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DVD Review: The Green Slime

Green SlimeThe Green Slime
DVD Remaster
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Starring Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel
Warner Bros Home Entertainment
Release date: October 26, 2010

The year 1968 was quite a time for science-fiction. On television the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise was in the midst of a five-year adventure traveling to strange new worlds under the command of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Meanwhile on movie screens around the world Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was launching a bold new vision of the future of its very own with Stanley Kubrick’s long-in-the-works outerspace epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke‘s short story “The Sentinel.” What Star Trek and 2001 represented at a time when the country was neck deep in the bloody apocalypse of Vietnam was a vision of an optimistic future where mankind could sail an endless ocean of stars to places unknown without having to face the threat of flesh-eating monsters on every uncharted world. Some would call such a notion naïve and childish, but both Trek and 2001 made their respective impact on audiences and critics and would go on to become two of the most influential sci-fi entertainments in the history of their mediums.

The same year, MGM also released The Green Slime. Okay then…

Earth is in some deep shit as the movie opens. An asteroid capable of laying waste to the entire planet is flying through outerspace at top speed, and all that stands between our big, blue world and total annihilation is the valiant crew of space station Gamma III commanded by the brave and stoic Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel). But the U.N.S.C. isn’t taking any chances and is sending up Elliott’s former friend Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) to lead a team to detonate the asteroid. The mission is a success but one of the team members returns to Gamma III with a strange green substance on their suit. Rankin, Elliott, their mutual Italian bombshell squeeze Luciana Paluzzi (in the demanding…snicker….role of Dr. Lisa Benson), and the rest of the crew soon discover that it’s more than mere space goop… IT’S ALIVE!!! Yes friends, once the green slime gets all warm and cozy on board Gamma III it starts to grow into a vicious, cyclopean monster with flailing tentacles and an unpleasant disposition, and the best part is this creature can multiply, just like a gremlin, despite many attempts by our noble heroes to kill them.

Now the question before the crew of Gamma III is “Can the Green Slime monsters be stopped before they kill everyone on the space station and make their way to Earth to kill them off too?” Or maybe they’re too busy wondering if Rankin and Elliott can stop butting heads over inconsequential matters long enough to figure out how to stop the monsters before they kill everyone on the space station and yada yada yada. By the way, does it really matter who gets the girl?

Cheeseball B-science-fiction (and the use of that term is forcing me to suppress a vomit) movies don’t get much cheesier and less involved with anything to do with science than The Green Slime. Available for the first time on DVD through Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Warner Archives website (order here), The Green Slime has finally been rescued after being marooned on a desolate, uncharted moon called Cinematic Obscurity for more than four decades. I myself have fond memories as a teenager of catching a few minutes of this film one morning on TNT, back when that cable channel was cool, and then immediately changing the channel. Something better had to be on and thankfully there was, but that memory lingered in the back of my mind for quite a while afterward, until I forgot about it completely. Now I know why.

Even on bad movie terms The Green Slime is pretty atrocious filmmaking, but it’s mostly guilty of being lazy, cheap, and unimaginative. This came as a bit of a surprise to me given that for a movie that looks like it was made on a layway budget it has an impressive pedigree. The Green Slime was directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku (1930-2003), who died midway through the filming of the sequel to what is probably his most well-regarded feature, the controversial 2000 release Battle Royale. Fukasaku was no slouch behind the camera and it’s to the director’s credit that he rarely lets the action lag, but there’s only so much he could do with what he had. The film was made in Japan with an American cast, some of whom were U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in the country at the time, and written by a team that consisted of Tom Rowe (Disney’s The Aristocats), Ivan Reiner, Charles Sinclair (several episodes of the Batman and 77 Sunset Strip TV series), and most shockingly the great Bill Finger (credited as William Finger). Finger was a comic book writer best known as the uncredited co-creator of Batman since although Bob Kane is the widely acknowledged creator, it was Finger who had came up with the character’s signature look, wrote the scripts for Batman’s first two appearances in DC’s Detective Comics, and helped to create the Dark Knight’s greatest adversary, the Joker. He also co-created another famous DC Comics hero, the Green Lantern. I never knew Finger had also dabbled in screenwriting but a search on IMDB showed he also wrote the 1976 creature feature Track of the Moon Beast with his Green Slime collaborator Charles Sinclair and did some uncredited work on Antonio Margheriti’s 1967 Italian science fiction schlocker The Blue Devils along with Sinclair and another Green Slime alumnus Ivan Reiner. The movie’s infamous theme song was composed by Charles Fox, the man responsible for the themes to TV series such as Happy Days and Wonder Woman, the music for the psychedelic sci-fi cult classic Barbarella, and for having worked with musicians the likes of Johnny Cash, Carly Simon, Luther Vandross, and Ice-T. The visual effects were overseen by Akira Watanabe, who had worked on many of Japan’s legendary kaiju giant monster movies including several of the earlier, and best, Godzilla features.

Despite having a pretty decent creative team behind the scenes, The Green Slime comes off like a live-action episode of the marionette-populated British kids’ series Thunderbirds, with acting even more wooden and lifeless than puppets could barely pull off and effects work that is utterly horrendous. The shots of the Gamma III space station in orbit and rockets blasting off into the galaxy look like some middle school student’s science class diorama, and then there’s the Green Slime monsters themselves who were basically Japanese children stuffed into third-rate creature suits that you’d expect to see on Halloween night hitting the streets of your neighborhood for candy. Worst of all it reduces professional actors like Richard Jaeckel (best known for appearing in some of the finest films of Robert Aldrich and William Girdler) and Robert Horton, the star of television series such as Wagon Train and A Man Named Shenandoah, to the level of life-size G.I. Joe action dolls sans the kung fu grip, which would’ve come in handy against the slime monsters of space. Every male character is square-jawed and emotionless even when people are being wiped out left and right by the tentacled terrors of the cosmos, and forget about the female characters because next to sexy Dr. Lisa (played by a former James Bond villainess) there ain’t enough room for the womenfolk to leave much of an impression on this less-than-fantastic voyage. The romantic subplot between Jaeckel, Horton, and Paluzzi is a waste of celluloid that serves no purpose in the story and could be easily excised without anyone noticing (in fact the love triangle was cut from the Japanese version of the film). At least the movie runs a tight ninety minutes and is more often than not fun to watch, but it’s ultimately forgettable.

The DVD won’t do much to improve the film’s reputation or cult following, but fans of The Green Slime will probably be happy just to have it finally available in the digital format. The packaging boasts that the movie has been remastered and to the company’s credit The Green Slime looks better here on shiny disc than it has looked in years, which is not surprising seeing as how the only way you could watch the movie was through full screen videotapes and television airings. The 2.35:1 widescreen picture and mono sound quality are adequate enough. Optional subtitles are not included. Unfortunately Warner Bros. decided to not include anything in the way of bonus features. Surely some of the surviving cast and crew members would’ve been willing to do a commentary or participate in new interview futurities, maybe Fukasaku’s son (who took over directing duties on the Battle Royale sequel after his father passed away) but no, we get nothing, not even a measly trailer, which is usually the protocol with these Warner Archives releases. A nice bonus would have been the inclusion of the aforementioned alternate Japanese cut of the film, called Gamma III: Operation Outer Space, which runs roughly thirteen minutes shorter than the American cut and completely excises the love triangle subplot and the Charles Fox theme song in favor of amping up the pacing and emphasizing action over everything and anything else.

There’s not a lot more I could write about this movie but here’s a fun fact about The Green Slime: the movie was chosen to be given the inaugural mocking by the crew of the Satellite of Love on the pilot episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but the pilot was never aired (either due to a rights issue or a lack of interest — who knows?) and remained unseen until it was screened at a 2008 convention.

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