Special congratulations to Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen for their awards (list below). Larry and Brad were charter members of the Sad Puppy movement and took an enormous amount of abuse from the sad pathetic people who game the Hugo Awards every year. But based on the fate of Campbell Award this year I’m assuming it won’t be the Hugos for much longer but instead the Noras or the Samuels or some other first name of an author who didn’t have the bad manners to be born a straight white man.
Larry championed the DragonCon’s fan popularity based Dragon Awards contest and it has since displaced the Hugos for all normal humans. I’m a big fan of Larry’s Monster Hunter series because they’re great fun and because I’m hoping that Adam Baldwin will get the chance to play Agent Franks in the big screen version of the stories. That would be awesome.
Best Science Fiction Novel
A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad R. Torgersen
Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
House of Assassins by Larry Correia
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Uncompromising Honor by David Weber
Best Alternate History Novel
Black Chamber by S.M. Stirling
Best Media Tie-In Novel
Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn
Best Horror Novel
Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Best Comic Book
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Best Graphic Novel
X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis by Ed Piskor
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Good Omens, by Neil Gaimen Amazon Prime
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
Avengers: Endgame by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by Niantic, WB Games San Francisco
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game
Betrayal Legacy by Avalon Hill Games
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep Slipcase Set by Chaosium Inc.
The 1950 motion picture Destination Moon is in several aspects an odd duck. It was an independent production under George Pal’s control. He worked with Robert A Heinlein to adapt his novel Rocket Ship Galileo into a screen play. In point of fact the plot changes involved make the movie and the book completely different stories. For Pal who would go on to make such sci-fi classics as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide this was a chance to make a realistic space flight movie with Heinlein providing the scientific accuracy.
After a government project to build an advanced rocket motor is sabotaged and abandoned a plan is hatched to overcome the loss of government funding in rocket design by recruiting patriotic business leaders to pool their resources to pay for and build a Moon rocket. General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves were the moving force behind the earlier government project and Jim Barnes is the principal industrialist who uses his aircraft design facilities to build the atomic powered rocket. Along with Joe Sweeney who provides radio and communication expertise (along with Brooklyn-accented comic relief) these men will be the crew to travel back and forth to the Moon.
When local bureaucracy threatens to tie up the launch in the courts, the team decides to launch immediately. Just as the sheriffs are arriving to serve the launch injunction the crew is riding the elevator up to the cockpit. The ship takes off and the crew gets to experience the pain of eight gee take off acceleration and the nausea associated with zero gravity conditions. Shortly after taking off they discover the need to do a space walk to repair equipment. One of the astronauts carelessly allows his magnetic boots to become separated from the ship’s hull while not holding onto his tether and begins floating away from the ship. One of his mates has to use an oxygen cylinder as a makeshift rocket to rendezvous with the lost man and bring him back.
As the rocket approaches the Moon, errors in the navigation (or should I say astrogation) force the crew to expend to much reaction mass from the rocket to land in their planned destination. Mission control on Earth begins calculating how much weight must be removed from the ship to balance the reduced capacity of the ship’s fuel load.
Meanwhile the crew investigates the Moon. The first thing they do is claim the Moon for the United States (for the good of all mankind). Using a Geiger counter General Thayer discovers large deposits of uranium. Later on, one of the astronauts takes a picture of Joe Sweeney holding his arm up in such away that it looks like he is holding up Earth in the sky behind him.
The calculations on the fuel are distressing. The ship has to be lightened by over a ton. The crew starts removing everything that isn’t required to get the ship back to Earth. But even after sawing off any metal components of the ship that can be removed, they’re still short by one hundred ten pounds.
Barnes, Cargraves and Thayer realize that someone has to stay behind and each one of them tries to convince the other two that he is the one to stay based on authority, age or responsibility. Meanwhile Sweeney takes it upon himself to take the last space suit and leave the ship. He tells them to leave without him. But Barnes figures out a trick to get them below the weight limit. With a rat-tailed file Sweeney puts a notch in the outer door frame of the air lock. A heavy oxygen cylinder is hung outside the ship from a line that runs through the notch in the door. With the door closed the airlock is pressurized with only a slow leak from the notch. Then Sweeney ties the space suit to the other end of the line. Once Sweeney reenters the ship the outer door is opened and the weight of the cylinder drags the space suit out the door. Then the ship launches back to Earth.
And the movie ends with the words THE END followed by “of the Beginning.”
Destination Moon is a landmark. It is the first reasonably accurate portrayal of actual space flight. Coming nineteen years before Apollo 11 it is remarkably realistic. Now as cinema it definitely isn’t King Lear or even King Kong but it’s excellent propaganda for a space program. And it does contain all the correct tropes of the time. If you are a sci-fi fan this movie is a must see.
War Pig has staked out the schlock sci-fi movie review corner but I hope he won’t mind if I try my hand at the grand daddy of all bad sci fi movies.
Summarizing the plot of Plan 9 is absurd. Aliens have become alarmed by Earth’s increasingly powerful weapons and try to contact us to warn us of our danger. But allegedly, we refuse to acknowledge they are even there so they proceeded to attack us. But the first eight plans are ineffective so that leads to “Plan 9,” namely, resurrecting the dead. Now the resurrected dead are murdering the citizenry and generally causing trouble. Finally, the police, an army officer and an airline pilot join forces to find the alien space craft and destroy it.
Yes, the plot is idiotic but that is the least ridiculous aspect of this movie. Everything about this movie fairly screams mental illness. The movie begins with an invocation by the Narrator, Criswell. Criswell appears to be a lunatic with his bizarre vocal delivery, oddly jelled hair and bedazzled tuxedo. He tells us this is based on a true story and the guilty will be punished and the innocent rewarded, whatever that means.
In the next scene we see what looks like amateur footage of a frail looking Bela Lugosi attending a burial. Then he is killed (off camera by a car crash sound effect). This was necessary because this was all the footage of Lugosi they had. He died before the movie was made and the producer/director/writer/editor, Ed Wood used this existing footage to allow Lugosi’s name to be tacked on the film. Now Lugosi and his pre-deceased wife (Vampira) rise from the dead and start attacking the living. But the fact that Lugosi was really dead meant that someone else had to portray “the Old Man.” Luckily Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason was available. The fact that he was a foot taller, years younger and looked nothing like Lugosi was easily overcome by having Mason stoop over, and hold his Dracula cape in front of his face during all his scenes.
Vampira is a hoot with her wide-eyed stare, stiff armed zombie shamble and divided cleavage get-up. Eventually when gigantic wrestler Tor Johnson is killed by Vampira and zombified he joins the other two ghouls as they stalk the living and stumble around the set.
One of my favorite scenes is where the flying saucers make their appearance. Jeff Trent is an airline pilot. He and his copilot are in the cockpit (or actually in a room with a curtain over the door). They’re sitting on folding chairs and instead of the control yoke in front of him, each man has a piece of wood shaped like nothing in particular sticking out of the floor. When they look out the window, we see three flying saucers that are pretty obviously wobbling on strings.
When the army counter attacks against these alien craft, we get to see a man in a military uniform, standing in a room, looking through binoculars as stock WW II footage of a rocket launcher unloads on something. Now the flying saucers head back to their space station where the aliens provide an update to their leader. And we find out about the earthlings’ bad manners in not acknowledging that the aliens even exist.
I won’t go into all the absurdities that crowd the whole length of this dopey masterpiece of schlock but I’ll cut to the climax. The heroes enter the flying saucer and interrogate the saucer captain Eros and he tells them that the reason that he is killing earthlings is because “you’re stupid, stupid!” So, he gets in a shouting match with Jeff Trent and eventually a fist fight. And when Trent punches Eros and he bumps into a table with what looks like the guts of a 1930s vacuum tube radio on it, the radio bursts into flames and eventually burns the saucer and causes it to explode. Now we return to Criswell who tells us what we’ve seen is based on fact but follows up by saying, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?”
Ed Wood must have known how awful this movie was but you can see that he lavished loving attention on some of the details like the credits. The acting is abysmal when it isn’t non-existent. The special effects are what you’d expect from a grammar school film maker. Basically, this is a freak show. But I have to confess that I can watch this about once every five years and enjoy it. I recommend that every fan of 1950s science fiction movies watch it at least once in his life.
Killer Shrews: Schlock at its finest. Poor special effects, hackneyed plot and ham acting. They used hand puppets of the giant killer shrews for up-close shots. They looked like an oversize stuffed mouse with chopstick fangs glued in and black ping pong balls for eyes. For action sequences, they used coon hounds with carpet and fur attached to them and never shot them close up. The coon hound shrews supposedly ate the token Black man in the movie, which would be protested today.
The premise is that a Swedish scientist was working on the then threatened coming food apocalypse. He had a Hispanic servant (Alfredo de Soto; more racist tokenism), a cowardly assistant (played by Gunsmoke’s Festus, Ken Curtis, who was an investor in the film and also a fine western actor and amazingly good singer), a beautiful Swedish daughter (played by the attractive Swedish actress Ingrid Goude) and an American assistant scientist played by Gordon McLendon. They are on an isolated island somewhere in the Atlantic hurricane zone so they can be left alone, especially by federal inspectors. James Best (most famous for playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrain on Dukes of Hazzard) plays the captain of the small motor ship bringing them supplies. With him is the faithful Black actor Judge Henry Dupree who is his first mate and apparently engineer, playing the character Rook.
A hurricane is approaching, so they have to anchor in the protected harbor and wait it out before unloading. The captain goes ashore to meet with the scientists while Rook runs extra anchors and has to tie the boat to a tree ashore. The captain is met by Ken Curtis’ character who is armed and takes him to the residence. There he is told what all is happening, that the experiment went astray and they accidentally created giant killer shrews who must eat their body weight daily to survive, that other animal food is running out, that the shrews are mostly nocturnal and that they will eat humans with gusto.
Poor Rook is chased and run up a tree by the coon hound shrews and the effects are so poor you can see the lines pulling the tree down supposedly under Rook’s impressive weight to his doom of being eaten alive. The shrews then surround the residence like the Little Big Horn and try to get in to eat the humans. They dig through the adobe walls and have to be shot or burned. One grazes the assistant scientist’s leg and they therefore find out that the shrews are also deadly venomous, as he dies shortly thereafter. The Hispanic servant also dies from a shrew bite. The shrews make a very distinctive noise that sounds something like “aaawk-ch-ch-ch!”. The shrews are also enthusiastically cannibalistic and will eat any form of meat, including each other, to quell their ravenous appetites.
The surviving humans decide they must escape and create a human-powered tank made of barrels roped together. Ken Curtis refuses as he is deathly afraid of the shrews and stays behind. Creeping in the tank the Captain, the Scientist and his lovely daughter make it, barely, to the water where the shrews, who cannot swim, leave them and go back to eat Ken Curtis who, instead of camping out on the roof and safe for a couple of days until the shrews turn on each other, stupidly tried to run off through the woods and he suffers Rook’s fate. As the shrews take him down he screams like a 12 year old girl with a spider on her face. The survivors swim to the motor launch and the Scientist declares; “In twenty-four hours there will be only one shrew left on the island, and he will die of starvation.”
This movie and it’s double feature The Giant Gila Monster made a surprising amount of money on the drive-in circuit. Although they were both low budget and schlocky even for 1959, I enjoyed the two movies at the drive-in. An amazing fact is that James Best reprises his role as the captain in the remake “Return of the Killer Shrews” in 2012, which was mostly a mockumentary of the original with even worse special effects and played for laughs. I am probably one of the very few people who have seen both movies. It is also a break of 53 years between the original and the sequel. Has to be some kind of record.
I saw Blade Runner in 1982. It was a dystopic sci-fi story based on a Philip K Dick story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Harrison Ford is a cop named Rick Deckard whose job is to terminate runaway androids (replicants), he’s called a blade runner. The movie was constructed as a film noir with Deckard in love with a woman that he knows to be a replicant. The movie is full of dark violent imagery. And the story has at its core the concept of the inherent dignity of all human life and the injustice of denying anyone freedom. And Rutger Hauer was a lot of fun running amok as a brilliant homicidal replicant named Roy Batty.
Since this is Orion’s Cold Fire, I feel it is necessary to record here Roy’s final speech before dying:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.” It’s effective, both dramatically and emotionally. In point of fact it’s the best thing in the movie.
Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to this movie. It’s about thirty years after the first movie and K (played by Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the Los Angeles police department as a blade runner. While terminating a rogue replicant he detects a body buried under a tree on the replicant’s farm. Forensic evidence points to the body belonging to the replicant that Deckard ran away with at the end of the first movie. And the forensics shows that she gave birth to a child. This is supposed to be impossible and so frightens the law enforcement establishment that they order K to find the child and terminate it and destroy all evidence of its existence.
But based on evidence associated with the child in K’s search he begins to believe that he is that child. Because of the usefulness and efficiency of having replicants fertile, Niander Wallace, the wealthy, brilliant and evil CEO of the replicant manufacturing corporation wants to find the child in order to learn the secret of its ability.
This scenario sparks all manner of fights and chases and clues are found and people are hunted down. Eventually K finds the woman who delivers the child and learns he is not the child. He finds Deckard (reprised by Ford) and reunites him with his daughter.
I thought it was an awful movie. It was full of off-putting action, boring and confusing dialog and unsympathetic characters. Even as science fiction it didn’t make any sense. We can currently read the entire genome of any human being. How could it be possible for a future world that could produce synthetic humans not be able to make them fertile. Also, since as we learned in the first movie, these replicants were born adult and only lived a few short years, how could having them gestate other replicants make any sense? They would be born infants and take twenty years to mature. Or even if in the meantime replicants now lived longer why were humanoid slaves needed at all? The advances in artificial intelligence showcased in the movie made the need for android slaves nonsensical.
But honestly, all that is beside the point. The movie was terrible.
EEGAH! (also known as; “EEGAH! The Name Written In Blood”)
A 1962 schlock sci-fi movie apparently shot on a budget in the double digits. It is notable for three things; first, being one of the 50 worst movies ever made. Second, introducing us to Richard Kiel who went on to star as the giant alien in the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”, and as the melancholy villain/henchman Jaws in the James Bond franchise. Lastly, it proudly introduced America to the dune buggy, a sort of hot rod with “tires filled with water for traction” meant to climb desert sand dunes. If you ever watched the cartoon Speed Buggy as a child, you’ll get the drift.
The comely Marilyn Manning plays the beautiful damsel and a forgettable Arch Hall, Jr as the hero with a DA haircut and a poorly recorded singing voice.
Kiel was the only decent actor in the lot and he played well considering what he was given to work with. I love the movie as I love all scholcky sci-fi movies, the worse, the better. Arch Hall, Sr drafted his son as the hero and himself played a part in the movie. Senior wrote it and headed the film company.
Poor EEGAH. He somehow survived in a cave from the caveman days to present, along with his mummified family. How he managed to live years in the area around Palm Springs without discovery is a mystery, but the movie glosses over all that. Fumes or something. He is in the road looking for roadkill and is almost hit by the comely heroine, who passes out at the sight of him and accidentally scares him off by honking the horn. An Easter egg is that there are sheep bleating in the background when EEGAH picks up a deer carcass and carries it off. She tells her father, a sort of amateur archaeologist or something, who goes out in a helicopter to be dropped off to look around. The chopper drops him off but that is the last we hear of the chopper. It breaks or something so the hero and heroine ride off in the new Dune Buggy to go look for dear old dad.
Dad is found, the hero sent off, and the heroine captured by the amorous caveman. She’s the best looking things he’s seen in 10,000 years and she smells good, too. The heroine tries to keep EEGAH interested enough in her so that he doesn’t kill them both, while at the same time keeping things from going too far. Pretty much like a date with a fratboy, I guess. She shaves her father for some unknown and inappropriate reason, then EEGAH wants a shave, too. So she shaves him while he tries to make zug-zug with her and eat the shaving cream at the same time. A hilarious scene for me.
At any rate, the hero returns from wherever, gets dad and daughter out of the cave, and there is the predictable chase scene with the three of them running away from EEGAH in the dune buggy back to Palm Springs in time for a pool party which allows the heroine to show off her bikini bod (and a rather good, one, too), then to change into a form fitting sheath dress for a later party. Poor EEGAH comes to town looking for his love and instead gets into a comical series of adventures with civilization which were apparently stolen straight from the caveman scenes in Dinosaurus, another sci-fi movie from two years earlier. Then he crashes the pool party, whips all the fratboys, tries to run off with his lady love like a good caveman will do although he carries her instead of dragging her off by the hair. But the cops arrive and that is the end of poor EEGAH as he finds out a good club and a 7’2” frame are no match for little metal pellets going 1100 feet per second.
This movie is so loaded with cheese that it’s really a comedy. Marilyn Manning has two other IMDB credits, one of which was the actually good Sadist. Pity, as Ms Manning was very easy on the eyes, especially in a bikini. She could have given me a shave any day, if I had shaved back in 1962. Cuter than Annette Funicello of the Beach Party movie franchise. Mr Kiel went on to do bit parts calling for a tall guy and also got some better roles. As mentioned, he was an alien in Twilight Zone and Jaws in the James Bond franchise. He also played the tall man in the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. Overall, he has 82 credits on IMDB and had a successful career. Arch Hall Jr has a total of 9 IMDB credits, 6 of them his father’s films. He left acting to become a pilot. What happened to Marilyn Manning after her three movies is not known and I can find nothing really about her. She was a chiropractor’s receptionist in the same building as the film company for EEGAH! and was brought in because of her very good looks.
Overall, EEGAH! Is a hilarious send-up of sci-fi/horror movies. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it’s so bad, it’s good.
Here’s my retrospective on 2018, completely subjective of course and whenever I can’t make up my mind or I don’t want to leave something out I’ll cheat and provide more than one choice. And that’s one of the wonderful things about being the boss, you get to break the rules and do what you want.
Best Quotes of the Day
Some are political, some philosophical and some just human nature. The order is just chronological of their appearance on the site.
“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”
“No state will be well administered unless the middle class holds sway.”
“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”
Orson Scott Card
“No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.”
W. C. Fields
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
Carpe diem! Seize the day! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.
“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”
If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.
Over the course of 2018 I read and reviewed all eight of the volumes in the main series (first volume linked above) and they only got better as the series went along. It was good old mil-sci-fi space opera. I assume I won’t live long enough to see the end of the series but so far that isn’t a problem. I look forward to the next installment soon and am in no way tired of this particular universe. Kudos to Anspach and Cole. Long may they stoke their dumpster fire at the Edge of the Galaxy!
Vega is an acquired taste for me and as I’ve written about him, “It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.” Even though my tastes are a little more conventional I appreciate that there is an audience for the more unusual so I look around for interesting stuff. As I’ve said before, your call.
The two books listed below provide two different takes on the way to interpret the results of ancient DNA analysis.
“The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending
“Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past” by David Reich
David Reich being an academic embedded in the politically correct culture of the university system treads ever so gently around the edges of how the science of human genetic history should be interpreted. Cochran and Harpending are much more direct and sometimes possibly presumptuous in the conclusions they draw from the evidence. Both books together tell a fascinating story of how much we now know about the complex and diverse origins of the various human populations.
This is a kids’ movie but it far exceeds any of the other “superhero” movies for just plain entertainment value. I won’t say it was as original as the first installment but it mostly kept to the spirit of the original and provided a fun vehicle for parents (or grandparents) to enjoy a movie with their kids.
This is a twofer. For younger folks I’ll only recommend the new version by the Coen Brothers. For people who grew up on the John Wayne movies of old I recommend they view both movies back to back in chronological order. They each have facets to its advantage. Each differs slightly from the source material. But each is a fine movie. And I’ll also recommend the novel that is the source for the movies. It also has facets that aren’t available in either movie.
Album of the Year
Colter Wall by Colter Wall
Song of the Year
Pan Bowl by Sturgill Simpson
My music choices are very idiosyncratic so I won’t try to justify them. To paraphrase a recent annoying politician, they just reflect who I am Pan Bowl is an older song from Simpson’s 2014 album.
The only truly notable television I watched in 2018 was the State of the Union address by the president. Everything else was at best just okay.
On – Line Articles
Here are the articles that I thought were informative on our political situation. There were many others that were intersting but these seem to encapsulate the developments in the political thinking this year. Basically it’s the red-pilling of the normies.
Today Camera Girl and I took grandsons Primus and Secundus to the local multiplex and watched a double feature of
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Between tickets and popcorn this went for about a hundred bucks. And it was horrible. Having to twice sit through the interminable coming attractions and other advertising video was pure torture. Ralph Breaks the Internet was mildly amusing but twice as long as it needed to be. Plus, at the end I found out that Sarah Silverman was one of the voice actors. By the time Aquaman began I was bored and queasy from eating greasy popcorn.
It wasn’t bad. There was a little too much girl power being pitched and of course none of it made any sense at all but taken as a whole it wasn’t bad. The plot was ridiculously contrived and the evil half brother motif might as well have had Thor and Loki’s names filed down to protect DC from being sued by Marvel.
The special effects are, of course, spectacular. Due to his human/Atlantean hybrid ancestry the title role is performed as a regular guy who just happens to be a super hero that can breath under water and control the denizens of the deep. The rest of the Atlanteans try to sound like some kind of quasi-medieval nobility, sort of like how the Asgardians in the Thor movies do. It’s a little silly but not terrible.
I’ve never followed the Aquaman character before. I figured he was just the DC version of Submariner who was the lamest of the Marvel superheroes. From the ending sequence and the way these superhero franchises are handled it’s certain that there will be sequels. Not that I think there need to be any.
Bottom line, the movie has plenty of action and drama. The main character is likable and fulfills the function of a superhero by being heroic. And finally, the grandsons thought it was very good. So it fulfills its primary role, it amuses kids.
You may be asking yourself, is photog becoming demented? Didn’t he already write a review of Them!? The answers to those questions are yes and no. I have referenced Them in several posts about cheesy 1950s science fiction movies. But it has never gotten its own exclusive treatment. Well, I mean to remedy that situation, pronto.
Them! is the grand-daddy of all atomic energy fear films. Instead of fearing cancer and radiation sickness we are provided with a much more rational fear, giant ants. It is 1954 and nine years after the first atomic bomb was tested at White Sands, New Mexico. During those nine years ants have been traipsing around the New Mexico desert ignorant of their future as future contenders for mankind’s crown as King of the Earth. But the wait is over. A small prop plane is inexplicably cruising over the desert and spots a little girl holding a doll aimlessly walking in the hot sun. The pilot alerts a nearby police cruiser which intercepts the little girl and finds that she’s catatonic. With the help of the pilot they trace her point of origin to a recreational vehicle parked in the desert. On closer inspection the officers discover that one side of the RV has been ripped to shreds. But being crack forensic experts and logical linguists, they proclaim that the RV wall, “wasn’t caved in, it was caved out.” Whoever wrote the deathless prose of this dialog is partly responsible for the sad position we currently find ourselves in, vis-à-vis cultural and actual illiteracy. Later on, the policeman redeems himself when at a general store that has been similarly destroyed, he declares, “this wasn’t pushed in, it was pulled out.” Okay, stupid rant over.
Based on blood found in the RV the officers determine that the girl is the only survivor of an attack. On the way back from finding the girl and the trailer they stop off at a local general store and find it similarly damaged and the store owner brutally killed. One of the police officers, Ed Blackburn is left at the store to guard the remains. His partner, Sgt. Ben Peterson played by James Whitmore, drives off and shortly afterward, Blackburn is heard off camera firing his revolver at some thing and then screaming as he suffers horrible death.
Evidence found at the site of the RV, a foot print, is sent to the FBI for identification and so the story moves on to its next logical step, Santa Claus is called in. Or more precisely Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. Gwenn plays Dr. Harold Medford a world-renowned myrmecologist who with his myrmecologist daughter have come to lead the effort to save the world from the giant ants. Representing the government is FBI agent Robert Graham played by James Arness. Arness who later found fame as Marshall Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke is the brave, competent hero of the movie and the love interest for the myrmecologist daughter. And to provide local color Ben Peterson is always on hand to provide the comic relief.
With the help of the scientists, the army locates the giant ant nest and destroy it with cyanide gas. But after inspecting the inside of the nest the scientists break the bad news. New queen ants have escaped the nest and will be forming new nests elsewhere. Now a war room is set up and armed forces from all the services mobilize to battle the giant ants on land, on sea and in the air. Dunt, dunt, daaaah!!!
The final showdown takes place where it must, in the storm drains of Los Angeles. And in fitting fashion, the ants capture two little boys who wander into their nest and are rescued by the US Army. Unfortunately, Ben Peterson dies saving the boys but dies the good death of a hero. And when the ants are finally finished off Dr. Medford gives a speech and tells us that the atomic age is fraught with danger and giant insects.
Despite how thoroughly I’ve mocked this movie, I actually enjoy it immensely. Other than the laughably fake animatronic ants the production values for the movie are quite good and the actors are actually very effective for the most part, including the character actors performing the bit parts as police, military and civilian participants. My favorite scenes are where the scientific expertise of the Medfords is showcased for the benefit of the poor ignorant soldiers and police. While under attack from their first giant ant Dr. Medford makes sure he uses the Latin singular and plural versions of the word antenna when instructing the police to shoot at the ant. “Shoot the antennae, shoot the antennae,” he yells and once one of these has been shot off he continues “now shoot the other antenna.” In another scene Dr. Medford is attempting to convince the Pentagon that the giant ants are an existential threat to humanity and he uses an ant film clip that looks like it could have been made by my high school biology teacher.
Them! is a wonderful time capsule of the 1950s. Americans are the good guys and giant ants are definitely bad. What could be simpler?