Tuesday, February 08, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Green Slime (1968)


When I was five years old and living in New Jersey, a TV station out of New York, WABC, (Channel 7) aired The 4:30 PM Movie every week day. 

And via this 4:30 PM Movie platform, I was introduced to a multitude of cinematic treasures.  For instance, this was how I first encountered all the Planet of the Apes films, The Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973), and, yes...The Green Slime (1968).

Alone among those titles The Green Slime has gained quite a reputation as something of an anti-classic.  Specifically, it has earned only a lowly score of 3.7 from user/reviewers on the Internet Movie Database.

In additions, books such as The Official Razzie Movie Guide and Son of Golden Turkey Awards have pretty well mocked and eviscerated the film too. 

The former resource calls the movie a "camp classic" while the latter describes The Green Slime in this fashion: "Some of the worst American actors meet some of the worst Japanese special effects in this multinational fiasco." 

So that's the conventional wisdom.

The New York Times was slightly more forgiving of The Green Slime, however.  Critic Howard Thompson opined that  the film "opens promisingly, keeps it up for about half-an-hour but then fades badly. There is a quiet, tingling efficiency about these early scenes and very little nonsense. The trick photography and stratospheric effects are neat and clean. And the plot itself isn't half bad for this kind of operation."

I had not watched The Green Slime since 1976 or thereabouts, but when a dear friend of mine named Robert offered to lend me his DVD of the movie (recently released thanks to the exquisite Warner Archive), I jumped at the opportunity to screen the film again and re-assess.

So, today... The Green Slime

Well, first off, I believe The New York Times' Howard Thompson was actually more accurate in assessing and describing the film's strengths and weaknesses than the professional and amateur mockers have been.

In 2011, the film's special effects have undeniably aged poorly, and the actual Green Slime monsters probably never looked particularly convincing, let alone scary, to adult eyes.  Not even back in '69.  It wasn't really until Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), perhaps, that space monsters were suitably scary on-screen, and The Green Slime looks almost prehistoric by comparison.

I might also add that the science as presented in the film seems ludicrous.  And that the acting is -- termed politely -- stiff.  Blow dried might be a better description.  

If we're keeping count, one might note that much of the dialogue is risible...and thus humorous.  The view of scientists is pretty cliched too, with one professor's irresponsibility walking hand-in-hand with his idiocy.  

And last but not least, the  overt swinging sixties vibe (down to the awesome theme song and scantily clad astronaut ladies drinking champagne...) readily encourages the prevalent "so bad that it's good" interpretation of the film.

So please, take all these negative points as absolute givens if you decide to watch The Green Slime.   Don't say I didn't warn you, okay?

But playing devil's advocate now, this Japanese production filmed at Toei is also -- to my surprise -- constructed on some pretty sturdy film craft.  The film's director, Kinji Fukasaku (1930 - 2003) is well-known as a favorite of Quentin Tarantino's and even in The Green Slime, one can detect the reason behind his admiration. 

No, this isn't The Yakuza Papers (1971) or Battle Royale (2000) -- not by a long shot -- yet Fukasaku is the same artist; one extraordinarily gifted with visuals, especially talented at selecting the very right shot at the right moment.  

The upshot is that a producer could actually mount a shot-for-shot remake of The Green Slime in Hollywood today --  featuring big-name actors and upgraded special effects -- and it would probably be pretty damned good.


"We found something strange up there, sir."


The Green Slime is the story of a planetary disaster in the making.  The multi-national UNSC (United Nations Space Command) learns that a rogue asteroid, named Flora, is on a collision course with Earth. 

In fact, it will strike in less-than ten hours.  Stalwart Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) is assigned to destroy the asteroid before catastrophe occurs.  Unfortunately, Rankin's assignment will also involve relieving his old friend, Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), from command of the international space station, Gamma 3...and seeing his old flame, Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), again.

But Jack is a non-nonsense kind of officer, and rushes in where angels fear to tread.  On a rocket mission to the rocky surface of Flora, Horton's team detonates several explosives in short order.  The threat to Earth is pulped, but a single glop of indigenous green slime lands on one astronaut's pants.

Upon return to Gamma 3, the crew celebrates the mission's success, unaware that the green slime has begun to grow in the decontamination chamber.  In fact, the Green Slime thrives on electricity, and soon becomes a walking, cyclopean, tentacled monstrosity capable of "feeding on energy and discharging energy."

The Green Slime can also regenerate at a "frightening" rate.  Even one drop of spilled Green Slime can regenerate a nursery full of these squeaking monsters.  In other words -- to quote Alien -- "you don't dare kill it!" 

Very soon, Jack realizes that there is no choice but to abandon and then destroy the overrun Gamma 3 station, lest the alien threat reach planet Earth...


"If he's right, those things are going to be all over the place!"


As I wrote at the start of this piece, it's easy, from a casual viewing, to detect what's bad and unintentionally funny about The Green Slime

I do not now and never shall deny any of those important elements. 

But solid film criticism isn't merely about plucking low-hanging fruit from the vine.  In some instances, it's about excavating those things that get buried in favor of the obvious.  And the fact of the matter is that The Green Slime is highly entertaining for a number of reasons, and it seems fair and judicious to enumerate those reasons in this review.

In particular, I recommend that viewers pay special attention to the visual compositions, and the ways Fukasaku uses the frame to create an escalating sense of tension.

For instance -- effortlessly and perfectly -- Fukasaku shifts to hand-held shots in the interior of a small spacecraft set just as the movie's protagonists undertake their important mission to Flora. The sudden shift from a more stately grounded camera to the hand-held shots supports the story's rising anxiety level.

I also admire how the director dramatically marshals whip pans and intense camera pushes during the big "reveal" moments and the sustained battle sequences.  

There's nothing wrong with any of these compositions, and in fact, many are actually quite gorgeous.  If you just try not to focus on the floppy-armed monsters, and look at the particular shots, there's a level of  real artistry apparent. 

And not all the special effects look terrible.  There are some inventive angles here of the Green Slime climbing up an Infirmary wall, edited in reverse, apparently.

That sense of artistry extends to the film's numerous space sets, which have sometimes been termed "cardboard."   I didn't see that much, frankly, except in a few short sequences where Gamma 3's doors appear momentarily light weight.   And on the contrary, the surface of the planet Flora as visualized here is quite dynamic and intriguing: a live-action studio set of considerable intricacy, color and depth.  In the days before CGI, everything had to be built -- including whole planets -- and The Green Slime's foreign Flora looks like fantastic on DVD. 

I could also comment on the effective choreography and early wire-work in some of the flying/battle sequences in space, a precursor to such EVA battles as we've since seen in Moonraker (1979), among other films. 

With all this good work, it is a mystery to me why a clearly capable director allows his poorly-designed, silly-looking monsters to get so much damned face time on camera.  This film could have been significantly improved by some shock cutting, by featuring dimmer light in a few moments, and by other techniques that could hide or mask the fakery.  If those steps had been taken, The Green Slime might be remembered very differently today.

In terms of atmosphere, The Green Slime is gloriously a product of its time and specific context, the late 1960s.  This was our world in the midst of the Apollo Program, with a moon landing on the horizon.  Accordingly, the film benefits from the same kind of 1960s retro-futurism and can-do attitude as TV series like Thunderbirds or Star Trek. 

That means the film is veritably filled with astronauts in red and blue jump suits, bustling about and moving quickly into action to face danger and save the world in the process.  Launch a space mission to save the Earth in under ten hours?  No problem! Just hit the accelerator!  The Green Slime goes into laborious detail showing space cruiser launches, futuristic cities and other examples of man's "high technology" in this possible future.  The breadth of imagination in terms of production design and miniature work on display here is not so easily dismissed, even if we have outgrown both miniatures and can-do futurism.

In terms of the world it presents, The Green Slime offers an irony-less view of can-do space adventuring, with serious men and women going about their business without tongues-in-cheek.  In today's hipster world, this is just something else to laugh about, no doubt, but The Green Slime is the product of a more optimistic age.  One in which we all believed -- without question -- that man would conquer space.  I find this facet of the film charming and innocent, I must admit.  The film's confidence in us, in mankind, is one of its finer qualities.  This faith is reinforced in the subplot that many critics find so deplorable, the Rankin-Elliot rivalry.

Specifically, Rankin is all about the job, damn the consequences.  We're all expendable! 

And Elliot is the opposite, willing to save his men at the expense of the mission. 

In the end, both men -- and both approaches -- are required to save the day.  This plot-point alone seems evidence of a more innocent, less polarized time in our world.  Today the answers to a lot of our national and international problems are both liberal ones and conservative ones, but no one wants to admit that fact.  It always has to be either/or; not a little bit of both. 

The Green Slime's dueling commanders -- fighting over the love of a woman and the path to success -- each must compromise a bit, and come to see the validity in opposing approaches.  Is this particularly deep?  Perhaps not, but it's another byproduct of The Green Slime's more optimistic epoch..

I've written a lot here about the things I admired in The Green Slime, in part because I enjoy highlighting positives more than I do writing a review focusing on some weak dialogue, or bad special effects. 

The Green Slime is not a great movie, but it is enjoyable and it boasts some visual distinction.  Snark about the movie can be found elsewhere.  Like, lots of elsewheres...

In the final analysis, whether or not you enjoy this film depends largely on your perspective of a common criticism.  Many reviewers have complained that the film features effects that make it look like "a Godzilla movie."

If you think that comparison is  a valid criticism and a sign of "bad" cinema, then don't waste your energy on The Green Slime.  You won't be that into it.

On the other hand, if you believe the comparison to Godzilla films is a positive, then by all means, sit back, relax, and have a good time with this silly movie played ever-so-straight. 



8 comments:

  1. Yours is one of the few reviews I’ve read that has fairly critiqued both the positive and negative qualities of The Green Slime. I too first saw this on TV back in the 70’s on my local UHF station that ran two sf or horror movies every Saturday afternoon! I only wish I had seen it at the theater when it was released, as I was ten years old and as I’m sure I would have been able to see it as the exciting sf adventure it was intended to be! Even as a teenager I couldn’t overlook the overblown cheesiness of the tentacled slime creatures. Yet, the amazing sets and miniatures of the time were still enough to get me to watch The Green Slime on multiple occasions.

    I’m sure there is a fascinating story somewhere that gives the reason why Ivan Reiner, the producer and writer of the Italian productions Wild, Wild Planet and The War of the Planets, would go with a Japanese production for what ended up being his final film for MGM. I personally like The Green Slime better than those Gamma 1 films, but that may be that there is much less poor dubbing in it than in its Italian counterparts.

    Thanks for pointing out to everyone, John, that The Green Slime is good for more than just a laugh.

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  2. Hi Fritz, Doc Freakenstein,

    Thank you for a lovely comment, and your many kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the review, and that it brought back good memories of the film. Seeing The Green Slime again after so many years did the same for me.

    There really isn't any sport in shooting down The Green Slime. It's much more interesting, at this point in time, to look at the good things the film achieves, and that's what I sought to do in this review. Anyone can crack a mean-spirited joke, you know?

    I really enjoyed watching the film for its 1960s "can do" space-program vibe, and for all the amazing settings. Many of the effects -- of the Slime in non-humanoid form, in particular -- also still hold up remarkably well.

    I would also love to know more about the Ivan Reiner story...

    best,
    JKM

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  3. "But solid film criticism isn't merely about plucking low-hanging fruit from the vine."

    And THAT's why you rule, Mr. Muir.
    And as a kid growing up in Brooklyn around the same time you were in NJ, thanks for the 4:30 Movie shout-out!
    --Ivan

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  4. Ivan,

    Thank you so much for those supportive words. They mean a lot to me! It's not everyday someone says that to me! :)

    And golly, don't you miss that 4:30 pm movie? That was a tradition I'd love to see resurrected...

    I think about those days in NJ, in the 1970s, often.

    Thanks for the comment!

    best,
    JKM

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  5. Hey JKM!

    Great to see your insights applied to a backhand classic like Green Slime once in a while. Me, I saw this at a drive-in when I was six and it was THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF THE EARTH. Those dippy-looking monsters scared the snot out of me (and there was a lot) and the heroism of the characters made an impression as well. Unfortunately I've seen it since and the seams do show (understatement?) but I still love the color, the space-age design and costumes, and the camerawork. And that theme song! One of the ten best ever, period.

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  6. Hi DLR!

    A 'backhand classic' - I love that phraseology; and it is absolutely appropriate in regards to The Green Slime. I can't imagine seeing this movie in the drive-in...that must have been an AMAZING experience.

    I'm also glad you mentioned the heroism of the characters. The actors here take a lot of guff from critics, but they play their roles with sincerity and earnestness...which is probably undervalued, at least these days.

    I'm with you on the Slime Love: I love the color, the space age design, the costumes and the camerawork. And of course, that rockin' theme song!

    Great comment.

    best,
    JKM

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  7. This one certainly takes me back (though it was a left coast trip). The film is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is enjoyable in exactly how you describe it, John. I likely could have seen it in a drive-in when it came out, but like a good many folk I caught this later on a local channel monster movie program (something you rarely hear about these days). Fun look at this, my friend. Thanks for this.

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  8. Hi Le0pard13:

    The Green Slime does take one back, doesn't it? I agree with you about the film being enjoyable but not great cinema or anything. I would have loved to have seen it at a drive in movie, however! Glad you enjoyed the piece, my friend. Thank you for the comment.

    All my best,
    John

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