Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TrollHunter (aka: Trolljegeren)



(2010) Directed by: André Øvredal; Written by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen; Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, and Tomas Alf Larsen; Available on DVD, Blu Ray and Netflix Streaming

Rating: ****

TrollHunter is a Norwegian found footage movie that manages to do something new with the overcrowded genre.  Before you groan, “Oh no, not another found footage movie,” consider that director/co-writer André Øvredal has fashioned a unique film that transcends the viewer’s preconceptions and does more than simply present a change of scenery.  

The film is presented in a pseudo-documentary format, allegedly culled from hundreds of hours of raw footage.  We are introduced to a group of college students making an investigative documentary about a string of bear poaching incidents.  They soon stumble upon the unexpected, discovering that the story they were seeking masks a much more implausible truth.  Their pursuit of a suspected poacher, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is the key to a larger story than they imagined.  At the outset, he’s reluctant to speak to the students, but they’re determined to get a story.  Persistence pays off eventually, as they learn that the dead bears are only a ruse to conceal a government cover-up.  For his part, Hans is tired of continuing the charade, and decides that it’s time to let the world know that fairy tale creatures are real.



The students initially humor Hans and his eccentricities, but they come to appreciate the fact that there’s a method to his madness when hunting down the trolls.  It’s a hard pill to swallow that the stuff of folklore is real, but the young documentarians realize that there’s no other reasonable explanation for the events they’re witnessing.  The Norwegian wilderness depicted in TrollHunter looks suitably dense and mysterious, and it seems reasonable that they could have remained hidden from the general populace for centuries.

One of the most aggravating things about most found footage movies is that you rarely catch a glimpse of whatever it is that’s supposed to be the point of the footage (The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, etc…).  TrollHunter bucks the trend, and delivers admirably in this regard.  The trolls are first obscured by shadows and trees, but become more visible as the film progresses.  While perhaps not up to big-budget Hollywood standards, the computer-rendered trolls are convincing enough.


One of the most interesting things about the film is how much thought went into transforming mythical beings into believable flesh-and-blood creatures.  Øvredal blends ancient legends with modern science to create a credible life cycle for the trolls.  The script describes four distinct species: the Mountain Kings, the Tosserlads, the Ringlefinch and the Jötnar, along with numerous variants.  Hans provides a lot of extra details about the idiosyncrasies of trolls, which make him a more effective hunter.  In one scene, a veterinarian who’s in cahoots with Hans provides an explanation as to why sunlight is deadly to the trolls.

Jespersen’s performance as the laconic Hans is also worthy of note.  He’s tired of his job, and takes no joy in exterminating wayward trolls who stray from their government-designated territories.  In a scene late in the film, he briefly recalls an incident when he was forced to indiscriminately wipe out an entire group of trolls because they stood in the way of an important construction project.  Although it’s obviously a fictional scenario, the filmmakers are clearly commenting on the unfortunate consequences when nature gets in the way of human progress. 

TrollHunter is not without its flaws.  I’m probably the last person to conduct a theological discussion, but I found it a little difficult to wrap my brain around one of the film’s conceits -- that the trolls can sense people who are Christian and believe in a god.  Following the film’s logic, is it the simple belief itself or the properties of being a Christian (a metaphysical connection) that the trolls can sense?  When a new camera- person is brought in (who happens to be Muslim), Hans is unsure what the effect will be. This seems to be a strange detour for the script, and it’s never fully explored.   It raises some interesting questions but never answers them.  Then again, I’m not an expert in Norwegian folklore, so I presume this might provide some much-needed insight.  Another question raised by the movie is why there haven’t been more witnesses over the years, considering the immense size of some of the trolls.  Also, at 103 minutes, it’s probably about 15 minutes too long, with the material seemingly stretched a little thin.


All nitpicks aside, TrollHunter is an inventive, unusual fantasy film that’s deserving of your time.  Even if you’re sick to death (And I know I am!) of the glut of recent found footage movies, you’ll find something new to appreciate here.  The filmmakers’ attention to detail truly sets this apart from the rest.  After you’ve seen the “evidence,” don’t be surprised if you start believing in trolls yourself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September Quick Picks and Pans


Them (2006) Not to be confused with the classic 1950s giant bug flick, this modern horror film from France really gets under your skin.  It was purportedly based on a true story, but I’ll leave it to you to determine the veracity of the events depicted here.  We first witness a mother and her annoying teenage daughter stranded on a dark road somewhere in the middle of Romania.  They subsequently fall victim to some unseen assailants.  The story shifts to a 20-something French couple, Clem and Lucas, living in an isolated old house in Bucharest.  Things start to get weird when Clem receives a strange phone call in the middle of the night and shadowy figures start lurking around the house.  During the course of the night they’re terrorized by the invaders. 

Them builds tension slowly, keeping us on edge up until the very end.  For the majority of the film, we never get a good look at the invaders, nor do we see any clues about where they came from.  The plot isn’t very original; if you’ve seen other home invasion movies, you probably know what to expect.  The two leads keep doing dumb things like splitting up when it’s obvious that this is precisely what their tormentors want them to do.  The chase, however, leads up to an ending that’s not quite what you might be expecting, and the implications of the last scene are especially chilling.  Definitely worth a look!

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.   



Streets of Fire (1984) This movie was touted as “A rock & roll fable,” which I suppose is just as good a description as any other.  Audiences stayed away in droves when this was originally released, but it’s gained a bit of a cult following since.  It’s hard to imagine how the film, with its strange mashup of genres, was marketed towards an unsuspecting audience with its1940s aesthetic meets 1980s glitz.  

Diane Lane plays up-and-coming singer extraordinaire Ellen Aim.  When Ellen’s kidnapped by maniacal motorcycle gang leader Raven (Willem Dafoe, in an early role), it’s up to her ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Paré) to come to her rescue.  The usually likable Rick Moranis plays the most unlikable (and unlikely) role of his career, as Ellen’s manager and current boyfriend.  Streets of Fire is never really as audacious as it aspires to be, but it’s amusing enough while it lasts.*  Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but the 80s power ballads seem incongruous with the retro setting.  Like cotton candy, it’s a sweet confection that dissolves on the tongue the moment it hits the palate.  The ending, which will probably leave you crying foul or applauding the script’s bold choice, actually sort of surprised me.  Good dumb fun!

* Two scenes must be seen to be believed: Watch for Dafoe, dressed in what resembles glossy hip waders, or a woman resembling Gozer the Gozerian as she attempts to perform an exotic dance.  Ahhh… the 80s!

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

  
First Man Into Space (1959) Despite its dated premise (Just two years after the film’s release, Yuri Gagarin became the first actual man into space), First Man Into Space is a nifty little sci-fi/horror flick from a more naïve era.   Bill Edwards stars as brash test pilot Lt. Dan Prescott, who pushes his test plane to the limit.  When he takes his craft into the edge of space, he encounters cosmic rays and returns to Earth as a hideous, blood-sucking fiend.  Marshall Thompson co-stars as his brother and superior officer Commander Charles Prescott, and Marla Landi is Dan’s long-suffering girlfriend Tia (who has what might possibly be the quickest relationship rebound in film history).  Although this film was obviously made on the cheap, it’s obvious that the filmmakers took some pains to ensure that everything looked reasonably good.  They did a better than average job juxtaposing stock footage of the Bell X-1A rocket plane with shots of a model plane, along with Edwards in a cockpit.  The action is supposed to take place in sunny White Sands, New Mexico, but was actually filmed on a sound stage in England in the dead of winter.  The gruesome deaths in the film are also suitably gory, by 1950s standards, at least.   Good Saturday matinee fun… Just forget everything you know about manned space exploration.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD.


Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman (aka: Kuchisake-onna/A Slit-Mouthed Woman) (2007) This film is based on a Japanese urban legend about a mysterious woman known as kuchisake-onna who wears a gauze mask that covers her hideous gaping mouth, luring her victims with the line, “Am I pretty?”  Too bad that the filmmakers squandered this intriguing premise with scenes completely devoid of subtlety.  It’s often hard to watch.  Most of the violence is directed at children, with several school kids becoming the Slit-Mouthed Woman’s prey.  Much of the abuse is left on screen, when implied violence would have been more effective.  I suppose it could be argued that it’s making a statement about child abuse, although I personally doubt that the filmmakers put that much thought into this film.  I kept wondering how the movie would have been if the victims had been grown men instead of children and the themes had been approached from a more Freudian angle.  Of course, that would surely have been a better film than what they ended up with.  The whole production just looks cheap, as if it had been filmed with someone’s camcorder, and the ending seems tacked on as a final parting shot for blatant shock value.  Avoid it!

There’s a better movie somewhere, but this isn’t it.

Rating: * ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Classics Revisited: The Thief of Bagdad



(1940) Directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda (Uncredited), Zoltan Korda (Uncredited) and William Cameron Menzies (Uncredited); Written by Miles Malleson; Scenario by Lajos Biró; Starring: Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez and John Justin; Available on DVD.

Rating: *****


What’s It About?

On paper, The Thief of Bagdad looked like a cinematic disaster.  The film went through an astonishing six directors (three of whom, including producer Alexander Korda himself, remained uncredited).  To make matters worse, the production had to be moved from England to the United States when World War II broke out.  Normally, such a troubled production would have resulted in a less than perfect end product.  No one would have expected that the filmmakers could pull off the unthinkable, creating one of the greatest fantasy films of all time.


Anyone who recalls Disney’s animated film Aladdin will be familiar with many of the elements in The Thief of Bagdad.  Both movies drew from the well of One Thousand and One Nights (aka: Arabian Nights), taking liberties with the source material along the way.  There’s a thief, a treacherous grand vizier, a genie, flying carpet, and a princess with her doddering father.  As with many stories that are continually recycled and re-told, it’s not the components that make the film, but the telling. 

The performances in The Thief of Bagdad are particularly memorable.  Sabu devours his role as the nimble and quick-witted Abu the thief (a part that was relegated to a monkey in Disney’s version) with charm and conviction.  Abu lives for adventure, and has learned to survive through trickery, coupled with physical and mental dexterity.  He’s more than a match for Ahmad, when their paths unwittingly cross.  He teaches Ahmad how to live on the streets, although Ahmad isn’t quite as successful at teaching Abu how to be civilized.

John Justin, in his first film role, plays Ahmad, the ruler of Bagdad.  He’s shielded by the suffering of his citizens by his grand vizier Jaffar, and doesn’t realize their discontent until he walks among them.  When he’s cheated out of his kingdom by Jaffar and forced into exile, he and the lowly Abu form an unlikely alliance.  Amidst the woes of his exile to the neighboring city of Basra, he finds love and inspiration in the visage of the Princess (June Duprez).



Conrad Veidt is obviously having a great time as the villainous Jaffar, who betrays Ahmad and takes his place as the king of Bagdad.  He lusts after the Princess, and preys on her father the Sultan’s (Miles Malleson) fondness for collecting rare and unusual toys.  (Minor spoiler alert!)  It’s the Sultan’s collection that ultimately becomes his undoing.  Jaffar first presents him with a mechanical flying horse in exchange for his daughter. He follows up with the gift of a multi-armed, moving figure resembling the goddess Kali that’s more than she seems.  As an actor, Veidt was someone who knew the face of evil, having escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933.  It’s not too difficult to see how the Nazis could have influenced Veidt’s portrayal of Jaffar, as the perfect embodiment of the corruption of power.  This influence would clearly play a huge part in another iconic role, two years later, as Major Strasser in Casablanca.


Rex Ingram does an amusing turn as the powerful Djinn.  Trapped inside a bottle for two thousand years, he’s had a lot of time to contemplate his fate, and he’s not exactly thrilled with humankind.  When the Djinn is freed from his glass prison by Abu, his first impulse is to kill his benefactor.  Thanks to Abu’s trickery, however, the tables are abruptly turned.  The Djinn is far from Abu’s humble servant, unhappy with his current arrangement, but bound by duty to fulfill his master’s three wishes. 


Why It’s Still Relevant:

The Thief of Bagdad was nominated for four Academy Awards, and took away three: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Effects (Miklós Rózsa’s rousing score was the fourth nomination).  The special effects might seem primitive by today’s standards, but were truly groundbreaking for the time, incorporating pioneering bluescreen effects developed by Larry Butler.  Many of the backgrounds were elaborate matte paintings.  They’re amazing to look at, fostering an aesthetic that doesn’t strive for hyper-reality, but assembling a fantasy world -- like the pages of a picture book that came alive.  At some point in the future when the inevitable remake is made, no amount of CGI landscapes and computer-animated action will be able to duplicate the magical properties of this film.


The vivid Technicolor cinematography in The Thief of Bagdad is unlike anything existing today.  Color plays a huge part in setting the breezy, sweeping tone of the film.  The filmmakers didn’t take color for granted, but exploited it at every turn, as seen in the brightly adorned costumes and gorgeous pastel-hued city vistas.  It almost appears as if new colors were created expressly for this production.

Awards and effects aside, The Thief of Bagdad endures as one of the finest fantasies committed to film.  The fact that everything works so well belies its tumultuous production.  There’s an exuberance not to be found in modern movies.  It’s that rare experience that completely immerses us in another world for a 106-minute vacation from our everyday lives, and it reminds us why we go to the movies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Once Over Twice: Young Sherlock Holmes



(1985) Directed by Barry Levinson; Written by Chris Columbus; Starring: Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox and Sophie Ward; Available on DVD.

Rating: **** 

Young Sherlock Holmes tells a story that was never envisioned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but feels like it could have been.  Instead of the familiar first meeting between Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes as adults, writer Chris Columbus opens up a new set of possibilities by suggesting that they were introduced as adolescents.  In Doyle’s first story, “A Study in Scarlet,” Watson, a doctor and seasoned war veteran, returns to England from Afghanistan to take up residence with the eccentric and enigmatic Holmes.  In Columbus’ version, Holmes and Watson meet in an exclusive boarding school, Brompton Academy.*  Although such artistic license might have appeared blasphemous to Doyle’s established universe, the new versions of this iconic duo remain true to the originals.

* If the scenes at Brompton Academy look a wee bit familiar, compare them to the interactions between students at a certain other, albeit magical, boarding school.  Coincidence?  It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given Columbus’ involvement with both properties.


Young Sherlock Holmes was unfairly dismissed by critics of the day as just another kids’ action movie.  Undoubtedly because of executive producer Steven Spielberg’s connection, the film was touted by some of its detractors as “Sherlock Holmes and the Temple of Doom.”  As if to reinforce this conceit, Paramount released the film in England under the derivative title, Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear.  Instead of allowing the movie to stand on its own merits, the film company chose to compare it to a known property.  Perhaps as a result of not being permitted to establish its own identity, Young Sherlock Holmes failed to connect with audiences, and performed poorly at the box office.  It certainly deserved better.  Thanks to home video, the film has managed to gain a small but loyal following over the years. 


The game is afoot following a string of seemingly unrelated violent deaths around Brompton Academy.  Holmes suspects that they are somehow linked, and subsequently discovers that the victims’ deaths were preceded by intense hallucinations.  He eventually uncovers a secret Egyptian cult operating in a subterranean temple, where covert and sadistic rituals are performed.  Now to be completely fair to the critics, there are some superficial parallels that can be drawn between the Egyptian cult and the Thuggee villains depicted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but the similarities seem to be overstated.  


Nicholas Rowe does a fine job as Holmes.  He’s headstrong, a touch arrogant, and thoroughly believable as someone with keen deductive abilities that enable him to be one step ahead of everyone else.  His superior intellect is coupled with an unwavering sense of right and wrong to serve as his compass.  Because these are Holmes’ formative years, however, he’s still subject to the vulnerabilities of youth, impulsive and not quite in command of his emotions (a recurring theme throughout the film).  When Watson first meets him, Holmes is preparing to smash his violin to pieces because he was unable to master the instrument in three days.  While the elder Holmes was seemingly immune to the charms of women, his youthful counterpart is smitten by Elizabeth (Sophie Ward), the niece of his mentor Waxflatter (Nigel Stock). 


In one early scene, we get to see Holmes at work, and a taste of the detective that he will become.  Responding to a challenge from a fellow student, Holmes tracks seemingly indecipherable clues to discover the whereabouts of a missing school trophy.  You can practically see the wheels turning inside his head.  But solving this conundrum is only a gateway drug for Holmes, leading to a larger mystery that’s significantly more compelling and dangerous.  His insatiable curiosity and precocious ability inevitably draws the ire of the obtuse inspector Lestrade (Roger Ashton-Griffiths).


Unsurprisingly, Watson (Alan Cox) comes off a little bland compared to Holmes.  Practical to a fault, and lacking Holmes’ keen sense of deduction, he’s the yin to his flashier companion’s yang.  Watson isn’t just a foil for Holmes, but represents a more human, sensible side that’s virtually alien to Holmes.  Watson keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground, while Holmes is off to explore more esoteric pursuits.  He’s simultaneously appalled by Holmes’ impetuous nature and in awe of Holmes intellectual dexterity.

Professor Rathe (Anthony Higgins) serves as a fitting nemesis for Holmes.  Of all the film’s characters, he appears to be the individual most capable of matching wits with Holmes.  He’s as adept with a rapier as he is with his tongue, as evidenced by his fencing match with Holmes.  His charming demeanor masks a coldly calculating mind.


More than 25 years after Young Sherlock Holmes release, the effects still look imaginative, with the victims’ hallucinations realized, thanks to the work of Industrial Light & Magic.  One of the highlights, involving a stained glass knight that comes to life, had the distinction of being the first fully rendered CGI character (and was supervised by Pixar maven John Lassiter).  In another scene, claymation is employed to depict some rogue pastries (That wasn’t a typo!).  Unlike many current movies, these effects enhance the story, and never overwhelm.

Sherlock Holmes purists undoubtedly took issue with Columbus’ fast and loose interpretation of Doyle’s established canon, but the changes have kept the spirit of the stories alive while creating a fresh perspective.  Young Sherlock Holmes stands favorably amidst other “radical” reinterpretations of Doyle’s stories, such as bringing Holmes into the present in the brilliant BBC series Sherlock, or imagining Holmes and Watson as canines in the anime series Sherlock Hound.  This movie could easily have been the first of several adventures, but it was not to be.  It would have been fascinating to see the progression of the characters as they grew up, much as we did with the Harry Potter films.  At least we have this film to enjoy, and we can derive a modicum of comfort from the fact that they didn’t make a disappointing sequel to tarnish the original (Ghostbusters 2, anyone?).  Oh, and be sure to stick around through the end credits for a bonus scene, with another nod to the Sherlock Holmes mythos.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Survival Quest



(1989) Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli; Starring: Lance Henriksen, Mark Rolston and Steve Antin; Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Rating: ** ½ 

Writer/Director Don Coscarelli is primarily known for his horror and fantasy films, but he’s proved to be adept at working in other genres, as in Kenny and Company.  Survival Quest was filmed between Phantasm II and Phantasm III, and also represents a departure from Coscarelli’s typical fare.  Is that a good thing?  Well… There wasn’t an abundance of information about this movie, which isn’t usually a good sign, but I’m always on the lookout for lost treasures, even when I’m forced to pick through a pile of manure to find those hidden gems.  Armed with diminished expectations, I was ready to bravely forge ahead and give this forgotten flick the benefit of the doubt.

Survival Quest is set amidst the picturesque backdrop of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  The title refers to an outdoorsy survival experience run by Hank, played by the always-reliable Lance Henriksen.  He leads a group of misfit men and women into the wilderness, and it will be up to their wits, cooperation and fortitude to stay alive over the next four weeks.  To make matters worse, they have to contend with a rival group of cocky paramilitary survivalists who decided to take the same transport plane to the drop-off point.  Needless to say, the two groups don’t exactly hit it off.  They’re on a collision course with wackiness!  Okay, more like an opportunity for clichés.


If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s Henriksen, who provides an understated, believable performance as the rugged outdoorsman Hank.  His soft-spoken demeanor and sinewy frame are perfect for the role, lending a level of conviction that’s better than the movie deserves.  You’d want to follow him everywhere.  In fact, if the movie had just been about Hank, with no other characters bogging the story down, the film would have been more compelling.  Fellow film geeks might notice that Survival Quest reunites Henriksen and Mark Rolston, who previously starred together in Aliens (as Bishop and Private Drake, respectively.  Would this make them Aliens alums? – Try saying that quickly.).

Most of the other characters follow a predictable arc, with each of them having something to prove, especially Gray (Dermot Mulroney) as a young convict who’s given a new start through the Survival Quest program.  Will he gain acceptance by his fellow group members by the movie’s end (No prizes for guessing!).  Cheryl (Catherine Keener) is a recent divorcee who wants to prove to everyone else that she has what it takes to survive in the wild.  Rolston plays Jake, the leader of the paramilitary group.  He’s played a little too broadly, as a caricature of the quintessential para-military survivalist nut.  Jake is just waiting for the next world war, so his kind can do what they do best.  As if to reinforce this stereotype, he has a speech about how the meek will not inherit the earth.  One of Jake’s most gung ho disciples is Raider (Steve Antin), who views the Survival Quest group with contempt.  It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the group of misfits led by Hank are better prepared than the ersatz soldiers led by Jake.


Survival Quest is a fun little romp until the muddled third act, when Raider goes berserk, and things ultimately become disappointing.  Coscarelli didn’t seem to trust that the inherent tensions between the characters in the Survival Quest group provided enough drama for his film.  The survival themes should have been sufficient to carry the film, without the added burden of nuts with guns to amp up the action.  What started out as a mildly interesting man (or woman) against nature film suddenly devolves into a standard cat-and-mouse flick.  This leads to an utterly contrived ending that’s just embarrassing to watch.  Survival Quest might be worth a view, if only for the first two thirds.  It’s not quite entertaining enough to be considered a guilty pleasure, but at least it’s marginally watchable.  Faint praise, indeed. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Atomic Submarine



(1959) Directed by Spencer G. Bennet; Written by Orville H. Hampton; Starring: Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, Brett Halsey and Tom Conway; Available on DVD

Rating: ***

Confession time again!  I’m a sucker for virtually any movie that deals with undersea adventure and/or submarines (see my Atragon review).  Why am I so fascinated with what lies beneath the waves?  Maybe it’s because I once dreamed about becoming a marine biologist, or my knowledge of the fact that we understand more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean.  Whatever the reason, the sea is a vast mystery reluctant to reveal all of its secrets to land dwellers.

While The Atomic Submarine falls short of uncovering the elusive mysteries of the deep, it presents an interesting spin on the alien invasion sub-genre.  The film wears its B-movie badge with honor, meeting expectations and even modestly exceeding them.  It was a quickie designated for the Saturday matinee circuit, made on a shoestring budget of $135,000 and shot in just six days by prolific veteran director Spencer G. Bennet. Bennett was mostly associated with westerns and action serials, starting with silents in the early 20s, and approached this project with the same workmanlike efficiency he applied to his previous efforts.


The story takes place in the very near future (sometime in the 1960s), when the advent of nuclear powered vessels has led to the production of large cargo submarines and the opening of shipping routes under the North Pole.  After a series of unexplained disappearances of several submarines and surface ships, it’s up to the crew of the U.S. Navy sub Tiger Shark to investigate and make undersea commerce safe again.

In addition to the aforementioned conflict, an internal war is being waged between two of the primary characters.  Commander Richard “Reef” Holloway (Arthur Franz) is a Navy man through and through.  He’s less than enthusiastic about his new assignment on the Tiger Shark, thanks to a shore leave/romantic tryst cut short.  To complicate matters even further, he’s forced to share quarters with Dr. Carl Neilsen, Jr. (Brett Halsey), not one of his biggest fans.  Both men are idealists on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Holloway can’t see a world without the need for a military presence, while Neilsen considers the whole notion of a fighting force to be obsolete.  This dichotomy of philosophies seems surprising, given the Cold War context in which this film was produced.  The exchange between the two differing ideologies is presented in a fairly evenhanded manner that does more than provide lip service to Dr. Neilsen’s concerns, and provides plausible motivation for his character.   



The Atomic Submarine doesn’t break any new ground with its theme about a hostile alien force attempting to take over the Earth.  It’s the combination of submarine drama mixed with extraterrestrials that’s original for the time.  It’s not too difficult to imagine a young, impressionable James Cameron, inspired by the underwater alien story.  I don’t think Cameron’s ever gone on record citing this as an influence for The Abyss, but it could have had a subconscious effect.  If The Atomic Submarine wasn’t a direct influence, it’s at least a spiritual predecessor.


The Atomic Submarine never quite sheds its low budget origins.  The crude special effects, using obvious models, probably looked less than impressive back when the film originally screened.  We’re also treated to several duplicate shots of the Tiger Shark negotiating an underwater crevasse (I’ll leave you to do your own Freudian interpretation here), interspersed with stock footage that doesn’t quite match up with the action.  At times, the scale seems completely off.  The sub seems like a child’s toy compared to a saucer that’s supposedly only 300 feet across.  When a couple of the Navy men are standing around the submarine’s bow, it seems much tinier than we’ve been led to believe, judging by the interior sets.  The Tiger Shark interior sets seem a bit too spacious for a real submarine, where space would be at a premium.

Most of these elements are completely excusable, considering the speed of the production and the minimal budget.  The filmmakers did the best they could, given the limited resources that they had.  It’s harder to ignore Pat Michaels’goofy narration, however, punctuating the action like a jackhammer.  The narrator’s proclamation that “It was foolish.  It was insane. It was fantastic...” wouldn’t have been more laughable if it had been uttered by Criswell, himself.


The Atomic Submarine is often simplistic to a fault, but you can’t deny the earnest storytelling and lo-fi approach to this aquatic sci-fi tale.  It’s a trip back in time to an era when B-movies dominated the scene, and audiences were willing to suspend their disbelief as cheap plastic models fought for humanity on the big screen.