Tag Archives: movies

[December 4, 1962] Like Five Weeks in a Theater (Five Weeks in Balloon)

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


by Lorelei Marcus

“5 weeks in a balloon!” What an exciting phrase — so much potential for many interesting stories and ideas.  Thus, you can perhaps understand the excitement I felt in anticipation of the new Jules Verne spectacular based on the book of the same title. Going in without a hint of what the film might be about, I already had a bunch of wild adventures thought up. I was certain the movie would involve a group of explorers struggling to survive a month in the air. Maybe they would run low on food. Perhaps they’d get on each others’ nerves. A giant storm might throw them off course or prevent their landing. Seeing it on the big screen was going to be fantastic!

Or so I thought. To be frank, the movie that I actually got was disappointing, especially compared to the wondrous stories that I’d already imagined before the movie. Rather than a cool and creative survival movie of living in a balloon, we got a rather dull sight-seeing trip.


Get used to scenes like this.  There are a lot of them.

The movie stars a small cast of stereotypes: The witty professor, the kooky general, the teenage heartthrob (Fabian), the obnoxious American reporter (Red Buttons), the slave girl who knows just enough English to sound foreign (but is totally understandable), and the love interest.


I’m glad Fabian’s working again.  Dig that 19th Century hair!


“Which man do you want to end up with?”  “Anyone but Red Buttons, please.”

Oh, and I can’t forget their ape companion either, because every Jules Verne movie has to have an animal companion.


This seems thoroughly responsible.

Now if I told you that this movie was about this crew racing in a balloon across Africa to beat slave traders from staking a valuable claim, and getting caught in various misadventures along the way, you would probably say, “Well how could such an adventure be boring?” I’m not sure, especially considering the movie started off so well!

Everything before the balloon’s take off (the first 20 minutes or so) was funny, clever, and fast paced. The first scene, in which the professor and his inventor friend take reluctant investors on a demonstration flight, and then the next bit in which the professor prepares for the expedition and collects funds and crew, was quite fun to watch!


“Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!”


“This is Africa.”  “Oh!  Good to know!”

But once he’d picked up the American reporter, and the balloon took to the skies, the movie ground to a sudden halt. Unfortunately it never seemed to pick back up again either. The entire movie was: the balloon flies around, lands someplace; the crew gets out and gets into trouble, they run back to the balloon and fly away. There were no real conflicts, because they could always just retreat to the balloon and escape danger. Moreover, many of these scenes went on for ‘way too long. There was never any real tension through the whole movie, and without tight pacing of events, the movie felt like it was really dragging on for five weeks!

Now I will give the credit for its visual quality. It was in color like all the Jules Verne classics, and it had many exotic settings and beautiful sets. However, with the lack of a real plot, the movie really just felt like “Look at this pretty thing!” over and over again. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a common trend, the substitution of pretty special effects for a good story.

The acting was alright. In fact, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the singleminded professor and the prissy general sent by the Prime Minister to co-lead the expedition.  Their banter was genuinely funny.  But it was also very British, or I should say, what Americans think of as British.  That was a big problem with this movie: racial stereotyping. There were certainly quite a few racist portrayals of different cultures, to say the least. The journey took place over Africa, so there several scenes set in Muslim palaces. The problem was, rather than using this opportunity to show these cultures in an interesting and insightful way, we got very clearly not Muslim African actors in brown makeup spouting nonsense. And the Black Africans were hordes of dancing/yelling savages. It really just felt kind of insulting.


“I’m British, you know.”  “What a coincidence!  So am I!”





Sensitive portrayals of foreign cultures.

In the end though, the largest fault of this movie was not its own shortcomings, but the fact that we’ve already seen this plot done better. Master of the Air, another film inspired by a Jules Verne novel, lived up to the expectations set by its title. It has a tense and satisfying story, characters with lots of depth, an awesome set…and weeks spent in an airship! That movie is everything Five Weeks wants to be.


This explains a lot…

All in all, I would not say Five Weeks in a Balloon is a bad movie. I think the creators were trying to make an exciting adventure movie and mix it with comedy, and they ended up succeeding at neither. Still, the high budget did make it a fun tour through Africa. The movie wasn’t a waste of my time, but I was disappointed that it didn’t meet the standard previous Verne films (particularly Master), have set. Overall, I give this movie 2 stars. It was quite mediocre, and I would say if you’re looking to watch a great Verne spectacular, then you’re better off with one of his other films.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[I watched this movie, too, and I really have very little to add to this excellent review.  I might charitably give the film 2.5 stars as it is less bad than not good.

One interesting observation — we saw this in a double-feature with This is not a Test, and both flicks featured chicken abuse.  Is this a new cinematic trend? [Ed]]




[Nov. 15, 1962] Panic in Year One (the movie, This is not a Test)

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


by Gideon Marcus

With nuclear bombers parked just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and last month having seen the United States go to its highest military alert level since we were fighting the Japanese, its no wonder that The Bomb remains a popular cinematic topic.  In the last decade, most of the films that featured Our Enemy, the Atom starred horribly mutated monsters.  More recently, there has been a slew of films portraying a post-apocalyptic world, starting with On the Beach, including the excellent The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, and also the less than excellent The Last Woman on Earth.


This is a test… of your patience.

The most recent entry in this radioactive field is the Z-Movie This is not a Test.  Its “star” is Seamon Glass as Deputy Sheriff Colton, a lawman dispatched to establish a roadblock on a rural road at 4AM.  As the cars and trucks are detained, we learn that Colton is after a young murderer.  The manhunt is interrupted by a bulletin: A Yellow Alert; the nation is under attack, and missile impact is imminent.


Todd Stiles and Buzz Murdock as truck drivers…

After the first few minutes, the flood of vehicles abruptly stops, and we are left with our cast of characters.  There’s the estranged middle aged couple with a dog (the Young Traveler quickly dubbed it “Gertrude“).  There’s grandpa and his pretty, pious daughter.  There’s the rakish truck driver, in whose rig the murderer had been hitchhiking.  There’s the hip couple, just back from Vegas after having made it big.  Wrapping up the ensemble is the late-arriving young scooter driver with an intellectual mien and an amazing capacity for remembering all of his lines (and little else).


“Drink this, honey — it’ll help the movie go down.”

And so begins a sort of atomic 12 Angry Men, a one-set piece in which the interactions of the characters, such as they are, takes center stage.  Civilization breaks down in the sixty minutes prior to the Bomb’s fall.  The rake seduces the wife.  The milquetoast husband shoots himself rather than interfere.  The hipsters drink themselves silly.  The fugitive, clearly mentally challenged, makes a few languid ominous moves at the daughter…but mostly just wants his suitcase back.  The grandfather suddenly remembers the existence of an abandoned mineshaft and dispatches his daughter and the intellectual to it.


Our Kooky Kast.

The most interesting character is Colton, who is a moron and yet, by virtue of his position, in charge.  He orders the roadblocked travelers to give him their car keys, he smashes the liquour in the back of the truck (so as to keep people from drinking), and then directs the stranded civilians to empty the vehicle so that it can be used as a bomb shelter — though what good thin, above-ground metal walls will do is an open question.  Later, while panting in the hot bed of the truck, the Deputy decides to kill the puppy to conserve oxygen (yes, Gertrude dies in this film, too!)


This is the enemy.

At the film’s conclusion, looters show up and abscond with the wife.  The rest of the travelers close up the truck just before the bomb hits, leaving the criminal and the deputy out in the open.  Cue a bright flash and… The End.


And thus the movie ends as it began… with a whimper.

By any measure, This is not a Test is terrible, made on a shoestring, indifferently written, counterproductively acted.  Still, as bad as this movie clearly is, it does work.  Sort of.  It’s obvious within the first ten minutes that the only drama is that provided by the characters under increasing stress.  It’s strangely compelling and somehow keeps your interest from beginning to end.

Two stars.

And now for a view from the perspective of a teen: Young Traveler, take it away!


by Lorelei Marcus

You know what there aren’t enough of right now? Movies with people talking about what to do when a nuclear bomb hits! At least, that’s what the writers of This is Not a Test thought before writing this sorry excuse of a movie. That’s right, we’re back with another movie review, and this time the movie is really bad. Let’s start from the beginning.

This is Not a Test is about a group of people who get stranded on a mountain close to ‘ground zero’ just before the missiles hit. The entire movie is their discussion of how they will survive the blast. That’s it. Now this movie was made on a shoestring, so I can let some cheapness slide but the storytelling was just lazy! There was practically no plot! Sure there were a few conflicts here and there, but nothing I really cared about. “Oh no, that one guy’s wife is cheating on him. Oh no, that other girl’s dog died.” You’d think a movie about a nuclear bomb would manage to be a little bit thrilling, or even interesting, but I guess not.


“You think we’ll see the bomb?  Hear it?”  “Not on this budget…”

I think this movie is also made so much worse because we have an example of a really fantastic movie on this topic, also made on a low budget. Panic in Year Zero was an excellent film, made with little more than This is not a Test. It had a fascinating story, compelling characters, and thrilling conflicts. In fact, its as if someone saw Panic and said, “I want to make that… but worse!” It’s a bit uncanny how the events in Panic line up with the topics of discussion in Test so flawlessly. Hmm..


“Calling all cars.  Watch out for traffic jams and people pushing cars off roads.  We won’t show you, but you’ll hear about it.”

The plot wasn’t the worst part of the movie though. The entire movie had one set: an empty road on the side of some barren mountain. I’ve seen some very bad movies, but at least they gave me something to look at! For example, the movie Konga was one of the worst films I’ve seen, but at least it was awesome seeing the city getting destroyed by a giant ape! Instead, Test gives us a couple shots of a dirt hillside and some cars to look at for an hour and ten minutes.


“Kids, I just remembered that there’s an old mine nearby.  You might have to fight Ray Milland for it, though.”


A band of looters!  This isn’t anything like Panic in Year Zero

The acting was extremely dry, the story was unoriginal and terrible, and it was boring to look at too! The title might as well be This is Not a Film! I was thoroughly bored from beginning to end, and it was frankly a waste of (more than) an hour of my life. I give this movie 1 and a half stars.

This is The Young Traveler, signing off.




[Oct. 20, 1962] Yes, please! (The first James Bond movie, Dr. No)

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


By Ashley R. Pollard

With the days drawing in, marking the beginning of Autumn, and the evenings becoming longer, I know I look forward to going to the cinema more.  I was very fortunate to be able to get a ticket to the premier of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, which was shown at the London Pavilion, and therefore I saw it three days before its general release to the rest of the country.

There was quite a buzz surrounding this film, but before I go into my piece let me give you some context to the books behind the movie: Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.

It may be confusing to some Fleming fans to see Dr. No presented as the first James Bond film, because the title and plot are from the sixth book.  So six is number one, but chronologically the first James Bond novel was Casino Royale, which came out in 1953.  I understand that Casino Royale was adapted as an episode of an American television called Climax! (which sounds rather racy to my ears) and that the rights to the name of the first James Bond book are therefore tied up.

Anyway, in Britain, Ian Fleming’s books have always sold well, and Fleming may rightfully be described as the inventor of the Cold War spy thriller genre, which while set in the mundane world has themes that require elements of science and technology for the plots to work.

Up to now Fleming hasn’t taken American by storm, but I think that will change when Dr. No is released in America next year.  It will not probably hurt that President John F. Kennedy has been quoted as saying that Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, From Russia, with Love, was one of his top ten all time favourite books.

Given that the title of the next James Bond movie is From Russia, with Love, I fully expect American audiences to take to reading James Bond as readers over here have.  Last year, the ninth book in the series, Thunderball, featuring the capture of a NATO fighter, sold out of its initial print run of 50,938 hardbacks and has had to be reprinted to meet demand.  Reviews have said it is the best since Diamonds Are Forever, the fourth book in the James Bond series.

To say Ian Fleming is prolific is I think over-egging it a bit, but he can certainly write, and his writing improves with each book.  I have watched Fleming adding depth and character, to what would otherwise be a cipher who only served the whims of the author.  Fleming has made James Bond more than that.  He’s the man every man aspires to be, and the bad boy that every woman wants to be chased by.

And here I am, and I haven’t even started to tell you all how wonderful Dr. No is.  A caveat though, it’s not a direct translation of the novel to film.  For a start it has a scene near the very beginning that introduces our titular hero with the quote, “My name is Bond, James Bond,” which I’m pretty sure is lifted wholesale from Casino Royale.  Other small changes have been made to the story too, but these do not detract form the central thrust of the plot, the machinations of Dr. No who wants to sabotage the American space race.

A very timely plot, apposite even, given the setbacks that NASA have suffered over recent years.

The film has a very stylish opening sequence that culminates in a stunning shot down the barrel of a gun that shows James Bond turning to fire at his assailant before they can fire.  This is followed by a quirky fade to the tune of Three Blind Mice that leads to the opening that sets up the action when three apparently blind men assassinate the British MI6 Station Chief in Jamaica.  Then we cut to Britain and the introduction of our hero, played by Sean Connery.  It’s all very suave and sophisticate, in keeping with Fleming himself, and the way he writes about things.

Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate, and we are introduced to M, the head of MI6, and Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary.  For fans of James Bond this just feels so right, and M ordering Bond to stop using his Beretta in favour of a Walther PPK (first issued to Bond in the book, Dr. No) sets the tone perfectly.  When Bond arrives in Jamaica, things go from bad to worse with the first of several attempts on his life that don’t end well for his would be assailants.  Warning, the spider scene is also not for the squeamish.  Fortunately, I find spiders to be nice creatures, but some of the audience gasped in shock when it crawled across the screen.

From there the mystery develops and ultimately leads to Dr. No’s secret lair, where the fellow is using a nuclear reactor to power a transmitter that can jam US missiles and cause them to crash.  All very exciting, and I’m avoiding giving away too many spoilers here, because I feel that people should be allowed to experience a story for themselves.

There’s enough differences between the novel and the film to make both distinct, with each enhancing the enjoyment of the other format.  So, the North American premiere is set for the 8th of May next year, and I can really recommend going to see this film.  I know I enjoyed it, and I imagine you all will too.

And while I am on the subject of cutting edge technology…

When you think of aircraft flying mostly straight up and down, helicopters (or if you’re old enough, autogyros) come to mind.  But the so-called whirlybirds now have stiff competition.

This year, the Farnborough Air Show showcased the amazing XP831 Royal Airforce prototype Vertical Take-Off and Landing jet (VTOL).  The Hawker P1127 is the result of nearly ten years of engineering development.

The idea of a winged aircraft that could take-off and land vertically goes back even further to the dark days of World War Two, but it wasn’t until 1955 that Rolls-Royce produced a test bed for vertical flight.  It became known as the Flying Bedstead.  It was difficult to fly, ungainly to look at, and had a propensity to crash, killing two test pilots in the process.

Not an auspicious start, but Dr. Alan A. Griffiths, a pioneer of British jet technology came up with the idea of a liftjet, which was small engine designed to specifically provide thrust to all the aircraft to take-off vertically.  This led to the Shorts SC-1, which first flew in 1957.  However, having five engine in an aeroplane where four of them only provided thrust during take-off meant that while useful data could be extracted from the flights, it wasn’t in and of itself a practical prototype aircraft.

Enter the Hawker P1127 using a Rolls Royce Pegasus jet engine, a marvel of British engineering that has nozzles that divert the thrust from the engine to allow vertical take-off using only one engine.  Furthermore, Hawker are also working on developing a larger P1154, which will be able to go supersonic.

I can only imagine how exciting it would be for one of these stunning aircraft to make a debut in a spy thriller.  Perhaps in a few years, when VTOL jets have become commonplace enough to pass into private ownership, we’ll see one featured in a James Bond movie… perhaps Thunderball?




[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.