Sunday, November 23, 2014
Five Million Years to Earth
Five Millions Years to Earth is a 1967 Hammer Films production based on a teleplay for the BBC called "Quatermass and the Pit". The original program aired as a series in 1957 - 58 and was, apparently, memorable -- SciFi fans still speak fondly of the show and it is recalled as a prototype to the X Files. Of course, the X Files was best when it was funny and relied in large part on the sexual chemistry simmering between its principals, the tormented Mulder and the beautiful skeptic, Dana Scully. Five Million Years to Earth is for purists -- there is no trace of sexual tension or romantic interest in the film and the movie plays its outrageous premise straight: no laughs here. Overlit and excessively schematic, the film is the diagram of its plot until the impressive last ten minutes in which all hell breaks loose -- quite literally in this film. Although the exposition is dry and overt -- people lecturing one another in conference rooms or labs filled with skeletons -- the movie is sufficiently interesting to engage the viewer throughout its length and the pay-off is spectacular enough to make the wait for the special effects seem justified. While excavating a subway in a dingy part of London, workers discover anthropoid bones. The skulls and femurs belong to hideous, snub-nosed primates interred next to a blue, helmet-shaped space-craft. At first, the space-craft is believed to be a German Vergeltungs-Rakete of unknown provenance, but soon it demonstrates curious properties -- it's shiny blue surface is non-metallic and impervious to blow-torches and diamond-tipped drills. People working around the space-craft suffer strange hallucinations and poltergeist activity manifests itself in the shell-like interior of the flying saucer. Ultimately, the saucer somehow opens itself and giant locusts are found within, locked in a crystal matrix. The locusts are unconvincing as monsters and they are rigid and dead -- but the Hammer special effects people, have a fun time making the creatures exude green goo. The space-locusts immediately decompose and the film has many shots of scalpels cutting into rotting carapaces with green slime pouring out over the blade. The film's premise is that the space-grasshoppers fled Mars, landed on earth, and telepathically communicated the customs of their civilization to humans. In order to control their population, the Martian bugs periodically conducted "race-purges," shown in inadvertently funny video images of hundreds of locusts stumbling around unconvincingly like penguins at the South Pole, masses of them hopping to their destruction across desolate plains. These lemming-like tendencies have been inculcated in our primate ancestors, the ugly pug-nosed monkey-men, and they account for the human belief in Satan and our predilection for intra-species homicide and warfare. No sooner is all of this explained, then, the sinister aura around the space-ship is activated, resulting in gruesome telekinetic havoc. A ghostly image of a huge horned locust, sculpted in alabaster mist rises over the carnage and the city erupts into flames. Although this film is not well-known in the United States, the movie has a distinguished reputation and, certainly, I can read its influence in other pictures. The notion that prehistoric ape-men were impregnated with traits that we interpret as human by aliens, of course, is the controlling idea in 2001, A Space Odyssey. And the telekinetic carnage wrought by monster-locusts re-occurs in the spectacular climax of John Boorman's remake of the Exorcist, a film known as The Exorcist: The Heretic starring Richard Burton of all people. I also detect influences on Brian DePalma's two telekinesis films, Carrie and The Fury. All films of this kind share a genetic resemblance and derive from the first and mightiest example of the genre, Euripides The Bacchae: in these tales, a god comes to town in the form of a lizard-man or locust-aviator or vampire; skeptics doubt the power of the god and so he shows his fury by destroying believers and unbelievers alike. In this film, the skeptical general, still arguing that the space-craft is a Nazi V-2 weapon stands paralyzed like Lot's wife while the blast of the divine burns away his flesh. Five Million Years to Earth is humorless, overly literal, and frequently silly -- but it packs a punch.