Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Five Million Years to Earth (1967)

Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit) (1967): written by Nigel Kneale, based on the BBC miniseries of the same name; directed by Roy Ward Baker; starring James Donald (Dr. Roney), Andrew Keir (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd),  and Julian Glover (Colonel Breen): British writer Nigel Kneale created three television serials for the BBC back in the 1950's featuring British rocket scientist Bernard Quatermass, a sort of proto-Doctor-Who figure, albeit a fallible, human one.

All three serials, along with a fourth starring John Mills in the early 1980's, pitted Quatermass and company against various alien invasions of the British Isles. This 1960's Hammer Film was based on the third Quatermass serial, Quatermass and the Pit, in which the excavation of a site in London, England for a new subway line uncovers strangely deformed ancient human skeletons and the remains of what appears to be an alien spaceship.

History reports that strange occurences plagued the site whenever digging or some other form of vibration took place over hundreds of years. And something does indeed seem to be waking up. Will the military and the government do something incredibly stupid, leaving the fate of the planet in the hands of Quatermass and his dedicated scientist friends? What do you think?

This is a very English science-fiction movie in many ways, not least of which is Kneale's WWII-enhanced concern with fascism at home and abroad -- and the fear that fascistic group-think can overcome anyone, no matter how intelligent or empathetic that person normally is. We're the Nazis now.

Five Million Years to Earth is a well-done movie, small of budget but big on ideas and weirdness. It's one of a relatively small number of old science fiction movies that could be improved with just a few minutes of good visual effects, as a key visual effects sequence has to be explained at length to the viewer for any sense to be made of it. However, there's also a truly disturbing visual effects shot towards the end that I don't think modern CGI could capture, simply because modern CGI tends to go for the overly detailed literal rather than the suggestively obscure. In any event, highly recommended.

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