Monday, September 7, 2009

Trouble in the Lab

(Cross-posted from my local blog at http://www.areavoices.com/vinyl/)

The Green Slime (1968)

Filmed in Toei's Tokyo studio with mostly American actors, The Green Slime has one of the best theme songs of all time, with a psychedelic guitar and lyrics like "Is it just something in your head? Will you believe it when you're DEAD?"

Director Kinji Fukasaku clearly had an impressive amount of cult film range. He later directed Battle Royale, the extremely violent but thought-provoking tale of schoolchildren forced to fight to the death for the nation's entertainment. (In fact, his last credit before his death in 2003 was Battle Royale 2). Battle Royale just got a recent publicity jump, at the top of Quentintino's list of "Top 20 films of the last 17 years" that's being quoted all over the place. There's a whole slew of samurai and Yakuza films in his oeuvre as well and, also in 1968, the famous noir thriller Black Lizard (based on the novel by Edogawa Rampo). Starring a transvestite as the femme fatale, this movie was rare on VHS and is still non-existent on DVD.

The storyline of The Green Slime oddly prefigures both the (much later) blockbusters Armageddon and Alien, as if the former movie's entirety were just the set-up for the potentially worse threat of the latter. When Commander Rankin starts talking about destroying the space station Gamma, I couldn't help but think of Sigourney Weaver's deadpan "It's the only way to be sure" and "They can bill me."

In short, a team of astronauts is sent to blow up an enormous asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and inadvertently bring back a speck of the green goo that was glowing and pulsing all over the asteroid surface. Before long, the slime is everywhere, reproduceing rapidly from drops of its own blood. (In a Godzilla-like twist, the slime grows and heals itself with the application of electricity ... which is if course the life's blood of the space station as well, leading to lots of sparks and attacks on power sources). When the slime creatures grow to full size, they somewhat resemble the Jagaroth (an alien race from the Doctor Who story "City of Death"), who were also green and one-eyed. In addition to their tentacles and lethal electric shocks, the aliens emit some truly creepy electronic squeals, too. While the film perhaps suffers from bringing them too much out into the harsh light, exposing their rubber-suit nature instead of attempting to cloud it in smoke or darkness, I have to give it some respect for saying upfront, "Yup, these are our monsters. Deal with it."

The whole subplot about responsibility is also very Alien; Rankin is very strict on things like the quarantine procedure. In contrast, his old friend (and romantic rival) Elliott strives to remain more human, concerned with things like loyalty and compassion. Rankin's tough, hard-nosed quality may be necessary to keep the majority of the crew alive during times of crisis, but it clearly takes a toll on him and his personal life. Elliott's more emotional approach to life makes him vulnerable to making mistakes (as well as leading to a measure of self-doubt), but is ultimately what makes him heroic.

Speaking of that love triangle: the crowds of extras wear sensible space station uniforms (blue, orange, white), except for the love interest, who very much sticks out in a sleeveless silver foil pantsuit. Wowza! Then, in a victory party complete with champagne and '60s go-go music, lots of the girls cavort in amazing op art dresses, and bouffant hair-dos that would fit right in on the original starship Enterprise.

The old-school sci-fi effects take a lot of hits from modern critics, but while "adorable" probably isn't what they were going for in their miniatures work, but I can't help it. That's what it is. From the beginning shots of the space command center (obviously a model, but so clean and streamlined, it would be perfect for a futuristic train set), then with the cut to the "interior," a room full of large, clunky computers with big lights and switches, their monitors showing black and white TV images, I was totally sold. The conventions may look hokey to a modern audience, but I prefer to think of them as "theatrical." They're like a painted backdrop that you know isn't real. And if I were really looking for reality, I wouldn't be watching a movie called The Green Slime.

3 comments:

houseinrlyeh said...

Seldom has a space station that's not the Mir seen this much drinking of alcohol.

I do of course agree this is a fun movie, but - as a card-carrying Fukasaku fan - I still find it rather sad that the director is still better known in the West for this and the American cut of Virus than for his genre-shifting work in yakuza film.

Anarchivist said...

Unfortunately, the yakuza genre (like the samurai) is mostly unknown territory for me. I think I'm hampered by the fact that I tend to find American mafia movies so boring. The good news is, that gives me a whole new realm to discover someday! After I get caught up on the boundless amounts of Hindi horror. :)

houseinrlyeh said...

The road from Hindi horror leads directly to Fukasaku's Samurai Reincarnation. ;)