Friday, 25 February 2011

B movie merits more attention

Brave New World (The Star)
27 January 2011

With the infantile politics demonstrated in the Tenang by-election and elsewhere, watching a low-budget science fiction movie may be a more worthwhile pursuit.


ONE night, many, many, many years ago, while flicking through the TV channels, I came across a movie called Robot Monster. It was made in 1953 and was so funny it made me cry.
Robot Monster was one of those science fiction movies about alien invasions so favoured in the 50s.
Of course, nowadays scholars of movies – I’m sorry, I mean, scholars of film – will suck on their professorial pipe, stroke their academic goatees and tell us that these alien invasion flicks were really thinly veiled cautionary tales about the dangers of the Soviet Union and they were actually a reflection of American paranoia.
This may be, but who cares about symbolism and all that stuff when the movie is just so funny.
The one thing that stuck in my mind most of all was the cheapness of the whole thing. The “special effects” if you can call them that, were quite literally cardboard spaceships stuck to wires bobbing around.
The “plot”, which had something to do with indestructible aliens from the moon coming to kill us all, is suddenly inexplicably interspersed with dinosaurs (actually real lizards with extra bits stuck on their backs) coming back to life.
But the coup de grace for me was the costume of the Robot Monster himself. Obviously, the producers were working on a budget, so there was only one monster, not an army. This was so they had to get only one costume.
The costume in this case was a gorilla suit. However, a gorilla was not nearly alien enough. What kind of self-respecting science fiction monster looks like a common Earth gorilla?
So in order to give it that “alien vibe”, the makers of the movie used a deep-sea diver’s helmet as the head of Robot Monster. Voila, we now have a real sci-fi threat in our midst.
But wait! There was a problem. They only had enough money for one gorilla suit and one deep-sea diver’s helmet. For most of the movie, this was okay because there was just Robot Monster wandering the deserts of America (the only country aliens land, it would seem) molesting the heroine.
But in a couple of scenes, Robot Monster had to communicate via a television screen with his boss, Boss Robot Monster.
They used the same outfit for Boss Robot Monster, so they looked identical. How were they to differentiate between the normal Earth-invading Robot Monster and Boss Robot Monster, especially when there was no money?
The answer was ingenious. Some flunky must have looked around the studio’s storeroom and come back with a violin bow. So when you see the two identical Robot Monsters talking to each other, the one waving a violin bow with great authority and menace, well, is the Boss Robot Monster.
I am not sure whether you can find this movie at your usual pirated DVD stall, but if you YouTube “Robot Monster Trailer” you will get a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.
Now, you may wonder why I am writing about such frivolity. Frankly, I was about to write about the Tenang by-election, but the banality, childishness and sheer lack of substance in the politics of this nation had me feeling rather blue.
And although the reality of the infantile politics we are faced with will have to be dealt with, for the moment at least, I’d rather think of something ludicrous that made me cry tears of laughter as opposed to something ludicrous that makes me weep tears of frustration.

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