Tag Archives: movies

[Sep. 28, 1962] Seduction of the Innocent (special sci-fi fanzine edition)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

My father used to say that the road to drug abuse didn’t start with pot, or smoking, or even alcohol.

“It all begins with milk,” he’d say.

The funnel that leads to a life of science fiction fanaticism is not quite so broad, but there sure are a lot of entry points.  For instance, one can’t read the newspaper without some update on the Space Race or a new drug.  Sci-fi movies, while often terrible, are ubiquitous.  Science fiction novels are starting to take off just as the monthly digests are at their nadir.  Marvel Comics has launched several new sf-related titles.  Conventions are increasing in number.  Yes, the tentacles of fandom are many, indeed.

My introduction was the October 1950 debut of Galaxy magazine.  Sure, I’d read and watched some science fiction before then, but it hadn’t grabbed me consistently.  Galaxy was pure quality in every issue, and I soon bought an addiction…er…subscription.  Well, there were so many other magazines on the shelf next to Galaxy, surely some of them must be good, too, I reasoned.  By 1954, I was regularly also reading Fantasy and Science Fiction, Astounding, Imagination, Fantastic Universe, Satellite, and Beyond.  Let me tell you — keeping up was a chore!  I was almost glad to have the field winnow a bit toward the end of the decade.

In 1958, I began writing this column, and my reading became more disciplined, more with an eye toward providing content to my readers (who numbered about three at the time; thank you, Stephanie, Janice, and Vic).  The trick then was to ensure I had enough material to fill 10-15 articles a month.  Three magazines and the odd space shot weren’t enough to do the trick.  So I started reading the science fiction novels as they hit the newsstands.  Not all of them, mind you, but the ones that looked interesting.  I began going to the cinema with the Young Traveler for all of the sf flicks, good, indifferent, and (too often) bad.  The Twilight Zone debuted in 1959, and that became a regular viewing experience.

There’s nothing a fan likes more than meeting other fans, so of course, attending conventions became a must.  And then I wasn’t just going to conventions; I became a panelist, a sought out guest.  There began to be rumblings that Galactic Journey might be on the ballot for a Best Fanzine Hugo sometime soon, so I broadened my reading material to include other fanzines.

This, then, is my current state…buried under a pile of reading material faced with a daunting publication schedule.  Thank goodness many of the Journey’s readers have become associates, bringing their unique (dare I say, superior) talents to this ever-burgeoning endeavor.

So this month, I’ve got a couple of special treats, which I shall provide largely without comment.  The first is a fanzine revival by Uberfan Al haLevy.  Rhodomagnetic Digest was a stand-out ‘zine for several issues in the early ’50s.  Al revived it this year, and I recently got my hands on the second issue.  Highlights include the converage of the Labor Day “Nonvention,” a sizeable California gathering for the folks who couldn’t make Chicon III; and a comprehensive encyclopedia of Tolkein’s hobbits.  The latter looks to be first in a series, and I’m certain Middle Earth fans will find it useful. 

Present #2 is a science fiction movie magazine, Spacemen .  I hadn’t even been aware of its existence, but a friend left his copy of Issue 5 here last weekend, and I found it interesting enough to share.  It’s a retrospective issue, full of lore going back several decades, the most compelling of which (to me) was the interview with Buster Crabbe about his work portraying Buck Rogers, which he did after his stint as Flash Gordon.  Lots of good pictures and some fascinating advertisements in the magazine’s aft section.

I hope you enjoy these off-the-beaten-path pieces of sf fandom goodness.  And if these be the items that tip you from FIJAGDH (Fandom is Just a G-D Hobby) to FIAWOL (Fandom is a Way of Life)…

…welcome aboard!




[Sep. 15, 1962] Communist Defector (Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Sun)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Roger Corman, the Savant of Schlock is back with a most unusual motion picture.  With incredible puissance, Corman stretches a dime such that he makes “A” quality out of “B” films (q.v. House of Usher, Little Shop of Horrors, Panic in Year Zero, etc.) But Corman takes a different tack with his latest flick, Battle Beyond the Sun.  From what I’ve read, it was originally a Soviet film, which Corman then redubbed and edited for American consumption.  The result is…interesting, and not an unrewarding experience.

The film begins with a somewhat non sequitur narrated sequence displaying a host of spacecraft models.  These are of current and futuristic design.  While a pretty sequence, it is better suited to one of the NASA documentary films you see on TV.  The rather ponderous narration continues as the setting is introduced: in the near future, an atomic war devastates the planet and erases political boundaries.  Once the Earth recovers, it is divided into two rival states: North Hemis and South Hemis.  Interestingly, the former includes what was once the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.  The latter comprises latin Europe, South America, Africa, and most of Asia.

Now it is 1997, and both nations are on the verge of sending a manned mission to Mars.  The South Hemis spaceship Mercury, docked at the orbiting station, Angkor, is undergoing final preparations when a distress call is received.  It is a North Hemis spacecraft, the Typhoon, in need of repair.  The Angkor personnel, apolitical in their devotion to science, open their airlocks to their distressed adversaries. 

But when the North Hemisians learn of the Mercury’s impending flight, they foolhardily depart with their half-fixed vessel in an attempt to reach the Red Planet first.  They run afoul of the sun’s magnetic field along the way, crippling the ship and leaving it in a helpless spiral toward extinction. 

Of course, the self-sacrificing and noble South Hemisians cannot let the Typhoon‘s crew die, no matter their treachery.  So begins an exciting adventure as the Mercury sails off to rescue the Typhoon, finds itself in need of saving, too, ultimate success resting in the hands of a third, prototype spaceship.  Will they make it to Mars?  Can they get back?  You’ll have to watch and find out.

The most striking aspects of this film stem from its Soviet provenance.  I recently reviewed the volume, More Soviet Science Fiction, and I note Battle shares the same grand stateliness with the first story of that collection.  Everything is larger than life.  The Director of Spaceflight sits virtually alone in an enormous control room, her voice echoing in the chamber.  Launchpads are giant, austere things.  The final scene is a sweeping pageant of clamoring humanity. 

There is, of course, the lackluster dubbing (par for the course if you’ve watched Japanese imports), and I imagine we lose a bit of the original plot.  But I was impressed with the lack of political bias.  Battle is a tale of the community of science winning out over personal or national ambition.  It was clearly a high budget film, with excellent use of matting, fine modelwork, and stunning costumes.

Technologically, it’s a big of a mixed bag.  I liked the fact that ships had to turn over to decelerate, and I was impressed with the way the astronauts’ couches reclined to always be perpendicular to the direction of thrust.  The filmmakers were obviously impressed with this effect, too — it gets shown a lot

In the demerits department, we have the fact that ships sail across the solar system in what appears to be a matter of hours.  With engines that powerful, one wonders how it’s taken so long to get a person to Mars.  Also, the superfluous mid-movie fight between purple space monsters, advertised heavily in the trailers, is both nonsensical and was clearly created in post-production as a way to jazz up the film.

But the movie doesn’t need it.  I fully expected Battle to be a ponderous mess, but it actually moves along quite nicely.  It was certainly much better than the Italian flick, Assignment: Outer Space

Three stars, and a keen desire to someday see the original.


by Lorelei Marcus

Strap in and recline your seats, because we’re going on a space adventure! This week me and my father watched, “Battle Beyond the Sun,” a Soviet science fiction film brought to the U.S. I didn’t have very high hopes going into this movie, but my dad promised purple space monsters, so, reluctantly, I agreed.

Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t bad! It was actually quite interesting to compare a Soviet film to the (mostly) American films we’ve watched so far. The cinematography was different, but still quite good, and the space suits looked cool and realistic. The voice actors who did the overdub for the movie were sub-par to say the least, but it didn’t take away from the movie too much. I noticed throughout the movie that all the actors had a certain ‘closeness:’ they were all simply closer together: Their faces were closer when talking, they had hands on each others’ shoulders, etc. That’s certainly different from the wide personal bubble we Americans prefer.

The story, on the other hand, wasn’t too far off from what I would expect in a science fiction film. The movie was about the two halves of the globe, North Hemis and South Hemis, and their race to Mars. The South Hemis ship gets stranded on an asteroid orbiting mars, after rescuing the North Hemis ship. Then there’s the odd and unnecessary scene of the purple space monsters fighting each other, which apparently wasn’t added in until it made it to the U.S. It was really unnecessary, but I suppose it did get me to the watch the movie!

For most of the movie me and my dad thought that the U.S. And Soviet Union were in different nations. It wasn’t until after the movie that we realized it was actually the opposite: Soviet Union and America in the North, and basically everyone else in the South. It struck me that they had purposefully done this to avoid labeling political sides, which was not something I would expect the Soviet Union would do!

Overall this was a pretty good movie. The effects were cool and the story was passable. The foreign influence also added a unique feel to the movie. I give this movie 3/5 stars and 1/5 purple space monsters (this movie either needed more or fewer purple space monsters.) I still recommend you watch this movie yourself, as it is an interesting contrast to the other science fiction movies I’ve seen so far.

Until next time…this is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[August 8, 1962] Abysmal (The Underwater City)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The Sea.  An endless, mysterious expanse.  A potential source for bountiful harvests of food.  An untapped mine of vast mineral wealth.  A battleground to be populated with underwater naval bases. 

An inspiration for far too many lousy movies.

Frontiers are always ripe arenas for adventure stories.  From Outer Space to the frigid poles to the watery depths, they lure us with the promise of riches and resources; they reward us with hardship and death.  Man vs. Nature is one of the classic conflicts, and expertly handled, can be a thrill.

The makers of the latest summer sci-fi film, The Underwater City, were not experts.


(stills are in color, but the film was released in black and white for no explainable reason)

The plot in brief: Contractor is tasked with creating the first ocean-bottom settlement.  He settles on a cluster of independent metal cels, and then joins the first small group of colonists.  Some of the builders die during construction, victims of various undersea perils — from seaquakes to manta rays (?!) One of the settlers rummages around an old wreck to find bottles of scotch.  A giant octopus and a giant moray eel fight at one point for some reason.  And, at the very end, the crust gives way and the colony is lost.


The only reason to build models of an undersea city is…


…to give it the Atlantis treatment.

Our cast:


“Hmmm….says here we’re the main characters so we have to fall in love.”


“Pleased to meet you!  Since we’re men and you’re the woman, you’ll be doing our cooking.”


We’re newlyweds!  Now stay in this room until the end of the movie, please.  You’re pregnant.


You might need some scotch to get through the movie, too.

Certainly, a movie about the first settlement at the bottom of the sea, particularly one with the decent production values of City, could be very interesting, indeed.  This one was flubbed at every turn.  More of an advertisement for undersea living, the kind that might be shown at the World Expo going on right now in Seattle, City is a conglomeration of scenes that serve no narrative. 

I watched this on opening night with The Young Traveler, and I think she encapsulates what was wrong (and inadvertently right) with the film better than I ever could:


by Lorelei Marcus

I read recently that you can tell exactly what a movie is about, just by its opening shot. Unfortunately, the only thing the opening shot of The Underwater City told us was that it was going to be a bad movie. That said, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a quite enjoyable experience. Taking advantage of the empty theater, my father and I commentated throughout the entire film, making it a bearable watch. This form of viewing can make anything entertaining, but this movie was something special.

The first interesting trait of this movie is…it wasn’t one. Walking out of the theater, my father and I kept repeating how what we just watched wasn’t a movie! There were scenes, and things that happened, sort of. Still, there was no coherent plot to speak of! Not to mention there was no conflict either. Any potential conflict was quickly resolved a few seconds later by either a character dying or being saved. There was no time to feel anything at all! (And yet the underwater scenes still seemed to drag on forever.) Even the final conflict was resolved within 10 minutes!


“Just wanted to let you know, I found the plot.”  “It’s about time!”


“Oh no!  We’re trapped because of the quake!  We’ll never… oh look.  A rescue submarine.”

There isn’t much to say about the sets and acting. The acting was mediocre and really didn’t add anything to the story. The two main sets of the ‘movie’ were the underwater city rooms and the underwater set. The underwater city was honestly very bland, and surprisingly roomy. After recently touring an aircraft carrier myself, the underwater modules looked absurdly spacious, especially for so few people living in them.


“The bowling alley is down the hall, gentlemen…”

The underwater scenes were actually fairly convincing.  The rocks and coral were nice, and the filter on the camera added that extra level. My dad was actually fooled for most of the ‘movie,’ until he realized the ‘air bubbles’ coming out of their breathing modules were actually soap bubbles.


Never sneeze in SCUBA gear

I’d say my favorite part of the ‘movie’ was all the stock footage of adorable sea creatures! The appearances such as the deadly shark, giant eel, giant manta ray, and giant octopus, really brought an extra layer of entertainment to the movie. The science of how the city became self sustaining underwater would’ve been interesting to me too. Unfortunately, the ‘movie’ didn’t show any of that — we just heard the characters telling us that the city was self sustaining.


“Why are we fighting again?”  “Shut up!  This is for Hollywood!”

In fact, the entire movie reversed the old adage, deciding that the best stories come from telling, not showing! They stuck so hard to this rule that they had a narrator describe everything that was happening on screen for the first half of the entire movie. I actually wondered if my father had gotten a version for the visually impaired! Apparently not, however, as said narrator disappeared halfway through the film, never to return.


Best not to show…just tell.

I would recommend you only watch this movie for fun and not for any cinematographic value. The dry and clunky story telling, the absurd science, and the nonexistent plot really make this movie, well, not a movie. I give it 1 star as a serious watch, but an honorary score of -3 for its unintended goodness. This movie is best enjoyed with friends, being made fun of.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[July 21, 1962] The Human Soul In A Robot’s Hand (Movie Review: The Creation of the Humanoids)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Rosemary Benton

The complex range of anger, fear, acceptance and love that characterize the relationship humans have with robotic life is hardly new ground for science fiction. You have stories that explore societies controlled by artificial intelligence like in Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands, stories in which robotic life works in service to their human superiors in accordance with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and stories that span every possible combination.

The newest addition to the science fiction sub-genre dealing with the evolution of humanity and its integration with robots came out this month in the form of the movie The Creation of the Humanoids. Following its premier in Los Angeles on July 3rd, this intriguing film made its way into theaters across America, including the theater in my city. It suffers from several weaknesses, but more than makes up for them with solid dialogue, interesting characters and a plot that makes the audience think.

I first and foremost have to congratulate the screenplay writer, Jay Simms. The story he told was both philosophically intense and well paced with each scene effectively written to expand upon the post nuclear war world in which the film takes place. In the first series of short scenes the audience is made aware of the progression of robot technology, the concern some humans have with human-looking robots, as well as a robot led movement to advance artificial life to the point of near complete human replication. In short order we are told of a fellow by the name of Dr. Raven, a brilliant scientist who is responsible for the technology being used to replicate robotic versions of deceased humans and implanting them with the personality and memories of said humans. When his lab is discovered Dr. Raven orders the synthetic human he was working on to kill him, thus instigating the first instance of a robot murdering a human and showing that their prime directive can be overwritten.

From this point the story closely follows the work of Captain Kenneth Cragis, a high ranking member of the quasi-racist anti synthetic human organization: The Order of Flesh and Blood. We see him conversing with an assembly of the Order as they discuss the discovery of Dr. Raven’s highly advanced humanoid model, whereupon we learn that, when confronted with the fact that he is not physically human any longer, the model shut itself down. After the assembly Cragis pays a visit to his sister who serves as a representation of how accepting, or complacent in Cragis’ opinion, the human race has become living side by side or even in love with humanoids. He is then introduced to her friend Maxine who works at a news agency. Despite a rather awkward and fast romance the two of them fall in love that evening. They want to start a relationship, but Cragis expresses concern that he won’t be able to give Maxine any viable offspring due to the radiation left over from the war. Despite his concern Maxine persists, and we see that Cragis is beginning to consider it.

The final act of the film contains some of the best dialogue, but also suffers from the most issues. Two low level humanoids approach Maxine and Cragis as they are walking through the streets discussing their future together, and then suddenly the scene shifts to the city’s main recharge building for the humanoids, or “temple” as they call it. Maxine and Cragis are standing stock still in clear plastic tubes as they mechanically answer questions posed to them by the three humanoid we see at the beginning of the film. The change is so sudden and without explanation that it takes a while to understand what is happening. Maxine and Cragis, as it turns out, are relaying information that they have gathered in their other lives amongst the general population. Unbeknownst to them, they are deceased humans who have been brought back to life in advanced humanoid bodies curtesy of Dr. Raven.

Deciding that their usefulness as double agents has been used up, the humanoids tell Maxine and Cragis about their true origins – that Cragis died of a brain aneurism one night in his lab, and that Maxine was accidentally killed by a bomb which, ironically, Cragis and the Order planted at her work place to harm the humanoids working in the mail room. Dr. Raven, now inhabiting an advanced humanoid body himself, explains that their souls are as much a part of their new bodies as they were in their originals. Everything that made them themselves – their memories, experiences, motivations and emotions – are still present, but in a new vessel. With a few further modifications they will even be able to reproduce. Maxine and Cragis come to accept their situation and approve of the technology being spread to the rest of the dwindling human population. Annoyingly, the movie ends with Dr. Raven turning to the camera and breaking the fourth wall by saying, “Of course, the operation was a success…or you wouldn’t be here.”

The production of The Creation of the Humanoids is impressive given what most movies of this nature are given to work with. Beautiful matte paintings and well placed sleek yet simplistic furnishings really drove home the aesthetic of the world. The color of the film is bright and crisp and frankly a welcome change from the more common black and white color scheme. Seasoned makeup artist Jack Pierce, who perhaps most famously created Boris Karloff’s iconic monster design in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, did an incredible job on the application of the grease paint and bald masks worn by the actors playing low level humanoids. The metallic scleral contact lenses that he crafted for the humanoids are especially effective and creepy.

Another well known Hollywood name that I was surprised, yet delighted, to see on the credits was Academy Award winning cinematographer Hal Mohr. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe his work on The Creation of the Humanoids to be one of his more memorable projects, but you can pick out his characteristic style of framing especially in the first encounter the story has with Dr. Raven. I have no doubt that without Mohr’s contribution to the project The Creation of the Humanoids would have been a far more static movie, especially since so much of the script is dedicated to people sitting or standing around talking.

Aside from some issues with transitions between scenes, and a weak conclusion to what would otherwise have been a powerful message on the means to the end of human mortality, The Creation of the Humanoids was a very fun movie that managed to be engaging and enthralling. The characters are written to be multilayered and well informed on their individual philosophies, the world in which they walk was distinct and believable, and the moral conundrums that they faced were not handled in a ham fisted manner. I would highly recommend this movie, even if the execution was lacking at times. Happily I give it four stars for creativity. 

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  We’ll be talking Summer Blockbusters and you’ll have a chance to win a prize!)




[July 16, 1962] Vegetating at the Movies (Day of the Triffids)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I’m just back from watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen.  You may remember I wrote about Wyndham’s work for the Galactic Journey last year, now I get the chance to discuss the film adaptation too.  As I said in my previous article, Wyndham is widely known over here because of the success of his novel The Day of the Triffids, which was first published in 1951.

But first let me mention that this is not the first time his story has been adapted for another medium.  While I missed the broadcast, it completely escaped me for reasons outside of my control, the British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted in 1957 a six-part radio dramatization of Wyndham’s story, presented by the BBC’s Light programme.  I was able to find out that it had Patrick Barr voicing the roll of Bill Masen, and I really wish I had been able to listen to the production.

Also, while I was compiling my notes for this article, I discovered that in 1953 the BBC Home Service transmitted Frank Duncan reading the novel that was serialized in fifteen parts, each episode being fifteen minutes long.  I mention this in part to emphasize both the importance of the story, and the impact it has had on the British public’s imagination.  It cannot be stressed too highly that Wyndham’s standing is on par with H. G. Wells.

A brief reminder that the story centres on how people survive in a world where most have been blinded and who now have to deal with triffids, which were originally bred to produce oil using genetically modified seeds that may have come from space.  These plants can move, and have stingers to attack prey.  Yes, they’re alien vegetables from space that eat meat.  From this premise Wyndham weaves a very British disaster story set in our green and pleasant land that grips one from beginning to end.

So how does this latest film adaptation fare?

The film is 93 minutes long, and as such the story is both compressed and changed, which is ironic because I was told that the film ran short and they had to add extra scenes to pad out the length of the film.  While the overall outline of people blinded and marauding carnivorous plants remains, liberties are taken.

First, the main protagonist Bill Masen is changed from being a biologist in the book into an American seaman for the film.  The journey from London to the Sussex Downs becomes instead a journey to Gibraltar, which if you read my previous article is a bit of a switch because at its core The Day of the Triffids is a very British catastrophe.  Arguably one could make the case that the film has to appeal to a wider audience, and setting it Europe opens the story, and of course provides nice shots of exotic scenery.

I can all well imagine a sequel being set in America to make it appeal more to an American audience, but I think would do a disservice to both the original novel and Americans.

Also, the backstory for the triffids changes their genesis to plants mutated by the light of the comet.  Colour me unimpressed.  There is also the deletion of the character Josella Playton, who Masen rescues in the book from a blind man who is using her to find food.

Nicole Maurey, a French actress, is cast in a role as Miss Durrant who becomes a Frenchwoman, which is understandable, but would it not have been easier to make Josella French rather than write a new character?  I’m also perplexed at the changes made to the character of Wilfred Coker, who in transposing the story as a journey from England to Gibraltar, has become a tourist caught up the catastrophe, which undermines his whole story arc.

What is even less understandable was the need to add a sub-plot set in a lighthouse.  These scenes were shot because after the film was finished being shot it was found to be too short.  This is really a poor show on the part of the person who wrote the screenplay, because there was clearly enough original source material to work from had they hewn closer to the story in the book.

The worst part is the denouement where the world is saved when it’s discovered that salt water dissolves triffids, and the religious overtones are in my mind a little at odds with Wyndham’s story. 

However, all that said, viewed on its own terms as an SF monster movie, this film is quite entertaining for what it is: 93 minutes of being chased by man-eating plants.

[July 14, 1962] Cause for Alarm (Panic in Year Zero – a surprise summer hit film!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The specter of atomic destruction has been with us for more than a decade, ever since the Soviets detonated their first A-bomb in 1949.  Both the US and USSR have developed vast bomber squadrons and now missile and submarine fleets rendering every place on Earth vulnerable.  Not surprisingly, a new genre of fiction has been spawned – the post-apocalyptic story. Books like Alas, Babylon and movies such as On the Beach (originally a novel). 

The latest example is a tiny-budgeted film by schlockhouse American Independent Pictures, Panic in Year Zero.  The Young Traveler and I saw Panic at opening night, July 5.  There was a big promotional event headlined by Frankie Avalon, and I understand the picture made back its budget in just the evening L.A. showings!  The film has already generated some positive buzz, and I suspect it’ll be the surprise hit of the summer.

Produced by the master of the independents, Roger Corman, Panic opens with a literal bang: a typical Angelino family out on a drive toward a camping vacation sees a bright flash as their home town of Los Angeles is wiped out by Soviet bombs.  It soon becomes clear that the attack is widespread and civilization is about to deteriorate.  Our viewpoint family must brave its way to safety, securing adequate supplies and a defensible shelter, before the walls of society collapse.

The father, to all appearances a moral and decent man, has his principles rocked to the core.  After all, at what juncture is it right to abandon civilization and fight solely for your family?  When is that point of inflection where it is okay to abandon the sinking ship, at the same time hastening its capsize?  There are several points in the film where Milland undertakes actions that, while they ensure his survival, likely cause the death of countless others.  Compared to modern-day folk, his acts are evil.  But contrasted to the depravity they meet, they are the “good guys.”  It’s fascinating and effective.

Panic stars a pair of actors in the Autumn of their career: Ray Milland (who also directs) and Jean Hagen as the parents.  Teen idol Frankie Avalon is the son, while Joan Freeman, of whom I’d never heard, is the daughter.  Despite the utter lack of funds, or perhaps because of it, the acting, writing, and pacing are all tight and surprisingly realistic and gritty.  Les Baxter contributes an original score that consists largely of snappy jazz music.  It is at once appropriate and jarring.  All in all, it’s a solid movie, well worth your time – particularly if this genre is your bag.

Four stars.

[And now for the Young Traveler’s take…]


by Lorelei Marcus

Death is a scary topic for pretty much everyone. I think what’s scary about it is it’s so unexpected. You don’t know when you’re going to die. You could die tomorrow! Our chances of death seem to have increased since the Cold War began as well. All it takes is one push of a button and you and everything you love is obliterated in seconds. That’s a truly terrifying thought. However, what if you survived? What would living through the aftermath be like? Luckily, the new movie, Panic in Year Zero! has the answer!

Panic in Year Zero! is the latest summer blockbuster, taking the U.S. by storm. It goes into the life of a traditional suburban family trying to survive the aftermath of a mass bombing. All the major cities, as well as our allies have been nuked. The family, specifically the father and son, have to face harsh moral decisions centered around their family’s survival. It portrays beautifully the panic and breakdown of society, and how this family deals with that. When law and order falls, do you try and restore society, or survive?

I believe the acting was very good. The emotions felt real. The story was also fantastic. It managed to tackle very dark issues while also being entertaining and hopeful. The pacing was great as well; everything in the movie played in real-time in a convincing way. The events all felt very natural and beautifully laid out. This movie did a superb job considering its tiny budget, especially when it came to the special effects. It is thought-provoking, very well done, and a very good watch.

I give this movie 4.5 stars. I highly recommend you see this movie.

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  We’ll be talking Panic and other films!)

[April 17, 1962] No Butts! (The film, Journey to the Seventh Planet)


by Gideon Marcus

Those of you deeply in the know are aware that Sid Pink made the Scandinavian answer to Godzilla last year, Reptilicus, and Ib Melchior brought it to the states (where it has had a limited release).  It was, to all accounts, pretty awful. 

The unlikely Danish-American team of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior is back, gracing our drive-ins with the latest American International Pictures extravaganza, Journey to the Seventh Planet.  It is a space exploration flick, as one might guess, and (praising damned faintly) it’s not as bad as it could have been.

The year is 2001, and peace has settled upon our troubled planet.  The United Nations Space Force has dispatched missions as far out as the planet Saturn.  Thus, it is now the turn of Uranus to be probed.  An “international” team of five Northern Europeans is sent out in Explorer Ship #12 with a mission to land on the frozen world.

Once in orbit (and they do a nice job of suggesting that the ship accelerates to the half-way point and decelerates the rest of the way – like a ship should), the crew are put into stasis by a malevolent intelligence based on the planet below.  When they are released, weeks have passed.  The crew, however, are relatively unfazed and proceed with the landing.

The surface of Uranus, at least in the vicinity of the landed vessel, is not at all what they expected.  It is a temperate place with Earth-like forests and a breathable atmosphere.  Very soon, it becomes clear that this is a manufactured setting.  In fact, as the crew think of things they would like to see, they are created out of thin air.  The village the Commander grew up in, complete with his childhood crush, appears before their eyes.


Don’t trust her!


Don’t trust them!

But this paradise is a limited affair – it is encircled by a force field beyond which lies the frozen waste they expected to find.  Exploring this forbidding terrain, the alien projects frightful images of monsters to ward them off.  More than just hallucinations, these projections are as real-seeming as the lovely ladies the crew encountered in the simulated village.


Going eyond the barrier…


Quicksnow!


Razor-sharp ice crystals.


Uranian vermin

Ultimately, Journey to the Seventh Planet is about fighting fear and temptation to vanquish an implacable foe, one that fights you with your own desires and phobias. 


Don’t trust her!


I told you…

They manage to succeed, but not without casualties of varying kinds.  The film ends on a triumphant though wistful note that I appreciated – it could well have wrapped up with the common “THE END?” scenario.


The monster is made of tripe…

So, what’s right about Journey to the Seventh Planet?  The science is not bad, surprising given it’s a B-movie of AIP provenance.  The producers neatly sidestep the “YOU-ra-nus” vs. “u-RAIN-us” pronunciation conundrum by inventing a new way of describing the planet: “YOU-rah-nus.”  The special effects accompanying the brain-creature’s psychic manifestations, and particularly the stop-motion monster at the film’s midpoint, were nicely done. 

The concept behind the film is a good one.  I found myself genuinely interested in the outcome, and it was nice to see the characters find the strength to overcome obstacles of their own creation.

Well then, what’s wrong with the movie?  It’s about 30% slower-paced than one would hope, for one.  This is not helped by the wooden acting (the dubbers of the Danish actors, who spoke their lines phonetically, were not particularly inspired).  Thus, what could have been a cracking episode of The Twilight Zone ends up being rather dull.

Still, having had a few days to reflect, I can safely say that I enjoyed the flick (not to mention, the popcorn they served at the concession stand was excellent).  2.5 stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

Going to conventions is always a fun experience for a traveler; however it does have its draw backs. Specifically, the many germs that are passed around in the tight space of the dealer halls. These germs can sometimes lead to sickness, and I have contracted a vicious, voice stealing, cold. However, you came to read a review and not hear about my troubles, so I will get on with it. Just expect one somewhat shorter than I usually write.

I pretty much agree with everything my father said about the movie, itself. The acting was very dull, the sets were somewhat interesting, and the effects weren’t half bad. The story itself was much too long, and the ways they decided to fill time were incredibly uncreative. For example, we have many scenes of the spacemen walking around for 5 minutes. However, to draw these scenes out, the men aren’t just walking around, they’re shuffling around slower than a snail! I have certainly seen better science fiction movies.

However, there was one part that I liked very very much. Towards the middle of the movie, the spacemen go out of their terrestrial clearing and encounter the being that is creating the Earth-like habitat that they were living in. They shoot at it, and in defense it creates a rat-like one eyed monster. They did this with shots of claymation that could compete with Harryhausen’s!

I’m giving this movie 2 stars. Not bad, but I’m not going to remember it in a week. Anyway, I’m going to leave now and get some needed rest. I hope you enjoyed this review.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[December 27, 1961] Double and Nothing (The Phantom Planet and Assignment: Outer Space)


by Gideon Marcus

Our effort at the Journey to curate every scrap of science fiction as it is released, in print and on film, leaves us little time for rest.  Even in the normally sleepy month of December (unless you’re battling Christmas shopping crowds, of course), this column’s staff is hard at work, either consuming or writing about said consumption.

I try to write my annual Galactic Stars article as close to the end of the year as possible.  Otherwise, I might miss a great story or movie that had the misfortune to come out in December. 

Fortunately for that report, but unfortunately for us, neither of the films in the double feature we watched last weekend had any chance of winning a Galactic Star.

Both of them were low budget American International Pictures films.  This is the studio best known for making B-movie schlock for the smaller Drive-Ins.  However, they also brought us the surprisingly good Master of the World as well as the atmospheric Corman/Poe movies.  So I’m not inclined to just write them off.  This time, however, we should have. 

The Phantom Planet is a typical first-slot filler movie.  Spaceships launched from the moon keep getting intercepted by a rogue asteroid.  Only one crewmember of the third flight survives, a beefcake of a man who shrinks to just six inches tall when exposed to the asteroid’s atmosphere.  What’s stunning is not the lack of science in this movie, but the assiduous determination to avoid any scientific accuracy in this movie.  However, I the sets are surprisingly nice…and familiar.  They look an awful lot like the sets from the short TV series Men in Space


“Remember when we flew these last year?”

The people of the asteroid (humans, natch) are a paradox of ultra-advanced technology and primitiveness.  They have powerful gravitational devices, operated similarly to the theremin, but they grow food out of rock and spin their own clothes.  There is some typical jive about the softness of civilization and the conscious choice to live the harder, but more pure life.


“Decisions…decisions…”

Beefcake pilot must choose between the two women who asteroid chief throws at him.  The younger, dramatic-looking one is mute, and therefore more readily impressed with a projected personality.  The older one is coveted by the chief’s top adviser, and some drama results from that.  All squabbles are put aside when enemy aliens appear to blast the asteroid with fire.  Beefcake and Jilted Lover work together to defeat them with theremins.  One of the lumpy aliens, a prisoner at the movie’s start, takes the mute girl captive.  She is rescued, and happily for her, the ordeal gives her back her voice.  Sometimes it’s that easy folks.


“You asked to be woken up at 6…”

Jilted Lover wins the love of Older Beauty.  Beefcake takes a gulp of oxygen and returns to normal size.  He returns to the moon with nothing but a pebble to remember the formerly mute girl with whom he shared the love of a lifetime in the course of 25 silent minutes.

Not quite one star, I suppose, but not much above it.  Call it 1.5.

Assignment: Outer Space, the “A” feature, is even worse.  An Italian production, it promised to be the superior of the productions, featuring full color, a wider aspect ratio, and a diverse cast.  Sadly, Assignment, filmed in Italy and dubbed with signal ineptitude, is a hot mess.  The set-up is fine, with an Earth reporter assigned to a space naval vessel to record a routine scientific investigation.  There’s some refreshing nods to weightlessness and some not terrible in-space shots.  The laughable model work is somewhat offset by the serviceable sets.  Yet, between the arbitrary plot (an Earth ship’s “photonic drive” has gone haywire and will destroy the Earth!!!) the fuzzy grasp of distance (Let’s go to Mars!  Now let’s go to Venus!) and the indescribably poor acting, this film is a dud.  And, of course, there is the perfunctory and accelerated romance between our reporter, Ray, and the navy ship’s navigator, Lucy.  It is as engaging as it is nuanced.


“These plants convert hydrogen into oxygen.”  “I love you.”

Another 1.5 star film (the half-star given for the mildly interesting engineer character, who is both Afro-American and the most competent of the ship’s crew).

Of course, as usual, the Junior Traveler came along for the ride.  As might be expected of someone with such maturity, culture, and discernment for her age, her views mirror mine…


by Lorelei Marcus

Today me and my dad decided to hit the theater and see what magical experience it would give us this time. We got a double showing, featuring The Phantom Planet and Assignment Outer Space. I will start with the former movie, to keep things in order. So without further ado, the review:

I think Phantom had to be one of the most low budget, poorly written, B movies we’ve seen so far. However that does not mean it wasn’t enjoyable. In fact it was quite humorous, after we decided to add our own little ongoing commentary. It’s more a movie to be made fun of rather than watched as a respectable feature. I don’t think it’s possible to watch it seriously all the way through.

What really intrigued me, is that it was made by the same studio who made Master of the Sky and the infamous Konga! This baffles me, because as you might know, these movies have a drastic difference in quality. In a way that’s really an understatement considering Konga was literally the worst movie we’ve ever seen. I suppose it isn’t that surprising for the studio to make The Phantom Planet though. It’s about the quality you would expect from a B movie studio.


“I thought cotton shrunk in the dryer…”

In terms of the story, there wasn’t one. Things happened, of course, but there was no ongoing plot, just a bunch of random events being thrown in your face, at random! The effects were cool at times, though mostly they just made me laugh. For example, the rubber alien suits on flaming ships, in space. The science of the movie could not be less accurate. I found myself constantly muttering to myself, “That’s not how it works!” throughout the movie. Still, that did also give more fuel to make fun of the movie and get any scraps of humor we could out of the mess.


“Theremins…in…space!

I’m going to give this movie 2 stars. Despite being absolutely terrible in every way, the experience around it that I had with my dad was quite enjoyable. I imagine someone going alone would give this movie a lower score than mine, but my experience is going to affect my score – I imagine if I’d gone alone it would probably be a 1 out of 5 stars instead. At least I had fun!

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Assignment Outer Space. We came back from the concession stand with high hopes, after the not-very-good experience we’d just had. Sadly, our hopes were soon crushed into a billion, tiny, disappointed pieces. The worst part is this thing tried to disguise itself as a movie, making the realization that it wasn’t even harsher.

We start off on a space ship where the main characters are waking up from hyperspace. We know this, thanks to the constant expositional narration that describes everything that’s currently going on in every scene. Despite that, we still managed to be confused about what was actually happening nearly the entire movie, which tells you something.


“I dreamed I was in a lousy movie!” “It’s no dream, my son.”

Anyway, we are soon introduced to the main character of the film, Ray, who is actually a reporter, and the narration is the article he writes after the movie. This was a terrible, and I repeat, terrible choice on the script-writer’s part. Not just because it’s completely boring and unnecessary, but it ruins the entire climax of the movie!

For you to understand, I will need to tell you the movie’s plot. Unfortunately this movie does not have one, just a series of events with no context or build up whatsoever. The main conflict of the film, which literally appeared out of nowhere, was an indestructible man-made weapon, intent on destroying Earth. The main crew’s job is to find a way to stop it, and that’s the entire second half of the movie! However we know how it ends from the beginning, we know they save Earth and the main character survives because we know he writes an article that he will share with the world! Plus, its not like the narration was even needed in the first place!


Ray saves the day.  Surprise, surprise.

As you can probably tell, that frustrated me a lot, probably because it felt like the entire movie was a pointless waste of time and I wasn’t going to get anything new out of watching it. I almost walked out of the theater at one point, especially when they killed the one character I was at all fond of (the engineer sacrifices himself to find the photonic barrier’s weakness). But no, I stayed.


“Mustn’t… show… emotion…”

I could go on and on about all the flaws in the pacing and acting and dubbing sync etc., but I already pretty much did that for the other movie. In comparison to Assignment Outer Space, The Phantom Planet actually looks like a decent movie (despite being in black and white). So of course, Assignment Outer Space is going to get a lower score of 0.5 stars. I think this is the lowest score I’ve given a movie so far, and this one deserves it. Konga was incredibly bad, but it had more redeeming qualities than this pile of garbage. I think the only two things I liked about this movie was the style of one of the character’s hair, and a shot where the main character turns towards the camera ridiculously slowly for no reason. That’s it!


Get used to this shot.  You’ll see it a lot.

With a steep ratio of bad to good Science Fiction movies this year, I’m really hoping we’ll get some better quality stuff in 1962. I wish I were a Time Traveler so I could just go and see, but that would spoil the fun. I hope you all have Happy Holidays, and do me a favor: never watch Assignment Outer Space. Thank you.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off. 

[November 21, 1961] Jules Verne on a Budget (Valley of the Dragons)


by Rosemary Benton

Very little deters me from seeking out science fiction films. Even if the venue is a little disreputable I will still venture in. Even when a film is being trashed by critics I’ll still give it a chance. But in the case of Valley of the Dragons I wish I had turned around at the entrance to the seedy theater I found it in. I wish I had heeded the warnings of fellow film reviewers. Valley of the Dragons is this month’s science fiction B-movie and 1961’s third Jules Verne inspired motion picture. It has everything including a story slower than my Greek tortoise, well known bit-role actors and of course copious use of stock footage. But is it still watchable? No.

Set in 1881 Algiers, the motion picture begins with two men facing off in a duel when a comet swipes past Earth, and pulls them to its surface and off into space. Suddenly finding themselves in a new and hostile world, the duelists must put aside their differences in order to outmaneuver a herd of mammoths, roaming giant lizards and bloodthirsty cavemen. Eventually they learn to adapt to their new home and are each adopted by a rival tribe of prehistoric humans. The second half of the film focuses on the emerging romances each man sparks with a cavewoman from his tribe. The script concludes with the tribes learning to come together to better fight for survival on the unforgiving comet. 

The poster for Valley of the Dragons touted several interesting aspects that I was hoping would be delivered. First and foremost, in bold red lettering the poster said that the film was photographed in “Monstascope.” Would this mean that the movie was in an aspect ratio other than 1.37:1? Yes, the film was definitely not 1.37:1, but neither was it CinemaScope with it’s glorious 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Herein lay the first let down of Valley of the Dragons. If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was closer to a 1.85:1 ratio.

Next, the poster advertises the involvement of director and writer Edward Bernds. Bernds is best known for Return of the Fly (1959) and World Without End (1956), although he has made his mark in exploitative films like High School Hellcats (1958) and even comedies like the Blondie Bumstead franchise. Being well versed in such a wide expanse of genres, I was interested to see what Bernds could cook up with subject material as potent as a Jules Verne novel. But despite my initial interest in the setting and the two protagonists, the plot quickly dissolves into painfully cliché storytelling with little in terms of originality. The former being especially true with the ridiculous amount of footage from other movies that Bernds stuffs in. Bernds relies so heavily on repurposed footage of monster fights and special effects that I felt like I was watching a fan-made reimagining of One Million B.C. rather than an original movie that happened to borrow some of its more memorable scenes.

But I can’t say that Valley of the Dragons is completely without charm. Hector Servadac, the only character retained from the original 1877 Verne novel Off On a Comet, fits well into the role of the more logical and methodical of the two protagonists. His monologue theorizing how they came to their current situation is also characteristically in keeping with Jules Verne’s fantastical science.

“There’s only one explanation that fits all the facts as we know them… A heavenly body, a small planet, or a comet perhaps, collided with the Earth and bore us into space carrying an envelope of the Earth’s atmosphere with us.”

It was also fun, as with almost all B-movies, to see how many different films they used stock footage from. At least I found it fun recognizing the various 40s and 50s films meshed together with original footage. But then again, I’ve seen too many movies. I was able to instantly recognize the alligator and monitor lizard fight, not to mention the woolly mammoths and giant iguana, from the 1940 film One Million B.C. It seems strange to me to use widely recognizable footage from a classic like One Million B.C., a movie that is played repeatedly on television, but not knowing the mind of Edward Bernds I can only assume he thought it looked interesting and would shave precious money from the production budget. In the last half hour of the film there is even some Rodan (1956) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) footage.

On the subject of saving money, Valley of the Dragons did include one prop that I was surprised and frankly impressed that Bernds employed. After our protagonists begin exploring the strange comet they find themselves on, they stumble into a cave to escape some roaming giant lizards. In this cave exist giant spiders. Very familiar giant spiders in fact. Since having them built for World Without End, Bernds has said that the mechanics nearly never worked and were a constant source of frustration for himself as well as the actors. Despite this, he has continued to employ these props in nearly every one of his science fiction films. It has become nearly a trademark to see these Labrador-sized furry spiders jumping on scientists, adventurers and heroines in an Edward Bernds movie. 

Ultimately Valley of the Dragons has not won me or the critics with either its Jules Verne appeal or its a giant spiders. This might a passable movie for anyone who has not seen a science fiction film over the last twenty years. Or anyone who doesn’t owns a television set and hasn’t seen over half of this movie via reruns of Rodan, One Million B.C. or Cat-Women of the Moon. But for those who are looking for a competent science fiction movie with fun special effects and originality, I would strongly advise looking elsewhere. Valley of the Dragons has its moments, but I can’t say it was worth the price of admission. Edward Bernds may be a competent enough director and writer, but Valley of the Dragons will not go down as a shining moment in his filmography.

[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)

Now here’s a special treat.  Not long ago, the Junior Traveler began contributing as a co-author.  This time around, she has decided to take center stage.  My little girl is all growed up!  Excuse me.  I have something in my eye…


by Lorelei Marcus

Recently, me and my family thought we should take a break from time traveling (in fiction and movies) and do some real traveling!  We decided to go to Japan!  I was sad because we weren’t going to be able to watch any Twilight Zone or new movies.  Luckily, we were treated to a new Japanese movie called Mothra.  Me and my father had the luxury to see it in theaters, in Japan!  It was a very similar (but intriguingly different) experience to an American movie in various ways.

Mothra, similar to many of the American movies we’ve watched, is a monster movie – in this case, about a giant moth that attacks Tokyo.  I noticed monster movies often start out the same, something or someone dear to the monster is taken from them to a big city, and the monster comes back to rescue it, destroying said city in the process.  It happened in Gorgo; this movie did not break the mold.

We start out with a ship crashing on an island that is being used as a nuclear test site by the Japanese.  A helicopter finds four survivors who were miraculously free of any radiation poisoning or side affects!  A team of scientists, including their sponsor Nelson, explore this mysterious island.  It turns out there have been natives living on this island the whole time!  Among these completely, naturally brown-skinned natives, are two foot-tall Japanese girls who communicate through song.  Nelson steals these girls thinking he can make a profit.  Of course the girls and the natives are distressed, so they call to Mothra for help, who at this point is still an egg.

After a ceremony and dance number, Mothra hatches as a little larvae and starts making her way across the ocean to Japan, where it wreaks havoc.  There was an exciting scene involving a baby and a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat.  I will not tell you how it ends, but I’m a real sucker when it comes to animals and babies in distress.  Anyway, after destroying many buildings, and killing many people, Mothra cocoons herself onto Tokyo Tower!  By this point, Nelson has now escaped to New Kirk City, in his native country of “Roliska.”  There, he is relieved to hear that Mothra has been defeated by Roliskan-provided heat rays. 

Or has she?

The movie goes on for quite a bit longer, but to avoid spoiling you of the ending, I will stop my summary there.  Now for my opinions!  I actually enjoyed the movie a lot; however after seeing so many of this type of movie, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t very bored at some parts.  The special effects were outstanding; it was hard to tell real from fake at some parts.  Though, by the second half they weren’t nearly as good, it was understandable considering it was supposed to be a remake of America, which Japanese would not have much knowledge of its architecture.  The sets of Japan though, those were completely realistic.  Even the tanks — the tanks were so good I couldn’t believe they were fake at first!  There is no doubt the effects in this movie had a high budget.

However, the story and acting at times were lacking.  I think the largest cases of terrible acting were Nelson and the incidental Americans.  Through the entire movie, Nelson’s poor Japanese accent bugged us so much — it was just so annoying!  There were certainly American actors who couldn’t do a proper Japanese accent to save their lives, but Nelson’s halfway-servicable accent was somehow worse.  There’s almost no way to describe how terrible it was! 

In contrast, the American dialogue, particularly that of one of the scientists, was probably the best part of the movie.  The emphasis on certain words was completely unnatural, and the words themselves were completely out of place!  Still it made my dad and I laugh every time one of these odd lines were just thrown into the background, simply for the heck of it!  “I wonder…a blood-sucking plant!”  Still gets me every time.

As I said before, the plot was your typical monster movie story. Though there were certainly exciting moments, with outstanding effects to complement them, I still found myself bored at times.  The story isn’t bad, and certainly isn’t weak, but I still find it lacking in a way that you can’t simply add something to fix.  You would need to re-write the story rather than add something to it to make it better.  The movie is a very specific genre, and I’m starting to get bored of that genre, so adding a twist or different plot all together would likely really help make it interesting.  I knew what I was getting into from the start, and how it was going to end.  I think the movie would’ve been better if it was just a little less predictable at least.

Overall I’d say this movie was solid, if unsurprising.  Similar to Gorgo, it did exactly what it was trying to do: be a disaster monster movie.  Clever characters as well as hyper realistic special effects and an adorable giant moth managed to keep me watching, despite the mediocre story and bad acting that made me (for lack of a better word) cringe at times, really tied it all together.  With all of these factors in mind, I’d give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Now rather than me signing off, I’ll I have my father do the footer for a change!  Here are his thoughts on Mothra:


by Gideon Marcus

I don’t have much to add to Lorelei’s excellent report.  A few things elevated this movie above Gorgo for me, despite having a similar plot.  Firstly, I appreciated that the movie’s protagonist, “Zen-Chan” the journalist, was atypical.  A chubby, comedic type, his performance might have simply been played for laughs.  Instead, we got a competent, plucky fellow to root for.  Similarly, his colleague, the photographer Michi Hanamura, was not a love interest or an appendage.  Rather, she was a strong character with agency. 

The production values were exceptional, easily the match of a high budget American production like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In particular, the aerial scenes when the beautifully organic Mothra larvae wriggles across the Japanese countryside are just exquisite.  The scenes with the little Mothra maidens were well done and as convincing as the miniature scenes in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So all in all, I think this was a better movie than Gorgo and thus deserves a higher score.  Three and a half stars from me.