May 7 2010

Article XXV – In Which A Couple of Corridors Constitute a “City”

Too Small, No Caption

So, last week, when I was leaving the FilmGeeks Offices – I could have sworn there was someone following me through the parking lot.  He/She was like 5’6” and kept making weird dinosaur noises.  That Jurassic Park article really put me on the map, and I think I may have a stalker.  If any of you are stalking me – please leave a comment at the bottom.  And I have pepper spray in my purse.

So, now that I’ve got that nonsense off my chest, I can tell you what I slaved over for the last few weeks.  Lost City, a (let me see if I’ve got this right) “Science Fiction adventure serial told in 12 amazing parts” from 1935 is my next gargantuan project on the chopping block.  And, man, this sucker looks like it’s going to take a few swings.  I also want to get in a little disclaimer: When I first heard the synopsis, I thought “Cool!  A lost city!”  What do I get?  The “city” is just  like four hallways and a supply closet.  Go figure.

For those of you under 60 years of age, a film serial was a series of 10-30 minute mini features (episodes) shown in theatres before feature films.  Imagine watching a movie, but instead of previews, you get a short segment of a 900 million hour long film that ends with a cliffhanger.  Because of said cliffhanger, you have to come back the next week to the same theatre to find out what happened to your intrepid heroes.  Of course, that episode ended the same way, and you would just FIND YOURSELF BACK IN THE THEATRE A WEEK LATER.  It was a vicious never-ending cycle of awesome ways to make money.

So now that you have a little background, I can tell you that this doesn’t bode well for someone who sits down and watches ALL 236 MINUTES OF IT for a review.  Do I want to review them episode by episode?  Do you all really care enough to read through a 12 part review of something that, quite frankly, just barely deserves more than a small blurb?  I still haven’t figured it out yet.

The story revolves around some strange atmospheric conditions affecting the world.  An engineer (and hunky man-meat) named Bruce Gordon builds a machine that pinpoints the disturbances to “The Center of Africa.”  And for those of you who are wondering, yes, this is a real place.  Bruce, a couple of skeezy investors, and his buddy, Jerry, travel to the disturbances and have to deal with everything from mad scientists to zombie natives to slave traders to giant spiders to hunchback servants to freeze guns to paralyze guns to pissy queens of the jungle who like to throw tea in people’s faces.

Worst scared face ever?

I want to tell you all right now.  This film is incredibly racist.  It’s from the mid-thirties, so you have to expect things like the blacks belonging to white people or how the captive scientist has invented a way to turn the natives white, or people saying things like “Hey, that sounds like a white woman in trouble!”

Beyond that, because of the unique nature of how the segments are set up, the story elements and character arcs are rather unorthodox.  Each episode is designed to end on a cliffhanger, and no story elements are actually introduced or taken care of.  People just seem to wander from place to place with no actual motivation other than “SHIT, someone’s been kidnapped, let’s go over there, DAMMIT, now we’ve been kidnapped, GAH, now someone else has been kidnapped.”

From what I can tell, only two characters truly have what you might call arcs, Butterfield – a dick who lives in the forest commanding a lot of the natives who have “gone native” – and Gorzo – the hunchback who starts as the sidekick to the evil dude, but inexplicably changes his ways in the second to last episode or so.  Butterfield is the only character who grows and learns from his mistakes – which all involve wanting to create a superhuman race of zombie giant black dudes to take over the world.  So, you know – he turned over a new leaf.

Bruce and his love interest, Natcha, have nothing in common, no chemistry, and they’re terrrrrrrrrrrible actors.  I mean, like, really, really bad.  At no part were they believable at all in the whole series.  In fact, all the acting was terrible.  The best actor was this guy in either the second to last, or the last episode who gets 1 – hit over the head, 2 – choked out, and 3 – hit over the head, then choked out.  SUPERB acting on his part.

Also, did I mention that Natcha is continuously screaming?  Through the whole 236 minutes.  She does nothing but scream.  Wait, that’s not true. She fights a tiger at one point.  Like, a real tiger. They put the stunt person in the same shot as a tiger, and then filmed it.  I was impressed, because there was some real danger there.  To the stuntman – at least.

SHIT IT'S A FUCKING TIGER

Speaking of the stuntmen – the fights in this film were GODAWFUL.  I mean, I know it was the 30s, but good lord, I’ve seen better stuff from earlier films.  A lot of that can be attributed to there being absolutely no musical accompaniment to any scene with any drama whatsoever.  As a result, the tension that is so carefully built up thrown together for the series is actually at a negative.

Ah, definitely one of the more enjoyable aspects of this series was finding things that George Lucas ripped off for Star Wars.  I mean, maybe not directly from this series, but in general, there is a lot of stuff that can be attributed to this type of filmmaking.  I expect to see a hell of a lot more when the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers stuff rolls around.  There was also a little bit in there that would have inspired Indiana Jones.

I suppose, if I’m supposed to be looking for good things to comment on for this film – there is a lot some set design that’s pretty cool halfway decent not the worst thing in the world.  You kind of get the feeling that they wanted to show off that they had a bunch of cool-ish looking electrical apparatus that really worked.  Kind of like a science project.  Clearly that ate up all the budget and didn’t leave room for things like acting, sets, or writing.

But let’s take an objective look at this for a moment.  It’s 1935.  You have some big ideas, and you want to entertain people and you have a damnably small budget.  People want adventure and science and thrills.  So you whip up something that satisfies all of those needs.  Mind you, the craft was still in its early years, so you can’t judge something put together under these circumstances with the same gusto you might afford a bigger production like Bride of Frankenstein (which came out the same year).  This was the depression era of filmmaking.  As far as what the public was expecting, this might be exactly what people would have wanted.  Of course, being spoiled by today’s films and only being able to look back at the “classics” might also tinge how you view a series such as this.

Yes, Jerry (far right) has this stupid look on his face the whole series.

My overall estimation was that this is by no means a great piece of cinema.  It’s not even particularly fun to watch as a campy piece from the thirties.  It’s really bad.  But you can kind of admire it for what it was trying to do: entertain people.  That’s what it’s all about, folks.

I’ll rate it a 37 on my arbitrary scoring system I just made up.  It’ll definitely be a while ’till I do another serial.

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