Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Plan 9 From Outer Space -- A Film so Bad, it Deconstructs Itself

If cult films are the cinematic equivalent of mind altering drugs, Plan 9 from Outer Space (completed 1956, released 1959), is the vodka shot, not just because its creator, Edward D. Wood jr. was a chronic alcoholic, but because, while other cult movies tend offer unique takes on cinematic narrative, Plan 9 rewards us with the sensation of feeling very, very drunk.


"There comes a time in each man's life
when he can't even believe his own eyes!"

Opening on famed TV psychic Criswell, who addresses the camera whilst ranting about "Grave robbers from outer space" (the film's original title before the baptist producers objected), the story details a series of unusual events in and around a cemetery that's apparently so large, a flying saucer can quite happily take off and land in it without being seen. The occupants of this saucer intend to march an army of reanimated dead (comprising of three people; Bela Lugosi as "The Dead Old Man," who was described in the screenplay as "The Dracula Character;" hs on-screen wife Vampira--a goth couple if ever there was one--and Tor "I'm a big boy now, Johnny!" Johnson ) upon the capitals of the world whilst the military--roused into action by an off-screen attack upon a small town--and the comedy relief police department, attempt to intervene. Mixed up in all of this is a confused airline pilot who has not only spied one of the UFOs whilst flying an airliner to Albuquerque, but who also just happens to live next to the cemetery in question.
Plan 9 possess a quality unique to truly terribly movies. It distinguishes itself by being so bad that it actually deconstructs itself, and, by extension, 1950s B-movies in general. When one thinks of what a '50s sci-fi film should look like, the wobbling flying saucers, terrible acting and nonsensical narrative flow of Plan 9 come to mind. It's almost as if Wood was deliberately trying to have the last word on '50s B-movies, in the same way that Airplane! (1980) would kill the '70s disaster movie cycle.

The beauty of Plan 9 is that one can make claims like this with a straight(ish) face because they are actually true. It doesn't matter that Wood did it all by accident, or that the film sank without trace until it started playing, years later, on late night TV; Death of the Author--in this case at the tragically young age of 53--allows us to overlook that, and view the film from a post-modern perspective, without having to worry about it being one of those deliberatly post-modern, manufactured "cult" movies such as Sharktopuss (2010).

With all its earnestness, even pomposity, Plan 9 goes about deconstructing itself even before the opening credits. In his introduction, Criswell spouts dialogue so incompetently written, it actually deconstructs the notion of tenses; "Future events such as these may effect YOU... in the future," he claims, but then rants about, "What happened on that fateful day," which either suggests Wood meant that the events in the film are supposed to be futuristic, but that this futuristic danger threatens us in the present (or did at one time in the past), or he failed to pay attention to his own screenplay.

Criswell may be from the 1950s, but when...
where... is his hair from???
An ice cream factory???

Indeed, the whole film has an atmosphere of "Oh, it'll do" about it. We are expected to believe, for example, that a piece of bent Masonite and a shower curtain is the cockpit of transcontinental passenger plane. The pilot of this plane, incidentally, is the film's hero, Jeff Trent, played by Gregory Walcott, who had just come off a 10-week shoot at Warner Bros. Principle photography on Plan 9 would last 4 days. He goes through the film seemingly wondering if his career will survive it. Walcott did the film as a favour to one of the Baptist producers because he happened to attend the same church; the expression on his face throughout the whole ordeal makes the viewer wonder if the actor is questioning his faith.

"Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?"

At other times, it's as if the film is mocking the artifice of its own medium. The Brechtian graveyard set, with its cardboard headstones that are forever wobbling or falling over, is contrasted with the fairly realistic backyard set in which Trent discusses his UFO close encounter with his wife. It's as though Wood was trying to draw our attention to the artifice of everything because he wanted us to get back into the habit of using our imaginations. Similarly, grainy stock footage of the army firing rockets is intercut with shots of paper plate flying saucers dangling against a painted sky that could do with an ironing, while Tom Keene in an army uniform observes the battle whilst standing in front of a sheet. As Johnny Depp, in the title role of Tim Burton's biopic, Ed Wood (1994) snaps, "Haven't you ever heard of suspension of disbelief?!"


There's suspension of disbelief and then
there's just plain crap.

Except, all this really is accidental. The film's make-up artist, Harry Thomas, declined to put his name on the credits because Wood refused to allow him the 15 minutes it would have taken to make up the actors playing the aliens, as aliens. Duke Moore, as Lieutenant Harper, scratches his head with his own gun because he wanted to see if Wood was paying attention and call take two. Evidently, he wasn't. 


He evidently gave so little of a shit
that he didn't even bother to point it out himself.

Former TV horror hostess Vampira (aka Maila Nurmi) wore an old dress with the crotch missing because she figured no one would ever see the film. The flying saucers are literally on strings (though, in fairness, they are off-the-shelf model kits, rather than paper plates). In one scene, the flying saucers are matted in over shots of Hollywood, only they're slightly transparent because Wood insisted that they be painted reflective silver rather than matt-green, which would have looked silver in black-and-white anyway. Still, at least it proves Wood had an uncompromising vision. It may have been the wrong vision, but it was uncompromised nonetheless.

At one point, as our hero is leaving for a flight, Mrs Trent goes into a bizarre monologue about being in bed alone with his pillow; "Sometimes I reach over and touch it, then it doesn't seem so lonely anymore." This being a film made in the 1950s, and one financed by Baptists to boot, Wood couldn't have just had here say, "Gee, honey, I wish you'd bought me that industrial strength vibrator we saw in Vegas," but why include a speech that conjures up suspicions of pillow humping at all?

In very real terms, Wood certainly qualifies as an auteur. He usually had total artistic control over his productions--the exception being Bride of the Monster (1956), ironically the only one of his non-porn films to turn a profit (well, it would have done had he not accidentally sold over 150% of the the shares to various backers)--and, counter to what Burton's fine biopic might claim, he never aspired to work within the studio system. He'd actually defected from it; in reality, he'd quit a pretty good job at Universal as a night shoot co-ordinator to go off and make films on his own. And he was certainly a brilliant producer, because he seemed to be able to talk money out of anyone. But it's the anti-goodness, rather than badness, of his artistic style that makes him endearing. His impatience translates into boyish enthusiasm, as if he were a kid making a film in his backyard with his friends, and rushes it through because what matters is seeing the finished product, rather than getting it right. Plan 9 is a film made in innocence. It's what happens when someone with more can-do attitude than actual talent attempts to create a monumental work of cinema. It's flaws are legion; huge Tor Johnson gets visibly stuck as he attempts to crawl out of his own grave and instead of going for a retake, Wood (who edited) just jump cuts to the actor/wrestler standing up.

You had one job, Tor. ONE JOB!

 Oh yeah, and Tor's headstone has no name on it, even though the name on the headstone is a major plot point; the décor in camp alien ruler Bunny Breckinbridge's mothership consists of drapes, an antique desk and army surplus radio equipment; the chiropractor Wood hired to stand in for the deceased Bella Lugosi (who appears in less than two minutes worth of actual footage) looks nothing like the film's purported star; Eros (Dudley Manlove), ace space-soldier, spends ten minutes giving a speech about how superior his race are to humanity only to sum it up with, "Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!."

In short, Plan 9 doesn't get a single thing right, which is what qualifies it for greatness. Any idiot can make a bad movie, but it takes Ed Wood to achieve such pure anti-perfection.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)


Whatever Bram Stoker had in mind when he wrote his 1911 novel, The Lair of the White Worm, it surely could not have been the image of Amanda Donohoe in black lingerie and thigh-length PVC boots sinking her teeth into the genitals of a boy scout. In fact, it's hard to imagine that audiences arriving at the premier of Ken Russell's 1988 film adaptation were expecting that either. What Russell himself had in mind was more of a mix of Oscar Wilde (having previously directed Salome's Last Dance, released the same year), and the legend of the Lambton Worm, the connection made explicit by the inclusion of C. M. Leumane's folk song describing the tale, with the character names reworked to fit those depicted in the film. At the time of release, the film was billed as a "horror comedy." A more accurate description would be, "a mess," but at least it's an interesting mess.

No one was expecting this. Least of all him.

Pitched somewhere between those two great British traditions, the Hammer Horror and the Tarts and Vicars Party, the film opens on Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), and archaeology student digging up what, at first, appears to be a dinosaur skull whilst excavating the ruins of a convent in the grounds of Mercy Farm bed and breakfast. The bed and breakfast is run by Mary and Eve Trent (Sammi Davis and Catherine Oxenberg, respectively), who were apparently orphaned when their parents disappeared without a trace, the previous year. The trio attend a party held by Eve's boyfriend, the new Lord d'Ampton (Hugh Grant), and Angus learns the legend of the d'Ampton Worm, a dragon reputed to have terrorised the local countryside. Coinciding with all this is the onset of spring, and the return to the county of Lady Silvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who jokes that she spends her winters hibernating. Upon learning of the discovery of the skull, Lady Silvia steals it from Mercy Farm and retreats back to her own residence, Temple House, where she, a vampire/snake woman/pagan priestess, plans to find virginal human sacrifices for the offspring of her self-reproducing hermaphrodite master-mistress, Dionin, a Pagan snake-god, who d'Ampton's ancestor slew centuries before.

Yep. It's one of those of movies.

The Lair of the White Worm came about because Vestron Pictures, who had financed Russell's Gothic (1986) had agreed to finance The Rainbow (1989) only if Russell delivered another horror movie first. Producer Dan Ireland claims that Russell wrote the screenplay in less than a week and originally wanted Tilda Swinton to play Lady Sylvia, but after she read the script, the actress wouldn't return his phone calls. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since Donohoe is the best thing about the film; relishing the opportunity to camp it up at every turn; she's clearly having enormous fun here, and is so uninhibited that she actually manages to carry an air of authority, even when parading around in the nude. By contrast, Oxenberg is by far and away the weakest link in the cast, having played Amanda Carrington on the TV series Dallas, she was cast purely on name value and her voice had to be (very badly) dubbed by someone who could actually pull off a Northern accent. Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant, and Davis plays her role with a high-pitch "Oop North" intonation that makes her sound like a children's television presenter, while Capaldi's goody-two-shoes Angus is, weirdly, the real hero of the film, despite much set-up for d'Ampton to fulfil his destiny by following in his ancestor's footsteps and slaying the monster. It is only Angus who actually manages to take any effective action, while d'Ampton himself confines himself to lots of detective work and only scores a couple of minor victories, the most spectacular of which is the slaying of the Trent sister's now-vampiric mother, Dorothy (Imogen Clair), who d'Ampton literally slashes in two with his family sword.

It's not really sword, more of a
Chekhov's Gun.

The plot in general not only makes very little sense--not that it needs to--but because the four heroes' character arcs become muddled with one and other's, the overall pay-off is ultimately unsatisfying. It's pretty clear that the script was written in haste, and it really could have done with a couple of redrafts before production began. It's not just d'Ampton and Angus who suffer from confused character development, but the Trent sisters as well, with Eve being chosen as the virgin sacrifice, despite having spent the night with d'Ampton (although, we never see what they were doing, they do behave as though they were more than just "dancing," and d'Ampton says), and in spite of Mary coming across as the more innocent of the two. It's something of a mystery as to why Russell even included four main heroic roles in the first place, other than to emulate Stoker's formula of having a group of people band together to defeat a supernatural foe, except that Stoker used this device to emphasise the villain's power, and usually included an academic figure who was expert in these matters (such as Van Helsing, or Sir Nathaniel de Salis, in the case of this film's source material). Russell gives us no such analogue, and the characters he does retain from the novel bare little resemblance to their literary counterparts, not even sharing their names. Given that Ireland mistakenly stated in an interview that Stoker died before finishing the novel (he actually died a year after completing it), one can only assume that the production was working from the 1925 abridged version, which does come across as extremely fragmentary. Ultimately, the intention was to make something purely commercial because Gothic did well on home video. Russell doesn't seem to care about his material, but sees no reason not to have fun with it. The film's greatest flaw, however, is that Russell descends into self-parody, something he would do more and more as his career went on. The Devils (1971) may have been highly absurdist, even downright surreal at times, but it had teeth, and, given that it was based on real events, extremely sharp ones at that. The Lair of the White Worm only has plastic joke shop fangs.

...Like these.

Even though the movie does have its fun moments, such as Lady Sylvia emerging from a tanning bed like a vampire arising from a coffin, or the ridiculous climax in which Oxenberg raises the White Worm from its pit whilst wearing nothing other than blue body make-up and an enormous fang-shaped strap-on dildo, it too often feels as if Russell was phoning it in, ticking off the boxes of what makes a Russell film; touching a crucifix splashed with Lady Sylvia's venom causes Eve to suffer an hallucinogenic trip filled with writhing, masturbating nuns who are assaulted by Roman solders at the foot of Jesus' cross, while the titular phallic serpent wraps itself around the messiah himself. 

Cocks, Christ and Naughty Nuns:
Ken Russell by numbers.

This, along with other iconoclastic nightmare sequences not only call to mind The Devils, but Russell's own Altered States (1980) as well. The cheesy Quantel video effects used to achieve these visions make the sequences look like one of his Sarah Brightman music videos, and one can't help but wonder if Russell was only including naughty nuns in order to repeat the controversy of his earlier work. Grant spends most of his screen-time wearing an RAF uniform for no other reason than to resemble Robert Powell in Tommy (1975), and his Freudian dream, in which he is led aboard concord, where he is surrounded by phallic imagery, would look like one of that film's musical numbers if it weren't for the fact that Donohoe and Oxenberg end up wrestling each other in skimpy air hostess outfits that are less British Airways and more Ann Summers.

"Uncle! Uncle!"


If the film had been a straight horror film, it may have worked, but it's all too ridiculous to be scary, and far too camp to be genuinely funny. While parody is fine, self-parody is fatal, since it makes the audience question whether the film-maker was ever serious to begin with. The Devils was witty without ever loosing its power to shock; Women in Love (1969) was camp enough to get away with its histrionics, but never slipped into the realms of unintentional comedy. The whole attitude behind The Lair of the White Worm seems to be, "let's have a fun day's filming, then off to the pub afterwards." This is not a message that should be woven into the fabric of any film, let alone one made by a man once consider the enfant terrible of British cinema.

"Pub?"

Monday, 9 December 2013

We Need to Talk About Jess Franco

Hello, Mr. Franco

In real terms, anyone attempting to sum up the life and career of Spanish film-maker Jess Franco (born Jesús Franco Manera, 1930-2013) in anything shorter than a multi-volume biography is doomed to failure.
 
It's not just the overwhelming size of his body of work that makes him so difficult to categorize--199 films as director--but the eccentricity of his methods and the idiosyncratic nature of the man himself. His extremely personal films either absorb the viewer into a completely unique world, or alienate them forever. But love him or hate him, you can't mistake a Jess Franco film for anyone else's.

On the surface, Franco's films appear to be little more than grindhouse trash, repeating the same elements; sexy nightclub acts, beautiful and often naked women (like Soledad Miranda, and, following her untimely death in a car accident, rampant exhibitionist Lina Romay), mad scientists, Howard Vernon, secret agents, BDSM, the supernatural, dreamlike narratives, furious pacing, more Howard Vernon, and endless zooms. Oh, the zooms! If you've never seen a Jess Franco film, you need to be forewarned; producer Harry Alan Towers (with whom Franco made 9 films) called him, "a jazz musician who discovered the zoom lens". Franco did use to be a jazz musician, and often mistook the zoom lever for the slid on a cornet.

Franco's favourite actor, Howard Vernon at
Franco's favourite location, Xanadu,  in Countess Perverse.

Yet, despite the ostensibly throw-away nature of his films (many completed in under a month), Franco's death back in April, just over a year after his muse and partner Romay succumbed to lung cancer aged just 57, is, genuinely, a great loss to cinema.

Lina Romay, in here most iconic role, in Franco's
Female Vampire.
Serious, I had a really had time finding a picture of her wearing even this much.

Half the people reading this will likely scoff at that last statement, but cult film and horror aficionados will probably nod in agreement. One thing is undeniable; we will not see his like again. And while Takashi Miike might meet his output, and Quentin Tarantino occasionally imitates him as a means of affectionate homage, no one will ever equal him.

It is his uniqueness that makes his work important, and as such, his films are in need of re-evaluating.
Thinking about Franco's films as the cinematic equivalent of jazz is, perhaps, the best way to approach them. Take, for example, She Killed in Ecstasy (completed 1970, released 1971), Franco's first production for German producer Artur Brauner--the screenplay (which explores themes way ahead of its time, such as the morals of embryonic research) was just 8 pages long; Brauner and Franco sketched the budget out on a napkin over lunch; Franco had already made so many films that year, he had to use one of his numerous pseudonyms (Frank Hollmann) to avoid the wrath of the unions; Manfred Hubler and Sigi Schwab contributed to the groovy score--is it any wonder the whole thing feels less like a film than an acid trip? The same team's follow up, and one of Franco's more well-known films, Vampyros Lesbos (1971), was produced in much the same way, this time utilising stunning Istanbul locations. In both, Soledad Miranda, plays a mysterious angel of death; in the case of She Killed in Ecstasy, using her sexuality to lure those she holds responsible for her husband's suicide to their deaths; in Vampyros Lesbos, she may represent sexuality itself, in that the entire film can be read as taking place in the head of a young estate agent, Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) struggling to come to terms with her own Sapphic desires, awakened whilst observing an erotic nightclub act; though the films is basically a lesbian retelling of Dracula, with Westinghouse replacing Jonathan Harker. It's also interesting to note that the actress cast in the female Renfield roll, Agra, a woman eternally lost in her obsession with the vampire countess, is played by Heidrun Kussin, who bears a striking resemblance to Stromberg and may even represent another facet of Westinghouse's personality; the uncontrollable, sexual id, imprisoned and oppressed by conservative males. The male characters, are all either untrustworthy (in the case of Dennis Price's Dr. Seward, who acts like a vampire hunter but really wants the secret of immortality for himself), or useless and weak (in the case of Westinghouse's male lover, played by the terminally blank Andrés Monales), and the film's ending is left open; the vampire is killed by Westinghouse using a phallic shard of wood to the eye, but Westinghouse's mental condition still lies in a state of confusion over her own feelings, an ambiguity underlined by the fact she is lead away by her dull boyfriend (who represents hetronormative values) and her therapist, Dr. Steiner (Paul Muller), who had previously advised her, after listening to her recount one of her sexual fantasies to "find a lover... a better lover."

"Hello. I'm your better lover. Obviously."

Female sexuality may be one of foundations of exploitation cinema--after all, boobs put bums on seats--but Franco's films, despite still being exploitative, do at least posit that women possess their own sexuality, rather than an artifice imposed upon them by hetronormative (i.e. male-orientated) social "norms". His unconscious narrative style has even produced films comparable to those of David Lynch; Venus in Furs (1969) is not, as the title might suggest an adaptation of Von Sacher Masoch's novella (the film was re-titled by the distributor) but a non-linear tale of a jazz musician (James Daren) haunted by the mysterious Wanda (Maria Rohm), a woman he saw die in a brutal S&M session. Is she really dead? Is he going mad with guilt? Who is killing off her killers? These are not questions the film answers conventionally.



And the moral of the story is, Never Get Kinky With Kinski!

Even the trashiest films produced during Franco's most hyperactive periods hold one or two effective moments. Who can forget the breathtakingly beautiful opening to Female Vampire (1973), in which Lina Romay, naked apart from pvc boots, belt and cape emerges from the mist-shrouded forests of Madeira?
And you can't help but admire a man who managed to trick Christopher Lee into doing an erotic thriller not once, but twice (they filmed the dirty stuff for both The Bloody Judge and Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey into Perversion, both 1970, behind his back). Not only that, but Franco was so charming, Lee was perfectly willing to work with him again, maintaining, "he's a lot better a director than he's given credit for."

"The BBFC shall hear of this!"

Lee's admiration for Franco might have had something to do with the fact that Lee was disappointed with the direction in which Hammer Films had taken their Dracula sequels, and Franco had given him the opportunity to play the Count as Stoker had described him in Count Dracula (1970), a film that, despite its low budget, wins out over many of Hammer's entries by eschewing studio-bound interiors for real locations, and staying closer to the spirit (though not the letter) of the novel.


Franco had shown himself capable of out-Hammering Hammer before, with his first foray into horror, The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), a torture porn variant on Eyes Without a Face (1960). The film had been directly inspired by Hammer's own Brides of Dracula (1960), which Franco had taken a couple of producers to see in order to prove to them that horror and quality were not incompatible. Orloff stars another Franco regular, Howard Vernon and displays more medical gore than Hammer ever dared to show in the '60s. He later remade Orloff as the big budget Faceless (1988).

See. I told it was called Faceless.

Unfortunately, his obsession with female sexuality led him to surround himself with performers willing to do almost anything on camera and thus unrestrained, his films of the mid 1970s and 1980s too often stray into porn. His over-active imagination and impatience with the production process meant that many of his films were rushed through with almost superhuman speed in order to get on to the next one; and his refusal to work within the mainstream (and, on the rare occasions he did, to play by the rules) meant that he had to work with tiny budgets provided by B-movie producers who catered to the lowest rung of the exploitation ladder. Nevertheless, Franco was content with this arrangement, but often stated that he did not like his own films. It is true that not all of his films are even passable; Dracula contra Frankenstein (1972) was made as an homage to James Whale but is closer to Ed Wood; Cannibals (1980) is an attempt to cash in on the Italian cannibal cycle of the early '80s and stars what appears to be a bunch of pasty British tourists on a package holiday to Spain in heavy make-up as the South American man-eating tribe in question; many of his women-in-prison flicks are vile, and his porn films from the late '70s and early '80s are more tedious than erotic. Still, he did enough good work to finally be awarded a lifetime achievement award at the Goya's.

Franco receiving his Goya. Lina Romay is  behind him.

Still, out of 199 credits, a dozen might actually be classics in their own right. That's quite an achievement. Indeed, Orson Wells--who Franco had assisted on Chimes at Midnight (1965)--and Fritz Lang were both fans. It is time, then, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and give Jess Franco the place in history he so richly deserves.

Goodbye, Mr. Franco

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ben Affleck as Batman???

I hearby give notice that Ben Affleck shall, from henceforth, be known as Batffleck. That is all.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Lost Worlds and Rubber Monsters Part 2: You Cannot Mesmerise Me - I'm British!

One of the daftest pulp writers of the early 20th Century was Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan - a grown man in a loin cloth who thinks he's a monkey, the basic message being that high-society girls all desire an unwashed, crazy homeless dude who'd probably shit in his own hand and throw it at you if you looked at him funny.

Since Arthur Conan Doyle had initiated the 'Lost World' sub-genre with the publication of his 1912 novel entitled... uh... The Lost World, Burroughs also wrote a number of dinosaur epics in a similar vein, most famously his 'Caspak Trilogy' and even a series set inside the Earth, the Vernesque 'Pellucidar Series'.

Burroughs, like all early pulp writers, is terrifically entertaining. Since his work was written so quickly (pulp writers were paid by the word), it has the same, nonsensical, hallucinatory feel to it as the likes of Fantomas, Dr. Fu-Manchu, or Sexton Blake. Between the 1900s and the 1960s, Pulp magazines and cheap paperbacks generally offered up quality surrealist literature that was only accidentally surrealist. Often written at a furious place, they lack reason or logic but are steeped in daftness to an almost lyrical extent.

So, what with the film industry being huge admirers of daftness (how else would you explain Prometheus?), it was only a matter of time before they would come knocking at his door. Tarzan films were being made as far back as the silent era. And Burroughs even contributed to the screenplay of King Kong (1933) but it is a series adaptations by the producer/director team of John Dark and Kevin Connor that are of interest to us.

These adaptations, incidentally, starred hefty monkey-man, Doug McClure. And despite him being a busy and very hard working actor, I'll bet if that you know his name, two things come to mind; Troy McClure from The Simpsons and vague memories of rubber dinosaur movies you saw on a rainy, Sunday afternoon as a kid.

They were produced by British company Amicus, who always seem to have the words, 'Hammer's main rival' after them whenever they are mentioned in articles. They are most famous for their portmanteau horror films, but in the 70s, as Hammer declined to the point where they were making atrocities like Holiday on the Buses (1973), Amicus  recognised that the horror business had radically changed, movies of TV sitcoms were crap and it was time to attempt a blockbuster. Amicus was run out of a shed located 'round the back of Shepperton Studios by two Americans, Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky.

The first of these productions was The Land that Time Forgot (1975), which has one of those titles that makes you assume that it's not a real film.

With a screenplay a writer no less illustrious than the great Michael Moorcock, the film tells the story of a lost U-boat crew whose submarine has been hijacked by British and American survivors of the passenger ship they torpedo at the beginning of the film. After lots of buggering about in the South Atlantic, they come across the lost continent of Caprona (named after a fictional 18th Century explorer, Caproni, who first described it). Since they have a submarine, our heroes are able to do what Caproni couldn't; follow a stream of warm water to locate an underwater tunnel and pass under the vast, rock cliffs that guard the mysterious island.

I'll give you three guesses as to what they find there.

Why can't a T-rex and a Triceratops 
just learn to get on?

No men in monster suits this time; this time the hot, dino-on-dino action is portrayed by rod puppets created by Roger Dicken.

Weirdly, the whole thing actually works as a good (not great, but good) movie and staple of Sunday afternoon family entertainment. It helps that the cast take their roles absolutely seriously, though John McEnery (as the U-boat captain) was entirely re-voiced by Anton Differing, so God knows what his performance was originally like. How hart ist it to do der German akzent, Ja?

The dinosaur effects are pretty clumsy; the puppets are clearly puppets and the pterodactyls look like static models hung from a crane (which is particularly funny when one carries off a caveman) but it's all just part of the charm. The U-boat effects are more successful, despite the problems of scaling up water. They're about on par with the model work in Das Boot (1981). The film ends on a surprisingly downbeat tone, with just about everyone getting boiled alive as the submarine is overcome by an erupting volcano; only Bowen Tyler (McClure) and his love interest, Lisa (Susan Penhaligon) survive, allowing for a framing device whereby the entire film is told in flashback via a message found in a watertight container.

Naturally, this also allowed for a sequel.

The People that Time Forgot (1977) was produced by the same team but was less successful. The main attraction this time being not the dinosaurs but a young Dana Gillespie as a sweaty, big-boobed cave girl.

If cave girls perspired baby oil and
had perfectly styled hair.

Although, to be frank, the sequel is perfectly watchable. McClure is absent for most of the running time, since the plot focuses more on attempts to rescue him and some of the dinosaur set pieces, whilst looking even more fake than the first film, are entertaining enough; a mid-air dogfight between a biplane and a pterodactyl is particularly well done. Well, I say well done; I mean entertaining in its cheesiness. 

This is one of those trailers that tell you
all you need to know. There, you don't
have to bother watching the film now.

Trouble is, the two movies were seriously lacking in the one thing that automatically makes a movie great. That one element that, when added to a film, not matter how dreadful, automatically makes it a masterpiece.

"I'm Peter Fucking Cushing,
Motherfucker!"

Fortunately, this was remedied by Amicus's in between project, At the Earth's Core (1976). And it's glorious.

It's basically the tale of Dr. Abner Perry and David Innes (Cushing and McClure, naturally), two intrepid but slightly incompetent Victorian explorers drilling down to the Earth's Core in their mechanical digging machine, The Iron Mole. By accident.

Alright, maybe a bit more than slightly incompetent.

On the plus side, the Earth's Core does contain Dia in the shapely form of Caroline Munroe.

An exceptionally interesting
geological feature.

Naturally, just about every bloke from every tribe is after Dia, so it's up to David to defend her honour. This causes him to get accidentally engaged to her. Fortunately, this causes him to get accidentally engaged to her!

Cushing, though, is the real star here. He clearly realises the level of nonsense that he is in and does his very worst Dr. Who impersonation, and by that, I'm not referring to The Doctor from the BBC's Doctor Who, I'm referring to those god-awful 1960s Dalek movies in which Cushing played a human scientist actually called "Dr. Who". Despite the fact that he appears to be playing a doddery old git with an eating disorder, Cushing is something of a badass here, even at one point, dispatching a giant, fire breathing toad with a homemade bow and arrow in a scene that has to be seen to be believed...

Do not mess with The Cushing otherwise
The Cushing will make you fucking explode.

We also have him put up a fight against psyching pterodactyls... oh wait, no, sorry; got to get my species right; giant, man-sized "rhamphorhynchus of the middle-Jurassic period" that look nothing like rhamphorhynchus (rhamphorhynchus's? rhamphorhynchuses? rhamphorhynchi?) by spouting this line...

If this happened in real life, the rhamphor... rhampa... ramihampadink...
that big bird's head would explode.

But as much as we all love the Gentleman of Horror, you came here for dinosaurs. Rubber ones. So does At the Earth's Core deliver? Oh yes. Yes it does.

It was a legal obligation in the '70s for rubber dinosaurs to
pick up a doll with its teeth so that you'd get a shot of two little
legs kicking in its mouth.

But the real star of the show is The Iron Mole, a huge, Steampunk contraption, resembling The Mole from Thunderbirds. More Verne that Burroughs, it's a beautiful example of production design; the sort you don't see these days. Now, films tend to go completely over the top when wheeling out some Fantabulous Victorian Contrabulation. In the '50s, '60s and '70s, these things always seemed more credible--total products of science fiction, and yet, seemingly within the realms of possibility, had those wacky Victorians actually attempted to build them.

The John Dark/Kevin Conner/Doug McClure team returned for one more outing, this time backed by EMI and a much higher budget. Warlords of Atlantis (1978) was the result. Shot on location in Malta, the film boasts a much glossier look that their Amicus efforts and tells the story of a Victorian dive team happening upon the Lost Continent of Atlantis in their diving bell. Some of the monster effects, including a giant octopus, are actually pretty awesome, and the cast, including Peter Gilmore, Shane Rimmer and a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger is more upmarket than Amicus could have afforded. Even Cyd Charisse and her legs turn up at one point, as one of the Martian rulers of Atlantis (it makes sense in context... no wait, sorry, it doesn't).

I will leave you with it's fishy and rather rubbery trailer...


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Lost Worlds and Rubber Monsters Part 1: The Last Dinosaur (1977)

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be doing a short series on good old-fashioned monster movies from the pre-CGI days. Now, by "good," I mean "entertaining", not necessarily "good" in the more... uh... conventional sense. I'll also be looking at why these films, populated with puppets, plasticine stop-motion monsters and grown men in rubber suits are better (or at least more fun) than their more up-to-date counterparts. Today, we'll cop a butchers at...

The Last Dinosaur (1977)

Prepare to meet a man irresistible to women, a man of the world, a billionaire, raconteur, big-game hunter, industrialist, explorer, adventurer... every woman wants to be with him and every man wants to be him. Even his name sounds manly; Masten Thrust! Actually, if the cover of top international magazine Newswe-- uh... I mean Newsworld is to be believed, his full name is Masten Thrust Is He The World's Richest Man? Which sounds like a bloody funny name to me, so we'll call him Masten Thrust for short. No, no. It's such a manly name, we'll call him MASTEN THRUST! since it deserves capitals and an exclamation mark.

Oh yeah. He looks like this;

MASTEN THRUST!
So irresistible, he doesn't need
to give a shit.

Naturally, we are introduced to Mr. THRUST! Whilst he is in the company of a lady. Take note here; if you ever find yourself in the position of trying to impress a hot red-headed lady in a pink 70s trouser suit, take a leaf out of MASTEN THRUST!'s book of seduction techniques and show her slides of the defenceless animals you've killed on Safari. Weirdly, when the slide show is finished MASTEN THRUST! thanks some bloke named Charlie, who is off-screen. Evidently, this is why giving a lecture on hunting animals I cannot eat  and whose death serves no other purpose than for sport never works for me. I need a bloke named Charlie gawping at us both from the shadows to get the girl really turned on.

Such is the mystery of MASTEN THRUST!.

Oh, and, when she compliments you on the fact that you've done everything, remind her that you haven't done her and go in for the kill. If you get bored halfway through, just walk out. Oh yeah, and toss her your scrapbook; that'll seal the deal. Go on, you know you want to. It's what MASTEN THRUST! would do.

Such is the opening of The Last Dinosaur (1977), a really weird international co-production between Rankin/Bass Productions in the US, and Tsuburaya Productions in Japan. While released theatrically in Japan and in other markets, it was cut from 106 minutes to 95 minutes in the US and went straight to TV. Obviously, this film was too good for western cinema goers.

Anyway, we jump cut to an Airfix plane (marked THRUST! INDUSTRIES, naturally) in a painted sky, dangling its way on piano wire to somewhere or another--presumably Japan because we get a shot of Mount Fuji through the window, but wherever it is, it's the most cosmopolitan place I've ever seen. Either that or the movie does a lousy job establishing a sense of place. The hot redhead (OK, according to the IMDB, her name is Thrust's Girl on Plane) is sat on her own in the plane, flicking through the scrapbook as Nancy Wilson belts out an amazingly 70s ballard  out over the main titles.


A ballard that includes such lyrics as, "His time has past/They are no more/He is the Laaaast/DIN-O-SAUR!" Followed by lots of bow-chika-wa-wa's, etc.

Anyway, once they arrive, THRUST! dumps Thrust's Girl on Plane, saying his farewells with a plane ticket back to Portland and a solid gold bullet. Mr. THRUST! then proceeds with all haste to a division of THRUST! Industries, whilst important, international businessman music plays, telling us that Mr. THRUST! is an important, international business man.

THRUST! Industries--where they do... um... stuff?

Once at the office/lab/industrial complex/whatever-the-hell-this-building-is-supposed-to-be, THRUST! meets intrepid reporter Francesca "Frankie" Banks (Joan Van Ark), whom he immediately assumes is a prostitute (it was the 70s, after all). Before she can correct him, THRUST buggers off upstairs to the lab, where he is met warmly by Clichéd Japanese Scientist (you know, thick-rimmed glasses, comb-over, briefly concerned with doing something or other in the name of science). OK, so his name is Dr. Kowamoto (Tetsu Nakamura) but the lab coat tells you all you need to know. Dr. Kowamoto introduces MASTEN THRUST! to Chuck Wade (Steven Keats), who is  supposed to be brilliant young genius, but looks like a gap toothed yokel who sees dinosaurs. Unsurprisingly, he claims to have seen a dinosaur.

So they all hurry away to an exposition conference, which takes the form of a press conference, where reporters ask each other, "is he really the world's richest man?"

Boy, does this press conference go on, but in a nutshell, MASTEN THRUST! has been drilling for oil using, for no god-damn reason whatsoever, 5-man underground burrowing machines that look like the Mole from Thunderbirds. Chuck is, unbelievably, a geologist and the only survivor of an accidental excursion by one of these drilling machines into a hidden volcanic valley. Everyone else was eaten by a dinosaur.

The Last Dinosau--oh, you get the idea. Of course, it's a T-Rex. It's never one of those little dinky ones with the hands or one of those huge turkey jobbies. It's a T-Rex.

Still, there is one thing fascinating about this press conference; MASTEN THRUST! is played by raging alcoholic Richard Boone and boy, in this scene, is he drunk. Really, really drunk. And as the film goes on. He just gets more drunk. The other fascinating thing is that when Mr. THRUST! introduces the team that will go hunting for the dinosaur (apparently to study its habits), he announces that he has hired his old friend, the best tracker in the world, Bunta (Luther Rackley). Bunta, being a Masai, is tall. I mean, really fucking tall. But the fact that he's tall does not warrant the reaction the reporters give. They don't bat an eyelid at notions of lost valleys, drilling machines or dinosaurs but show them a rather tall man? They go fucking nuts for it. It's like Kate Middleton got her tits out.

Again.

Naturally, the press association has chosen a reporter has to go on the expedition, and... actually, do I need to even explain where this is going? Do I even need to tell you that Frankie and MASTEN THRUST! will eventually hit it off trading hunting stories? And that she'll even have romantic night alone with the drunken old bastard? Well, not quite; she interrupts their tryst with he Pulitzer Prize winning slide collection (what is it with these people and their holiday snaps? ) and then she starts snogging the drunken old bastard. Like I said, he's irresistible.

Say! Ever wonder what movie inspired The Core (2003)? No, no one else has either! But now we know anyway; remember how the ridiculous, laser-powered drilling machine in that film was launched from an oil rig? Well, guess how they launch the ridiculous, laser powered drilling machine in The Last Dinosaur? In fact, once the THRUST! Polar Borer, as it is known, is dropped in the water, the scene plays pretty much shot for shot as it does in the later film (except, while The Core has crap CGI, The Last Dinosaur looks like it was filmed in a fish tank). Also, while Chuck, Dr. Kowamoto, Frankie and Bunta all wear spacesuits and helmets for the voyage, MASTEN THRUST will have none of that sissy, health and safety nonsense. He's a man's man and if he wants to dress up as Hemingway, he'll bloody well dress like Hemingway.

But finally, after a tense drilling sequence that only lacks tension, and one third of the way into the movie, the team emerge in a prehistoric land in the crater of a massive volcano (or something) and we see our first dinosaur! And it's... well, a rubber pteranodon on strings with matt lines around it, from where its been pulled from the blue screen.

No matter, as our intrepid heroes come ashore, they encounter a much more impressive beast;



It may not be the T-Rex, but at least it's two blokes in a pantomime horse arrangement. You can't go wrong with that. Also, the above clip is not the last case of complete idiocy the team displays. Straight after nearly getting killed by standing in front of a massive-fucking-angry-beast and not getting out of the way for a very long time, they make camp for the evening. Next to the lake. The lake populated by pteranodons. That swoop down and try to eat things. Things that include idiots.

The next day, they leave Dr. Kowamoto back at the camp because he has equipment to set up (Translation: so that he can get killed) and go exploring. Chuck displays his credentials as a gap-toothed yokel... sorry... brilliant scientist by muttering about the fauna, which must turn Frankie on because they suddenly and without warning develop sexual tension. T-Rex tracks are found, Frankie once again gets herself into another hilarious jam involving a giant turtle and some leeches, and a cave girl who I think we're supposed to find sexy follows them at a discrete distance. Ultimately, we don't find her sexy, because she not only has a mono-brow, but also because she adopts a strange Granddad walk (assuming your Granddad walks like an imbecile because mine certainly didn't). This, combined with her constantly frightened expression, makes her look like she's had a pants-related accident.

So finally, after nearly forty minutes and a lot of buggering around looking at tracks, discussing "spawn" and Bunta climbing a tree, the T-Rex finally makes and appearance.

It's a man in a monster suit. And it's glorious.


One of two things can happen when you're watching an old monster movie; you either think, "that looks crap" and turn it off; or your eyes widen, your mouth hangs agape and you regress to the state of a child, filled with wonderment at the magic of cinema. Naturally I fall into the latter category. Why? Well, let us examine the problem of CGI.

I have never once seen a shot using CGI that convinced me. I mean, sure, I've seen CGI that was photorealistic, but nothing that actually struck me as real. As far back as 1993, the T-Rex in Jurassic  Park was impressive, as were the raptors; there were times when you genuinely couldn't tell the difference between the full-sized, animatronic replicas and their CG avatars. Interestingly, Suitmation (yeah, really, that's what it's called) was used for the raptors, but mainly for when they were hidden in the bushes. So what's the problem?

Well, CGI creations lack personality. They lack, if you'll indulge me, a soul.

When you see a puppet dinosaur, or a man in a monster suit, or a stop-motion creature, you don't just get the illusion of a living creature. A little of its creator's personality comes across as well. It's not just a special effect, it's a three-dimensional, tangible work of artistry that you can admire, in and of itself. There's something kind of endearing about a none-CGI monster; Godzilla (and I mean Godzilla, not that crap American abomination that was ret-conned into a completely different monster in the Japanese films*) may stomp cities,  the Xenomorph may lay eggs down your throat and rip your crew-mates to shreds,  the 1933 King Kong may wreck El-trains and carry women off to the top of the Empire State Building, but we love them because they are tactile; they are there, on-screen, for real; they have little bits of the personalities of the people who designed, sculpted and animated them. They may be monsters but they are imbued with a sense of humanity. A CGI creation, being removed from its creators by a mouse and a keyboard, has no personalty. It doesn't help that modern effects personnel working with computers aren't artists; they are technicians and thus do not understand that no matter how hard you work on visual details, you still won't imbue your creation with a soul. Interestingly, some film makers understand this and call in someone like Andy Serkis; Gollum, King Kong in the 2005 version and Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) are all imbued with life by his motion-capture performance to the extent that we forget about the CGI. It is the state-of-the-art equivalent of putting a man in make-up and a monster suit.

Getting back to The Last Dinosaur, after the T-Rex kills Dr. Kowamoto in a hilarious scene that involves a 40-foot lizard (raptor? Bird? What exactly are dinosaurs?) creeping up on a Nobel Prize winner and stamping on him without said Nobel Prize winner noticing, MASTEN THRUST! becomes less interested in documenting the beast and grows more and more obsessed with bagging it with his rifle. This is everything his close friend Dr. Kowamoto would not have wanted but, hey, he's MASTEN THRUST!. "This forty-foot monster with the brain the size of a dried pea has... sob... just destroyed a man with one of the great minds of this century," he laments.

Even the backward Chuck objects; "But Masten, you told me... you swore to all of us that we were not going to harm the dinosaur!"
"You DING-DONG!" Screams MASTEN THRUST! in response.

Thus, most of the rest of the film is taken up with various cartoonish schemes to fell the not-so-last-dinosaur. At one point, they tie a boulder to the thing's tail, just to fuck with it;


In another classic moment, they build an elaborate catapult to fire a rock at the poor thing's bouncy rubber head. In slow motion.

Naturally, all this effort is wasted. Even MASTEN THRUST!'s home made bombs don't work, and Bunta gets killed when the expert tracker falls victim to the T-Rex's habit of sneaking up on people and squishing them. One suspects that the T-Rex must be sniggering to itself every time it does this but who knows what goes on in the mind of such a proud and mighty beast?

Actually, the T-Rex seems to delight in high jinx, steeling the Polar Borer at one point just to get back at the annoying individuals who keep doing vaguely annoying things to it. Whilst the T-Rex is playing football with it, this, for some reason, happens;


What was the triceratops doing lurking in a hole in the ground? Why does the T-Rex sound like Godzilla? Why do the characters keep reffering to it as the Last Dinosaur when it clearly isn't? What does a monster the brain the size of a dried pea want with a drilling machine anyway? I can only answer one of these questions; since the film was produced in collaboration with Tsuburaya Productions (the people who do the special effects for all those Japanese men-in-monster suit wrestling matches) they evidently decided to use stock sound effects of one of the most iconic and recognisable monster roars of all time, instead of using something less noticeable. Why did they do this? Well... I don't know. Think of this film as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Sort of like Inception but with dinosaurs. Or not.

The film climaxes in a bizarre non-ending where everything turns into a race against time for no reason whatsoever (batteries or something), and while Chuck and Frankie elect to escape in the Polar Borer, MASTEN THRUST!, still obsessed with hunting the dinosaur elects to stay, walking off into the sunset as the cave girl gives him a suspicious look. The god awful theme song kicks in and it is then that we realise, "Oh yes! Now I see! MASTEN THRUST!, Great White Hunter, was the Last Dinosaur all along!" Genius.

Is this film a classic? Well, that depends on what you mean by the word "classic." But, by God, it's better than a Roland Emmerich movie any day.


*The american "Godzilla" is now known in the Toho cannon as "The Zilla" and is mentioned several times as a creature that attacked New York and was mistaken for Godzilla himself. She (as Roland Emmerich and his crew called her) finally faced off against Godzilla himself in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). It is conspicuous that "The Zilla" was the only monster in that film to be rendered in CGI and not Suitmation. In addition, it was rather half-arsed CGI, almost as if Toho were insulting the very fabric of the monster's existence itself. Godzilla destroyed it in a battle lasting less than two minutes, prompting one character to decry, "I knew that tuna-eating lizard was no good!" Roland Emmerich, of course, continues to make films. Really, really bad ones; those that aren't boring like 10,000BC (2008) or 2012 (2009) are just plain bullshit like Anonymous (2011). It's telling that his highest rated film from the last ten years on the IMDB relies on historical revisionism. One suspects that his one good movie, Stargate (1994), was just a happy accident.


Friday, 9 November 2012

World War Z Trailer is Finally Here.

After a much, much troubled production, surrounded by rumour and gossip, the first trailer for World War Z is finally online and available at Apple:

http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/paramount/worldwarz/

While passing judgement on the trailer is purely a case of subjective opinion (and it's only a few glimpses of the film), it certainly appears to be a long way from the book, but at least it looks epic in scope (if not extremely CGI heavy).

Personally, I got sick of zombie movies a long, long time ago and don't usually watch them any more as rule. There's only so much you can do with swarming masses of the walking (or running, or, in this case, falling over themselves in a massive wave) dead, but although I have to confess finding Max Brooks's writings a little over-rated, he at least did what few people have been able to do, and that is to depict a zombie apocalypse (or near apocalypse) on a truly global scale. One of the themes of the book is the idea that the zombies wouldn't be much of a threat if it weren't for the fact that governments and corporations are too incompetent and arrogant to take effective action. Judging by the trailer, this theme has been thrown out the window, since they've gone from shambling hoards to literal waves of 28 Days Later style, people-shaped monsters who seem to clump up, en masse, like ants in super glue. This either looks awesome or ridiculous, depending on who you are and what drugs you're taking.

What is a real mystery is why there was a bidding war between Brad Pitt's Plan B entertainment and Leonardo Dicaprio's Appian Way. The book is made up of interviews and anecdotes set 20 years in thefuture and 10 years after the zombie menace has been eliminated. It's a series of flashbacks with no central character as such and no real 'through-line'. Never-the-less,  J Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) was commissioned to write a screenplay that met with universal approval, Paramount set a release date for December 2012. It was to be the first of a trilogy.

Then things started to go a little bit down the toilet.

Pitt, as producer, lobbied for director Marc Forster. That's right, the Marc Forster who directed Quantum of Solace (2008). Now, Forster is actually pretty good at drama. He directed such well-received movies as Monster's Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004) and The Kite Runner (2007). Trouble is, most people think of him as the guy who directed one of the most badly received Bond films ever. In actual fact, Quantum of Solace went into production just as the writer's strike started and according to Daniel Craig, that's what scuppered them. World War Z started to go wrong when a ground-up rewrite was ordered; why is hard to define. Maybe it was because Straczynski's draft was leaked, maybe it needed to be honed down to make it more manageable to film, maybe it fell victim to the Hollywood practice of rewriting everything to death. Ultimately, the draft they shot with was penned by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Regardless, after spending time with his family between films, Pitt arrived to find that, three weeks before production, Forster hadn't even made basic decisions, such as what the zombies should look like, or how they should move. Forster only seems to work well when he goes into production with the screenplay locked. In addition, he was forced to work with a crew he was unfamiliar with.

It was reported that Cinematographer Robert Richardson asked to leave the production several times and was frustrated by the lack of order.

The production was massive, but 2nd Unit Director Simon Crane was, apparently, given only a fraction of the time he asked for 2nd Unit photography (something like 20 days as opposed to the 60 he'd requested).

Then there was the notorious incident about customs officials in Budapest seizing 85 prop weapons imported into Hungary for the section of the film to be shot there; local laws dictated the weapons had to be decommissioned. They were, in fact, still live. In other words, they were gun-guns, not prop guns. Fortunately, no charges were brought, but only because the authorities could not discern who was liable. It is said that Pitt was furious.

The budget shot up from $125 million to a reported $175 million and when the first rough cut was assembled, it was realised only the first 52 minutes of the film worked. Re-shoots were needed. 3-7 weeks of them. The release date was put back to June 2013, making it only one of several major films this year to be delayed (other's being 47 Ronin and G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

At least we'll get to see Tom Cruise and Werner Herzog battle it out in World War Z's original release slot, since Jack Reacher (2012) will open in its place.

Contrary to reports, co-creator of TV's Lost, Damon Lindelof was not hired to write a new third act but was asked to view the film and give 'notes'. Many have despaired over his connection to the film, due to them perceiving him as the man who 'ruined' Prometheus (2012), but the actual writing was carried out by Drew Goddard, the man behind Cabin in the Woods (2012). He is named as a writer on the IMDB but since the IMDB is an unsourced, user-edited site (much like Wikipedia but with not notability), we can ignore this.

By the time re-shoots began in September, and for reasons that remain unknown, Pitt and Forster were no longer talking to each other but for contractual reasons, and DGA rules, Forster had to be kept on. Wild rumours regarding the actual process of the re-shoots were abound; it was said (by some of the more gossip-based film magazines) that Pitt was consulting with George Clooney and that Drew Goddard was more involved than the studio was willing to admit. The Clooney rumour seems like a load of balls and Goddard has downplayed his involvement, saying he did a small amount of work as a favour and didn't contribute enough to even get credited (credits in Hollywood are dictated by the unions, in the case of screenwriters, it's arbitrated by the Writer's Guild of America).

Despite the troubled production and lack of resemblance to the book, the film may still be a hit. Other films, such as Fitzcarraldo (1981) and Apocalypse Now (1979) went on to be sizable hits after being plagued with massive production problems. Others, such as John Carter (2012), Cutthroat Island (1995) and Heaven's Gate (1981) flopped mercilessly. It's worth noting that both Fitcarraldo and Apocalypse Now were massive super-productions shot in the jungles of third world countries; they had to deal with sever environmental factors and wars (seriously), rather than a lack of a good script or indecision.

In the film industry, things get tough and go wrong all the time. It is only when the world at large gets to hear about it that we start to smack our lips at the idea of an overblown multi-million dollar production crashing and burning, or get angsty about a movie we've been looking forward to for years turning out to be a piece of wank-splat.

In the end, World War Z may turn out to be a massive flop or a massive hit. The biggest disappointment at the end of all this is if it just turned out to be bland.

And, regardless of it's troubled history, we must keep in mind Werner Herzog's maxim; 'all that matters at the end of the day is what you see on the screen'.