What Does Science Fiction Want for Our World Today?

Back when my father was a kid science fiction was all about rockets to Mars, flying cars and atomic power.  The world would march forward in the same way that it had after science advanced in the generations before.  It would engineer applications for atomic power in the same way that earlier generations applied knowledge of chemistry and physics to create the internal combustion engine and airplanes.

When I was a kid science fiction had progressed to where relativity and quantum physics were assumed to be susceptible to human genius and no barriers were too tall to prevent humans from colonizing the stars, travelling through time and even traipsing into other dimensions.  Now this made for a lot of interesting stories about universes where humans could meet up with all kinds of amazing creatures and events.  But at some point, you have to wonder if the word “science” in the name science fiction should be changed to fantasy.  And that’s fine.  Having faster than light (FTL) travel opens up so many story lines for an author that it’s hard to resist.  Otherwise, we’re stuck with multi-generational ships depending on relativistic time dilation to reach the nearest stars in one or two hundred years.  Which, by the way, makes for a lot of very interesting sociological phenomena on the ship.  But anyway, you can see how FTL travel would be a very desirable pseudoscientific device.

But here we are something like a hundred years on in the “modern” science fiction timeline and we’re still engulfed in the FTL travel trope.  And we’re still nowhere near any kind of science that would lead us to believe that FTL travel is even remotely possible.  So, in my mind maybe science fiction needs to start looking at science again for inspiration for new themes.

Thinking about this, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of scientific discoveries and avenues for new technologies that are not only possible but also exciting building blocks for science fiction stories.  In biology we have gene therapy and longevity research.  In computer science there is artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  The reality of atomic power as a replacement for fossil fuels is not really science fiction as much as fact but there are enough questions about how it will change the present world that it could provide plenty of fodder for stories.  And human exploration of the solar system is now much better understood than it was even back during the Apollo program.  Reimagining the directions that something like landing on Mars will take has already been a successful idea for one author who even saw it turned into a successful movie.

Perhaps some of this sounds a little tame for science fiction readers.  On the contrary, sticking to the reality of what it would take to put a small colony on Mars should allow a good author to engineer in plenty of human interest and adventure.  I could see how a story based on capturing and harvesting an asteroid filled with gold and platinum would make a very exciting tale.  A good author would include the part of the story that involves very rich and powerful individuals scheming to hold onto the profits from a mission that might include the most powerful nations on Earth claiming the assets as the “legacy of all mankind.”

So, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Now I like space opera as much as the next guy.  I’m very comfortable with galactic empires and multiverse.  They’re great fun.  But I also think it’s time for some of the most creative writers to start adding some real science back into science fiction.

The Terminal List (2022) – A TV Review

“The Terminal List is Amazon Prime’s action thriller tv series based on Jack Carr’s 2018 novel of the same name.  It stars Chris Pratt as Navy Seal Lieutenant Commander James Reece and centers around Reece’s revenge mission to avenge the deaths of his family and comrades in arms.

I won’t put in my usual spoiler alert because I’d rather not go through the whole plot piece by piece.  I’ll just give you my reaction to the series and recommendations.

So, first off, the author Jack Carr was a Navy Seal so I guess that lends some credibility to the technical details of the show.  As far as the plot, it’s a highly charged story of wrongdoing by the rich and powerful that a few years ago I would have said was too outlandish to be true.  But now that real life government malfeasance (FBI targeting of political opponents, COVID related tyrannical actions) is standard operating procedure who is to say what’s outlandish.

The acting for the most part is very good.  There were maybe one or two scenes that didn’t seem to correspond to how I thought the characters emotional states would make them act.  But since the author probably corresponds more closely than I do to the psychological profile of the characters in the story maybe it’s my ignorance of their mindsets.

One of the plot elements involves the brain trauma that Reece is suffering from.  This leads him sometimes to slip back into old scenes in his life, sometimes at very inconvenient points in the plot.  Occasionally during the story, I thought the memory problems were a little distracting but by the end of the series I was satisfied that the plot device was justified.  It also gives us a chance to see his personal life with his murdered wife and daughter.  Now this is a difficult layer to add to a story like this.  I would say they pulled it off mostly well.  By the end of the story the character seems to have come to closure with his loss.

As far as action, there is plenty of it.  Reece and his allies do an amazing amount of damage to the people on his “terminal list.”  And there is quite a bit of brutality to his campaign.  Some of it is up close and personal.  But I would say the violence isn’t merely gratuitous but follows the plot of avenging the terrible crimes that have been committed against Reece.

I watched the show with Camera Girl.  Now she’s an action novel junkie.  She’s a big fan of Reacher and Bosch so a little violence isn’t a big deal to her.  There was one scene that she thought was a little too vicious but by the end of the series she was a big fan of the story.  So, I would recommend this series to anyone who likes the action thriller genre.  It also lacked any woke nonsense of any kind.  In that sense it was very refreshing.  I give this series a highly recommended rating.

Obsession (1949) – A Movie Review

“The Hidden Room” is a crime drama that was made in England.  It was released in the United States with the title “Obsession.”

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Dr. Clive Riordan’s wife Storm is cheating on him with an American named Bill Kronin.  After catching them together when they thought he was out of town he kidnaps Bill and imprisons him in a bombed out building on the outskirts of London.  He plans to murder him and then liquify the body with a corrosive chemical that he formulates in a lab in his medical office.  But Riordan has decided to wait before killing Bill until he is sure that the authorities don’t suspect him in Bill’s disappearance.  The majority of the movie is made up of Riordan’s visits to provide food and drink to Bill in his improvised prison cell.  Bill is shackled to a wall and Riordan has marked on the floor in chalk the areas of the room that are outside of Bill’s reach.  Riordan is a polite and even accommodating host, providing Bill with his choice of books and even cocktails.  And being a psychiatrist, he explains the psychological reason for his need for revenge.

But finally, after four months Riordan is convinced that it is safe to dispatch his guest.  However, Riordan’s wife has been in touch with Scotland Yard and eventually Superintendent Finsbury pays a visit to Riordan and this buys Bill a reprieve.  When Riordan overhears his wife on the phone with Finsbury, he decides to finish off Bill and he mixes a poison in Bill’s martini for the night.  But thanks to Finsbury’s actions Bill is rescued before the poison can take his life.  Riordan is arrested by Finsbury and Storm says goodbye to Bill in his hospital room before she leaves on a sea voyage to find a new man with which to stave off boredom.

None of the actors will be familiar to an American audience but this movie is interesting because of the scenes between Bill and Riordan.  Their strange companionship in these scenes is amusing and surprisingly compelling.  Since neither has anything to lose by being honest they both portray their thoughts candidly.  Not that murder is an acceptable social action but Riordan does explain openly his decision to punish his wife’s infidelities as a salve for his pride.  And Bill maintains his spirits believing that Riordan will back away from his murderous plan when the authorities maintain their pursuit of his disappearance.  The story is somewhat preposterous but I very much enjoyed it for the scenes with the prospective victim and murderer.  Their pleasant discussions of Bill’s upcoming demise make this a movie I can recommend.

Room at the Top (1958) _ A Movie Review

This movie was part of the “Angry Young Men” school of post WWII British film.  It reflected the dissatisfaction with reduced economic opportunities in the British post-war era and the anxiety over the breakdown of traditional societal norms and class structure.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Joe Lampton (played by Laurence Harvey) is a working-class young man who has returned from three years in a German POW camp during the war.  He leaves the poverty of his hometown of West Riding to find opportunities in the more upscale town of Warnley.  He becomes a clerk in the Borough Treasurer’s Office where he meets Charlie Soames who becomes his friend and roommate.  And Charlie quickly learns that Joe plans to use his good looks to marry a rich man’s daughter.

Specifically, he finds that Mr. Brown, the local millionaire, has a daughter Susan who would be perfect for the part.  She’s young, pretty and susceptible to his charms.  Throughout the rest of the movie Joe takes every opportunity to charm Susan.  And he’s successful in fascinating her.  But her parents and her whole social circle reject his advances categorically and stand in the way of Joe ever spending any time with the girl.  They go as far as sending her to France on holiday just to keep them apart.

Meanwhile Joe has himself fallen in love with a married woman.  Alice Aisgill (played by Simone Signoret) is a French woman, older than Joe.  Her upper-class husband George is steadily unfaithful to her with women that he visits supposedly “on business.”  Joe’s working-class sympathies lead him to despise George and he easily falls into an affair with Alice that is conducted simultaneously with his campaign to wed Susan.

Eventually Susan finds a way to escape her parents’ protection and she and Joe wind up in bed together.  But Joe finds Susan’s company much less stimulating than Alice’s.  Susan’s prattle seems sophomoric and dull compared to his conversations with Alice.  Joe discovers that Alice is the woman he wants.  He plans to marry her as soon as she can get a divorce from George.  But George confronts him and tells him that he’ll never agree to divorce Alice and if she tries to leave him, he’ll blacken their names so badly in the courts that they’ll become pariahs.

And just after this meeting he is summoned by Mr. Brown to a fancy conservative club where he learns that Susan is going to have a child by him.  And Mr. Brown has decided to accept him as a son-in-law and bring him into the family business.  But the condition is that he must break off his scandalous relationship with Alice.

Joe goes to Alice and tells her of Susan’s pregnancy and the impossibility of Alice and him ever having a life together.  And he tells her that he plans to marry Susan and that Alice would never see him again.  Alice is devastated.  She goes out drinking and we learn afterward that she crashes her car and dies in the wreck.  Next morning as news of the impending nuptials between Joe and Susan circulate through the Treasurer’s office and Charlie and his other friends are congratulating him Joe hears of Alice’s horrible death and he goes into shock.

In the next scene Joe has gone on a bender in some dive bar.  He has taken up with a woman who’s also quite drunk and when her boyfriend shows up Joe threatens him and scares him off.  But later on, this man and his friends find Joe and pummel him into unconsciousness and leave him bleeding in the street.  Eventually the next morning Charlie finds Joe and takes him home.

The last scene is Joe and Susan’s wedding ceremony with the priest reciting the vows and Joe, after a perceptible pause, answering, “I will.”  As they drive off in the wedding limousine Susan talks about the meaning she found in the ceremony.  But she notices that Joe has tears in his eyes so she says, “You really are sentimental, after all.”  But he just smiles brokenly as the movie ends.

I always find English movies of this time period a little depressing.  And this film is certainly no exception but for all that I thought it had its merits.  Despite his mercenary attitude toward Susan, Joe’s working-class sensibilities and the snobbish cruelty of his upper-class persecutors quickly win over the sympathies of the audience.  His guilt and contrition over abandoning Alice and her subsequent death are meant to convince us that he has grown and might become a better man.  I can’t unreservedly recommend this movie for everyone.  But if based on my description it sounds interesting give it a try.

King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) – A Movie Review

Can you imagine a movie with Rex Harrison playing Saladin, George Sanders as Richard the Lionhearted and Virginia Mayo as a Norman princess?  Well don’t try.  It’s just too bizarre to reconstruct without supercomputers and black magic.  But it actually must have occurred in some alternate universe where completely improbable things happen.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

I watched this movie for the first time today and I was flabbergasted.  So, we’re on the Third Crusade and Richard is leading a coalition of scheming nobles.  They attempt to assassinate him with a poisoned Saracen arrow so they can end their war against Saladin and concentrate on plundering the Holy Land.

There’s a great deal of nonsense that involves Saladin showing up in disguise as a doctor to heal Richard of his poisoned arrow.  You see Saladin is so chivalrous that he wants Richard to survive so they can fight a duel to decide the fate of the war.

And there’s another plot line where Richard’s cousin Lady Edith Plantagenet (played improbably by Virginia Mayo) is in love with a Scottish knight named Sir Kenneth.  Kenneth is apparently the only crusader actually loyal to Richard.  But once Edith’s love affair with this non-Norman man becomes known to Richard he turns against Kenneth and challenges him to an ordeal by combat.  And then Saladin saves Kenneth’s life but is also in love with Edith.  Now the Holy War is just hopelessly muddled with love.  What’s a crusader to do?  Luckily the bad guys (the bad Crusaders in this case) kidnap Edith and so Richard, Saladin and Kenneth put aside their differences over religion, civilization and of course good acting and attack the bad guys.

So, the good guys win and then Saladin rides away with his men and Richard comes around to Kenneth being his cousin’s future husband.

The End.

You have to see this movie to know just how laughably bad this thing is.  Rex Harrison with bronze face paint and a scraggly beard talking with some kind of fake middle eastern accent quoting the prophet.  George Sanders playing George Sanders (of course) brow beating the other characters is insufferable.  I found myself hoping the assassination attempt would succeed and end the movie quickly.  And the rest of the cast is even worse.  The strange thing is I kind of enjoyed watching this mess.  I can’t explain why.  Maybe I was just in the right mood for a silly knights-in-armor spectacle.  Who knows maybe it was the belly dancer.  But I’m not going to recommend this movie to anyone.  Watch it at your own peril.

The Wolfman (2010) – A Horror Movie Review

The 2010 film, the Wolfman was made by Universal as a remake of their 1941 film The Wolf Man.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot.  Lawrence left his home in England after the death of his mother under mysterious circumstances.  His father Sir John Talbot (played by Anthony Hopkins) still lives at the ancestral home with his other son Ben and Ben’s fiancée Gwen Conliffe (played by Emily Blunt).  Lawrence is contacted by Gwen and asked to return home after Ben disappears.

When Lawrence arrives, he discovers that Ben’s body has been discovered horribly mutilated as if by some enormous predator.  Rumors in the village point to some involvement by a gypsy camp nearby.  Lawrence promises Gwen that he will investigate and find Ben’s killer.

Lawrence goes to the village and the locals tell him that the grisly killing is like one that occurred twenty-five years ago and was attributed by the locals to a werewolf.  Other villagers are convinced that a trained bear that the gypsies keep is responsible.  Lawrence determines to go to the gypsy camp to investigate but his father warns him that the full moon is that night and he should stay home.

Lawrence goes to the camp and the wolf-like creature goes on a spree killing and maiming gypsies and villagers alike.  Lawrence chases after the creature with a rifle but eventually the creature attacks him and tears his neck severely.  A gypsy woman named Maleva stitches up his wound while another tells her to let him die because he is now destined to become a werewolf too.

Lawrence is sent home and makes a miraculous recovery from his wounds.  During his convalescence Inspector Francis Aberline of Scotland Yard (played by Hugo Weaving) interviews Lawrence and hints that based on Lawrence’s childhood bout with mental illness (his father had had him committed to an asylum for a year) that perhaps he is a suspect in the horrific attacks.

And in the village, news that Lawrence’s wounds had healed unnaturally well, convinced the people that he was about to become a werewolf himself at the next full moon.  When they come to drag Lawrence away by force, Sir John shows up with a shot gun and forces them off the estate.

But sure enough the next night is the full moon and Lawrence makes the metamorphosis into a wolf man and goes on a horrendous rampage killing and tearing to pieces the villagers who have come out to catch and kill him.  Aberline is witness to some of the killings and the next morning when Lawrence wakes up outside the manor house soaked in blood, the inspector and the local police capture Lawrence and bring him to the same insane asylum he was committed to as a child.

There he is treated with shock treatments using ice water and electricity.  At the end of a month Sir John visits him and tells him his own story.  Twenty-five years earlier Sir John was bitten by a werewolf and became such a creature.  He was able to avoid the monthly murdering by having his servant Singh lock him up each full moon in a reinforced cell.

He admits to the murder of both his wife and his son Ben.  And gives Lawrence a straight razor in case he cannot face the murderous life he is faced with and would prefer suicide.  That night is the full moon and Lawrence once again transforms into a beast, breaks out of the asylum and goes on another killing spree through London.  In the morning he goes to the home of Gwen and tells her of what he knows of Ben’s murder and his father’s guilt.  He plans to kill his father and then himself to end the curse.  Gwen tries to dissuade him from suicide but he heads home.

That night Lawrence confronts his father in their home and the two werewolves battle.  During the fight the manor house catches fire.  At first Sir John has the best of the fight but finally Lawrence heaves his foe into the fire which weakens him enough to allow his son to decapitate him.

Following this battle both Gwen and Inspector Aberline confront the surviving beast.  Aberline is wounded by Lawrence but is spared when the wolf chases after Gwen into the night.  When he finally catches her and pins her to the ground, she is able to awaken his humanity and he spares her.  And while he is distracted by the approaching villagers Gwen shoots him with a pistol.  Lawrence returns to human form and before he dies, he thanks Gwen for releasing him from his curse.  Inspector Aberline witnesses Lawrence’s death and it’s obvious that he knows his own fate is sealed when next the moon is full.

Alright, here’s my take.  When you go to a movie called the “The Wolfman” you’re not going to get Shakespeare.  In fact, you’re not even going to get drama.  You’re going to get a fairy tale.  And that’s exactly what you get here.  What you want is good special effects, lots of blood and gore and some good guys to pity and some bad guys to hiss at.  It would be nice if the script isn’t too silly and the actors not completely inept.  And in those particulars, I think this picture is above par for the genre.  After all, Anthony Hopkins can make even nonsense sound interesting.  And the rest of the cast do their best.  As a remake of the 1941 film, I think this movie is quite close.  Benicio del Toro approaches the part in a similar vein to how Lon Chaney Jr. did.  Anthony Hopkins and Claude Rains are both distinguished English actors that project intelligence into their characters.  And the atmosphere of the film hits all the right notes.  This movie lost money so it’s been declared a bomb.  I disagree.  It’s a highly successful fairy tale.  Of course, you have to like fairy tales to enjoy it.  I recommend this to fans of horror movies.

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) (1966) – A Movie Review

I’ve been looking for a good print of this movie for a few years.  Orson Welles made this in his later years when money for his productions was very hard to find.  So, he allied himself with a Spanish production company.  The movie didn’t make any money and the prints of the film weren’t preserved well.  But at last, I was able to see a good copy.

The story is a pasting together of sections of three of Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV – Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) that deal with Prince Hal and Falstaff.  Welles was able to assemble a cast that did justice to the work.  Welles plays Falstaff and was born for the part.  John Gielgud is King Henry IV and Jeanne Moreau plays Doll Tearsheet.  Ralph Richardson performs narration.  The rest of the cast I’m not familiar with but I will say they acquit themselves admirably especially Keith Baxter, the actor playing Prince Hal.

This is Shakespeare, not modern cinema so not all audiences will enjoy it.  But for those who have a liking for the Bard this motion picture will reward your time.  It’s a very human tale of a young man (Prince Hal) rebelling against his place in the world.  And at the same time, it is the story of a larger-than-life character, Falstaff.  A man that combines wit, braggadocio, cowardice, humor, lust for life and villainy in almost equal proportions.

Technically there are some aspects of the film that aren’t up to modern standards.  The audio track isn’t perfect.  But for the most part it’s an engaging production.  Even the battle scene which was made on a very small budget is a cinematic success and enhances the film.

I need to buy a good copy of this film.  I can see watching this one about every six months or so.  Recommended for the lover of Shakespeare.

Seven Samurai (1954) – A Movie Review

Seven Samurai is arguably, director Akira Kurosawa’s most successful work.  It takes place in Japan in 1586 and tells the story of a peasant village that knows the local bandit army is going to rob them of their rice harvest in a few weeks.  They hatch the plan of hiring samurai to defend them from the bandits.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

They’re rebuffed by several samurai who feel that it is beneath their dignity to work for peasants.  Finally, they come upon a samurai who is in the act of saving a child from a thief who has taken him hostage.  The samurai named Kambei Shimada (played by Takashi Shimura) shaves his own head to disguise himself as a monk then during a ruse to get food to the child throws himself at the thief and overpowers and kills him.

After hearing the peasants’ plight, Shimada agrees to take on their war but insists he’ll need at least six more samurai to accomplish the feat.  The next section of the movie is the assembling of the team.  Each of the samurai chosen has distinctive characteristics.  One is an old comrade of Shimada’s (Shichirōji).  Another is a preternaturally skilled swordsman (Kyūzō).  Still another is a skilled archer and master strategist (Gorōbei).  One is a nobleman’s son (Katsushirō) trying to become a samurai.  Another (Heihachi) is a mediocre swordsman but has so much spirit that he becomes the glue that gives the team cohesion.  And finally, there is Kikuchiyo (played by Toshiro Mifune).  He was pretending to be a samurai but his story was laughably false.  The group mocks him and tells him to get lost but he trails them and eventually is accepted as a sort of mascot.  Eventually he shows his worth by the way he can control and organize the farmers into a defense force for the war.  Eventually the story comes out that he is an orphan of a peasant family that was murdered by bandits.

Shimada and Gorōbei lay out the plan for the defense of the town.  They order the peasants to build defensive fences out of timber and to flood some of the perimeter fields.  They also destroy some bridges that span the local river.  Shichirōji, Katsushirō and especially Kikuchiyo drill the peasants in the use of home-made bamboo spears and the tactics they’ll need to support the samurai in their defense against the bandits’ cavalry charges.

After catching a few scouts that show up on their perimeter a sortie is sent out against a fort that the bandits have about twenty miles from the town.  The raid is a success.  The bandit’s fort is burned down but Heihachi is struck by a musket shot and killed.

The next day the bandits attack in force.  For two days the samurai and their peasant troops steadily whittle down the bandits’ numbers through dividing up the cavalry charges and attacking the outnumbered stragglers.  But during one attack Gorōbei is killed.

Finally, the last day of the battle dawns and it is pouring rain.  The samurai let all the bandits into the town for a final pitched battle.  And the village forces are winning the day.  But the bandit chief hides out in the women’s building in the center of town with a musket.  He shoots down Kyūzō.  Kikuchiyo runs toward the building to revenge him.  The chief shoots him in the belly but Kikuchiyo manages to stab the chief to death before he also dies.  And the battle ends with all the bandits dead.

The next day while the villagers rejoice in their victory, Shimada, Shichirōji and Katsushirō walk past the graves of their fallen comrades and reflect that the victory was a pyrrhic one for them.  The real winners were the farmers whose lives can now go on undisturbed by bandits or samurai.

I’ve left out some subplots involving a love story between Katsushirō and a farmer’s daughter named Shino.  There’s also a farmer whose wife was kidnapped by the bandits and turned into a concubine who runs back into a burning building to avoid the wrath of her husband.  And a village elder who rather than abandoning his building to the bandits is killed along with his son and daughter in law.  But these are window dressing.  The story is the war and it is well told.  Now let’s get down to cases.  This is a three and a half hour, black and white movie in Japanese with subtitles.  Those things right there will be disqualifications for a very large subset of Americans.  But if you do not automatically reject such a film then I’m happy to say that “Seven Samurai” is quite a good adventure story.  Kurosawa based the concept of this film on American westerns.  This was black hat outlaws versus farmers and some white hat cowboys.  Think of the Earps versus the Clantons.  In fact, the story was remade as a western called the “Magnificent Seven.”  Of course, each of us has a limit on just how wide our comfort zone is for exotic stories but in my opinion Seven Samurai is well worth the trouble of some of the oddities.  The whining peasants are a little annoying and the pacing at some stages is on the slow side.  But I’ll highly recommend this movie for fans of adventure stories.

The Giant Behemoth (1959) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Lately I’ve been adding in a spoiler alert to these reviews to spare people who don’t want the movie spoiled by my review of the plot.  I’ll skip it here because no one can care what the plot of this movie is.  Basically, this is a British copycat of the movie “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” which came out in 1953.  Unfortunately, the special effects (such as they are) are even less impressive than the earlier incarnation of the story.

Intrepid American scientist Steve Karnes is in Britain to warn his fellow scientists that all of the atomic bomb blasts have filled the ocean with radioactive plankton, fish and sea birds.  And that eventually this would lead to giant mutated prehistoric creatures being awakened and attacking coastal cities.  Well, he didn’t actually say that but I could read between the lines.

Sure enough a fisherman and his surprisingly pretty blonde daughter are returning from a fishing trip and while she returns to their home the old man lingers on the beach and is blasted by the eponymous giant behemoth.  Apparently, the creature not only is highly radioactive but he also possesses the ability to use his electric eel-like power as if he were a gigantic bug zapper.  Later on, the daughter and her not too smart boyfriend find the father.  He’s covered with radiation burns on his face and they arrive just in time for him to tell them that it was a “giant behemoth” before he expires.

And I say that the boyfriend is not too smart because near the dead fisherman he finds a blob of pulsating glowing, pulsating slime.  So naturally he puts his hand into it and gets his own set of radiation burns.  At this point Steve Karnes and his British sidekick Professor James Bickford show up and quickly figure out that a giant prehistoric sea creature has been turned into a radioactive death trap and they bring in the British Navy.

Unfortunately, the Navy proves incompetent and various naval vessels, merchant ships, helicopters and even a passenger ferry are destroyed by the beast (mostly off-camera).  But finally, when the beast climbs onto land in London, we get to see it.  It’s a sorry looking Claymation facsimile of a sauropod.  And the animation of it walking through the London streets is almost comically bad.  It chases after a lot of not too nimble Londoners for a long time.  It zaps a bunch of people with its death ray.  It knocks some bricks out of a wall onto some other Brits and finally picks up a guy in a car in its mouth and throws it to the ground.

After this goes on for way too long Karnes and Bickford decide that what radioactivity can create, radioactivity can destroy!  They will take a radium spearhead and use a torpedo to shoot it into the creature’s head.  Apparently, this will kill it.  So, Steve gets into a crappy little submarine and voila, he shoots the behemoth and it’s all over.

But just as our heroes are congratulating each other for a job well done we hear a newscast saying that dead fish are washing up on the east coast of the United States.  Oh no, here we go again!

You’ve got to be a devotee of old monster movies to want to see this clunker.  I know War Pig is in that category so if you’re out there, this one’s for you.

Absence of Malice (1981) – A Movie Review

Absence of Malice is a film that explores the way federal law enforcement and the media can conspire to libel individuals they want to harass.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Paul Newman is Mike Gallagher a liquor wholesaler in Miami.  He’s also the son of a former bootlegger.  And because of his social connections through his father the Justice Department is intent on having him provide evidence on a murder case that they are convinced was a mob hit.

Prosecutor Elliot Rosen conspires to convince newspaper reporter Megan Carter (played by Sally Field) that the FBI has evidence that Gallagher was responsible for the murder.  She publishes a front-page story to that effect and Mike’s life starts falling apart.  The longshoreman’s union boycotts his business because the murdered man was a member of their union.  Then Mike finds himself followed around by organized crime henchmen who fear he will turn on them.

Mike goes to Megan’s office and demands to know who told her that he was a murderer.  She refuses on the grounds that it’s privileged information.  But she’s interested in Mike and begins an odd relationship with him.  She meets a friend of Mike’s named Teresa Perrone who can vouch for the fact that Mike was out of town with her when the murder occurred.  While checking on Teresa’s story she discovers that Teresa was out of town to have an abortion.  And Teresa is a practicing Catholic and works for the Catholic Church so the abortion is a source of great shame to her.

Megan’s boss convinces her to include the abortion as part of the story that she writes on Mike.  Reading the story, Teresa commits suicide out of the shame she feels for the abortion being revealed.  Mike is enraged at the betrayal that Megan committed against Teresa and when Megan comes to apologize, he roughs her up.  She gives Elliot Rosen’s name to Mike to atone for her betrayal.

Using the information that Megan gave him Mike begins a deception of his own.  He contacts Rosen’s boss District Attorney James Quinn and convinces him that if Quinn gives a public exoneration of him then Mike will provide him with all the information on the mob hit.  But when Rosen sees what’s going on he assumes Quinn has been bribed by Mike and begins an unauthorized and illegal investigation of both of them.  Mike feeds this false narrative by making anonymous donations to a charity that Rosen knows is affiliated with Quinn.

Finally, a friend of Megan’s in the FBI warns her to stay away from Mike because of an impending arrest of Quinn and Mike.  She then publishes a story of the false narrative and the Justice Department steps in.  Assistant Attorney General James Wells in charge of organized crime (played masterfully by Wilford Brimley) convenes an interview at which all the principals (Mike, Megan, Rosen and Quinn) are present and sorts through the mess.  He figures out that Mike has orchestrated this public relations disaster for both the government and the newspaper as revenge for their unscrupulous use of misinformation to libel him and try to force him to become a government informant.

Rosen and Quinn lose their jobs, Megan’s paper has to print an apology and retraction and Megan is chastened for her bad judgement.  At the end of the movie Mike and Megan meet and somewhat reconcile before he leaves Florida for some new stage in his life.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie.  Above and beyond the topicality to our time of FBI/Media collusion, the characterization of Mike as the wronged citizen strikes a very sympathetic chord that Newman pulls off perfectly.  This movie is almost unique in Hollywood history in not making the crusading reporters and G-men heroes.  Here the FBI are the bad guys harassing the little guy who is just trying to live his life.  The newspaper reporters are shown to be callous and without empathy for their subjects.  This is an excellent movie for our time.