting like most old black and white stock footage, but my God its a cheap and tacky move to pull, real Ed Wood type stuff. Eventually once all the corny narration and stock footage has finished we are slung straight into it, we’re already on planet Nova as the astronauts are stepping out onto the planet surface.

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Planet Nova, the most convenient plot device ever. A planet that, somehow, just moves into our galaxy, just close enough to Earth for reasons unknown. Not only that, this planet is teeming with life, water and a breathable atmosphere, the perfect home for humans. Now when I say teeming with life, I mean the exact same lifeforms you’d find here on Earth such as armadillos, alligators, snakes, various birds, bears, sloths, elk or reindeer etc…Of course no alien planet would be complete without some form of monsters. Planet Nova doesn’t let you down as there are…umm…giant alligators, giant armadillos, giant wasps? (I think it was) and a giant mammoth?? Wut??? I should point out that almost all of these creatures are stock footage.

Of course the main beasties on the planet are the giant iguanas that terrorise our human protagonists. Unlike all the other creatures these iguanas are actually not stock footage but in fact real live action footage of iguanas on sets/models. Admittedly the sets/models they bound across are merely rocky terrain set ups, nothing spectacular. The actors are shot on a separate plate with the iguana footage behind them on a rear projection. When this isn’t happening we simply get footage of the iguanas doing what iguanas do, interspersed with shots of the humans reacting. This effects method has been used before on many other fantasy movies and while it can be visually effective at times (when the reptiles sit still against a nice background for instance), generally it looks all wrong because the iguanas simply move too fast to be supposed ginormous monsters. They generally look too obvious as small lizards on model sets, no proper illusion of weight.

The big question is why does Planet Nova have all these typically Earth bound creatures? Not to mention Earth-like trees, plants, soil…and prehistoric creatures. Lets not go there OK, just sit back and enjoy the nonsense. Anyway so the astronauts spend most of their time just lounging around and doing whatever. They leave the safety of their ship, go off into the wilderness and set up a camp? Wouldn’t it be safer going back to the ship? Whilst at this camp they are attacked by a giant wasp or ant and an alligator, yet they still remain at the camp. Luckily they seem to have everything they need to survive on this alien planet, a rifle, plasters, bandages, a raft, errr…tinned food. Seriously they have a huge spaceship with advanced technology, why the fuck are they living like the Swiss Family Robinson and not using the ship??

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So eventually they go off to check out a mysterious island shrouded in cloud. Spoiler alert, this is where all the nasty monsters live, the change in music denotes this in case you’re not sure. So the brave male leads the screaming female into the jaws of death and back again, whilst also avoiding that pesky mammoth. But the only way to escape these giant alien iguanas is to blow them to kingdom come. Luckily the astronauts have an atomic bomb for just such an occasion. They set the bomb and run like crazy. Luckily they manage to just get clear of the atomic explosion that wipes out this entire island and every alien lifeform on it. Good job they had that raft to escape in time.

So effectively, the humans have landed on this alien world, explored it, discovered a shittonne of life…and then blown half of it to pieces with an atomic bomb. All in a days work for the human race huh. One has to ask what the point of exploration was if they were just gonna nuke everything at the first sign of danger. We don’t find out what happens after this of course. No clue how the blast affects the planet later on, if the humans go back to wipe out more alien life so they can colonise it, or maybe they just use it as a vast hunting ground for sport. I think this movie is kinda depressing really, it shows how destructive humans are and exposes all our bad traits (for the time, but have we gotten any better?). There is little to praise really, the effects are pretty sparse, nothing special at all. The acting is poor, WAY too much stock footage, like the most ever! No effort for the alien planet visually, they literally went out and filmed in the countryside somewhere and plot is ludicrous. The only decent thing about this movie is the wicked title.

2/10

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Oh boy! another live action remake/reboot type scenario from Disney, because that’s what we want and need (ugh!). Well at least they took an old forgotten movie which wasn’t really too good, because at least that makes some sense (glances at the movies in the queue awaiting their turn…I feel your pain, I really do).

So the original 1977 movie was a musical with a classic cast and is commonly known to be Disney’s attempt at riding on the coattails of its earlier success ‘Mary Poppins’. Its at this point I will admit that I have never actually seen the 1977 movie of Peter and his dragon, so I cannot compare. Essentially I’m going into this franchise remake/reboot blind which makes a change, primarily because I can’t rip this new version apart compared to the original (bugger).

So the story goes like this. A young boy is orphaned when his family are involved in a car crash whilst driving though the forest, somewhere in the pacific north west I believe. Its at this point that the young Peter accidentally meets a mysterious dragon who decides to take Peter in and care for him, for some reason. Six years later and Peter is found by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a park ranger, her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), Natalie (Oona Laurence), Jack’s daughter, and Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother. They take Peter in and try to care for him but naturally Peter has difficulties coping without Elliot (Peter named the dragon Elliot after a character in his favourite book). Eventually Elliot the dragon is discovered and captured by Gavin and his work colleges (after tricking Grace). So Grace, Natalie and Pete must help Elliot escape the authorities, long story short.

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So this movie isn’t an original premise, in fact you could look at it as a complete rip-off of a few other genres and ideas. Firstly, this could so easily have been a Steven Spielberg movie, its basically ‘E.T.’ for Pete’s sake (ahem). A young boy finds a mysterious creature, they make friends, they get discovered and the boy must help the creature evade the authorities. Not only that but this movie is set in the 80’s, coincidence? The entire set up of this movie is your standard emotional ride with all the familiar beats that we’ve seen a million times before (usually with animals, aliens or whatever). Kid finds a family, unique friend is an added extra.

Then you have the Tarzan aspect of the film, yes that’s right, Tarzan. The young Pete lives in the forest with Elliot the dragon. He runs around in just some ripped pants, no top, no socks, no shoes, long hair, barefoot, very grubby. Both he and Elliot leap, bound and fly around the forest without a care in the world.

At no point do either of them ever get seen, even when flying through the skies in broad daylight and the fact there’s a lumberjack work crew not so far away, but whatever. When young Pete comes across a young Natalie it might as well be a young Tarzan meeting a young Jane, literally. Its also weird how Pete has seemingly never ever thought about finding help after the car accident. Just ran off into the woods with a large mythical creature, who cares about my folks right.

The funny thing is Elliot the dragon isn’t really in the film all that much. He’s there at the start when we get the Tarzan sequences and he’s there for the climatic finale of course. But for much of the middle section Elliot is not around because we are dealing with Pete and his new family (Grace and Jack who find him). Is that a problem? no, it shouldn’t be, but alas here I do think we needed to see more hijinks with Pete and Elliot. More actual fun happy moments of tomfoolery perhaps.

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The film looks great with its woody setting, small American as apple pie town (with 80’s visage), and the cast act well, but again there are problems. There are too many big names here methinks. Bryce Dallas Howard is perfect as Grace the caring mother type. Wes Bentley is fine as the bearded outdoors father type. Oona Laurence is maybe too good as the daughter who befriends Pete because she simply doesn’t act like a child.

Dunno if Laurence is like this is reality but its like a mature woman trapped in a child’s body, weird. Then you have Karl Urban as the brother who initially seems fine, then becomes the bad guy, but is then forgiven for everything it seems. Urban is too bigger name for this role if you ask me. Maybe they should have swapped Bentley and Urban around, have Urban as the father and Bentley as the brother/baddie (he has that look). But then on top of all that you have Robert Redford shoehorned in as Grace’s father, the old man who knows about the dragon but no one believes (couldn’t get more cliched if you tried).

Bottom line there are too many characters and the movie can’t decide which character you should be following. Considering the movies title is ‘Pete’s Dragon’ you’d think it would focus completely on Pete, well no, no it doesn’t. But that might be a good thing because the kid playing Pete (Oakes Fegley…Oakes??) isn’t that good. His performance just isn’t very compelling. He’s always looking miserable, always pulling a scowling face and looks stupid with the wig. I never really got any kind of fun vibes from him.

Elliot the dragon isn’t the best looking dragon I’ve ever seen to be frank, but it does the job. Obviously the movie is supposed to be a serious take but at times it doesn’t look that way with a daft looking, big green furry dragon that can become invisible. The plot is as old as the hills, its not exactly a fun filled film, its a tad dull, not enough dragon action and there are too many protagonists. OK OK look, this film is fine, its your standard emotional, heart-string tugger with lashings of your standard CGI fluff. Its completely and utterly as safe as houses for the family to watch, no doubt about that. I just think its too safe, literally paint by numbers.

5.5/10

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