Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Incredible Hulk S1 E11: Earthquakes Happen

"I realized that I had the opportunity of doing a series in the genre of the 'creature films' of the Forties that featured Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Jekyll and Hyde.
But all those characters were evil - and the Hulk was not evil.
He is the personification of anger.
He is anger brought to a physical sense."
-Bill Bixby, The Hulk #10 Magazine (August 1978)-

 One could imagine master of disaster Irwin Allen would have enjoyed this particular slice of episodic television delivered by The Incredible Hulk in the form of Season One, Episode 11, Earthquakes Happen.

Stock footage is utilized from the film Earthquake (1974) which, surprisingly, Irwin Allen had no hand in. The disaster master loved his stock footage too. Though the success of his The Poseidon Adventure (1972) reignited interest in making the film Earthquake happen.

David Banner continues his fugitive-like existence by slipping into a nuclear research facility to utilize its gamma radiation equipment when an unexpected earthquake occurs turning the drama into a full on struggle for survival. A meltdown is imminent and while this is no HBO's Chernobyl (2019; an incredible mini-series worthy your time), the drama does keep the intensity on for 1970s disaster era excitement. Think of another disaster episode like Fire In Space (E14) for the original Battlestar Galactica (1978-79). Disasters were indeed the fashion du jour in the 1970s and Earthquakes Happen delivers its own Hulk-styled dramatic thrills within the disaster concept.

Oops! Missed painting that foot.

David Banner flashes back to the Pilot as he prepares an attempt to revisit his molecular problem.

The Blu-Ray offering delivers a minor, but still noticeable improvement over the DVD release, but is by no means perfect. Some scenes are dramatically improved while others are marginally improved. Still, the comparison with our last DVD review (E10 Life And Death) prior to this entry and you can note a marked difference in quality from the images.

The flashback sequence found in this episode from the Pilot will likely have Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic revisit the Pilot on Blu-Ray just prior to launching into Season Two.

Full confession, this writer and Bill Bixby fan spent a large portion of the weekend I wrote this watching Bill Bixby in The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (Season One) and for me that series is endlessly entertaining thanks to the actor's comedic and dramatic timing in the series and some smashingly good dramatic writing complemented by then outstanding child actor Brandon Cruz and the lovely, immensely charming support of Miyoshi Umeki. Creator/director/actor James Komack and Kristina Holland are along for good measure in support. It is simply a perfect series.

The Incredible Hulk is heavier and Bixby is a dramatically compelling actor that continues to carry the day during much lengthier episodes (50 minutes) in that lead role when those episodes can sometimes feel a touch too long. The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1969-1972) delivered tightly written 26 minute nuggets of character drama that still hold up today.

Remarkably The Incredible Hulk despite aspects of the show that clearly date the series squarely in the 1970s continues to deliver a quality TV show that this writer enjoys even if it doesn't shake things up in the mighty manner TV is allowed to do today. The rules were different and The Incredible Hulk played by them. Still it was fortunate to have a top tier actor and production team behind it that allows the show to live on as a Bixby classic.

Writer: Jim Tisdale/ Migdia Varela.
Director: Harvey Laidman.

Hulk Transformation #1: Earthquakes happen triggering Banner's first transformation.
Hulk Transformation #2: Hot steam from a water pipe as seconds count triggers Banner's second transformation.

You may remember actress Sherry Jackson from a host of TV programs including What Are Little Girls Made Of? (S1 E7) from Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) and The Space Croppers (S1 E25) for Lost In Space (1966).

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Rutger Hauer: On Blade Runner

"I felt that we had gotten a film with more layers than we were ever thinking of. I knew right away that this was a very different and special movie. Life is how you look at it, and Blade Runner decided to look at it in a poetic but dark way and, at the same time, with a lot of wit. It was not consumer-ready crap and it was not a fast-paced, science-fiction thriller. Instead, it was thoughtful and slow moving, and it challenged audiences to enter its world. This is a great movie---one that is beautiful, dark, wicked, poetic, exotic and beautiful."

-Rutger Hauer, All Those Moments: Stories Of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, And Blade Runners (p129-130, 135)-

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rutger Hauer (1944-2019)

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...all those moments will be lost in time."

An absolutely essential component that is the science fiction masterpiece classic Blade Runner (1982), this writer and fan is saddened at the loss of the wonderful performer that was Rutger Hauer (1944-2019).

Hauer will be forever immortalized through film especially in his role as Roy Batty in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. I just adore his performance in that film. Love him for it. In his book All Those Moments: Stories of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, and Blade Runners (2007) Hauer noted he incorporated many of his own lines especially written for the final scene of that wonderful picture that he memorialized in the falling rain.

"I want more life father."

As a young person this writer enjoyed many of his films and some of my favorites included: Nighthawks (1981; opposite Sylvester Stallone), Blade Runner (1982; opposite Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah and Edward James Olmos among many), The Osterman Weekend (1983; opposite John Hurt in Sam Peckinpah's final film), Flesh + Blood (1985; another film with Paul Verhoeven; opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh), Ladyhawke (1985; opposite Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick), The Hitcher (1986; opposite C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh), Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1987; opposite Gene Simmons) and Split Second (1992). And there were so many more including Batman Begins (2005) among others. The titles in red are essentials on Blu-Ray for my required Hauer fix.

What a memorable performer that got his start in several Dutch films by Paul Verhoeven including Turkish Delight (1973), which I would still like to see released to this day. He later received a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in Escape From Sobibor (1987).

He was one of the greats to me with many moments sure never to be lost in time as long as his great works live on in film.

Your time to die was too soon. Hauer was 75.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Gamera Vs. Barugon

"Gamera has revived.
Barugon has met his master."

Writer Stuart Galbraith IV wrote in his book Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films that Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965) was "one of Toho's best and last monster movies to revolve around interesting human characters" (p.111). Perhaps I've something of a Showa era bias when it comes to the kaiju eiga picture, because part of me agrees with the overall sentiment of that statement.

There is something about the more contemporary kaiju pictures, in relative terms (1980s forward), that seems to lack for me in human terms, not that they don't work for others. Never mind that this writer also has something of a built-in predisposition toward the suit design and production work on Godzilla from the 1950s through the 1970s. Take Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). This film feels (or doesn't) simply devoid of humanity in general, never mind a single interesting human character.

While I don't agree with Galbraith that the wondrous Frankenstein Conquers The World, starring Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno, was the pinnacle of character writing in those pictures, that film was a fine example of combining character with the spectacle of the kaiju eiga fantasy component we all wait with baited breath for each time we see such a film. Even Gareth Edwards' American reinterpretation of Godzilla (2014) felt empty in the character department for me despite being populated by a good number of them.

The Showa pictures somehow find a way to at least create some interesting human drama within their films that keep the stories interesting outside of the monster mashes. Human frailty, foibles, greed are often our undoing and those little skirmishes underneath the might legs of great creatures makes for some interesting viewing. Here greed is the root of all evil. These Showa pictures may not be perfect I know, but there is indeed an inherent charm in them that remains.

Toho did it often and well beyond Frankenstein Conquers The World. Monster Zero (1965), also starring Adams and Mizuno would continue that trend of dramatic quality. Other Godzilla pictures continued to satisfy that balance.

Beyond Toho, Daiei pictures jumped into the game and created its own beloved giant monster that same year in the form of a fire-breathing turtle Gamera. Gamera The Giant Monster (1965) was also blessed with its own dramatic components which served the film well and established a generally winning formula for Daiei. Gamera, the would be, eventual guardian of the universe (despite his own penchant for death and destruction not unlike Godzilla) would have a soft spot for children saving them before all others. The creature would become beloved perhaps my a smaller fan set than Godzilla but still beloved.

Director Noriaki Yuasa held Gamera dear to his heart and would direct seven of the eight Showa era Gamera films. Those films averaged around the 80 minute range. Only Gamera Vs. Barugon (also known as War Of The Monsters) (1966) would see the director sidelined leaving it in the hands of director Shigeo Tanaka whilst Yuasa but was assigned Special Effects director/supervisor. This would be the longest film in the franchise for that era clocking it at 100 minutes. And yet it wasn't just about those special effects, which are unmercifully criticized, but yet remain glorious. It was as much the character moments that made these Showa era pictures infinitely re-watchable. Today's kaiju pictures often seems to be about---just sit there and wait for those effects.

Gamera Vs. Barugon does a splendid job of luring us into the foibles of humanity as we anticipate the return of Gamera on screen since the terrapin's film debut. This is achieved through an odd bit of destruction in the opening.

The film also launches what would become a memorable array of strange and fascinatingly varied monster life forms that would comprise Gamera's rogue's gallery.

Barugon is first introduced to us in the form of a stolen opal from an island. But that island's secret is no gem. And like any good egg-birthed creature in horror it grows. Before long it is stomping and terrorizing the streets of Kobe, Japan. Kobe beef cows beware. But in a rare kaiju moment we even get a dramatic shot of the creature sleeping. How's that for monster character moments?

Barugon is an impressive looking creation with a striking hiss of a growl to send shivers down the spines of children in the 1960s. It persistently moves and sways like a large dog leaving carnage in its wake. Equipped with an amphibian-like tongue that uses a vapor that can freeze anything it touches within an instant Barugon is a mighty impressive beast as monster creations go. Nevermind that the creature is smart and senses danger. It's back spines will light and it can implement a devastating rainbow ray (you may miss it but the creature is from the Valley Of Rainbows---see picture), the heat of which draws Gamera to the creature like a moth to a flame. There really is a lot to enjoy here which is why it's so surprising it receives so many critical knocks from such kaiju fan critics like Galbraith.

Some have knocked such ventures comparing it to the work of the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, but this easily holds its own as a top notch creature feature affair in the effects department. There's nothing disappointing about it.

And before long its fire versus ice. It's Gamera versus Barugon in a monster stomping smackdown.

Truth be told, Gamera Vs. Barugon is actually Barugon's show. He's the star of this one as monsters go. A failed island heist creates a weave of betrayal that ends quite beautifully in irony. The most evil of would be jewel thieves inevitably dies in the creature's very clutches.

Though minimal in appearances its in the giant terrapin Gamera's hands to save the day. Thankfully Barugon is a sparkling diamond of monster creations. Simple, yet beautifully realized with an array of nifty weapons.

Gamera is sidelined for most of the picture apart from a brief appearance at the beginning, middle and end. The opening essentially informs us of what happened to the creature at the end of Gamera The Giant Monster providing some continuity. It also illustrates Gamera's affection for heat establishing how the creatures are drawn to one another. The middle sees Gamera gore Barugon briefly but is ultimately frozen by Barugon's freezing vapor tongue. And finally, the epic finale proves Gamera was down but not out.

Regarding those fantastic and unexpected scenes of gore, Gamera lashes out at Barugon at one point with its claws and punctures Barugon in the face. Purple blood gushes from the wounds and pours forth. This singular moment reminded me how it seems the earlier Showa pictures were unabashed in displaying graphic monster violence for the kiddies. This approach in Gamera saw its influence on future Toho Godzilla pictures in this way. So Gamera Vs. Barugon is a great first example of genuine monster blood gushers amidst the monster combat. I miss that. Who says the Gamera films weren't influential in their own right? Toho was still taking notice.

Stuart Galbraith IV doesn't seem to have a very high opinion of my favorite turtle. He wrote a fairly downbeat review of the turtle in his review of the Gammera The Invincible in his aforementioned book. He dubs that the "wrinkly" Gamera is adorned with a pair of "oversized, useless tusks" (p.113). Apparently Galbraith really wasn't paying attention as Gamera gores Barugon with his two useless tusks and literally drags him to his demise. That's the kind of useless you want in a monster battle. The writer certainly had the entire catalogue of Gamera's films to draw from before writing that review. Galbraith had to have missed just how useless those were as they literally snare the creature, drag him to the water and put an end to Barugon's terrifying reign.

It's also noted by Donald Glut that the tusks "come dangerously close to impaling the eyes every time Gamera shuts his mouth." But they don't do they? I believe there is a biological design in play here. Sometimes I think the kaiju fan writers project more unfair criticism on these pictures than they actually deserve simply based upon a long standing perceived reputation.

Galbraith seems to randomly apply logic in some kaiju applications perhaps due to a built-in bias for one monster over another. This is after all Japanese fantasy. Galbraith takes issue with the flying turtle declaring it adds "nothing to the story." It couldn't be further from the truth as the character's mythology grows. "What happened to its head and limbs?" he wonders. Really? Are we going to apply that kind of rigid logic code here to Gamera? How does Godzilla fly? or dance? How are there two-inch sized girls singing in Mothra (1961)? The list could go on. This is inherent to the Japanese pictures. Logic often flies out the window a bit with fantasy. He admits "a gigantic prehistoric turtle isn't a bad idea for a monster" but once again bemoans why the creature stands instead of crawls on all fours. Actually, again, it does both. It's one of the beautiful things about Gamera.

As for Gamera's enemies, Galbraith levels "Gamera would face creatures even more outlandish than itself" declaring Daiei's "monster menagerie never followed even the most basic rules of zoology." Ouch! Seriously? Has he seen Godzilla Vs. Megalon? I mean, save for maybe Zigra (again opinions being relative) this is an impressive cast of monster characters. All, including Zigra, are fantastical in a good way, not at all the "disappointment" he calls them in comparison to Toho's lot. Isn't creative and imaginative what we connected with as kids? The Gamera series never disappoints long-standing fans in this way.

Some writers are unfairly critical of the franchise. Galbraith just didn't see the Gamera pictures that many of us enjoyed in our youth. His summation proves this. "The Gamera movies are slow-moving, slow-witted and almost unwatchable, little more than expanded kiddie shows" (p.115). Rarely have I found the kaiju pictures to be particularly intellectual across the spectrum and this criticism is particularly ferocious.

Despite the fact this entry has no children and is played pretty straight still doesn't work for Galbraith. He called the film a "dull mess" in his publication. He takes issue with Gamera's return to Earth in the beginning as bridging material to the first film. He calls the return "for no good reason (perhaps revenge?)." I'd say revenge is a good reason for a monster or maybe no reason at all. Thus, Gamera is a real punching bag for some. But it's a monster and a reasonably smart one.

Galbraith levels all sorts of oddly problematic questions toward this fantasy feature, the same questions that could be targeted at a hundred other Toho pictures. He sees problems with Barugon's tongue and the "killer rainbow" feature of the beast mixed with the "Treasure Of Sierra Madre" plotting. He has problems with the special effects as "cheap and uninspired" and blows holes across the film some of which are entirely unfair and unwarranted.

I just couldn't disagree more with Galbraith's incessant needling of this film and don't see the flaws that he sees and it's unfortunate Gamera is something of a whipping monster for critics like him to all things Toho.

Ah well, Gamera has always been forced to play second fiddle to Godzilla and never getting his due. Writers like Galbraith (a good writer) continue that trend calling Gamera Vs. Barugon "100 minutes of sheer boredom," "dull" and "ludicrous" in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! (p.182), but I would implore you to enjoy these first two features starring Gamera to judge for yourself. It's much better than critics like Galbraith say. See for yourself. In fact, sometimes I simply don't understand why these writers are even writing about Japanese fantasy film given the knives they have out for them. It makes as much sense as some fantasy films and this is a very good one.

Tanaka's Gamera Vs. Baragon may just be the Godzilla Vs. Hedora (1971) of the Gamera franchise. Whereby Noriaki Yuasa was the primary director for the Gamera franchise not unlike Ishiro Honda was to Godzila, Tanaka delivers his own personal Yoshimitsu Banno-like stamp.

This writer has always been partial to the great turtle monster, Gamera, over Godzilla (as much as I love the big G), but I'm likely in the minority and that's just fine with me.

There's as much subtext to Gamera Vs. Barugon as just about any Godzilla picture. The ripple effect of people's fears of atomic annihilation are felt within the film as they wait for the military to decide upon a solution to stopping the creature potentially having an impact on their own fates.

The creature's rainbow might suggest a pot of gold or a diamond in this case at the end of that beautiful rainbow effect, but at the end of the day the jaws of a great creature awakened by man's greed awaits in the form of Barugon.

On the surface we have a wonderfully creative kaiju picture where humanity is tasked with trying to stop a monster unleashed, find its weaknesses (Barugon is paralyzed by rain and water) and without the help of Gamera, whom it also sees as a foe at this point merely disabled by the great Barugon.

Underneath it all we have a morality play about being careful with what you wish for and the dark consequences of greed. Humans jockey for power amidst the rabble and once again we have another intriguing entry within the kaiju genre.

We also have a film that essentially plays Gamera as neutral (likely the influence of director Tanaka). Gamera saves Japan through its own need for survival against what is clearly a mortal enemy. Perhaps Gamera as savior setting the stage for a perception transition for the great terrapin.

Seeing Gamera vs. Barugon again only underscored my affection for the Gamera film series and the kaiju fantasy escape. It may not be the fastest paced picture (see a Marvel film if you want that) but it is a credible and sometimes thrilling Showa era film that deserves more credit than it gets.

Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic will continue to be a major online proponent of one of the greats in kaiju eiga.

Writer: Niisan Takahashi. Director: Shigeo Tanaka.