Movie Review: Destination Moon

Destination MoonWhen production on Destination Moon began in 1949, everything about the project was state of the art. The great science fiction author Robert Heinlein co-wrote the script (based on his novel Rocketship Galileo) and served as technical adviser. The film’s astronomical visions were realized by Chesley Bonestell, whose artwork virtually defined the look of space travel at the dawn of the rocket era. Destination Moon is even noted in NASA’s official timeline of space-travel history, and almost inevitably won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects. It remains a milestone film, not so much as classic science fiction but–like 2001: A Space Odyssey 18 years later, as an attempt to visualize the reality of space exploration. (To educate the audience on this topic, Woody Woodpecker makes an animated guest appearance, hosting an instructional film on the basics of rocketeering.) Continue reading “Movie Review: Destination Moon”

Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the StarsBattle Beyond the Stars, starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, George Peppard, and a host of others is the story of a young man who ventures out from his pacifist home planet when it comes under attack by the evil tyrant Sador. His mission is to find mercenaries who will come defend Akira and save his people. His vessel, Nell (which reminds me of a flying moose with breasts) is the last corsair in existence and comes with a sharp-tongued artificial intelligence. Continue reading “Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars”

Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Sun

Battle Beyond the SunWe watched a new old movie Friday called Battle Beyond the Sun. It is the U.S. version of Nebo Zovyot, a 1959 Soviet science fiction film directed by Mikhail Karyukov and Aleksandr Kozyr.  At first I thought it was originally an Italian movie — because the astronauts all wore turtlenecks and corduroy jackets under their space suits — but apparently it is Russian, dubbed over in English by bad voice-over artists. Continue reading “Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Sun”

Book Review: The Heretic

The HereticThe Heretic by Lucas Bale is a lead-in novel to his Beyond the Wall series. Surprisingly, it is also Bale’s debut novel.

The story takes place in a distant future, a time when Earth: a planet once teeming with billions of souls is a vague legend at best. The remnants of humanity are now scattered across the galaxy and ruled by a body called the Magistratus: an evil empire that rules through force and subjugation.

The Heretic is set on a planet called Herse, a galactic equivalent of an impoverished third world nation, far from the powerful elite of The Core. Local governance is corrupt, of course, and cruel. The main characters are a boy: one of a handful of survivors from a village that had been “cleansed”, a man known as The Preacher: the reason for the cleansing who teaches heretical precepts about freedom and individuality, and a spaceship captain named Shepherd. The Preacher wasn’t always a preacher and gives hints of a dark background. Shepherd pilots an old, worn freighter as a freelance contractor and seems a combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. Not all of the jobs he takes are entirely honest. Shepherd is drawn into the lives of the villagers as they attempt to flee Herse and in so doing, learns some astonishing things about his ship.

There are shades to the story borrowing from many classic sci-fi works but the one I found most clearly was a pattern from Josh Whedon’s Firefly. Bale acknowledges that influence in his remarks after the end of the novel.   If one must borrow, you might as well borrow from the best.The result is a smart, well written novel that clips right along and keeps the reader fascinated. The characters are strong, the world-building is solid, yet never expository, and the editing (often a sore point with indie publications) is excellent.

If this is Bales debut novel, I can only look forward to the rest of the series with much anticipation. This fella has talent!

The Heretic: Beyond the Wall book 1 is available
for Kindle
and in paperback.

Movie Review: Strange World of Planet X

Strange World of Planet XWe watched a movie called The Strange World of Planet X as our Sci-fi Friday movie, which toured theaters under the title The Cosmic Monsters.  It was quite interesting and a refreshing twist on an old theme.

Here we have a group of scientists doing experiments with intense magnetic fields.  The lead scientist is brilliant, dogmatic and a bit mad.  They are funded by the military which hopes to weaponize their research. The happy little crew is stirred a bit with the addition of a new computer operator, who turns out to be an attractive (and smart) young woman.

Of course it all goes awry and ends up creating giant bugs which begin killing people.  Flying saucers have also been sighted and are blamed for the killer bugs and the atmospheric disturbances.  But in fact, the UFOs are there to help.  I’ll leave it there so I don’t spoil it for you should you want to watch it for yourself.

Internet Movie Data Base (www.IMDB.com) rates it at 5 of 10 stars with 424 ratings and has this to say:

A friendly visitor from outer space warns against conducting experiments with the Earth’s magnetic field, that could mutate insects into giant monsters.

Director: Gilbert Gunn

Writers: René Ray (novel),  Paul Ryder (screenplay)

Stars: Forrest Tucker, Gaby André, Martin Benson | See full cast and crew »

Storyline

At a small, rural British lab, monomaniac Dr. Laird and his staff create ultra-intense magnetic fields. Inexplicably, the apparatus seems to be affecting distant objects, and to be drawing “extra power” from…somewhere. One night, after a “freak” storm, strange and deadly things start happening in Bryerly Woods, and a strange man from “a long way off” appears in the district…concerned about Laird’s pulling down disaster from the skies. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Movie Review: Them!

This week’s Classic Sci-Fi Movie selection was another great example of the 1950’s creature features, except this one stands head & shoulder above its brethren.  Movies like Beginning of the End, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Monster From Green Hell, The Giant Gila Monster prove entertaining in a “so bad they’re good” fashion.  But, despite its Saturday Matinee style title, Them! delivers a crisp and witty script, high quality performances from the actors and some decent special effects – considering that this film was made in 1954.

The premise involves ants in an A bomb testing area that have mutated over the years from the residual radiation to become enormous.  When they begin attacking people on the fringes of this desert area the State Police are baffled by the carnage of what they assume is a homicidal maniac.  A cast of an odd imprint at one scene is sent to the FBI, the FBI in turn sends a pair of scientists to assist in the investigation.  This father-daughter PHD team identify the marauders as giant ants and we’re off on a thrill ride that involves an attempt to exterminate the nest then chasing rogue queen ants across the country in attempt to prevent them from establishing more colonies, producing more queens and threatening humankind as the dominant species on planet Earth.

The stereotypical ‘absorbed scientist’ (Edmund Gwenn) injects wit into several scenes.  And of course the pretty daughter scientist (Joan Weldon) provides some love-interest for the FBI man (James Arness).  There is a climactic battle scene, and a satisfyingly happy ending culminating with the elder Dr. Medford’s warning that as man moves onto the atomic age, he may well encounter more unknowns.  This may not be over.

As would be expected of a vintage movie, there is no excessive gore, no profanity, nudity or sexual situations that would make it unsuitable for viewing with the whole family.  There are a few scenes where, faced with a tense situation, the characters light cigarettes.

For more information, check out the Internet Movie Database listing for Them!  To watch the movie, you can rent it from Amazon as an Instant Download or buy it on DVD. Either way it’s a great choice for some Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi fun.

Originally published Jan 21, 2012  on CinemaRoll.

Review: The Thing from Another World

thing from another worldThis week’s Schlocky Sci-Fi Friday Movie is one of our favorites; a timeless classic of alien monster invasion.

Arctic researchers witness the crash of a flying object and call in the Air Force.  When they investigate the crash site they find what they believe to be a flying saucer embedded in the ice and retrieve a large humanoid alien who had been tossed clear but also trapped in the ice.  Assuming the creature to be dead, they return to their base with it.  But, of course, it is far from being dead.

At their base the creature revives and goes on a rampage.  The lead scientist is determined to communicate with the alien and bucks the military authority.  The situation gets out of control and several members of the party pay for it with their lives.  The thing from another world, then sets about accomplishing what was (apparently) its ghastly mission.  Some of the scientists seem determined to help. Continue reading “Review: The Thing from Another World”

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those movies that leaps immediately to mind when one thinks of great classic sci-fi.  Naturally, modern movie makers must try to better it with a remake.  Here I will compare the original and the remake of this particular sci-fi standard.

The Original

The Day the Earth Stood StillThe original, made in 1951 starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Lock Martin, and Frances Bavier, has become more than a classic: it has become an icon of classic Sci-fi.  This is a bit odd because the movie does not contain any of the usual hallmarks of early Sci-Fi: no massive explosions, no creepy monsters, no flying saucers whizzing around destroying things.  This film made its mark because of superior writing and some truly memorable performances by the cast.

To be clear, there is a flying saucer; but it lands on a park in Washington DC and stays there (in a very non-threatening manner) throughout the movie until its departure at the end.  There is a fairly fearsome robot that could be considered the “monster” of the film except it does not go on a rampage; its role is purely defensive.  And there is an alien, but he’s not some tentacled monster with eight eyes.  In fact, once he gets out of his space suit he is able to walk around the city unnoticed because he looks so human.  Continue reading “Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still”

Alien Trespass

alien trespass, movie reviewAs part of our Simple Life formula, Marie and I have a few standing traditions that help us appreciate one another and enjoy life.  One such is Schlocky Sci-Fi Friday.

Every Friday evening Marie fixes Chinese food and we curl up together on the sofa with our tray tables to eat the Chinese food and watch an old B grade (we prefer the term ‘Classic” ) science fiction movie.   Movies from the 1950’s and 1960’s and in black and white are preferred.  Among our all-time favorites are such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Destination Moon and Rocketship XM but we have a large collection of movies on DVD and VHS, the majority of them Sci-Fi.  Another “classic” joined the file last night.  (No spoilers here)

Continue reading “Alien Trespass”

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of TomorrowThis American pulp adventure, dieselpunk film starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Givanni Ribisi, written and directed by Kerry Conran is his directorial debut.  The action is fast, the dialogue terse and witty, and the characters are larger than life.  The script is very well written and of course, with this cast, the acting is excellent.

Jude Law is the almost superhero, millionaire, mercenary aviator Joseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan who is called upon to save New York City when it comes under attack by giant robots.  Giovanni Ribishi is his brainy scientist/inventor side-kick, Dex.  Gwyneth Paltrow is the old-flame and spunky newspaper reporter, Polly Perkins, who gets pulled back into Joe’s life when she is contacted by a German scientist who is fleeing a mad genius named Totenkoph (Lawrence Olivier) who is bent on destroying the world.  He gives her information vital to Joe and Dex’s quest to find out where the robots came from and what they are after.

Continue reading “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”