Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Reviews Backlog 6: Creature From the Black Lagoon

At what point does a movie become critic proof? At what point does it become actively presumptuous for me to review a movie? This movie is older than my parents; Can I approach it properly as what it is to the age it comes from? Am I allowed to review CasablancaCitizen Cane? At what point does a movie become culture, so well known and so important that it is beyond critcism. And more importantly, at what point does criticism become irrelevant? When does the culture collectively throw it's hands up and admit that is has nothing more to say on the subject of this movie? I don't know where all these lines are, but Creature From the Black Lagoon is almost certainly on the other side of them.

Creature From the Black Lagoon is a 1954 creature feature that is, based on this viewing, responsible for many of the cliches, not only of this genre but of the Slasher flick and general horror genres. It's deep in the cultural unconscious, so deep some people don't even recognize that it is. Something about it kept it from obscurity like so many forgotten movies, kept it from becoming a terrible cult film like Robot Monster but kept it sacred, so sacred that unlike it's spiritual sibling Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it has never been remade.

On the most basic level, the film is about a team of scientists who have made the remarkable discovery of a fossil connecting man with fish. They take a boat out into the lagoon of the title in search of more fossils and soon run afoul of a living breathing (sort of) monster they found the fossil of and find themselves fighting it off as it picks them off one by one. Taken purely on it's own merits, the films succeeds. It is a good enough story told at a brisk pace with a series of unique and relatable characters, and I could honestly end the review right there, if I didn't feel the need to indulge in pointless details and nitpicks.

Most of the technical details have to be taken in the context of it's age. The dialogue is often clunky and the action sequences awkward, but no more so than some episodes of classic Star Trek so I'm inclined to give it a pass. Most of the characters are well written and unique, again no more so than the crew of the Enterprise, but the movie itself is just about 80 minutes, so you do what you can with what you got.

The special effects and cinematography are admirable. The underwater scenes are, for it's age, rather remarkable and the Gillman himself is an extremely good creature suit job. No obvious zippers nor any second set of eyes. I'm also rather big on the attention paid to realism. An ignorant character (the captain of the boat) is artfully inserted to allow the characters to explain the science to the viewer and most of it holds up. Characters surfacing have to wait the required amount of time near the surface or are scolded when they do not.

There are problems, none of them deal breaking, but much of them showing it's age. The first and foremost tell us that while this movie kickstarted many of the formulas, it would be up to others to perfect them. For example, when the monster first shows up on screen in any given scene they always play the same shocking musical cue, often times when the monster doesn't actually do anything. They're also rather eager to show us the monster, as we first get a good look at him about 20 minutes in and it's another good solid 20-25 minutes of him on screen before he does anything. Finally, the film feels like something was cut, most likely a subplot. Not only does it's 80 minute length feel unfinished, but there is some act 1 attempts at humanizing the monster, but by the time the killing kicks in in act 2, they seem to forget about it.

It's also worth mentioning that I TECHNICALLY saw this film in 3D. Of course, the 3D glasses are extremely awkward for me with my actual glasses and the age of them means they're ultimately pointless for me, as I'm red-green colorblind. I gave them up about a half hour in and my viewing companion was not far behind. What this means for you without them, apart from a garish bright green color wash on the background (although that may just be the film) is that many of objects on screen have red doubles directly next to them. Of course, 3D is ultimately pointless to me anyway; I've maintained since I saw The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl that it was pointless and neither this, nor the other film I've seen in 3D since (Avatar) have convinced me otherwise. Actually Avatar went a long way toward convincing me I was right, as I also saw it in 2D and it was far more effective.

But, as I hinted at the beginning, all of this is pointless. The film is old enough and important enough that it's bordering on culture. The fact that it's formula has been reverse engineered in so many sources means that it's extremely predictable, but I've given solid reviews to films that were predictable and didn't have it's excuse. So I guess Creature From the Black Lagoon gets a recommendation. It's not perfect, but so very few things are outside of Lord of the Rings. So you go check it out, and I'll see you later.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Starship Troopers

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he saw this movie referenced in Metal Gear Solid 3 not 3 days ago. Seriously.

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