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Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Doomsday Machine (1972): A movie brought to us courtesy of the Music & Music Network

People often talk about where they were when they heard about the death of John F. Kennedy, the news that the twin towers had been hit, or when the first man walked on the moon. Let's face it, it always makes for a good conversation piece. I'm sure that in years to come there will be similar conversations about another historic event, perhaps in hushed revered tones that will never fail to inspire impressionable young people and leave them open-mouthed in joyous awe. Of course I'm talking about people remembering exactly where they were when they read my very first review based upon the brand new partnership and friendship between The Fifth Dimension blog and the Movie and Music Network. 

Now I'm not saying that this first review from the selection of films available on the Movie & Music Network is exactly on a par with a landing on the moon or the assassination of a President in terms of historical landmark events........but by golly in my mind it's pretty close. In the dim and distant depths of what passes for this blogger as reality I genuinely foresee discussions that revere, discuss and analyse this, the first of the reviews, much in a very similar way that The Beatles first album is still talked about some 50 years after the event. In my mind, it's that important. 

If you don't know, Movie & Music Network are an online subscription service, providing their members with access to motion pictures, television, music documentaries, music-related content and other audio visual entertainment ("movies & TV shows”) streaming over the Internet to certain Internet-connected TV's, computers and other devices.

The network has thousands of movies but of course it's the Sci-Fi, Pop Culture, Horror, and Retro film channels that specifically caught this bloggers greedy eyes! Be warned - some of the material is genuinely cutting-edge and in some cases, controversial stuff! - Of course, for many of us, that doesn't really constitute a warning, much rather a great big incentive! 

What is also important to note, is that whilst the selected reviews from the Movie and Music Network will now be something of a regular event, it doesn't mean to say that I'm going to be a cheer leading flag-waving all things are wonderful with each movie type of reviewer. No, they will be honest reviews, scouts honour and all that.

After all, anybody that has read any of my previous blog articles (sadly for you guys, there are hundreds of them) will know that 'impartiality' is my middle name. Well actually, It's Andrew, but you know what I mean .....besides which, the image of me waving any sort of flag whilst wearing a cheerleader uniform is probably far too much to bear for any right minded person. Though if anyone was to name a fair price for that then just let me know....

I must admit that my first choice from the veritable plethora of titles available on the network was somewhat random in nature. In essence, I wanted to choose something that I had never seen before and without any preconceptions. The result was literally to select the appropriate channel on the network (the Sci-Fi Station seemed the obvious first choice) and simply point arbitrarily at the screen. The result was a film called The Doomsday Machine (1972) - and blimey, what a first choice it turned out to be.

When the opening scene of a movie features someone throwing a cat over a wall in order to distract a guard dog - well, lets just say that the signs for what is in store for the rest of the movie are pretty much lit up in bright neon. Essentially, this is a crazy mixed up psychedelic patchwork of visuals, disjointed plot and occasionally incoherent dialogue, all of which that has to be seen to be believed. In other words, I enjoyed every (well nearly, every) minute of this totally bonkers movie experience.

However, before I go any further, here's a taster of the plot for The Doomsday Machine.

"In an effort to further explore the galaxy, the United States is hours away from launching a manned mission to Venus. But when a Chinese plot to destroy the Earth is uncovered, the U.S. teams up with the Soviet Union to replace members of its all-male crew with women. Now, it’s up to the crew of Project Astra to keep the human race alive and thriving."

This is a movie that has something of a multiple split personality, it has a very authentic 1950's B-movie Sci-fi feel flowing through the narrative, a lovely vibrant kaleidoscopic 1960's visual look to it and finally something of a 1970's style voice-over and credit sequence. It is all in all, an enjoyable but at the same time a rather confusing and fragmented experience - and there's a very good reason for that.....

Now listen closely as I will explain this only once: The production of The Doomsday Machine had in fact first began some years earlier in 1967 with its original titles alternating between Doomsday +7 and Armageddon 1975 and was directed by Herbert J. Leder (who also directed the fabulous It! just the year before in 1966). The production featured a cast of several well known character actors of the period (keep your eyes peeled for a pre-M*A*SH BJ Mike Farrell as a smiling newspaper reporter. 
"i can't see a bloody thing in this silver foil, er, I mean, Spacesuit"
Unfortunately for our friend, Herbert J, the film was left unfinished, whether that whether is was due to funding issues or some other production problem, nobody really knows - or seemed to care. At least that was the case until the rights to the film were bought some years later in 1972  - however there was the small fact that the original cast members and extensive film sets were no longer available. 

Are you still with me?......Good.

So, we find ourselves in 1972 where the rights had been 'snapped up' by producer producer Harry Hope and he, together with director Lee Sholem, were given the unenviable task of finishing the film in as little time as possible. This, it seems, wouldn't be too much of a problem for Mr Sholem, for his nickname in Hollywood of "Roll 'Em" Sholem" identified him as someone whose idea of filming tended to treat style as distinctly second best to speed and efficiency. The fact that he directed more than 1300 shows without ever going over schedule I think says everything. If all that wasn't enough then it also seems that 'both productions' also used a miss-mash of stock NASA and left-over studio footage to fill in some of the gaps. Uneven? Well only a lot!

And yet, And still makes for a largely enjoyable cinematic experience. Yes there will be some that say that the final segment, which is quite obviously the lazy and somewhat botched attempt to add an ending (yes 'Roll 'Em', I'm looking at you, matey) dilutes what up to that point had been a confident exercise in character development (albeit, b-movie character development). And yes, some of those people will also point out to a plethora of inconsistencies and illogical sequences throughout the film. However for me, these problems don't retract from the experience of watching a movie like The Doomsday machine, on the contrary, they add to the experience.

"Now now, Puss - you won't come to any harm...honest"
For a start there's that scene with a cat - holy moly, it's pure cinematic gold and worth the whole film in it's own right. I would cheerfully sell a close relative or two to have had the chance to be a fly on the wall of the discussion between the writer and director when deciding the best way for a secret agent to distract a sentry and his guard dog.

"What about a piece of meat thrown over the wall, boss?"...
"Nope, it's been done...and its boring"
"What about a piece of fish, boss?"
"No! - too smelly!"
"Er, Chicken?...."
"Enough with the food!!!"
"I know, I know - The undercover spy throws a live cat over the wall and then we cut to the sound of dog chasing cat, then the noise of dog catching cat.....and while all this is happening, the spy gets over the wall!....For some reason, that's never been done before!"
"Brilliant!!! - Lets film it now.....somebody find me a cat!!"

I tell you, that opening scene alone is cinematic gold dust.

There will be some people out there in Internet land who will say that watching this film is a complete wast of time due to its miss-mash style. Nonsense I say! - this is film is complete fun! It's never going to be a 2001: A Space Odyssey, lets not kid ourselves about that, but its no Plan 9 from Outer Space, either.
"Trust me, I know Vulcan mind-melds"

For the first three quarters of the film, we are presented with a genuinely enjoyable 1950's science fiction feel to proceedings in terms of the story's theme, production and dialogue. You only have to think of classics such as 'The Day the Earth stood still' and "When Worlds collide' to find yourself savouring the earnest flavours of that decades concept of what made good Sci-fi. 

You can add to that some distinctly 1960's ideas of good guys and bad guys as the previous incumbents of cinematic villains, those naughty Russian Commies, had now been supplanted by more contemporary pantomime villains, those naughty Chinese Commies - boo hiss!!! All you then have to do is throw in a nice dystopic angle where the future of mankind now rests with a couple of beefcake astronauts and some quite frankly drop dead sexy female astronauts and you have a sure fire recipe for success. Now if only the male astronauts would lose a little of that 1950's & 1960's misogynistic attitude towards women, I mean, it's not as if one of NASA's finest might try to rape one of the female crew.....what?.....oh heck.

"Captain, I'm not sure if Green is my colour...."
Visually too the film looks wonderful with its infusion of vibrant psychedelic colours for the interior scenes within the rocket. In truth, while watching this the other afternoon with a rather fine glass of red wine I almost found myself drifting along in the rich vibrant colours of oranges, greens and red. It WAS just wine, I assure you.

Talking about alcohol, The Doomsday Machine could also come with it's very own drinking game - not that I'm advocating alcohol consumption of course, perish the thought.  But for some reason, be it the chaos of the production, money or just plain ineptness, the spaceship Astra seems to constantly change in appearance. I counted at least four occasions when it changes completely into another ship - and quite honestly there could be more. So I propose that when you watch it, do so with a group of friends, and each time you notice that the spaceship has changed you should then down a shot. What could possibly go wrong?  It's all very strange - perhaps the use of other ships from previous productions was used on order to save money. Believe me, playing 'spot the different ship' is utterly enjoyable - try it, you'll love it....with or without the shots to down along with it.

The cast react after reading the rest of the script
Yes the film could be described as akin to a confusing mess at times, the final act where it is more than obvious where the 1972 filming began lets the film down in a major way - in fact I have never seen a more inept cut and paste job in a film. This in turn leads to a somewhat unsatisfying ending for some people, and where presumably "Roll 'Em" Sholem" simply ran out of ideas or money....or talent. I however found the ending to be curiously appealing in it's own enigmatic and ambiguous way - in fact I would go as far as saying that I liked it.

I mean this quite sincerely, The Doomsday Machine really has everything, Russian accents that suddenly disappear, Sexism in space, colourful computers, flimsy spacesuits, morphing spaceships and some seriously earnest dialogue .....oh, and don't forget the cat! - believe me, it's a joy of an intergalactic ride!!

But hey - don't just take my word for it! (lets be honest, whoever does?!). Because thanks to the most wonderful people at the Movie & Music Network, you can watch The Doomsday Machine for FREE!

You don't need to subscribe to view it - but you never know, after seeing the rest go the Library then it may well be a good idea to do so!

Click RIGHT HERE to watch the movie and let me know what you think!


If I was you I would subscribe to the Movie and Music Network - Right now!

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