Thursday, 9 July 2009

"The Space Amoeba" - Spirit of Ed Wood Blog-a-thon

This post is part of the Spirit of Ed Wood Blog-a-thon happening over at Cinema Styles all this week. Some great posts have already been submitted, so take a look if you haven't already.

I admit that I'm not overly familiar with Ed Wood's oeuvre as a whole - only having seen "Plan 9 From Outer Space" - but I think I can recognize the spirit of Ed: as a director, get your "vision" out there via any means possible as long as your final film stays true to itself. A recent viewing of Ishiro Honda's fun 1970 monster flick "The Space Amoeba" seemed to fit within that ethic.

Now, when you're dealing with a film called "The Space Amoeba" (aka "Yog: The Monster From Space"), you should probably know going into it that you might have to suspend your disbelief at times. Which, of course, is OK. Just because a film doesn't follow the exact letter of all physical laws or have people react exactly as you expect they should, doesn't mean that there's an issue with it. As long as the movie remains consistent with the world in which it has set itself and its characters remain true to themselves, then everything is fine. Within the first few scenes of "The Space Amoeba", you realize you don't have to watch for any sort of consistency - it's making it up as it goes. However, in this case, that's OK. The spirit of Ed prevails.

Honda (director of the original 1954 "Gojira" - ie. "Godzilla") keeps the pace of the film in high gear all the way through and isn't afraid to show you his monsters in all their glory (and frequently at that). The monsters actually look pretty terrific and you can tell a good deal of imagination was put into the design and costumes (the DVD comes with short little documentary features on each of the three main animals on which the monsters are based) and Honda's ability to overlay them with the smaller human characters.

Part of the fun is actually being in on the joke of the monsters typically just being guys in suits, but the rest comes when the sharp piercing scream and squeals of these beings ring out and you briefly forget. It's pretty effective because you're already along for the ride.

But there's one particular sequence that, uh, stands out:

I laughed out loud during that part of the film, but it's not like Honda doesn't realize what he's doing. He needed his audience to see someone actually get lifted up by the monster and if that takes a little frame by frame painting to get the job done, so be it. Need to show rocket ships? Use plastic toy sets...How do you show a space amoeba? Overlay some blue light...Want to make sure your audience enjoys themselves and laughs with the film? Ensure your actors go broad...

The plot goes something like this: The unmanned space probe Helios 7 is on its way to Jupiter when it encounters what appears to be some blue space dust. This foreign substance enters the ship (even though it is completely vacuum sealed) and simply wills the ship to turn around and head back to Earth. We cut to Kudo, a photographer returning to Japan from Brazil, who is reading about the probe having simply disappeared. He begins to ruminate about how life would be off the planet Earth, when he looks out the window and sees Helios 7 falling back into the sea. Though he fails to capture any pictures of the splashdown, he somehow manages to mark the exact spot (with a red 'X') on his small map. This happens to correspond exactly with the location of a small uncivilized (and inhabited by only 80 people) island called Selgio that several developers are hoping to build up as a new resort destination. They ask Kudo to come along with them and take photos of the island. Along for the trip is Dr. Miya (an old friend of Kudo's), a woman developer and a Corporate spy. Once on the island they discover that the islanders fear a large creature called Gezora. With the help of the blue space amoeba, Gezora is now gigantic and its squid-like tentacles cause havoc - especially when it walks on land. That's really all you need to know, except that the amoeba also finds its way to a crab and a turtle.

The residents of the island are mistrusting of the Japanese (the elders insist the younger ones don't deal with those "devils"), but they can all speak the language due the island having been occupied and used during the war. As with "Gojira", Honda can take the simple "monster movie made for entertainment" and still work in a few fairly subtle messages. The Japanese who have come to the island to "civilize" it (ie. to exploit and profit from it) gradually realize that to achieve their goal, they need to actually work with nature instead of against it. So in the end, perhaps we didn't have to quite suspend all of our disbelief.

I think Ed would've liked that.


Greg said...

Boy, I haven't seen this one but it's high on my list just looking at the screengrabs. And expect to see some of those screengrabs in the future with a pun or two attached because I snagged a couple for future banners. This will make a great Friday night movie with the little one. Thanks Bob, I appreciate you contributing this. Great post.

Bob Turnbull said...

Excellent! I'll be checking your banners hourly from now on...B-)

I'll be curious what you think. Even better would be to see a special guest post from your youngest.

Blog-a-thon's been great.