Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Must-Watch Sci Fi Movies: Quatermass and the Pit (aka 5 Million Years to Earth)

Directed By: Roy Ward Baker
Produced By: Anthony Nelson Keys
Written By: Nigel Kneale
Starring: Andrew Keir, James Donald, Barbara Shelley
Original Release: 1967

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Synopsis: Based on the six-part BBC television serial from the 50’s by the same name, this movie follows Professor Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group who investigates a strange missile-like object found deep beneath London by a construction crew. At first the professor and his colleagues theorize that this might be an experimental, undetonated German weapon from World War 2, but fossilized remains of primates are found very close to it and Quatermass ultimately surmises that it may have alien (and very ancient) origins. Continued investigation of the object unleashes dormant forces that take control of those nearby, sending them on violent rampages. When Quartermass discovers the carcasses of horned, insect-like creatures inside the missile, he theorizes that these may have been beings that came to Earth from a dying Mars millions of years ago and that they must have implanted memories of their civilization (including a final racial purge) in the minds of the early primates that provide the origins for much of the superstition surrounding devils and demons in human culture. And as the latent force in the spaceship becomes more powerful, it begins to affect all of the inhabitants of London as they begin to reenact the slaughter of the racial purge from the dying days of Mars.

Review/Commentary: This was the third movie (all from Hammer Films) to bring the Quatermass character to the big screen and it adapted the third of the BBC serials. The story it was based on was also by far the best of both the television series and the movies (though the other two are still quite excellent). Quatermass and the Pit (more commonly known as 5 Million Years to Earth in the States) mixes supernatural elements with science fiction and does it by presenting a plausible scientific explanation for the paranormal events it observes as well as for the latent superstitions that recur across many cultures. But it doesn’t go that route by giving a talky psycho-anthropological dissertation, it does it by delivering a film that stirs up the very fears it speculates upon. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with the output from Hammer, but this one delivers a truly scary film that that still stirs up chills when viewed today. And even though it runs half as long as the television serial that it was based on, it stays true to its source (with series creator Nigel Kneale penning the script) and perhaps even improves upon that by delivering a tighter, more focused story than the somewhat slow-paced (though never boring) television version.

The only real knock on this film is that it has not aged well from a technical standpoint. The special effects showing the flashbacks to the aliens on Mars are crude at best and laughable at worst. Modern-day audiences may have some difficulty sitting through those scenes without roaring aloud. But then other scenes, especially when the invisible force starts to sweep through the city and make the ground tremble, still hit the mark and help make this into a chilling and at times unsettling film. Part of me would like to see this one remade with a budget that could more adequately bring to life its ambitious script, but then I fear that the Hollywood machine would quickly lose touch with the primal terror that this film evoked and bury its genre-bending, penetrating story beneath CGI smoke and mirrors.

Those who have never seen this film should definitely give it a look, just understand going in that visually it falls short at times. But the overall story is strong enough and the dedication of the cast and crew is quite apparent throughout the film. This is an old-style Science Fiction film that manages to stir up our emotions while also making us think. Something that has become all too rare in a time that we now have the technical prowess to create films that deliver on this promise.

Unfortunately, this one is currently unavailable on DVD, though you can see out a used copy of the previously released disc (at somewhat of a premium).  It is definitely worth seeing if you have never encountered it before and also worth revisiting for those who have not seen it in years.  You will cringe at a few of the sfx scenes, but overall the film balances out and delivers some first-rate sci fi / horror that just may make you think a bit.

So many science fiction and fantasy movies and so little time. Metropolis, King Kong, War of the Worlds, Fantastic Voyage, Star Wars, The Terminator, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Inception . . . Plan 9 From Outer Space . . . and so many, many more. Where to start and which ones to watch? Well that's what this book is here to help you with. It may not cover all science fiction movies, and not even all of those mentioned above, but it gives you a heck of a good start starting point. This book begins with 1927’s Metropolis and then treks through 24 more genre films ending with 2009's Moon to give you an extensive look at some of the best of the best of science fiction and fantasy cinema. Each entry includes a synopsis, review/commentary, cast and crew information, as well as a few nuggets of tidbits and trivia relating to the films. Whether you are new to the genre and trying to figure out where to get started or a grizzled veteran who has logged many hours in the cinema watching sci fi, 25 Must Watch Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies is sure to entertain. And even if you have already seen the movies covered in the book, there's a good chance you could walk away knowing a little bit (or maybe even a lot) more about these films than you did previously.

A great primer for science fiction and fantasy cinema and a fun read as well!

Available now on Kindle from Amazon.com. 

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