‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’: series of feature articles in a magazine

Hi and welcome to The Green Castle 🙂

My interest in the topic of “classic monster characters” in the spec-fic range has been increasing in the last year or two and there are certain particular monsters that have a way of catching the attention, no matter how brief a glance I take at ‘monster magazines’ in a  newsagency.  This turned out to be true for me, once again, a little less than a week ago, when I saw  the March/April 2013 issue (#266) of Famous Monsters of FilmLand magazine in a city newsagency. I decided to buy a copy as an addition to holiday reading over Easter Long Weekend. By the time I’d finished  the second article on Good Friday morning, I realised that making a few comments about the articles  could make a good topic for a blog post. 🙂 I’ll get to the matter of the magazine itself in a later post.

The articles:

Issue #266 of the Famous Monsters of FilmLand magazine dedicates the great majority of feature space to two series of articles: one each about ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ and the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ as played by Margaret Hamilton in the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movie. I’ll comment on the Witch articles in a different post.

The lavishly illustrated articles (pp.12-36) on The Creature cover a fair variety of aspects of its life as a very unusual  original film-industry creation that actually became iconic well beyond the silver screen.  During the Cold War,  the trilogy  of Creature films  – ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’, ‘Revenge of the Creature’ and ‘The Creature Walks Among Us’ – contributed to the 1950s craze for 3D movies. There was the original compelling artwork and costume design, dedicated work by various  stuntmen whose own very high level of fitness and stature when doing the land and water scenes made the Creature seem fittingly powerful and menacing, the sheer profit-making power of the trilogy that then influenced many other monster films for decades afterwards, plus directing and producing matters.  Throw in some unpleasant credit-stealing and other studio politics, but that was largely lost on the audiences and only ‘came to light’ in later decades.  There was also the strangely powerful grip the Creature had and has on the Public Imagination  (which in itself can be pretty monstrous).

From what I could gather in the articles, some of the reasons for the Creature (also known as ‘Gill-Man’) being unusual for the movies of 1950s America, included:  an exceptional level of skill and resources applied to the artwork, sets  and costume production in an era when Monster Films were already ‘on the way out’ in Hollywood;  the fact the title-role character wasn’t created as a post-war nuclear mutant or Mad Scientist’s experiment but as an actual made-for-Hollywood (using, apparently, some ideas from actual Amazon River legends that had been mentioned at an A-list party in 1940s) character within Hollywood and that the first two films became significant in the fuelling of the 3D movie craze.  The final film, in the early ’60s, was screened after the 3D craze had faded.  Add some powerfully lurid graphic art for the movie posters, some inspired (or sometimes just plain lucky) casting decisions for key characters that helped “bring the story alive” on screen, the great stunt work mentioned above and one  stand-out factor in that by the third movie  the audiences were actually more often on the Creature’s side than not!   All the three films were meant to be horror flicks in which human characters were meant to be consistently and ultimately preferred by the paying audiences and this was in an era of regular atomic testing, electric shock therapy in asylums and liberal use of lab rats, etc.  By the last parts of the third Creature movie  it has been prodded, shot at innumerable times, repeatedly operated on in some very ruthless and sickening experimental surgical processes and imprisoned in various ways.  It also kidnapped various sultry swimsuit-clad heroines who had, of course,  also been the “object of affection” for the films’ various leading and supporting male characters. 🙂  The Creature’s kidnappings were vividly featured in a fair range of the movie posters as well as in scenes in the movies.   However, according to the magazine’s contributing writers, cinema audiences eventually saw that for all the Creature had wreaked a lot of havoc, it had a basic common trait with the already-heroic Hunch-back of Notre Dame: the Creature had  a poignant and powerful hope, however doomed, that was to be able to simply live on its own terms and even “find love” instead of being reviled and hunted.  Now, this is too late for the Creature itself to feel any better, but I think some justice of a sort has been awarded to The Creature by it achieving story-telling immortality and icon status beyond the likely intent of its various creators. 🙂

In addition to the commentaries on the movies and the Creature character itself, plus the influences on Horror films and Hollywood productions, later articles in this same series go into the  matters of movie-related pop culture, both at the time of original studio releases and in later decades. I was very interested to find that Creature-related collectibles not only still exert a hold on many collectors and fans of the movies, but also consistently command a higher price than for items relating to other monsters and ‘monster movies’ of the same era.  The magazine’s editor admits to doing some ‘field research’ of his own…and loving it. 🙂

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A few thoughts on the ‘Galaxy Quest’ movie

Note: some parts of this post may contain spoilers.

Hi 🙂

In this post I’m going to offer a few personal thoughts on the ‘Galaxy Quest’ movie (1999) that proved to be a highly successful  spoof on various features of Science Fiction films and series on TV.  So, this post is not really a review or even an attempt at a comprehensive summary, but more like a very short memoir.

Although I missed seeing the film’s initial cinema release, I’ve enjoyed re-watching it a fair few times over several years and it was that very quality of  standing up so well to each re-watching that led me to think about the story and characters a bit more than if it was just another comedy.

The performers and their roles:  I really appreciate the variety of classy long-established performers who clearly not only ‘bought into’ the script’s story and what it could offer, but also manage to complement each other’s roles.  Both key cast and supporting characters help each other achieve the overall effects the story needed to sustain its comedy and deliver the jokes. 

Sigourney Weaver does a great job of playing to the humour in the double role of Lt Tawny Madison, the ‘token on-board beauty’ among the crew, and the same character in post-series years who shows up to ‘do her duty to the fans’ at the annual conventions and does corny ads too. The movie leaves it to the watcher to remember the sheer variety of serious and comic roles she has played over many years.  Alan ‘Professor Snape’ Rickman brings his brilliant trademark sneer and neat timing to his twin performance as of Dr Lazarus, the prickly and aloof Chief Scientist and his actor alter-ego, Alexander Dane.  Both of Rickman’s characters hold hostile aliens, his spaceship crew’s captain and his own share of post-fame fans on Earth in equal disdain. 🙂 Tim Allen, maybe best known for family sitcoms and his string of ‘Santa Clause’ movies, turns out to be the biggest surprise for me out of all the key cast. He shines in his job of delivering the sheer wacky style of his double role as Commander Peter ‘Quincy’ Taggart’ of the spaceship named NSEA Protector and as the post-series actor, Jason Naismith, who let the fame and earnings go to his head, making him deeply popular with the rest of the actors and restless fans.  

Sam ‘Moon’ Rockwell makes the most of  a supporting role as “that guy who got killed off early in the series” and Tony ‘Monk’ Shalhoub, as the easily-over-looked-by-other-crew character, makes his own surprisingly big contributions to the mission’s success and even “gets his girl”. She isn’t exactly an Earth Girl, but, then, at the start of the mission, he didn’t feel he fitted in anywhere on his home planet anyway. 🙂

Non-crew supporting character include: a group of very likeable geeky teenage friends who are at the convention as keen fans and get drawn into the mission and the two main groups of aliens the crew meets -the friendly and tragically misguided ones who visit Earth to seek the crew’s help on a potentially fatal rescue mission and the extremely evil, dangerous and hostile ones bent on destroying any and all opposition. In this aspect, too, the story keeps playing mischievously with various cliches and stock images of SF movies and TV series (and, of course, connections between them) through many generations of audiences and what they’ve been watching. 🙂      

What does the story offer? Among many possible answers and even just suggestions that I can offer, these ones stand out for me every time: a clever and good-natured look at Science Fiction story-telling, on big and small screen; the reward/s for suspending disbelief in order to really “get into” a story; charming short scenes about deep and unlikely friendships forming in dangerous places and times; battles of Good vs Evil can produce comedy and moments of insight as well as fear and hatred. 

The ‘Galaxy Quest’ movie can, on each re-watching, simply offer the same great light-as-stardust comedy and some very funny pop-culture references as the last time you saw it…but if you want to look deeper every so often, there is more to see and think about. For me, writing this blog post is a proof of that. 🙂

Settings:  deep space; various locations on board the Protector;  a SF convention in a very earth-bound city(probably meant to be LA) dedicated  to the TV series and its fans; a harsh planet that includes a Rock Monster and some very small fanged characters that hunt in packs but also turned on each other; the suburban household of one of the key ‘fan boys’ in the story…and the house of the dissolute captain of the Quest crew. 🙂

The mix of Earth and Space settings is very well used as a substantial part of the story-telling, by providing both a decent range of scenarios to establish places of action and also to highlight the differences (that keep breaking down, with more humorous consequences for Quest crew and aliens alike) between Real Life on Earth and the strange and funny suspended-disbelief world of the old series on TV, without ‘getting in the way’ of what the characters need to do. 

Hmm, I think I’ll need to watch the movie again very soon, after writing down those thoughts. 🙂

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Dear Readers: if you’ve enjoyed the movie too and have your own take on it that you feel like writing about, and/or would like to respond to my post, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks. 🙂

Link for fyi/interest: I think the movie’s main entry on the International Movie Database (IMDb) site has a bit to offer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0177789/?ref_=sr_1