Archive for June, 2007

"Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…"

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2007 by bigruta
Howdy friends and neighbors and welcome to the second Duh Spot Ray Harryhausen flick review! You knew I would get around to doing another stop motion spectacular eventually, didn’t you?

Jule’s Verne’s Mysterious Island (Mysterious Island)

Columbia, 1961, 100 minutes, NR

actors: Michael Craig, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson

director: Cy Endfield
writers: John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, Crane Wilbur – based on the novel by Jules Verne
producer: Charles H. Schneer

visual effects in “super dynamation”: Ray Harryhausen

Taxonomy: Sci-Fi; giant critter / mad scientist adventure flick; Harryhausen / Verne fans

Plot: During the American Civil War, Union soldiers escape a Confederate prison camp via an observation balloon. The Hook: They wind up at the retirement home of Captain Nemo!

The flick starts out during the siege of Richmond, Virginia, 1865 at Libby Military Prison. I know this because it says so right there on the screen! A Union war correspondent by the name of Gideon Spilitt (Merrill) is inspecting the camp and visiting Union prisoners. Just as he is about to get to know Captain Cyrus Harding, Herbert Brown and Neb Nugent (Craig, Callan and Jackson respectively), they stage a daring escape! Mr. Spilitt gets swept up in the action and soon finds himself helping the three Yankees subduing Confederate guards and stealing an observation balloon. Confederate Sgt. Pencroft (Herbert) does his best to foil their escape, but soon they are high in the air and in a storm and Pencroft is the only one who knows how to pilot the balloon. They make a deal that when they land everybody can go their separate ways without either army being the wiser.

Well boys and girls this ain’t no ordinary storm they are drifting through, no sirree! Why it’s the “greatest storm in American history!” The balloon gets blown due west at very high speeds for four straight days! Soon they find themselves over the Pacific! Eventually they spy an island on the horizon. Then the balloon springs a leak and starts going down. They toss out everything they can to lighten the balloon, even cutting the gondola away, but they still crash into the sea. Spilitt, Brown, Nugent and Pencroft make it to the island, but where is Harding? After a brief search they find him unconscious near a campfire. Harding admits that he did not make the fire, but the others think he is just in shock. Soon they find that the island has a colony of huge oysters, each about a foot long! Well after they eat and rest a bit Captain Harding assumes command. Spilitt and Pencroft voice token objections and Harding decides that they will climb to the top of the volcano. Did I mention the volcano? Yeah there is an active volcano on this island. Hmmm … ship … I mean balloon wrecked guys on a deserted island with a volcano in a b-movie. Gee, I wonder what will happen?

They make some suspiciously straight spears and head off across the island. Soon they arrive at another beach and see a sea-side geyser. As they walk across the beach a frickin huge crab emerges from the sand! When I say frickin huge I mean about twenty feet wide! The frickin huge crab grabs Neb and the others try to free him. Here we see one of Harryhausen’s unique skills. There were many folks who toyed with stop motion animation over the years, but Harryhausen usually did scenes where his animated critters interact with humans in the same scene. When Neb is in the crab’s claw we get cut scenes of the actor in close-up and wide shots where Neb is actually another animated figure. As always with Harryhausen this is very well done with the figure standing in well for a real human. The guys manage to get Neb free and flip the crab into the geyser. Boiled crab for everyone! Of course if the crab had proportional strength Neb would have been crushed, but hey this is fantasy!

The trek to the volcano continues and the guys find quite a few wild goats. Then the big discovery – women! They find two women unconscious on the beach – yes another beach. They also find a few guys but they are dead. When the ladies come around they introduce themselves as Lady Mary Fairchild and her niece Elena Fairchild (Greenwood and Rogan) from England. They were attacked by pirates … or their ship broke up in a storm … I forget which. Anyway the five men and two women (heh heh heh) make for, you guessed it, the volcano. They discover caves that that had been used as shelter by folks who had been abandoned by pirates. Well they move right in, set up shop, start herding the goats, plant a garden and Lady Fairchild even starts making clothes from goat skins! She makes a hot little number for her niece to replace her badly damaged dress. Elena’s new dress has a very short skirt which barely covers her goatskin panties and a low cut front for nice cleavage shots! Maybe those Victorian women were not as repressed as is commonly assumed!

Neb finds a chest washed ashore with a compass, charts, a sextant, tools, pots and pans, guns and a copy of Robinson Crusoe. Gee, that should come in handy!

Okay more giant critter action! Elena is attacked by what seems to be a giant chicken. Actually this is supposed to be one of the numerous giant carnivorous predatory birds that flourished after the last ice age, but the first image that comes to mind is that of a giant chicken. Well Herbert ain’t gonna let no overgrown roaster hurt his gal, see he has a thing for Elena, so he jumps on the chicken’s neck and kills it with a knife. Another good human critter animated sequence and barbecued chicken for everyone!

The story starts to pick up a little speed now as Herbert and Elena go off and stumble upon a really frickin huge honey bee hive. How frickin huge? Well so huge that they hide in a honeycomb cell when one of the bees shows up. Not too bright are they? The bee seals them into the cell with wax and they start a fire to get out! They escape before they run out of oxygen or die of smoke inhalation and fall down a crevasse and find an underwater bay and a remarkable ironclad ship. This is the Nautilus – Captain Nemo’s submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Meanwhile, back at the cave, pirates have been spotted making for the island. They come ashore to replenish their supply of drinking water and – opps! – the idiots in the cave shoot at them! So the pirates start firing their cannon at the cave! But then – BOOM! – the pirate ship is rocked by an explosion and sinks! All this commotion has brought Herbert and Elena back to the shore where they see a guy come out of the water wearing some kind of rubber suit with a big seashell on his back and one on his head! It is Captain Nemo, of course, wearing his own diving gear. Seems Nemo planted an explosive on the hull of the pirate ship.

Nemo (Lom) invites everyone to dinner on the Nautilus. He lets them in on the fact that it was he who rescued Harding and built his campfire. He also made sure the ladies survived and supplied the chest o’ useful stuff. The folks know of Nemo and initially do not like him because of his well known habit of sinking military ships. Nemo explains that was his way of discouraging war (read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea for more details). For the last few years Nemo has been conducting research designed to rid the world of hunger and competition over scarce resources, which he sees as the primary cause for war. To this end he has successfully bred some giant critters. He wants to share his knowledge with the world, but there is a problem. The Nautilus is no longer sea worthy and cannot be repaired. Nemo needs a vessel to take himself, his research and specimens back to civilization. He also needs a crew. Oh and by the way, the volcano is going to destroy the island soon. Yeah, like we did not see that coming!

Our heroes soon hatch a plan to used the Nautilus to pump air into the remains of the balloon – remember the balloon? – in order to re-float the pirate ship. Nemo teaches Harding, Herbert, Neb and Pencroft how to used his scuba gear and also how to operate his electric gun – under water! As the salvage operation progresses a giant nautilus (a kind of mollusk related to squid and octopus) attacks! More well done critter / human action scenes, though the nautilus is not as dynamic as I would have hoped. Harding kills the critter with the electric gun. How exactly would that work? Never mind. And they succeed in re-floating the pirate ship! Yea! However, Nemo is killed when the cavern collapses on the Nautilus – the sub not the critter. The survivors pledge to work for world peace and plenty in honor of Captain Nemo. Well, that is very noble, but they have a ship to operate that is completely waterlogged, so the sails and rigging will need quite a bit of time to dry out and of course none of them are sailors and so could not sail much less navigate a ship. Oh yeah, and the pirates were out of fresh water, remember? Happy ending? I’m not so sure!

Goodies:

Babeage: Beth Rogan may not have been a great actress but she was quite cute and her goatskin minidress with matching panties provides some nice eye candy!

Sleazeploitation: None. The five guys (six counting Nemo) two gals thing is never played out (darn!). Pencroft, the Confederate does not even taunt Nugent, the black Union soldier. A nice change of pace actually.

Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: Giant oysters (that don’t do anything except get made into stew), giant crab, giant chicken, giant bees, giant nautilus and of course, Nemo.

Violence: A couple of fist fights, knife to the neck of giant chicken, couple of rifle and cannon shots.

Gore & FX: No gore but great Harryhausen animated critters and people! Plus one rather crappy matt shot of some gulls. Not really sure why that was included.

Great Lines:

Gideon Spilitt remarking on the geyser, “Now we know where we can get a hot bath!” Yeah, really hot!

Herbert Brown upon first sight of Elena, “She’s beautiful!” Harding, “Better than that – she’s alive!” Hey! what’s wrong with beautiful dead women, huh?

Cyrus Harding, “The women added a few welcome feminine touches which turned the cave into a home.” What!? Women in The Man Cave!? Sacrilege!

Herbert Brown, “It’s a honeycomb!” Elena, “Can’t be, it’s too big!” Honey weren’t you just attacked by a giant chicken?

Nemo’s response when Spilitt tells him he is a war correspondent, “You supply the ink. The soldiers supply the blood.”

Nemo, “Contact with my own species has always disappointed me.”

Nemo as he drains off the last of his brandy, “My last bottle, another pressing reason to leave.” You know, that and the island blowing up.

Nemo’s vision, “Imagine, wheat that grows 40 feet high! Sheep the size of cattle!” MARSHmallow PIES! (See The Killer Shrews)

Moral: Always book your flight through a reputable travel agent.

Hey, that’s what’s his name!: Herbert Lom who plays Captain Nemo is most famous to American audiences as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies.

Conclusion:

Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island is a fun little adventure tale that should appeal to the youngins and provide a bit of innocent nostalgia to their parents. Is it an accurate screen version of the Jules Verne novel? No idea. I have never read Mysterious Island, though I did read 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Harryhausen’s work is top notch as usual. The giant crab was actually the shell of a real crab that Harryhausen articulated. One scene shows the crab’s mouth parts moving. This was done buy matting in footage of the mouth parts of a live crab over the front of the animation. There is a scene where the men cross over a cleft via a huge fallen tree. This scene is very similar to that in King Kong (RKO, 1933). Harryhausen learned from Willis O’Brian the guy who did the animation in Kong. I would guess this scene is a tribute to O’Brian. The funny thing is all five of the guys cross the tree bridge at the same time! How dumb is that? They could have all fallen to their deaths! Ya got to love Hollywood!

This is me at age nine baby!: Yeah, yeah, balloon ride, big deal! Come on! Get to the monsters! Giant crab! They could not have flipped him that easy! Oh man – girls! Jeez! Giant monsters, cool! Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, cool! The rest – boring!

Ray Harryhausen Adventure Flick Checklist:

a cool giant critters / monsters
a not so fantastic acting
a at least one historical location / set
a at least one non-animal animated miniature
a pretty lady in distress
a legendary / literary source material
a reverse motion shot
One to ponder: What did Nemo have against dugongs anyway?

I don’t think Harryhausen ever animated a flying pig.

Hog Heaven, Barleywine Style Ale

Avery Brewing Company, Boulder, Colorado

Okay, so, barleywine is one of the most complex and flavorful beer styles in the world. Barleywine is an attempt by brewers to make a product that not only rivals wine in alcohol content but also may be cellered in order to enhance the flavors with age – just like wine made from grapes. As such, barleywine can be sort of a crap shoot; sometimes it just does not work out and the result can be awful. But when it works, oh my!

ABV: 9.20% IBU: 100

Aroma: A wonderful blend of sweet malty barley and snappy hops. Very fresh with hints of orange peel, apricot, clove and resin. Complex but not harsh. Remember, the aroma gives clues to the taste.

Color: Crystal clear deep honey almost red amber.

Head: Small bubbled, dense, foamy, cream colored persistent head that imparts Belgian Lace.

Taste: A very mellow sweet and malty start with hints of toffee that moves to a gently bitter middle where the orange, apricot and spice elements pop up leading to a finish that starts off with a sort of sour fruit aspect that moves to the bitter hoppy zing one would expect from the IBU rating. This is a wonderfully complex beer. I had a hard time nailing down what I felt were the proper descriptors, the flavor changes as you drink, but is always smooth and well balanced.

Recommendation: Barleywines really represent the whole package to beer snobs. The complexity of the aroma, taste and “mouthfeel” (one of the rather silly words beer snobs use) combined with the beauty of the color and head, the punch of the alcohol and the fact that this style of beer changes as it ages means that these beers are seen as being the peak of the brewer’s art. The fact that they can be hard to make just enhances the mystique. Some brewers have said that new batches of their barleywines are “undrinkable”, that is to say that they must be cellared for a few years for their flavors and characters to develop. No doubt about it, if you get into barleywines, you are a true beer snob. Avery’s Hog Heaven is a good place to start. It is not as high in alcohol as most barleywines, in fact I was surprised it was under 10% ABV! And even new batches are quite enjoyable. For those of you intimidated by such a high IBU rating, Hog Heaven will show you that bitter really is not synonomus with retch inducing! With an ABV that low, I’m not too sure how well it would age, but as an intro to barleywine Hog Heaven tastes great and may lead you down the path to more serious barleywines. Which would be a good thing indeed! Recommended.

So there ya go! More Harryhausen dynamation to come in future posts so stay tuned!

-BigRuta

Remember: Comments, questions, requests and contributions always welcome!