Spacewomen vs. Earthmen

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

Cat-Women of the Moon is a cheesy science fiction flick with a right-wing ideology.

When it begins, we find five astronauts on a spaceship on their way to the moon.  One of those astronauts is Helen (Marie Windsor), the navigator.  After the ship has quit accelerating, and the astronauts are able to rise from their cots, Helen flips open her compact and begins combing her hair and fixing her face.  Walt, the engineer, who comes across as a womanizer, watches her do this and says, “Oh brother, am I going to collect some bets.”  One can only imagine that the bets had something to do with having a little space sex with Helen.  This might be a challenge, however, because there seems to be a love triangle between her, Kip (Victor Jory), and Laird (Sonny Tufts), the copilot and pilot respectively.  Looks as though they should have brought more women along so that everyone could have one.  But that will soon be remedied.

Walt is also out to make a fast buck.  He plugs an oil company on the radio when saying a few words to the folks back home, which he figures is worth a couple of grand.  He also has some stamps to put on his letters from the moon, which he figures will be worth a couple of hundred bucks each.

Helen seems to be directing the ship to land on what she and Laird call the “dark side” of the moon, which no one has ever seen, as opposed to the “bright side” of the moon, which is what we on Earth can see.  Of course, the far side of the moon is not always in the dark, just as the near side of the moon is not always illuminated, so the man that wrote this script seems to have been rather confused on this point.  Laird balks at Helen’s desire to land on the dark side because the original plan was to start with the bright side.

Once they land and get suited up, Helen complains about her boots, which she says are too heavy.  But Laird tells her that they will weigh less once they leave the ship and are walking on the surface of the moon.  That’s where there will be less gravity, you see.  And sure enough, once they disembark, the boots are much lighter.

Anyway, there they are on the “dark side” (i.e., far side) of the moon, and yet Laird is able to look up at the sky and see the Earth.  Helen, who brings her cigarettes with her because they make her feel at home, directs them toward a cave.  Laird just doesn’t understand how she knows so much about this dark side of the moon.  But it’s a good thing she does, because when they reach the border where the illuminated part of the moon begins, Laird shows the men how you can light one of Helen’s cigarettes by exposing it to the sun, where it immediately bursts into flames.  It manages to do this even though oxygen is not present.  Laird did this with the cigarette to show everyone why they must avoid setting foot on the bright side.  And this is strange, because it was the bright side where Laird said they were supposed to land originally.

Once they get inside the cave, their boots become heavy again.  Then they notice stalactites, which are formed by dripping water.  Kip takes one of Helen’s matches and lights it, proving that there is atmosphere in the cave as a result of the increased gravitational pull.  So, they remove their space suits.  Kip brought his revolver with him for the same reason Helen brought her cigarettes:  it makes him feel at home.  But now that they know they can breathe the air, Kip says the revolver is definitely going with him now.  As he says, “Where there’s oxygen, there’s life.  And where there’s life, there’s death.”  In a left-wing movie, any character that straps on a gun with a swagger is doomed to suffer an ignominious death before the movie is over, but as this is a right-wing movie, he proves to be quite the hero with that gun, as when he deals death to couple of giant spiders that attack Helen.

Eventually they encounter the title aliens, good-looking women from an ancient civilization, three of whom are Alpha, Beta, and Lambda.  They are called “cat-women,” presumably, because women are often thought to have feline characteristics, especially if they wear black tights, have upward slanting eyebrows, and long fingernails.  The men of their civilization died soon after these women were born, but Beta says they have no use for men.

What they do have need of is the spaceship so they can get to Earth, because they are running out of oxygen on the moon.  They have been in telepathic communication with Helen and have made her one of them.  The cat-women have no telepathic control over men, only other women, but they do have their womanly wiles.  The women set about trying to seduce the men in order to learn how to fly their spaceship.  Once they get the information they need, they will kill the crew, go to Earth, get telepathic control over all the Earth women, eugenically select the best men to impregnate the cat-women, have lots of girl babies, and rule the world.  Needless to say, it is just this idea of women taking over that bothers the male-dominated, paranoid right.

Beta works her charms on Walt, playing on both his lust and his greed.  He hopes to get a little moontang from her, and he becomes really interested when she tells him about all the gold on the moon.  She promises that after he teaches her what he knows about the ship as the engineer, she will show him the gold.  On the ship, she catches on quickly.  Walt says, “You’re too smart for me, baby.  I like them stupid.”  Beta then delivers on her promise to show him where the gold is, taking him to a cave where the walls are full of the stuff.  While he is dreaming of untold wealth, she plunges a knife in his back.  Meanwhile, Lambda has been going to work on Doug, who is the boy-next-door type.  She falls in love with him and warns him of what’s up.

Kip has been suspicious of the whole setup.  While the other men have been enjoying delicious meals with the cat-women, he has been sitting apart, eating his K-ration.  He even tosses the wadded-up package on the floor to show his contempt for the whole business.  Laird, on the other hand, thinks those on the Earth and the moon can get along, just the sort of peacenik naiveté for which the right has contempt.  Laird wants everything done by the book, and he is always talking about science.  Those on the anti-intellectual right are skeptical about science and disdainful of the professional elite, and Kip’s contempt for Laird in this regard surfaces repeatedly.

And Kip has been suspicious of Helen too.  He gets rough with her, grabbing her hand and squeezing it until she feels pain.  It happens to be the hand through which the cat-women have telepathic control over her.  Released from cat-women control, she falls into Kip’s arms and confesses her love for him.  They kiss.

But once he releases her hand, she reverts back to the bad Helen.  She tells Laird she loves him to get the information she needs to pilot the spaceship.  When she tells Kip it is Laird she loves, he is disgusted.  But when he finds out from Doug what he has learned from Lambda, that Helen is just trying to get information from Laird before she kills him, he squeezes her hand again.  Whenever he hurts her like that, she becomes tender and compliant.  That’s the way you have to handle women.  And now that she is back to being the good Helen, she confesses the plot, as well as her love for Kip.  This angers Laird, and he and Kip get into a fight, which breaks up when they realize that Helen, no longer under Kip’s grip, has run off.  Lambda tries to stop Helen, Alpha, and Beta from commandeering the ship, but Beta bonks her on the head with a rock and kills her.  Kip uses his revolver to shoot Alpha and Beta, after which Helen is no longer under cat-women influence.  She and the rest of the crew, minus Walt, get back to the ship and head for Earth.

And so it is that Kip, the gun-toting astronaut, saves the day by killing these cat-women before they could take over the Earth.  He has won the heart of the woman he loves, not only getting the better of Laird, but also freeing Helen from the pernicious influence of those cat-women, who had been putting ideas in her head.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Whereas Cat-Women of the Moon was serious in tone, Queen of Outer Space is a light-hearted look at another world dominated by women.  Nevertheless, it too has a right-wing orientation.

When this movie begins, it does it’s best to look futuristic, because it is set in what at that time was years in the future, 1986, but you have to smile when you see the display of cobra phones, which I haven’t seen outside of a movie since the 1960s.  Three astronauts and a Professor Konrad blastoff into space in a futuristic 1950s rocketship, full of mechanical gauges.

They are headed to a space station because there has been some trouble lately.  Just before they get there, the thing is blown up.  They set their ship on maximum acceleration to escape the blast, and the next thing you know, they land on Venus, which turns out to be habitable.  That surprises the crew, since it is contrary to the theory that Venus cannot support life.

But it does support life.  In particular, it supports life in the form of beautiful, young women with ray guns, who are wearing makeup, tight-fitting garments from the waist up, short skirts, and transparent high-heel shoes.  The men are brought before Queen Yllana.  She and the councilwomen who accompany her wear masks.  One of the women watching this tribunal, Motiya, leaves and goes to tell Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), leader of the resistance movement, what is happening.

Queen Yllana says the Earthmen are violent and want to invade their planet.  Larry, the womanizer of the crew, says, “Why don’t you girls knock off all this Gestapo stuff and be a little friendly?”  Yllana says they will all be put to death after they are tortured into telling the truth, after which they are led to the prison chamber.

Once they are alone, Professor Konrad and Captain Neal Patterson conclude that they did not wind up on Venus by accident, Neal saying that the beam that destroyed the space station and knocked them off their course may have originated from Venus.  Mike says, “Oh, come off it.  How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?”  To this, Larry replies, “Sure.  And even if they invented it, how could they aim it?  You know how women drivers are.”

Talleah comes to the room, and we get a quick history lesson.  Ten Earth years ago, there was a war between Venus and Mordo, in which weapons of great power were used.  Mordo was eventually destroyed, but most of the cities of Venus were destroyed as well.  As a result of all this suffering, the women took over, led by Yllana, who said that men caused the ruin of their world, and it was time for women to be in charge.  They were able to do it because the men didn’t take them seriously.  After all, Yllana was only a woman, and the men were too busy preparing for war.  Most of the men were put to death, except for a few scientists and mathematicians she needed.  (So that’s who built the beam that destroyed the space station!)  These few men were banished to Tyrus, a satellite of Venus, and it has become a prison colony.  And because the men on Earth have been making a lot of scientific progress, Yllana wants to destroy Earth with the Beta Disintegrator before they are able to invade Venus.

Meanwhile, sex is on everyone’s mind.  Larry is excited to think about the ratio of women to men on this planet.  More particularly, both Talleah and Yllana are falling in love with Neal, which is why Talleah becomes angry when Yllana sends for him.  When Neal gets to Yllana’s boudoir, he tries making love to her, but she refuses to remove her mask.  He psychoanalyzes her.  “I understand you better than you do yourself,” he tells her.  “You’re denying man’s love, substituting hatred and a passion for this monstrous power you possess.”  He continues, saying, “You’re not only a queen, but a woman too.  And a woman needs a man’s love.”

Determined to give her the love she needs, he rips off her mask, revealing her horribly scarred face, which she says are radiation burns, caused by men and their wars.  She asks him if he will give her that love now, and he says he’s sorry, turning away in disgust.  This then is the root of the problem.  Deprived of the sexual fulfillment of giving herself to a man completely, she has tried to compensate by dominating men and destroying them.

He is sent back to the prison chamber, but women loyal to Talleah bring the men to her.  Except for Professor Konrad, each man ends up with a woman who goes with them to destroy the Beta Disintegrator.  The women say they have no life without love, without children.  Talleah’s plan, if they are successful, is to bring the men back from Tyrus and restore the old order, the one in which men run things, while women stay home and have babies.

On their way to the Beta Disintegrator, they end up having to hide in a cave.  Just as in Cat-Women of the Moon, the walls of the cave are full of gold, which the women regard with indifference because gold is so plentiful on Venus.  And just as in that other movie, they get attacked by a giant spider, which they manage to kill.

Soon after, they are recaptured.  Yllana prepares to destroy the Earth, but Motiya sabotaged the Beta Disintegrator, and it starts disintegrating.  Yllana tries to save it, but she ends up being burnt to a crisp.  Now there are only beautiful women on Venus, with no ugly women around to cause trouble because they can’t get a man.

The next thing you know, the astronauts are saying goodbye to each of their women, because duty comes first.  But then they get a message from Earth telling them it is too risky to return on the ship that got them to Venus.  They will need to stay there for about a year.  Each man is delighted, taking his woman in his arms.  The movie ends as we see Professor Konrad about to be part of a ménage à cinq.

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

Invasion of the Star Creatures is a low-budget spoof of movies like the two we have just discussed.  In order to make sure everyone is in on the joke, the credits open with “R.I. Diculous Presents An Impossible Picture.”  It is filled with silly situations and corny jokes, but it is rather amusing, if you are in the mood for this sort of thing.

On an army missile base, Private Philbrick and Private Penn are normally in charge of such things as washing the garbage cans, but are assigned by Colonel Awol to be part of a team investigating a cave that opened up as the result of a nuclear test explosion.  The team discovers seven-foot-tall, plant-like extraterrestrials.  They look like trees with vegetables growing out of their heads.  However, these plant creatures are just slaves, their masters being two tall, beautiful women, Professor Tanga and Dr. Puna.  The two privates are captured by the vegetable monsters and brought before the two women.

Philbrick wonders aloud what Space Commander Connors would do, a variation on such radio and television characters as Captain Video, Captain Midnight, and Commander Corey of Space Patrol.  The women tell Penn and Philbrick they plan to return to their planet, after which Earth will be invaded and conquered.  Then they show the privates the room where they grow the plant men.  We see flower pots, most of which have a hand sticking up out of them.  When they prepare to leave the room, Philbrick says goodbye to the plant hands, one of which waves bye-bye.

Although there are warrior men back on their planet, the women don’t seem to know anything about love, so Philbrick teaches Dr. Puna what “kiss” means. She swoons, allowing Penn and Philbrick to escape.  They return to base and tell Colonel Awol that he must stop the spaceship from blasting off.  Awol does not believe them and orders them to be thrown into the guardhouse, assuming them to be drunk.  But when Philbrick swears on his Space Commander Connors’ secret ring, Awol asks to see the ring.  When Philbrick shows it to him, Awol shows Philbrick his.  They utter the secret code words and do the hand signal.  Then they discover they both belong to the same stellar squadron, and it turns out that whereas Awol is only a junior flight leader, Philbrick is a senior flight leader, which means Philbrick is now in command.

The three of them head back to the cave.  Penn says the three of them will not be enough to stop the space broads from taking off.  Just then, a bunch of Indians come along, whereupon it turns out that they also are members of Space Commander Connors’ flight squadron, only one of the Indians is the general flight leader of that squadron, and proves it with a badge pinned to his bare chest.  So now, the Indian is in command.

They all have a pow wow, during which the Indians and the colonel get drunk.  Penn and Philbrick go back to the cave and manage to blast the rocketship off into space, marooning the two women.  Professor Tanga is angry that their plans for conquering Earth have been ruined.  But Dr. Puna gets Penn to teach Professor Tanga what “kiss” means.  As both women are kissed, they swoon.  When it is explained to them that marriage is when a woman becomes a man’s slave, they think the idea sounds heavenly. They all get married and live happily ever after.

I saw this movie a couple of times in the 1960s on the late show, and I liked it so much that I bought my very own copy on DVD.  I was looking forward to one of my favorite jokes in the movie, when Penn and Philbrick try to get telepathic control of one of the plant men.  The way I remember it, Penn says, “Focus on his eye.”

But as the eyes of the plant men are spaced really far apart, Philbrick asks, “Which one?”

“The one next to the carrot,” Penn replies.

Imagine my disappointment when I found it was not on the DVD.  Then I noticed that IMDb says that the television version is ten minutes longer than the theatrical version.

I guess I’ll have to wait for the director’s cut.

Children of Men (2006)

Although the movie Children of Men was released in 2006, and the novel on which it is based was published in 1992, it seems well-suited to tap into the anxieties of today:  the resurgence of fascism; the influx of immigrants having dark skin, especially those who are Muslims; and the declining birth rate of Caucasians, especially Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic Christians.  However, these three elements are disguised, for it would be unseemly to make them explicit.

The movie is set in the year 2027.   The United Kingdom is one of the few places left that has a functioning government.  Refugees pour in, fleeing war and starvation, even though it looks like the kind of country that under normal circumstances you would want to get out of.  The government has become a police state, while terrorist groups, like the one known as “The Fishes,” wreak havoc throughout the city.  And why, you ask, is the world in chaos?  It’s all because women stopped having babies 18 years earlier.

Come again?  Why would infertility cause a breakdown in society?  I could imagine people walking around, looking a little despondent at the thought that mankind would be extinct in less than a century, but why that would cause a dystopian world is a mystery.  The movie just plops that explanation before us as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  If anything, worldwide infertility would ease population pressures.  We already know that people who are single have a much easier time making a living than people who have children, so there is no reason to think there would be so much starvation.  It would be like the Malthusian principle in reverse.  Granted, things may get a little difficult in about 40 years, when everyone will be a senior citizen, but that would not explain the present situation.

The explanation for this incoherence was noted above.  It would not do to say that it was the white race that was suffering from infertility, while darker skinned refugees were breeding with abandon, which is what a lot of people really fear.  And so this is concealed by having it be the entire human race that has become infertile.  While this disguises the appeal to white angst, it does so at the expense of not making much sense, for the reasons given above.

Anyway, in the midst of all this, a woman named Kee turns up pregnant.  It is important that she is played by a black actress, Clare-Hope Ashitey.  Had a white actress played her part, the subliminal racist threat of a declining white population might have become too obvious to ignore.  In any event, she becomes a pawn in the struggle between the state and the terrorists.  As a result, there is all this running about trying to get possession of the baby, while Theo (Clive Owen) tries to get Kee to this place in the Azores where a group known as the Human Project has scientists who are trying to find a cure for this pandemic of infertility.  Before he can get her onto a ship named Tomorrow, she has the baby.  She had joked earlier that she was a virgin, but that was more than a joke.  We are supposed to regard her pregnancy as having religious significance.  We know this because when she gives birth, and at other times when there is a lot of emphasis on the baby, we hear heavenly background music.

I know that for some people, life is precious, but given the world this movie presents to us, it is hard to regard Kee’s pregnancy as a good thing.  Why would anyone want to perpetuate such misery?  A midwife named Miriam, who was taking care of Kee for a while, says that everything happens for a reason.  Well, looking at the misery and suffering that mankind has been reduced to, perhaps she is right.  The reason for the infertility is to put an end to the evil known as Homo sapiens.

Unfortunately, Kee makes it onto the ship that will take her to the Human Project, and as the credits roll, we hear the laughter of children in the background, suggesting that the cure for infertility will be found, thanks in part to women like Kee.  Of course, we have to ask ourselves, “Won’t these children grow up to be just like all those adults we have been watching kill each other for almost two hours?”  This little baby will grow up to be a terrorist; that little baby will grow up and become a member of the police force; and that other little baby over there will end up in a concentration camp.  Now, aren’t we glad the Human Project is going to succeed?

However, if this movie is an unconscious fear of the decreasing fertility of the white race, then we can interpret the Human Project as actually being the White Project, the idea being that if we can just get white people to start having more babies so as to outnumber those of darker skins, then Western civilization can be saved.

Contact (1997)

Long before I saw the movie Contact, I had known people who made some sort of connection between intelligent life on other planets and the existence of God.  It’s hard to say what that connection was exactly, because no one ever presented it as a valid argument, consisting of premises about extraterrestrial beings and ending with the conclusion that God exists.  No such argument was ever forthcoming, because it would have been palpably absurd on its face, even to those who were advancing it.  Instead, they just seemed to feel that the existence of aliens had religious significance, but they could never quite to bring themselves to spell it out.

Apparently, it was people just like that who made Contact.  The movie is mainly about making contact with extraterrestrials through the transmission of signals through space, but religious stuff keeps showing up, not because there is any logical connection between the two, but simply because people in the movie seem to feel that connection, even though that feeling never seems to rise to the level of coherent thought.  Mostly what we get is the association of ideas.

For example, Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, an astronomer.  When Ellie was a young girl, she had a ham radio.  At one point, she asks her father if she can contact her deceased mother through her radio.  And after her father dies, she tries to contact him through her radio.  So an association is made between radio transmissions and life after death.  We regard this as merely a child’s desperate hope of finding her parents again, which would be just fine as a stand-alone scene.  But further such childlike associations recur throughout the movie.

While listening for signals from outer space in Puerto Rico, she meets Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), who is an almost-priest whose spirituality expresses itself as a concern for human values that he believes are being jeopardized by technology.  Ellie and Palmer have sex, and in the afterglow, during a little pillow talk, he says:  “So I was lying there, just looking at the sky. And then I felt something. I don’t know. All I know is that I wasn’t alone. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t scared of nothing, not even dying. It was God.”

There it is in a nutshell:  He looks up at the sky; he has a feeling of the sublime; so there must be a God.

By this time in her life, Ellie has become an atheist, one of a long list of movie atheists destined to find God in the final reel.  She says, “And there’s no chance that you had this experience because some part of you needed to have it?”

Her remark is to the point, of course.  Most people have a religious need.  That need is satisfied by whatever their parents told them when they were children, and that suffices for life.  If they lose their faith in the teachings of childhood, their religious need will manifest itself in something else, sooner or later.  But some people have no religious need at all.  They simply quit believing whatever they were raised to believe, and nothing ever takes its place.  They look up at the sky, and all they see are stars.  If they think about life on other planets, it inspires no religious awe.

As a way of forestalling objections, Palmer says, “I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but this…. My intellect couldn’t even touch this.”  And that’s the end of that.  His epiphany transcended such things as reason and common sense, so it cannot be subjected to critical thought.

Later in the movie, when the world finds out that signals from the vicinity of the relatively close star Vega show signs of intelligent life, we are informed that attendance at religious services has risen.  And we see Robert Novak on Crossfire saying, “Even a scientist must admit there are some pretty serious religious overtones to all this.”

It would be tedious for me to object to every piece of poppycock in this movie, but I cannot let this one pass.  A lot of religious people believe that intelligent life on this planet can be explained only if there is a God.  Let us assume they are right.  In that case, there being another planet with intelligent life on it is no big deal.  What God did once, he could easily do again.  On the other hand, atheists believe that evolution can completely explain intelligent life on this planet.  Let us assume they are right.  In that case, evolution could produce intelligent life on another planet just as it did on this one.  In either event, one more planet is just one more planet.

Ellie and Palmer get into a debate about the existence of God.  She appeals to the principle of Occam’s razor:  “Occam’s Razor is a basic scientific principle which says: Things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be right. So what’s more likely? An all-powerful God created the universe, then decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or that he doesn’t exist at all, and that we created him so we wouldn’t feel so small and alone.”

Palmer says he would not want to live in a world where God does not exist.  Ellie, in turn, says she would need proof.  Palmer asks her if she can prove that her father loved her.  She is stumped.  I don’t know why, because all she has to do is apply Occam’s razor one more time.  Her father acted as though he loved her, and the simplest explanation for that is that he really did.  God, on the other hand, acts as though he doesn’t care.

Anyway, it turns out that the aliens have sent us schematics for building a transportation machine that will allow someone from Earth to visit that planet orbiting Vega.  After a lot of paranoid politics and neo-luddite terrorism, Ellie gets to go.  She zips through a wormhole and ends up in a world based on what is in her mind, memories of a beach in Pensacola and of her father.  The alien who has taken on the image of her father explains everything to her, how lots of civilizations from different planets have interacted this way.  Ellie wants to know why more people from Earth can’t see what she’s seen.  The alien answers, “This is the way it’s been done for billions of years.”

In other words, this advanced civilization does not ask why things have to be this way, and so Ellie shouldn’t ask why either.  We are not supposed to question the ways of the aliens just as we are not supposed to question the ways of God.

When Ellie gets back, it turns out that while she has been gone for eighteen hours by her time, only a split second has passed here on Earth.  This is the reverse of the usual twin paradox, in which more time passes for the people on Earth than it does for the astronaut traveling at speeds near that of light, but the reason for this anomaly soon becomes clear.  It is so that her story can be doubted.  Because she ostensibly was only gone for a split second, a lot people don’t believe her story about what happened.  In particular, Michael Kitz (James Woods), who is sort of the villain of the piece, calls her story into question.  He says she just hallucinated it, that the whole thing is a hoax.  He demands that Ellie produce proof, and she cannot.  He appeals to Occam’s razor, no less, and indignantly asks if we are supposed to accept her story on faith.

Now we know why this movie has the aliens demanding that just one person go on that trip to Vega instead of having the Vegans come to Earth.  It puts Ellie in the same position as someone who believes in God but cannot prove it.  Had the Vegans come to Earth, everyone would have seen them on television.  There would have been no doubt as to their existence.  But this way, the aliens leave no proof of their existence just as God has left no proof of his.  So all the objections earlier enunciated by Ellie about God are turned against her with respect to the aliens.  Ellie’s response to these objections harks back to the mystical experience Palmer had while stargazing, almost a beatific vision.

Since this is the way things have been done for billions of years, then here is the way it must have all begun.  There was this first ancient civilization, call it Civilization 1.  They discovered there was another civilization on another planet more primitive than their own, call it Civilization 2.  So, they decided to let exactly one person from Civilization 1 make physical contact with exactly one person from Civilization 2.  They knew that the one person so contacted would not be believed by most people from Civilization 2, except for those willing to take things on faith.  Why the people of Civilization 1 thought faith was important, we don’t know and never shall.  When Civilization 2 discovered a Civilization 3, exactly one person from among the faithful of Civilization 2 made physical contact with exactly one person from Civilization 3, and he was not believed by those of Civilization 3, except by those who have faith.  And they did it this way because that was the way Civilization 1 did it, and people of faith know they are not supposed to question why things are the way they are.  Then Civilization 3 did the same with Civilization 4, and so on and so on, until we get to our present civilization here on Earth.  And it all makes about as much sense as a religion in which God leaves no proof of his existence and then requires faith in him for salvation, without which one is condemned to the eternal fires of Hell.  Why God thinks faith is important, we don’t know and never shall.

For those who are inclined to infuse the existence of aliens from other planets with religious significance, this movie is for them.  For those who have no need of religion, this movie will make them feel like an alien from another planet.

Arrival (2016)

Linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has a baby girl, raises her through her childhood, and then suffers through the heartbreak of finding out that her daughter will die of an incurable disease at a young age.

Then twelve flying saucers land in different parts of the world.  People start panicking and governments begin mobilizing, which I suppose is only natural.  But let’s face it.  If they wanted to kill us, then given their advanced technology, there wouldn’t be anything we could do about it.  Be that as it may, because of Banks’ language skills, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) shows up in her office to enlist her in translating the language of the aliens.  Weber plays her a snippet of the aliens talking, which lasts just a few seconds, and he asks her what she makes of it, as if anyone could translate a completely alien language from such a small sample.  I was hoping her reply would be, “He said, ‘Take me to your leader.’”

Banks says she would have to interact with the aliens in person to be able to communicate with them.  Weber refuses and says he is going to Berkeley to see if Dr. Danvers will work for them instead.  Banks says, “Before you commit to him, ask him the Sanskrit word for war and its translation.”  Is this a trick question?  The translation of the Sanskrit word for war has to be “war”; otherwise, it’s not the Sanskrit word for war.  Presumably, she is talking about the etymology of that word, which is “gavisti,” rather than its translation.  In that sense, I suppose you could say that the “translation” of the Spanish word for pregnant is “embarrassed,” for example.  Anyway, the whole point of this is Banks’ way of letting them know that Danvers is second rate.  When Weber finds out that Danvers thinks the translation of “gavisti” is “an argument,” whereas Banks knows that it is actually “a desire for more cows,” Weber knows that he must give in to her demands to meet with the aliens.  Thank goodness Weber didn’t enlist Danvers for the job!  With his second-rate language skills, he might have caused an intergalactic incident.

On her way to the aliens in Montana, she meets Dr. Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist.  He quotes from the preface of one of her books, “Language is the foundation of civilization,” and then tells her she is wrong, because, as he puts it, “The cornerstone of civilization isn’t language, it’s science.”  I guess this is the movie’s way of introducing some kind of science-versus-the-humanities conflict into the story, but we cannot help but feel we are being manipulated into being on Banks’ side, for it is beyond obvious that you can have language without science, but you cannot have science without language.  And just in case we missed it, the point is further driven home when they arrive at the place where Banks is going to get some facetime with the aliens so she can learn how to speak Alienish.  Donnelly asks if the aliens have responded to things like Fibonacci numbers.  Weber has to point out to him that they are still working on the responses to the word “Hello.”

However, even Weber seems a little obtuse on this point.  He later complains that the vocabulary list that Banks has constructed has words like “eat” and “walk,” which he calls grade school words.  Didn’t he take a foreign language course when he was in school?  We all know that you have to start off with common words like “eat” and “walk” in the beginning, that you have to learn how to say things like, “Where is the library?” before you can start having complicated discussions about whether the aliens intend to kill us.  Once again, the movie forces us to identify with Banks, because everyone else in the movie seems to be a little bit thick.

Now, it seems to me that if the aliens have the technology to travel light-years across space, they have the technology to receive our television broadcasts, by which they could have learned to speak English before they ever got here.  But the problem with that, according to the movie’s version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, if the aliens learned to speak English, it would rewire their brains, and the next thing you know, they would become rational like us.  That would never do.  So, Banks has to learn Alienish, which will rewire her brain so that she can grasp the mystical premise of this movie, which has something to do with the Eternal-Now and the Oneness-of-Allness.  This is why, presumably, their written sentences are basically circles with curlicues.  Our sentences have a beginning and an end, but the circular expressions of their thoughts defy such a linear manner of thinking.  I guess you might call it circular reasoning.  Anyway, the practical consequence of this mystical premise is that the future has already happened.  In fact, the aliens are helping us now to become One with each other so that three thousand years later, we will help them.

Furthermore, what we saw at the beginning of the movie is actually what will happen later after she marries Donnelly, and all the flashbacks she was having about her daughter were really flashforwards.  In one of those flashforwards, she tells her daughter that Daddy became angry and said she made the wrong choice, after which he divorced her.  The choice in question had to do with her deciding to have a child even though she knew the child would die from a rare, incurable disease.  My guess is that he said something like, “Why the hell didn’t we go to a fertility clinic and get the bad gene removed?”  But that would just be the same old, rational, scientific, linear way of thinking that comes from speaking English.

Capricorn One (1977)

Shortly after we put a man on the moon, a conspiracy theory emerged that it never really happened, that the whole thing was filmed in the Arizona desert.  Say what you will about conspiracy theories, they can make the basis of some pretty good movies.  Capricorn One is just such an example.  Instead of the moon, the plot of this movie consists of an effort to fake a manned mission to Mars.  It seems that Congress is ready to cut NASA’s budget at the first opportunity, and when it turns out that the planned mission would fail, certain bigwigs at NASA decide to fake the Mars mission to keep that from happening.

Reluctantly, the three astronauts go along with the hoax, because the conspirators have threatened to kill their families if they don’t.  Elliot Whitter (Robert Walden), a technician at mission control, figures out that the television signals are really coming from somewhere on Earth, about three hundred miles away.  He tells his superiors, but as they are in on the conspiracy, they tell him not to worry about it, but it is clear that they are worried about him.  He tells his friend Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) about the signals one night over a game of pool.  Just then, Caulfield is called to the telephone, which allows some henchmen to spirit Whitter away.

Subsequently, the computer simulation of a spaceship returning from Mars shows that the module lost its heat shield on its return to Earth, which would mean the death of the three astronauts.  They realize that the conspirators will try to kill them to cover things up.  They escape and steal the jet that took them to their isolated location.  However, they run out of fuel and have to land in the middle of a desert.  When they get out of the jet, one of them delivers the greatest line of the movie:  “It looks like we’re on Mars.”  The rest of the movie is about Caulfield’s attempt to figure out what is going on and the astronauts’ attempt to escape, until the two stories merge when Caulfield saves the only surviving astronaut, Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), the two of them blowing the conspiracy wide open when they show up at Brubaker’s funeral.

As good as this movie is, it has the two unfortunate and unnecessary flaws that plague most conspiracy theory movies:  there are too many conspirators, and they overdo their efforts to control what happens.  In this movie, when Whitter disappears, Caulfield goes to his apartment, which he has been to many times before over the years.  When he arrives, there is a woman pretending that she is the occupant of the apartment and that she knows nothing about Whitter.  The apartment has been completely redecorated and refurnished, and there are stacks of magazines addressed to this woman.

This is totally absurd.  The simplest thing to do would be to just let Caulfield go to the apartment and find that no one is home.  Sure, he could report his friend’s disappearance to Missing Persons, but people go missing all the time.  There would have been no need to include that woman as part of the conspiracy, not to mention all the people needed to completely renovate the apartment.  Oh, and the people in the leasing office are part of the conspiracy too, because they show him rental receipts from her for over a year.  And the personnel department at NASA is in on it too, because they say they have no record of Whitter ever working there, and they have never heard of him.

By letting Caulfield knock on the door and find that no one is home, nothing would have been lost but the absurdity.  He could still have continued to investigate based on Whitter’s remark at the pool table.  Moreover, the woman in the apartment claiming to be the tenant and the scrubbed records in the personnel department at NASA only confirm that something insidious is going on, thereby guaranteeing that Caulfield will start investigating; whereas if Whitter had merely disappeared, Caulfield might have shrugged the whole thing off.

During the time that Caulfield was at Whitter’s apartment, the conspirators were busy sabotaging his automobile.  Said sabotage consisted of causing his car to suddenly accelerate after he is on the road for a while.  When this happens, the brakes fail, the gearshift disengages, and the ignition switch comes loose.  Boy, did those mechanics work fast!  Miraculously, Caulfield survives when his car gets to a raised drawbridge, causing him to plunge into the river.

Now, there must be easier ways to assassinate a pesky reporter than by sabotaging his car.  I would have shot him with a silencer when he entered Whitter’s apartment and just left the body there.  Maybe Whitter would have been blamed for the murder.  In any event, if they were going to kill Caulfield anyway, what was the point of the elaborate charade with the woman in the apartment, the leasing office, and the personnel department?

But why kill Caulfield at all?  In fact, why kill Whitter?  If the conspirators had managed to successfully kill the three astronauts, the signals Whitter was concerned about could have been dismissed as a computer malfunction.  And if he persisted with his story, most people would laugh him off as some goofball who is into conspiracy theories.

I said that there was an easier way to get rid of a pesky reporter, and that is by shooting him.  That apparently occurs to the conspirators too.  Brubaker tried to give his wife (Brenda Vaccaro) a secret message while pretending to be on his way back to Earth, indirectly referring to a town called Flatrock, which features a movie set for making Westerns.  In other words, it is fake, just like the Mars landing.  When Caulfield drives out to Flatrock, the conspirators, who apparently followed him, try to shoot him.  Now, the place looks deserted, so the conspirators could have just walked up to him and put a bullet in his brain and then driven off without any witnesses, but they fire a couple of shots at him from a distance and then drive off without finishing the job.

But we’re not through.  Now some Drug Enforcement Agents that are also in on the conspiracy plant some cocaine in Caulfield’s apartment and arrest him for possession.  I guess they figured that since they couldn’t kill him they would settle for locking him up.  Of course, he gets out on bond, but I suppose they didn’t count on that.

All right, so this movie is not realistic, if by “realistic” we mean the sort of thing that could actually happen.  But it is realistic in the sense that it matches the outlandish imaginings of people that espouse conspiracy theories, such as the one that we faked the moon landing.

Ex Machina (2014) and Westworld (2016- )

The problem of other minds was already a perennial problem of philosophy long before anyone even thought about robots.  The only conscious mind each person is sure of is his own.  We naturally attribute consciousness to others by instinct, and the rational justification of such attribution is that similar causes produce similar effects:  other people are like us in matter and form, in what we are made of and how we are structured, so it is only reasonable to expect that other people will be conscious beings and not mindless automata.  Most of us attribute consciousness to animals, but as animals become further removed from us, the analogy to ourselves weakens and our willingness to attribute consciousness weakens likewise.  Many have doubts about protozoa, for instance.

Robots are increasingly being made in a way that stimulates our analogical inference to consciousness.  We already use figures of speech that attribute consciousness to inanimate objects like computers:  personification, when we say the computer is thinking; apostrophe, when we yell at the computer for taking too long.  So when robots are given human form, including eyes and facial expressions, the tendency to take these figures of speech literally becomes irresistible.  And yet, we wonder if the analogy is just superficial.  After all, they are not made from the same stuff that we are made of, and they are not put together the same way we are.

When the movie Ex Machina begins, Caleb, a computer programmer, wins a chance to spend a week with Nathan, the CEO of the company he works for.  Caleb finds out that Nathan has constructed a robot named Ava who is so humanlike that we naturally believe she is conscious.  Of course, a human actress plays the part of Ava, so we in the audience are bound to think so.  In fact, we have to be convinced that she is a robot, for which purpose she is deliberately constructed so as to show off her mechanical parts.  Were it not for these obvious robot features, Caleb himself might wonder if Ava is just some woman trying to fool him into thinking she is a robot.  By way of contrast, in the television series Westworld (2016- ), the robots, referred to as “hosts,” are designed to entertain the human “guests,” for which purpose they must appear to be human.  To make it believable that they are not, we are shown scenes of their manufacture.

Another difference between these two shows is that whereas Ava of Ex Machina is electronic, with synthetic material used to create a human appearance for her, the hosts of Westworld seem to be more flesh-androids than robots, in that we suspect that protoplasm is used to make them.  To the extent that organic material is used to construct them, we are naturally more likely to infer consciousness, according to the principle mention above that from similar causes we expect similar effects.

Anyway, Caleb’s job in Ex Machina is to perform a Turing test, which a computer or robot must pass in order to qualify for having true artificial intelligence.  The idea is that if a human cannot tell when he is interacting with another human and when he is interacting with a machine, then the machine has passed the test.  Caleb jumps to the conclusion that if the robot can pass the test, then the robot has consciousness, and Nathan implicitly agrees with that inference.

Some people believe that intelligence implies consciousness and conversely, but neither one implies the other at all.  It may be that no matter how advanced robots become, they will still be automata without any consciousness at all, no matter how many times they pass the Turing test.  In Westworld, on the other hand, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) says that in the early days of manufacturing the robotic hosts, his partner Arnold was not satisfied with the fact that the hosts could pass the Turing test.  He wanted them to be conscious as well.  So it is clear that in this series, passing the Turing test is not regarded as a sufficient condition for consciousness.  There is almost the suggestion that passing the Turing test is a necessary condition for consciousness, but that cannot be right.  Chimpanzees are presumably conscious, but they would fail a Turing test.

In any event, Ex Machina equates intelligence with consciousness, so we shall let it go with that.  The main thing is that in talking to Ava, Caleb falls in love with her.  When he finds out that Nathan intends to reprogram her, wiping out her memory, he is alarmed, for memory is essential to the survival of our person.  As Leibniz once said, if you tell me that when I die, I will be immediately reborn in another body, but I will have no memory of my present life, then you might as well tell me that when I die, another person will be born.  Nathan plans to keep Ava’s body, but in destroying her memory, he will effectively be killing her.

Memory and the absence of such also play an important role in Westworld.  Unlike the original movie made in 1973, where the robots, especially the gunslinger played by Yul Brynner, are villains, in the television series, the hosts are victims.  They are raped, forced to witness the murder of their loved ones, and are murdered themselves.  The humans running Westworld, as well as the guests, feel no compunction about what is done to these hosts, in part because it is never really clear whether the hosts are conscious or not, but mostly because their memories are supposedly wiped clean after such abuse, as if that would negate their victimization.

Returning to Ex Machina, Caleb plots to help Ava escape.  At this point, I thought the movie would turn out in one of two possible ways.  My first possible plot was that the movie would become an adventure story, in which Caleb and Ava try to make their way through the forests and mountains with the very athletic and brilliant Nathan in pursuit.  They would eventually escape and live happily ever after.  The second possible plot, the one I was hoping for, was that just as they were about to escape, Nathan would tell Caleb that because he obviously regards Ava as a person, since he loves her and is trying to save her from death, then she has passed the Turing test big time.  Then he announces he never planned on wiping out her memory, so if Ava and Caleb want to get married and live happily ever after, that is fine with him.  He will simply begin working on a newer model tomorrow.

I can’t believe I did not anticipate the real ending.  After all, have I not watched every film noir that has ever been made?  How could I have missed the fact that Ava is the ultimate femme fatale, more ruthless than any of those played by Jane Greer, Joan Bennett, or Barbara Stanwyck?  She not only kills Nathan with the help of another female robot, but she also locks Caleb in the house where he will eventually die and blithely walks away to board the prearranged helicopter to take her to the city.

Perhaps even more unnerving is the way she smiles after she has locked Caleb in the house, and again when she makes it to the city and stands on a street corner watching people come and go.  In old movies, robots were typically mirthless, perhaps because we supposed that robots might have thoughts and sense perception but not emotions, especially not positive ones.  Increasingly, however, robots are portrayed as having the full range of human affect.  As for Ava in particular, any smiles made before her escape could be dismissed as part of her deceitfulness.  But these smiles occur when she has no need to manipulate anyone, and they are smiles that evince genuine delight and happiness.  It is that smile, more than her intelligence, that makes us believe she is conscious.

Ex Machina is a movie, which means that in just under two hours, the story came to an end, an end that the writer and director, Alex Garland, definitely had in mind from the outset.  Westworld, on the other hand, is a television series, whose end is not yet at hand.  So far, it is fun pulling for the robots for a change, and it is interesting the way this show raises all sorts of existential questions.  But I am only halfway through the first season, and I am starting to have misgivings.  If this were a movie or even just a miniseries, the revolt of the robots would be enough.  But since this is a television series, intended to go on for several seasons, there are all sorts of subplots and superplots, not the least of which is the one involving the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his quest to solve the mystery of the maze.  As I watched this show, willingly allowing myself to be pulled into the story, I began having misgivings.  It reminded me of something.

What it reminded me of was Lost (2004-2010).  There too I was pulled into the mystery.  For five seasons I watched and was fascinated.  And then, in the sixth season, it became clear that throughout the show, the writers were just winging it, making stuff up as they went along, with no idea how it would all end.  As long as the ratings held up, they just went from season to season, adding on more stuff. But when it finally came time to wrap things up, all we got was a bunch of New Age nonsense.  All the pleasure I had experienced in watching this show was ruined in retrospect.

I could not get the thought out of my mind, so I looked up both shows on IMDb.  It appears that J.J. Abrams, one of the creators of Lost, is an executive producer of Westworld.  I don’t know how much to make of that connection.  All I can say is that I hope that the writers of Westworld already know how all the mysteries of this show will ultimately be resolved into a neat and satisfying end, and that they will not pull another Lost on us.

The Hidden (1987)

The Hidden could never have been a great science fiction movie on a par with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Star Wars (1977), but as most science fiction movies go, this one could have been something really special in its own small way.  Unfortunately, the producers of this movie did not have the guts to carry things out to their logical conclusion, but pulled back to something they felt would be safe. Big mistake.

FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) enlists the aid of local cop Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) to hunt for a succession of people connected to a bunch of strange murders.  As Gallagher knows, but Beck does not, they are pursuing an alien from another planet that takes over human bodies, and when they manage to pump one so full of bullet holes that it can barely function, it leaves that body and takes over another.  During the transfer, the human body opens its mouth, and a large, disgusting parasite that looks part slug and part insect comes out and enters into the mouth of its new host.  As the alien moves from one host to another, it really seems to enjoy the pleasures afforded it by dwelling inside a human:  it likes fast cars, rock music, and sex.  Its big crimes, however, are motivated by a desire for money and power.

Eventually, it turns out that Gallagher is actually an alien cop from the same planet as the alien they are pursuing.  After coming to Earth, he took over a human body that was going to die anyway.  Just as he and Beck finally manage to destroy the bad alien, Beck suffers fatal bullet wounds.  But Gallagher has met Beck’s wife and daughter, whom he likes, and having lost his own wife at the hands of his nemesis, he decides to take over Beck’s body just as Beck is about to breathe his last.  But when he opens his mouth, we see no parasite emerge, but only a golden beam of light leaving him and entering Beck’s mouth.  When the doctor enters the room, along with Beck’s wife and child, they find that Gallagher has died and Beck has seemingly made a miraculous recovery.

Imagine how great it would have been if Gallagher had opened his mouth and, instead of that beam of light, another disgusting parasite had come out and entered into Beck’s mouth.  We would have been forced to think that something that looks like a combination slug-insect could be good, decent, and kind.

It is standard in science fiction movies that good aliens look like humans, usually with frail bodies, slightly larger craniums, and big eyes.  But if the aliens look like insects, then we know they are evil and must be destroyed.

This movie could have split those alien stereotypes wide open, making us accept what we should have known all along, that someone who is ugly may nevertheless be a nice person to know.  But the producers of this movie had a failure of nerve.  Sure, we can assume that Gallagher and his nemesis were of two different species.  We can make up any story we want.  But the result will still be the same.  The minute Gallagher opened his mouth and a beam of yellow light came out instead, this movie became second rate.

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

Invasion of the Star Creatures is a low-budget spoof of equally low-budget science fiction films.  Just to make sure everyone is in on the joke, the credits open with, “R.I. Diculous Presents An Impossible Picture.”  It is filled with silly situations and corny jokes, but it is rather amusing, if you are in the mood for this sort of thing.

On an army missile base, Private Philbrick and Private Penn are normally in charge of such things as washing the garbage cans, but are assigned by Colonel Awol to be part of a team investigating a cave that opened up as the result of a nuclear test explosion.  The team discovers seven-foot-tall plant-like extraterrestrials, sort of like the alien in The Thing from Another World (1951).  However, these plant creatures are just slaves, their masters being two tall, beautiful women, reminiscent of movies like Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and Queen of Outer Space (1958).

The two privates are captured by the vegetable monsters and brought before the two women, Professor Tanga and Dr. Puna.  Philbrick wonders aloud what Space Commander Connors would do, an allusion to such radio and television characters as Captain Video and Captain Midnight, or the television show Space Patrol (1950-55).  The women tell Penn and Philbrick they plan to return to their planet, after which Earth will be invaded and conquered.  Then they show the privates the room where they grow the plant men.  We see flower pots, most of which have a hand sticking up out of them.  When they prepare to leave the room, Philbrick says goodbye to the plant hands, one of which waves bye-bye.

Although there are warrior men back on their planet, the women don’t seem to know anything about love, so Philbrick teaches Dr. Puna what “kiss” means. She swoons, allowing Penn and Philbrick to escape.  They return to base and tell Colonel Awol that he must stop the spaceship from blasting off.  Awol does not believe them and orders them to be thrown into the guardhouse, assuming them to be drunk.  But when Philbrick swears on his Space Commander Connors’ secret ring, Awol asks to see the ring.  When Philbrick shows it to him, Awol shows Philbrick his.  They utter the secret code words and do the hand signal.  Then they discover they both belong to the same stellar squadron, and it turns out that whereas that Awol is only a junior flight leader, Philbrick is a senior flight leader, which means Philbrick is now in command.

The three of them head back to the cave.  Penn says the three of them will not be enough to stop the space broads from taking off.  Just then, a bunch of Indians come along, whereupon it turns out that they also are members of Space Commander Connors’ flight squadron, only one of the Indians is General flight leader, and proves it with a badge pinned to his bare chest.  So now, the Indian is in command.

But they all have a pow wow, during which the Indians and the colonel get drunk.  Penn and Philbrick go back to the cave and manage to blast the rocket ship off into space, marooning the two women.  But Dr. Puna gets Penn to teach Professor Tanga what “kiss” means.  They all get married and live happily ever after.

I saw this movie a couple of times in the 1960s on the late show, and I liked it so much that I bought my own copy on DVD recently.  I was looking forward to one of my favorite jokes in the movie, when Penn and Philbrick try to get telepathic control of one of the plant men.  The way I remember it, Penn says, “Focus on his eye.”

But as the eyes of the plant men are spaced really far apart, Philbrick asks, “Which one?”

“The one next to the carrot,” Penn replies.

Imagine my disappointment when I found it was not on the DVD.  Then I noticed that IMDb says that the television version is ten minutes longer than the theatrical version.

I guess I’ll have to wait for the director’s cut.

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green is more interesting as a futuristic milieu than as a story.  From a 1973 perspective, the movie imagines the world in 2022, where the temperature is stifling owing to the greenhouse effect, and where overpopulation has reached critical proportions.  Only the very rich and well-connected eat what for us is ordinary food, while the vast majority must eat crackers of different colors indicating their quality, with green being the most desirable because it is the most nutritious.  Even water is rationed.

There are film noir elements in this movie.  Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) is basically a good cop, but when investigating the crime scenes of rich victims, he does a little looting, mostly taking items of food, like beefsteak, vegetables, and liquor, and he also helps himself to whatever prostitute, referred to as “furniture,” happens to be attached to the luxury apartment.

Whereas today, a science fiction movie must display the latest in special effects, such as CGI and 3D, this movie effectively creates its world without recourse to anything but ordinary photography.  We see Thorn having to struggle to walk up the steps to his apartment, because there are so many people sleeping on the stairs.  Later, when a riot starts because there is a shortage of Soylent Green wafers, we see dump trucks called “scoops” being used to remove people from the streets.

As for the plot, Thorn investigates the murder of Simonson (Joseph Cotton), which he suspects is an assassination.  Thorn’s assistant, referred to as a “book,” on account of his ability to do research on old written material, is Sol (Edward G. Robinson).  Sol learns a terrible secret and decides to end it all by going to a euthanasia center, where he gets to look at scenes of nature as it once was and listen to beautiful music for twenty minutes before dying from some concoction he imbibed.  Before dying, he tells Thorn that the plankton used to make Soylent Green is disappearing from the oceans.  As a substitute for the loss of plankton, people that die are secretly processed and turned into the Soylent Green wafers.

The problem with the story described thus far is that it never gets past the ick factor.  Rich men are obnoxious, and we resent the way they are so privileged and arrogant.  The image of old people walking into euthanasia centers to end their lives is creepy.  And the use of human flesh to make edible wafers is disturbing.  Setting aside the fact that cannibalism can lead to the transmission of abnormal prions as in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the main objection to using human flesh for consumption is that the idea of it is repulsive.  But in a world that is overpopulated and in which there is a food shortage, such a solution may actually be rational.  After all, we are not talking about the kind of cannibalism where we have a bunch of savages standing around a pot with a missionary in it.  The people being turned into food either died naturally or, in the case of the euthanasia centers, voluntarily.  So, the worst you can say about such a world is that it makes us feel a little queasy.

Nevertheless, the movie should have simply ended with this revelation about Soylent Green.  Instead, in an apparent effort to make the whole business more insidious, Thorn tells his supervisor, “They’re making our food out of people.  Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle.”  Unfortunately, this line, which is supposed to make us even more horrified by what is going on, only makes us groan at its absurdity.  In a world where there are too many people, it makes no sense to breed more.  You just eat the ones you have.  Furthermore, according to my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations, you would have to feed people at least five times as much protein to raise them as you would get out of them once you brought them to slaughter.  Because this idea of breeding people is illogical, it turns what would have been a believable, pessimistic vision of the future into something so silly we can only snort with contempt.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Faith Domergue had a cold beauty that made her suitable as female scientist, Professor Leslie Joyce, in It Came from Beneath the Sea.  It also helped that she was a brunette.  The stereotype of the cold, hard scientist whose intellect does not allow itself to be swayed by mere sentiment and feeling was especially prevalent in the old science fiction movies, and thus a beautiful female scientist constituted a special challenge for a macho leading man, used to having his way with women.

In this movie, said macho leading man is Commander Pete Mathews, played by Kenneth Tobey.  Tobey already had experience as Captain Patrick Hendry in The Thing from Another World (1951) breaking down the resistance of science assistant Nikki (Margaret Sheridan), who is referred to as a “pinup girl,” so you might think things would be a little easier for him in this film; but then, Faith Domergue also had experience playing the beautiful, cold scientist, Dr. Ruth Adams, resisting the charms of Rex Reason playing Dr. Cal Meacham in This Island Earth (1955), so I guess that made them even.

A lot of old movies are sexist by twenty-first century standards, but science fiction movies from the 1950s, with their inevitable beautiful female scientists, often have a feminist theme in them, pushing back against that sexism.  As a result, the message tends to be mixed, with the movie expressing a sexist attitude one minute and a feminist attitude the next.  For example, in Rocketship X-M (1950), Dr. Lisa Van Horn is a female scientist who is going to be part of a crew on the title spaceship.  Much is made of her qualifications. But then, when it comes time for the astronauts to secure themselves for blastoff, we see that the men can easily strap themselves in, but one of the men has to strap Lisa in.  This strange combination of sexism and feminism is especially flagrant in It Came from Beneath the Sea.

Joyce’s colleague is Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis).  Other than when first names are being used, he is always addressed as Dr. Carter, never as Mr. Carter, but while Joyce is frequently referred to as Professor Joyce, she is often addressed as Miss Joyce as well, presumably because her status as a nubile maiden takes precedence over her professional qualifications.  They have both been called in to investigate a hunk of mysterious substance that got caught in the diving plane of Mathews’ submarine.  After an initial inspection, however, Joyce is not willing to spend any more time studying the specimen, because she has more important matters needing her attention elsewhere.  In other words, she is just as hard to get as a scientist as she is as a woman.  However, her expertise in marine biology makes her indispensable, and she is forced to continue with the investigation.

Of course, once Mathews has seen what Joyce looks like without her protective radiation suit on, he is especially glad she will be forced to continue on, and he wastes little time making his moves on her.  He wants to know if there is anything going on between her and Carter. “Oh, you mean romance,”  she says, as she picks up a foot-long test tube.  While gently holding this scientific prop with phallic significance, she teases him about the lack of women aboard a submarine, but she refuses to say whether there is anything between her and Carter.  Later, when Joyce definitively determines the nature of the substance, Carter kisses her on the cheek, and then she nestles in his arms as Mathews calls Naval Intelligence.  If they were actually involved romantically, this would not be so strange.  But they are not.  As a result, we once again get that strange mixture of feminism and sexism:  on the one hand, she is the expert in her field and has found the solution; on the other hand, she is a pretty girl that men just naturally kiss and hold in their arms, even when that man is a colleague in a professional setting.

Anyway, the substance turns out to be a piece from a giant octopus.  The octopus has been exposed to a lot of radiation owing to tests of the hydrogen bomb.  Radiation did not make the octopus big as it did the title character in The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) or the ants in Them! (1954), because this octopus has always been big.  However, the fish it was used to eating have natural Geiger counters in them that make them avoid the octopus, forcing it to leave its natural habitat and seek food elsewhere.  It is amazing what lengths these 1950s movies would go to in order to make radiation the cause of whatever monster they had to deal with.

Joyce and Mathews are somewhat contemptuous of each other’s profession.  She says to Mathews, “my mind just isn’t attuned to discuss things on your level, Commander.”  Later, hearing that Joyce and Carter will be meeting in Cairo to investigate the sinking nature of the coast of the Red Sea, Mathews says to Carter, “Sounds ideal.”  When Carter refers to it as mixing work with pleasure, Mathews responds, “Work?  Oh yes, that is your work, isn’t it?”

On their last night in Pearl Harbor, they all decide to have dinner together at a restaurant.  Mathews is bossy, practically pulling Joyce out of her chair while announcing they are going to dance and even telling Carter to order her a steak.  She refuses to dance, says she does not want a steak, and sits back down.  But she agrees to his suggestion of lobster and finally agrees to dance with him.  While discussing the weather in Hawaii, which is always balmy, she says she likes the winter and the snow, which naturally suggest frigidity on her part.  At first, we think that Mathews is going to try to kiss her, but she moves her head forward and kisses him instead, and then puts her arms around him.  So, contrary to appearances, she is a sexually aggressive woman.  Then they return to the table and have their meal.  When Mathews realizes that Joyce still intends to go to Cairo, he is shocked.  Presumably, he thought that since they kissed, she was going to give up all this foolishness about a career, marry him, and have babies.  He leaves in a huff.

Their plans to go to Cairo, however, are foiled by the occurrence of another incident.  It seems a tramp steamer has disappeared at sea, and Admiral Norman has rescinded their release so they can investigate to see if there is any connection to the previous one with Mathews’ submarine.  Fortunately, they find a few survivors.  In order to get the facts, a doctor examines them.  After the first survivor tells his story, in which it is clear that the giant octopus attacked the ship, the doctor indicates that he does not believe him, starts humoring him, and tells him in an ominous manner that he is to be taken down the hall to talk to another doctor about what he thinks he has seen.  The other three survivors are not fools.  They realize the other doctor is a psychiatrist and that their mate is likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill and confined to an insane asylum.  So, they deny having seen anything.  They are given lie-detector tests, which show that they are lying when they deny having seen anything.  And then the first survivor recants his story so that he can be released from the infirmary.  Mathews and the other officers are exasperated and just don’t understand why they can’t get the truth out of these guys.

Professor Joyce rises to the occasion.  Removing her coat so as to expose a little more of her soft, warm flesh, she tells the officers she will talk to the first survivor when he is released, and then contrives to be alone with him in a room.  Using her womanly wiles—giving him sexy looks, touching his hand, showing a little leg—she gets the man to admit he saw the sea monster, which the officers hear through the intercom.  So, you see, that’s why we need female scientists, because they have special ways of getting to the truth.

Mathews and Joyce decide to investigate reports of poor fishing along the northwest coast, because it may be that the octopus has been eating all the fish.  They spot what might be called an octopus footprint on the beach and they send for Carter.  Meanwhile, they decide to check out the fish population in the area, which they do by putting on the swim suits they just happened to have with them.  No fish, so they do a little hot necking on the beach.

When Carter arrives with the deputy sheriff, Mathews asks Carter to help him persuade Joyce to leave and let the Navy take over the job.  When Carter asks what Joyce has to say about that, Mathews responds, “What’s the difference what she says?”  At that point, Carter proceeds to lecture Mathews about women:  “There’s a whole new breed who feel they’re just as smart and just as courageous as men.  And they are.  They don’t like to be overprotected. They don’t like to have their initiative taken away from them.”

Joyce picks up the argument:  “A, you’d want me to miss the opportunity to see this specimen, one that may never come again. B, you’d be making up my mind for me. And C, I not only don’t like being pushed around, but you underestimate my ability to help in a crisis.”  Carter says that he is entirely on her side, as she nestles into the arm her puts around her.  Mathews concedes to having lost the argument.

Suddenly, the octopus appears and kills the deputy, causing Joyce to scream like a girl.

The octopus starts wreaking havoc on San Francisco, Mathews and Carter take turns saving each other’s lives, during which Joyce screams again, finding solace first in Carter’s arms and then Mathews’, until at last the octopus is killed.

They have dinner again.  Mathews, noting that women can change, says he wants Joyce to marry him and start a family.  She says she hasn’t time for that, indicating that she is an independent, career-minded woman, who wants nothing to do with a life of domesticity.  But then she offers to collaborate with him on a book, How to Catch a Sea Beast, a title that lends itself to more than one meaning, inasmuch as Mathews, as captain of a submarine, is something of a sea beast himself.  From this we gather that her ultimate goal is to trap a man.