Among the gifts that my wife gave me for my birthday was this box-set of “50 Sci-Fi Classics”. Now, I’m not positive that all fifty movies in this set would be considered “classics” — although I suppose Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would, for certain definitions of “classic” — but the ones we’ve watched so far have been at least fun. Of course, we’ve only watched three of them so far:
The first we watched was The Incredible Petrified World. In this film, four deep sea explorers end up at the bottom of the ocean when the cable suspending their diving bell snaps. Judging by the light outside the bell they decide they’re not so deep that the pressure would kill them, so they all slip into their wet suits and make their way upwards… only to end up in what appears to be a large and complex series of underground caves, lit by phosphorescent rocks. Dangers of this “incredible petrified world” include a mysterious shipwreck survivor who takes a hankerin’ to one of the women in the crew, and stock footage of large lizards. There wasn’t much in the way of petrification in this “petrified world”, except that some of the rocks kind of looked like rocks in a petrified forest, sort of. Anyway, in the end, a volcano somewhere erupts, killing the weird old man, and the four are rescued. Not much more than that happens in this hour-long saga, but that’s all that matters, I think.
The second film we watched was Queen of the Amazons. In this film, intrepid adventuress Jean Preston travels to the Middle East and then to an unnamed country in Africa to track down her fiancee, who has been captured by Zena, the fearsome Queen of the Amazons. Unfortunately, at some point her fiancee has fallen in love with Zena; but that’s okay, actually, because Jean has fallen in love with the safari guide. This film also lasted an hour or so, and at least half of that was stock footage of African landscapes and wildlife that someone found in the studio archives and decided to make a movie around. Oh, and there’s a subplot involving ivory poachers, and at the end it turns out it was the cook all along who was killing the Africans and plotting with Zena to steal the ivory from the U.S. merchants or something. Jennifer and I both lost track of what passed for plot in this film shortly before the big fight scene. But there was a big double wedding at the end, so I suppose it was a happy ending.
The third film we watched was Moon of the Wolf, a pretty predictable werewolf murder mystery set in the Louisiana swamps. I thought this film was better than the first two, but it was still mighty predictable. I was impressed by some of the details brought into this film, such as the French origin of the world loup-garoux (which I am very likely misspelling here), and some attempt at a medical definition of lycanthropy.
The part of me that enjoys films like this for their camp value has been having a blast with this set of discs; another part of me, though, the part of me that appreciates good storytelling and decent narrative, realizes that these three films are just plain bad. Yes, there’s a certain narrative naiveté that characterizes them — after all, fifty years past The Incredible Petrified World, audiences have come to demand more from movie storylines, and screenwriters write more complex ones in response (for the most part — there are certainly exceptions). But even granting that, these films just don’t compare with some of the true classics of the genre: Forbidden Planet, say, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or The Day the Earth Stood Still (I won’t say “the original” here, because my brain refuses to admit that a “remake” was made recently with Keanu Reeves).
Still, these films are fun in their own way, so watching them is no waste of time. And there are some films in this set that I can’t wait to see. Included here are some classic giant monster movies, like Gamera the Invincible, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Kaiju movies. Plus, there are films with titles like She Gods of Shark Reef; and who can possibly forego a movie with a title like that?