Jeff MorrowBarbara LawrenceMorris AnkrumRobert Shayne
Medium: film
Year: 1957
Director: Kurt Neumann
Writer: Lawrence L. Goldman, Irving Block
Keywords: SF, giant rampaging monster
Country: USA
Actor: Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence, John Emery, George O'Hanlon, Morris Ankrum, Kenneth Alton, John Parrish, Jose Gonzales-Gonzales, Richard Harrison, Marjorie Stapp, Robert Shayne, Don Eitner, Gordon Mills, John Halloran
Format: 78 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 5 April 2012
It's a 1950s SF movie with a giant stomping monster. However on the upside it's also got imagination, a sense of humour and enough surrealism to make it up to "sort of watchable".
Kronos, aka. Ravager of Planets, is a 4.9 mile wide flying saucer for the first half of the film and thereafter a coffee table. The switcheroo comes when the saucer splashes down into the ocean and then never gets mentioned again, which we're not supposed to notice because we're so scared by the coffee table. Imagine a rectangular block on legs, on top of another rectangular block on legs. That's Kronos. He's extremely big, they used hand-drawn animation for the special effects of him walking and he eats nuclear bombs. That's why he's here, in fact. Kronos has exhausted his home planet of energy and so he's come to Earth to eat all of ours, like Galactus or the Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine" except that this film got there first.
This is actually a good motivation. It makes sense without idiot 1950s technobabble, although it still gets some. "We have half of the equation; we can turn matter into energy. But up there, they have the second half; they can turn energy into matter." This might have been good if they'd gone to Logopolis with it, but unfortunately the scriptwriters seem to think we'll be awestruck by the idea of a few extra hydrogen atoms floating around. Nevertheless it's still pretty cool and has only become more topical since then. They nearly remade this film in the 1970s, during the energy crisis.
What I like about the film is that it starts like Doctor Who. The UFO enslaves the mind of a passing hick, then uses him to body-jump into the head of a scientific bigwig (John Emery). This is more like a horror film than regular 1950s SF. Meanwhile his subordinates (Jeff Morrow, George O'Hanlon and Barbara Lawrence) are spotting strange things in the sky... but their dialogue is all about Lawrence trying to drag Morrow out on a promised date and O'Hanlon calling their supercomputer "Susie". This is fun. Susie fills an entire wall, looks impressive and will have less computing power than the "off" button on your mobile phone. Morrow has a funny feeling about the asteroid they've just seen. He points out that its trajectory is unnatural. He wonders whether he's barking up the wrong tree. He doesn't seem to have noticed that his photos don't show a big space rock, but instead a hilariously obvious flying saucer.
Nevertheless I was really enjoying all this. I'm a fan of Morrow, for a start. He knocked me dead in The Giant Claw, although admittedly he's less memorable in the less silly The Creature Walks Among Us and This Island Earth, or indeed this film. He doesn't take evasive maneuvers when faced with wooden 1950s genre dialogue, but he's still likeable and a dude I'm happy to watch. O'Hanlon is a comedy boffin. Meanwhile Lawrence is gloriously 1950s in how blatantly she's the Token Female, showing zero interest in anything scientific. She might as well have been a secretary. Nevertheless I quite like the way 1950s genre films kept giving us female scientists, even if they're only doing it because they wanted to shoehorn a bit of eye candy into the film and as here they'll often undermine the accidental feminism.
Morrow also has a classic 1950s dialogue howler. "Do you think you'll be able to respect a husband who probably pulled the biggest scientific boner of all time?" Most people these days wouldn't even be aware that to "pull" your "boner" once upon a time meant you'd made a mistake.
I'd love to know more about the special effects. Apparently a budget cut forced a last-minute rewrite which lost them some character development and special effects sequences. Does this mean Kronos originally had a different design? He didn't always look like a coffee table? Dialogue describes him as a "monster" and "scary", although fortunately the actors know how to play that one. Nevertheless I like the special effects. Kronos's design is kind of cool in how unashamedly alien it is, while the movie never looks noticeably cheap. Overall it's a trip, which is the best reason for watching 1950s SF. It's the wacky stuff that you want to be hunting down, e.g. the The Giant Claw or the Metalunan from This Island Earth. I wouldn't say Kronos looks silly, but in a good way he looks kind of freaky. It's a bit Arthur C. Clarke.
Things I learned from watching this film:
1. Scientists who'll get possessed by an alien intelligence will have wall-mounted electrical equipment in their offices that kills anyone who touches it.
2. There's nothing particularly surprising in an asteroid moving at "seventeen hundred and fifty miles per second". This is over 6,000,000 mph and approximately a hundred times Earth's speed around the sun. In real life, the average orbital speed of an asteroid is 25 km/s.
3. Completely turning a 10,000+ ton Kronos from matter into energy will merely make a big explosion in the desert, rather than the alternative of a blast you'd measure in petatons that would turn the Earth into space dust. (Peta is the next one up after kilo, mega, giga and tera.)
Despite all of the above, though, the film isn't a cheesefest. It seems intelligent enough to be aware of what it's doing, so for instance I love the scene of that news anchor telling the people of New York that there's nothing to worry about in a 4.9-mile-wide meteorite on a collision course with their city, due to arrive any minute now. It's a 1950s cliche that the public mustn't be told anything for fear of causing panic. Heh. Similarly classic are the psychologists who use electric shocks as a first choice treatment and who can't even allow head space to the truth, which here pleasingly leads to death. It's not a great film, mind you, or even a particularly good one. It's slow, the finale is daft and the story occasionally falls into genre-by-numbers. Nevertheless it's a film you could still, more or less, respect in the morning. Apparently it has a cult following. I'd have been surprised if it didn't.