Sunday, March 17, 2013

TITLE SEQUENCE: Interpol 009

Interpol 009
Director: Ko Nakahira
Year 1967

Thursday, March 7, 2013

FILM THIS: Leo's Aldebaran

FILM THIS – Graphic Novels That Should Be Made Into Feature Films

Writer: Leo
Artist: Leo
Year: 1994-1998

Aldebaran is a sweeping science fiction graphic novel that fantastically depicts what would happen if Earthlings ventured out into the great unknown of the universe in search of inhabitable planets to colonize. Derived from the imaginative mind of Leo, a Brazilian born engineer, this epic story painstakingly details an entire planet's flora and fauna, as it touches on some incredible and out of this world notions, while diligently focusing on man's inherent ability to control, destroy, and inevitably corrupt. As usual, I must warn you that spoilers for the graphic novel are abundant in this write up so proceed with caution.

The story begins in the year 2179 along the coast of a small village on Aldebaran, a fairly young colonized planet which has been cut off from Earth for over one hundred years. Seemingly abandoned to their own devices, the Aldebaran colony becomes one of corruption, power and greed, as an autocratic society rises up in Earth's absence to reign in the population. With the stage set, we are introduced to two central characters named Marc Sorensen and Kim Keller, who live in a small fishing village called Arena Bianca. After the inexplicable destruction of their village by the violent act of a mysterious sea monster, the two set off for the capital city of Anatolia, a bustling metropolis where most of the population of Aldebaran resides. Though starting a new life is never an easy task, it gets far more difficult when the two get caught up in a grand adventure after meeting up with two illusive biologists named Alexa Komarova and Driss Shediac, and a resourceful old man named Mr. Pad.

Wanted by the police for possessing a secret knowledge that could change the planet and quite possibly topple the authoritarian regime, Alexa and Driss recruit Marc and Kim into their inner circle and inform them that the creature that destroyed their village is actually a complex, protean creature called a Mantrisse, which has begun communicating with humans, specifically those it deems worthy. Intrigued and shocked at the prospect of an intelligent form of life, aside from the human race, Marc and Kim accept the invitation and in the process change their lives forever.

What I find most compelling about the prospect of a live action adaption or motion picture version of Leo's Aldebaran graphic novel, is that the world that Leo brings to life is incredibly believable and teeming with life, literally that is. Leo goes into great detail on describing the various flora and fauna of the planet Aldebaran and he revels in the outlandish nature of each savage beast and deadly predator. Designed in an otherworldly sense, the creatures that inhabit this strange new land are fantastical and thought-provoking as each are given imaginative abilities and genuine functions which serve them best in this untamed environment. The first thing that comes to mind when reading through this epic science fiction tale and presented with all of these out of this world beasts, is that one special moment in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park when we are introduced to our first glimpse of an actual living, breathing dinosaur. That moment is an iconic one and Leo's Aldebaran novel is drenched with these same kind of instances, the ones that make you sit back and gape in awe.

As Mark Sorensen and Kim Keller trek across the Aldebaran landscape, we're introduced to a plethora of mind-boggling creatures that really make an impact on just how grandiose this world that Leo imagined up really is. Larger than life sea monsters, carnivorous lizard like behemoths, venomous insects, deadly birds, and gargantuan flying beasts of burden, are just a few of the diverse animals that inhabit this wild land. None are as impressive though as the Mantrisse itself for it changes form as the story moves along, switching from one imposing visage to the next, in the most splendid of ways. It's a testament to Leo's creativity that he can make such an intriguing and curious creature up, while still giving it that believable edge to make it feel genuine and natural within Aldebaran's environment.

Of course this can be said for all of the creatures that Leo concocts for this graphic novel. From the land beasts all the way to the various ones that inhabit the ocean, they all have a unique look, yet they still manage to coexist visually on the same plain of existence, albeit a loopy and frightening one.

As for the human characters of the story, they are all well thought-out and genuinely engaging. This is even true for the lesser known characters of the novel, as they pop in and out of the narrative, effecting the flow of the story and the lives of the main cast. When it comes to the central players of the piece, Marc, Kim, Alexa, Driss, and Mr. Pad, they are living breathing beings with their own wants and needs who interact beautifully with one another in the most naturalistic of ways. It's refreshing to see such a humanistic approach to the characters, especially when they are being placed in the most unusual of situations and inhabiting such an unfamiliar landscape as Aldebaran and its autocratic society.

It is these five main characters that hold the story together and the believability of this world is essential to their validity, which Leo just absolutely knocks out of the park. Their chemistry is just so natural and heartfelt that it makes you yearn to be able to see these fascinating characters in a feature film with all the trimmings and scope of a blockbuster opus. Marc and Kim especially are given a fabulous story arc where they begin as timid and contrasting youths and slowly over the course of the novel begin to build a relationship because of the perilous situations that they, together, survive through. Their story is endearing and particularly enjoyable to see unfold amidst all the chaos of this brave new world.

Another aspect of Aldebaran that deems it worthy of a cinematic adaption is its well thought-out world and society, and the cruel harshness that it possesses. Being a book that centers around the corrupt nature of humanity as a whole, it wears its warning of autocratic societies on its sleeve, highlighting the inhumane nature of these volatile regimes who gleam power from their people's suffering. Falling into the realm of totalitarianism and military dictatorship, the civilization of Aldebaran has turned to a system that allows the state to control every aspect of its citizens lives, from brutally forcing women to procreate with or without their own consent, to monopolizing the existence of knowledge if it enables them more power over the people. It's a savage view of what could happen if left to our own devices, but one that is so authentic that you can't help but get wrapped up in.

The most interesting thing about this society is that it was built out of necessity, and quite possibly innocent in its efforts to keep the human race alive on Aldebaran. After losing contact with Earth one hundred years ago, the isolation and lack of structure must have driven the colonial people, now stranded on a new and dangerous world, mad. It would seem logical that the leaders of this troubled society would want to control every aspect of their lives in order to reassure the survival of their numbers, but what at first was a necessary first step of survival quickly became a play for power as the population's numbers began to swell over the course of the next 100 years. It's intriguing to say the least that this oppressive society could have been born out of such innocent times, and the sheer fact that Leo even gives us this much of a detailed back story, while still juggling such overwhelmingly complex concepts, is a perfect example of how fleshed out this world of Aldebaran really is. It's an idea that I would love to see on the screen at some point in time and I think Aldebaran would be the perfect vehicle to display this provocative concept.

Brutality and boldness is another aspect of Leo's Aldebaran that I absolutely love. Not only does it have an intellectual structure at its story's core, but it excels as a daring action adventure with a huge bite. No doubt about it, the world of Aldebaran is a dangerous place, filled with violence, pain and suffering. Leo demonstrates this perfectly with his frequent habit of putting his main characters in harms way and also not shying away from showing a good deal of death, destruction, and devastation. For all intensive purposes, Aldebaran is still a savage planet having only been inhabited by mankind over the last one hundred years. There are carnivorous creatures a plenty and an enormous portion of the planet's surface is literally uninhabitable because of the terrain and beasts that live there.

There's a wonderful moment in the graphic novel, which showcases this fact to perfection, where Marc, Kim, and the crew are flying an airship over a territory of land that has been labeled a death zone. Far beneath them lies a primordial wasteland of viscous creatures and blood-thirsty gargantuans, waiting for anyone foolish enough to tread on their grounds to end up a tasty snack. As in most cases, luck is not on the groups side for they are slowly losing altitude because of a prior incident with their airship and soon end up crash landing into this very real nightmare. What follows is a series of events that vividly portray how dangerous Aldebaran can be as beasts begin coming out of the woodwork to make quick meals of our unfortunate crew. It's a moment that I would love to relive in the cinema, because it really is the direst of situations and you feel every foreboding second of it.

Another aspect of this ridiculously accomplished graphic novel is the sensational visuals that are on display. The look and feel of Aldebaran is without a doubt some of the most eye-pleasing spectacles that I've ever come across. With picturesque Caribbean like vistas, lush jungles, primitive metropolises, expansive crystal-clear blue oceans, unsettling and savage swamplands, and unbelievably beautiful aerial views, the presentation is simply striking. To top it all off, the diverse nature of all of these various locations are connected succinctly in that same breath-taking style that Leo has infused within this entire well thought-out novel.

It makes my mind spin at the prospect of seeing these finely penned environments brought to life through the magic of the cinema and I can't for the life of me imagine why such a project has not been produced in either a live action format or as an animated feature yet. I guess the existence of this tightly designed little international graphic novel has eluded the masses on a whole, but I'm willing to bet that as more people become aware of this imagery laced gem that talks of a feature film might someday bring this dream to reality. Bewilderment and daydreaming aside, Leo's Aldebaran is definitely a feast for the eyes as it visually replicates the provocative storyline with its wild illustrations and vivid color palette.

Of course all of these elements are beautifully crafted together, but at the very core of this story is the tremendous mystery of what the Mantrisse really is and what its intentions are for the human race. When we are first introduced to this creature, we see the destruction that it has caused after wiping out an entire coastal village. Our initial reaction is that it is an unruly monster that only brings death. Then as the story unfolds more, Alexa and Dress inform us that the Mantrisse goes through cyclical stages of reawakening, first starting in unpredictability, as with the destroying of the village, then with oceanic anomalies, and finally with human contact. As we find out from Dress and Alexa, the Mantrisse gifts the people that it comes into contact with, with immortality in the form of tiny capsules. These capsules prolong life and give the person who consumes them a symbiotic relationship with the Mantrisse, that in hind sight is both a blessing and a curse.

It's all very unbelievably surreal and Leo does an outstanding job in capturing the wonder of this concept, as he marvels us with this highly unexpected premise. With all of this business with the Mantrisse being wrapped up in this exceptional mystery, you really can't deny the pull it has on you when reading through each frame of mind-boggling visuals and thought-provoking text. If produced as a motion picture, I'd imagine that the film would be an euphoric cinematic experience that would instantly be a classic. 

Even with Aldebaran's impressive scope and engaging story, the reality of having a feature film that captures the raw, savage, but spiritual nature of the graphic novel is at the moment only a heavenly dream, one that takes us to a world of unimaginable creatures and unfathomable realms. If every a graphic novel begged to be retold through the cinema, this would be it. It has all of the ingredients that make a film worthwhile, from action, mystery, violence and heart, but most importantly Leo's Aldebaran has humanity. For better or worse. Now will someone get off of their ass and.....

Monday, March 4, 2013

REVIEW: Conquest of Space

Conquest of Space
Director: Byron Haskin
Year 1955

Conquest of Space is a mid-50's sci-fi spectacle which blends science and religion, into a rather peculiar and interesting concoction which never ceases to amaze, and above all, entertain. Caught in a balancing act between the spiritual and the physical, this space exploration feature is teeming with style and wonder, yet the filmmakers make painstaking efforts in keeping everything fairly grounded and simplistic. With its engaging characters and bold approach, Conquest of Space is a great little disregarded science fiction gem, which though wholly dated, is still a thought-provoking and interesting tale, stressing the dangers that mankind must face when venturing out into the great unknown of space.

On a space station orbiting Earth, an elite crew of astronauts led by General Samuel T. Merritt, receive word that they will be heading to Mars on mankind's first manned voyage to the planet. With aspirations of goodwill and the prospect of obtaining a greater knowledge for the human race in each member's mind, they embark into the unexplored. As they near the planet Mars their mission gradually starts to unravel due to religious beliefs colliding with their scientific endeavor. General Merritt begins to have a change of heart as he drastically comes to the realization that their mission is an insult to God, forcing him to do everything in his power to halt their sinful actions, even if it means destroying the crew and any chances of them making it back home.

Walter Brooke plays the role of General Samuel T. Merritt, the stressed out leader of the first voyage to Mars. Brooke is fascinating in the role, and even though the change in his character's personality is abrupt and silly, you still believe it because of the man's dedicated attempts at throwing himself headlong into the character and its inherent madness. Eric Fleming takes on the role of Captain Barney Merritt, son of Samuel Merritt, and he becomes the real hero of the film. Left to pick up the pieces of his father's work, Barney has always reluctantly hurled himself out into space, because of the wishes of his father, and as this unwilling participant, Barney comes to find that he fits the mold of space explorer better than his father ever could. I enjoyed Fleming's approach to the character and out of the entire cast, his was the most endearing and contemporary.

On the other side of that acting coin comes Phil Foster as Jackie Siegle, the bumbling comic relief. Sticking out like a soar thumb, Foster's overacting is a ridiculous distraction that derails the film's somber atmosphere on more than one occasion, but in all intensive purposes serves to give way to some especially jovial scenes that are quaint given the circumstances. Another odd ball of the bunch is Mickey Shaughnessy as he takes on the role of Sergeant Mahoney, the ridiculously dedicated friend of General Samuel T. Merritt. For me, Shaughnessy's character was the most infuriating of the bunch as he always condemned and threatened anyone who would go against the General's orders, even if that person was the General's own son who literally didn't want anything to do with a life in space, but to rather live out his own life on Earth with his wife. Mahoney even goes as far as to call him an ungrateful little brat just because he didn't want to live his life the way his father intended him to. These moments, though far-fetched at present time, are endearing to see play out on film in this fifties-centric sci-fi romp and the fact that this character irritated me so much actually allowed me to appreciate this production that much more for having a cast as diverse as it did and to move me the way that it managed to.

The story is equally intriguing, not only because it depicts an exploration to an uncharted planet, but because of the religious implications that such an act can bring to a society that still believes that we are slaves to a higher being, ones who are meant to know our place in the world and never seek knowledge beyond our boundaries. The idea of encroaching on God's domain is a captivating one and it is a concept that the film absolutely nails. You can see the madness in General Merritt's eyes as he realizes this unholy of sins and the measures that he goes to bring the mission down are startlingly harsh and deadly in execution. Needless to say the severity level of this film comes out of left field and when it does it changes the entire tone of the film, and for the better. I've seen plenty of films that depict the mental chaos that space travel can bring about, but Conquest of Space is probably the most effective due to its playful, tongue and cheek nature during the opening third of its runtime and the drastic turn it all takes in the second and third acts of the film.

Of course you can't have a science fiction film, especially a George Pal produced flick, without mentioning the special effects. When it comes to Conquest of Space, the visual elements that bring this movie together are exceptionally creative and inevitably entertaining. In modern terms and by current cinema standards, the effects might appear mundane and childish, but in my classic cinema loving eyes the model work is exquisitely charming and especially appreciated. There's just something magical about this kind of practical effects approach that just speaks louder than any computer-generated, overblown, effects laden extravaganza ever could, which modern blockbusters regurgitate out on a regular basis nowadays. For that alone, Conquest of Space earns my respect and admiration, even if it is a bit nutty.

Conquest of Space is an unusual and highly addictive space yarn which merges the ideas of space exploration and religion, forcing it into some rather shocking and unexpected territories. What starts off as a comedy/adventure hybrid, soon turns into a desperate tale of blasphemy and betrayal as a group of astronauts fight to survive amidst a savage and uncharted environment. Composed around a father and son's turbulent relationship and juxtaposed against the generational gap that separates them because of beliefs and lifestyle choices, the initially simple narrative soon becomes something of an allegory for the clashing of mankind's beliefs and the turmoil we set upon ourselves when proving that our truth is infallible.

Walter Brooke and Eric Fleming do an amazing job in portraying the father and son of the story and the tension between each actor is extremely accomplished. Phil Foster and Mickey Shaughnessy also do their part in shaking up the story with their polar opposite personalities, that perfectly reflect the bi-polar nature of the picture with its conflicting ways and confounding beliefs. Toppled with that the lovingly crafted practical effects of the film and you've got yourself one damn interesting production that has something to say and boldly throws it all in your face for you to determine and take sides. For me, this is what science fiction is all about. It's about wild ideas that challenge us both physically and mentally, not the overblown effects laden tent-pole films of modern times. Conquest of Space allows for its story to take center stage as it plays with the notion of men becoming gods and whether that is a good thing, a bad thing, or just an inevitability. Intriguing to say the least. This is one film that is.....

Everybody dig in!

Well hello there Jackie Baby.

A bunch of wise-guys huh.


This just in..... This film is nuts!

Pull my finger Mister or I'm gonna pop you one!

Ludicrous speed...... GO!

Sweet moves Maverick!

Get down here you knuckle-head. 

Shit! I said a Philips Head Space Screwdriver not a Flat Head!

In space... No one can hear you sing opera.

I outta give you a knuckle-sandwich.

Are we supposed to be on fire right now?!?!?!

You guys are as graceful as a comet.

According to Sgt. Mahoney, there's never a wrong time to grab someone's ass.

Well it's a fact gentlemen..... Mars sucks.

Merry Christmas from Mars.

Like this movie or I'll bust a cap in your ass!