Friday, 3 April 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films: “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton



Trailer


Summary:





When all but two of the residents of Piedmont, New Mexico, are found dead after the return to Earth of a US space satellite (Scoop VII), the head of the US Air Force's Project Scoop declares an emergency.




Dr Stone and his team of top scientists consisting of Drs. Dutton, Leavitt and Hall, transfer to a secure hi-tech facility, known as Wildfire, which had been constructed as a base in the event of an alien biological life form being returned to Earth from a space mission.



Such an event appears to have happened and it is up to the scientists to try to isolate the alien life form while determining why two people from Piedmont (an old Sterno drinker with an ulcer and a six-month-old crying baby have managed to survive.



As the scientists continue with their study of the alien life form, they are about to be confronted by the dual danger of its having mutated along with the lab’s fail-safe nuclear self-destruct device should it manage to escape!!!



************** 



Comparisons

The Andromeda Strain was made into a movie in 1971 and was directed and produced by Robert Wise. The film and the book quite closely parallel each other with a few minor deviations such as the Peter Leavitt character being a female, Ruth Leavitt in the film version.

[Spoiler alert paragraph!!!!]

The ending of the movie also differs from the book. In the book, Stone speculates that the Andromeda Strain will migrate up into Earth’s upper atmosphere where the oxygen content is lower, better suiting its growth and where it will mutate into a benign form. In the movie version, the now benign mutated bacteria drifts out over the Pacific Ocean into which it falls to be destroyed by the salt water.



Context

Crichton’s novel was written within the context of the Cold War and the resulting space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The political and military conflict between the superpower rivals forms an important part of the backdrop to the events in the story. For instance, Project Scoop is part of a U.S. government program for the development of biological weapons. Should a Scoop satellite come down in a major city in the Soviet Union, war would likely result and that is why it was decided that the Russians would not be informed about the likelihood of any deadly disease occurring. The kind of Cold War mentality that was evident would dictate a preference for a few million Russians dying of disease as opposed to many hundreds of millions of people dying as a result of nuclear war

Assessment


I personally favoured the film treatment of the story. In the original book version, I felt that the story was bogged down by far too much scientific exposition, detail and explanation of processes involved. There were moments when I literally nodded off!











©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Classic Sci-Fi Film Ladies: Part 5 (1958 – 1959)


Welcome to the final tribute to the wonderful ladies who appeared in the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s. It’s been a long time coming for this installment, so let’s start off with…….


Earth's second mission to Mars is sent to discover the fate of the first mission. A sole survivor of that mission is found, the expedition's former commander who claims to an unbelieving audience that his crew were killed by a hostile Martian life form. On the way back to earth, that life form stowaways away aboard the ship and begins hunting down and killing the crew.


Shirley Patterson as Ann Anderson who also appeared in World Without End (1956) and The Land Unknown (1957).


Ann Doran as Mary Royce, the ship’s doctor

And…followed by;


Aliens arrive on Earth to possess the bodies of humans. One such victim is a young man, whose new wife, Marge soon realizes something is wrong with him. In fact, the man she married isn't a man at all, but an alien replacement as are most of the men in her small town!!


Gloria Talbott who also appeared in, The Cyclops (1957), Daughter of Dr Jekyll, and The Leech Woman (1960)

Read on for more.......

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Global Pandemic Crisis & Sci-Fi Film Scenarios

As many people around the world hunker down in lock-down conditions and wonder when the Coronavirus crisis will pass, we could also not be blamed for wondering what kind of world will be left in its wake.

By Maksym Kozlenko - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=87817076 

A real-life global pandemic such as the current spread of Covid-19 could provide food for thought for science fiction writers and film makers as they try to imagine ‘What If?’ scenarios based on the crisis.

When we are finally given the go-ahead to gather in cinemas once again, we may very well be confronted by trailers proclaiming “IN A WORRRRLD WHERE……...



Rationing of goods is the new norm and ration cards and coupons (e-ration cards & e-coupons?) are issued to citizens with which to buy the necessities of life. Those deemed to be hoarders of goods are given mandatory jail sentences and in some jurisdictions may even face execution.

By Siouxsie Wiles, Toby Morris - https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/16-03-2020/the-world-is-on-fire-my-message-to-new-zealanders-on-covid-19/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88183721

People no longer greet each other with handshakes, hugs, kisses on cheeks or close physical contact in public. Surveillance, monitoring and issuing on-the-spot-fines ensure compliance. People are far more wary of one another.

No-one is permitted to congregate in groups of more than five people and ‘Move-on’ laws are in wide-spread effect.

The old economic order and its assumptions and our economic relations based on the endless cycle of consumption and production and continuous growth is replaced by a system of bartering of goods and exchanging of services. Items and goods, especially old tech are routinely repaired or repurposed. People, whether they be unemployed or underemployed are sustained by what is laughingly called a ‘living’ wage payment. Full-time positions by and large no longer exist.

People live in a constant state of fear of the next pandemic, social disorder and unrest, violence and crime, food and other shortages, irrespective of whether such fears are based on fact.

The death of large numbers of minority groups based on age, race, ethnicity and other criteria is tolerated and deemed to be necessary if it is felt that it serves the interests and survival of the majority of the population. If a few people are allowed to be infected by a virus in order to maintain the “herd immunity,” then so be it – or so the thinking goes.

Utilitarianism becomes the order of the day. A person’s worth or value is based primarily on his or her usefulness to society and is a determining factor in matters of life and death.

Xenophobia is widespread and tolerated so long as it does not destabilize the existing social order and can be conveniently used to direct people’s anger and criticism away from the ruling class and its abuses of power.

Autocratic nation-states replace the previous moves toward a more liberal globalist approach toward world affairs, and where even individual nations are replaced by the re-emergence of self-contained and frequently feuding walled-off principalities and autonomous city states.

Economic patriotism is the new order of the day. Procurement by whatever means of “foreign” goods is seen to be an act of treason and is punished accordingly.

Nearly every action and policy advocated or undertaken by the ruling elites is framed by references to declarations of war. It seems that every sector of society is on a constant war footing and preparedness for war in some form. 




Boarders are largely closed off and overseas travel is prohibited to most people. Censorship and regulation of people’s access to information on the internet is conducted by each country and region.

Approved steaming services with sanctioned content keep the citizenry entertained and distracted. Very few now know what else to do with their spare time.

Leaving the house and spending time out of doors and mixing with other people publicly is discouraged and frowned upon.


**********

Of course the above speculative scenarios are very bleak and extreme, but they serve to illustrate what a single event in human history can generate in terms of the many and varied possible paths that humanity could take if it is not careful. Besides, such scenarios in film and fiction are far more dramatic and entertaining than one in which humanity drops its differences and comes together to overcome adversity and emerges from a crisis stronger than ever to live happily ever after. Still, I sincerely hope that this outcome will be the one to emerge from our current real-life crisis.




©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Science Fiction Virus/Pandemic Movies

Humanity is no stranger to the real-life threat posed by viral epidemics and pandemics, from the medieval bubonic plagues that claimed possibly 50 million people, about 25% to 60% of the European population; the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed some 50 million people worldwide, more than were killed in WW1; the SARS and influenza H1N1-2009 or Swine Flu outbreak in the early 2000’s, Ebola, and of course the current worrying Coronavirus or Covid-19 Virus which is now firmly embedded within our constant 24/7 continuous multi media & multi platform news cycles.

Despite our collective complacency, I suspect that each of us have always harbored a fear in the back of our minds that the human race would eventually have to contend with a viral or microbial pandemic of calamitous proportions. This is not to say that the current crisis would reach that level of threat.

Global pandemics have also become a staple of science fiction based in varying degrees of accuracy on science fact and historical occurrences. Not surprisingly, film depictions of global pandemics have frequently taken off in some rather strange and fantastic directions with extreme worst-case scenarios being a necessary part of the formula. The viewing audience comes to expect the usual round of the ever increasing spread of rumors and panic, society gradually sliding off the rails, draconian quarantines being imposed, widespread outbreaks of looting and pillaging and so on.

Film depictions of such doomsday scenarios have probably colored our perceptions of actual epidemics and pandemics to some degree. Just the idea of being susceptible to infection from invisible viruses and bacteria taking over our bodies creates a sense of panic, uncertainty and helplessness. Science fiction movies will of course emphasize the entertainment value of depicting worst-case doomsday scenarios and it is not surprising that such fictional representations could shape our perceptions of real-life events.

Still, I’ve yet to see a film depiction of people fighting over rolls of toilet paper in a supermarket! Reality can be a lot stranger than fiction……

I guess panic buying and hoarding might be explained as people attempting to gain a measure of control through taking some kind of action in the face of events that seem to be beyond the individual person’s control. Either that or some people are just plain stupid!

Some science fiction films (Zombie films excluded!) featuring viral epidemics and pandemics include; 




The Andromeda Strain (1971) is adapted from a Michael Crichton novel in which a team of scientists race against time to destroy a deadly alien virus that threatens to wipe out life on Earth.


Plague (1979): A deadly bacteria called M3 escapes from a laboratory and causes sickness and death around the world. A scientist works tirelessly to develop an antidote to stop the contagion. 




The Stand (1994 miniseries): A human-engineered variant of Super flu escapes from a lab and wipes out almost the entire world population.




Outbreak (1995): An airborne “Motaba” virus is inadvertently smuggled into the US from Africa via an infected monkey, requiring a team of doctors to race against time in an effort to save a town where the infection is spreading. A strong military response is employed to quarantine the affected area.




12 Monkeys (1995): A post-apocalyptic future world has been ravaged by an unnamed virus. Human survivors who live underground can't use medicine to develop a vaccine or antiviral cure, but instead resort to time travel to prevent the original outbreak. 


Contagion (2011): A pandemic begins when a woman returns to Minnesota with a strange illness after a trip to Hong Kong. Within days, she dies and then others begin exhibiting the same symptoms as the outbreak spreads across the world. This film eerily parallels the current emerging Covid-19 scenario!


Containment (2015): In a 1970s-era housing council block in Weston, Southampton in present-day United Kingdom, artist Mark wakes to find that he has been sealed into his flat with no way out. There is no electricity, no water and no communications with the outside world. There is only a voice over the intercom that repeats the phrase, "please remain calm, the situation is under control." All that can be seen from the flat are people in Hazmat suits who patrol the grounds outside near a newly erected medical testing tent. Mark teams up with several residents in an attempt to find out what is going on and hopefully find a way out of their prison. 


There are many more movies like the ones mentioned above. Apart from their entertainment value, they are somewhat useful in terms of the issues they raise and the insights they may provide in terms of;

  • The nature and origin of viral and microbial outbreaks.
  • Possible means of transmission and spread.
  • Effects on individuals and communities.
  • Consequences for society.
  • Medical and political responses.
  • Possible reactions of individuals and communities to crisis.
We cannot let fictional representations of potentially disastrous occurrences determine our responses to them. Nor will conspiracy theories and social media rumor-mongering and the panic they help to foster help us cope with present and future pandemics. Only factual information, expert informed opinion, scientific and medical breakthroughs, responsible political leadership, effective communication and mutual support will ensure that our species will not succumb to a pandemic while clutching a prized precious packet of toilet paper to its breast......



©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Saturday, 7 March 2020

A Tribute To Yumi Shirakawa - (The Japanese Grace Kelly)



Shirakawa, whose real name was Akiko Yamasaki, was born on 21st November, 1936 in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

In 1956 at just 19 years old, Yumi Shirakawa joined Toho. By the end of that year, Toho gave Shirakawa her first starring role in Rodan (Sora no Daikaiju Radon, 1956). Director Ishiro Honda cast her in his subsequent science fiction films, The Mysterians (1957) and The H-man (1958). Rodan and The H-man are both featured in this blog. 




Yumi Shirakawa’s roles in science fiction films during the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, for which she is mostly remembered include;

Rodan (1956) as Kiyo, Kenji Sahara's character's love interest. 

The Mysterians (1957) as Etsuko Shiraishi. 

The H-Man (1958) as Chikako Arai.

The Secret of the Telegian (1960) as Akiko Chujo. 

The Last War (1961) as Sanae. 

Gorath (1962) as Tomoko Sonoda. 


Apart from her roles in “tokusatsu” or effects films, Shirakawa was featured in many comedies, musicals, dramas and "chanbara" (samurai/swordsman films.)


In 1964 she married actor Hideaki Nitani after which Shirakawa successfully transitioned to television.

Shirakawa was married to Hideaki Nitani until his death in 2012. Shirakawa passed away due to heart failure on June 14, 2016 in Tokyo, at the age of 79 and she is survived by her daughter, actress Yurie Nitani.

Tribute film by Spanish Films at;
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCecL5MZOfGY5nHJm2x0VcdQ/featured


Yumi Shrakawa:
with style & grace





Saturday, 29 February 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films:“The Four-Sided Triangle” by William F. Temple

 

William F. Temple's novel of 1949 was an expansion of his short story, The Four Sided Triangle published in 1939!

In both Temple’s novel and the 1953 film adaptation we have two scientists falling in love with the same woman (Lena). Having invented a duplicating machine, the dilemma it is hoped will be resolved by creating another Lena.

The question is: Can the use of a scientific device that can reproduce anything possibly be a solution to the eternal love triangle?


Temple’s novel delves more thoroughly into the characters' difficulties and sorrow before and after the duplication of a second Lena. There is also a greater emphasis on philosophical and moral considerations as well as on the relationships between the characters.

The story is told from the point of view of an aging doctor who was involved in the events and lives of the characters. It is very well written, in a style that sadly belongs to another era in which words and their use actually mattered!


Four Sided Triangle (1953) is one of the earliest movies about cloning / duplicating a person. Like the original book version, the story involves a love triangle which soon develops into a four sided love triangle with the addition of a complicating fourth side. The film is in the tradition of Frankenstein-type films in which a man almost takes on the role of God and creates life with terrible consequences for himself and those around him.

Four Sided Triangle is a thought-provoking and engaging film despite its low budget constraints and somewhat disappointing ending.



Full Film

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Saturday, 22 February 2020

The Wasp Woman (1959)


Although not a Corman classic, The Wasp Woman is an under-rated, low budget and entertaining film with good pacing but pretty tacky special effects


Directed by Roger Corman, Jack Hill
Produced by Roger Corman
Screenplay by Leo Gordon
Music by Fred Katz
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Edited by Carlo Lodato
Distributed by Filmgroup, Allied Artists Pictures Corporation
Running time: 73 minutes
Budget: $50,000 (approx.)


Cast


Susan Cabot as Janice Starlin
Fred Eisley as Bill Lane
Barboura Morris as Mary Dennison
William Roerick as Arthur Cooper
Michael Mark as Dr. Eric Zinthrop
Frank Gerstle as Les Hellman
Bruno VeSota as Night Watchman
Roy Gordon as Paul Thompson
Carolyn Hughes as Jean Carson
Lynn Cartwright as Maureen Reardon
Frank Wolff as Delivery Man
Lani Mars as Secretary
Philip Barry as Delivery Man
Roger Corman as Hospital Doctor (uncredited)
 




Trailer


The perils of fading beauty! 
The promise of anti-aging miracles! 
A serum derived from the enzymes of wasps?? 
The first human trial of the miracle serum! 
An unexpected turn of events! 
The consequences of vanity…...

Welcome to the final post in this blog that will feature sci-fi classics from the 1950s golden era of sci-fi on film. And what a way to finish off with a little gem from the maestro, Roger Corman and his film,

The Wasp Woman!

Read on for more.....