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The Green Slime

Year: 1968
Studio: MGM
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Bill Finger/Ivan Reiner/Tom Rowe/Charles Sinclair
Cast: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi

When I wrote my official review of Plan 9 From Outer Space, I imagined the cemetry UFO landing directed by Spielberg, the horror make-up by Tom Savini or Peter Jackson, the police dialouge by Martin Scorsese or the soundtrack by Tarantino.

What's generally believed to be the gold standard among movies that are so bad they're great could have been a sci-fi horror epic for the ages if only for the talent and resources involved (it's a strange claim to make and this review isn't the place to make a case for it, but Wood might have only been plauged by a lack of resources in his career rather than a lack of talent).

Aside from any skill (or lack thereorf) involved, few genres show their age more obviously than sci-fi with its alien planets, spaceships, epic battles and creatures, and it's seldom more visible than in The Green Slime.

Because if you consider the alternate universe where Spielberg or Cameron directed Wood's lambasted turkey or you pay attention to one of your likely responses to this movie – how cool it could be if remade today – it proves that sci-fi's strongest suit has never been about creatures, make-up or ray guns but ideas.

And the premise of The Green Slime, though some might consider it bogged down by the technoloigical constraints of the era, has the potential to be a solid and entertaining movie today just as much as it did in 1968.

A gigantic asteroid is heading for Earth and the United Nations Space Command tasks decorated astronaut Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) to lead the expedition to destroy it. His job is to rendezvous with the Gamma 3, an orbiting space station commanded by former-friend-turned-romantic-rival Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), assemble a crew, fly a rocket to the asteroid and plant explosives to detonate it with only minutes to spare. It's easy to point fingers at Michael Bay for ripping the idea off for Armageddon, but to be fair it's a pretty universal sci-fi idea.

In their haste, they don't take much notice of the strange, bubbling jelly-like substance they see dotted across the rocky surface, but when a globule of it sticks to one of their suits and comes aboard after the mission, the slime hits the fan.

Alternately portrayed using grape Jello, gluggy water with food colouring in it and dodgy animation, the slime mutates into a five foot creature with wobbly arms, pincer-like fingers, one baleful red eye in the middle of a mouth shape on the front of the head, a series of eyes dotted across the chin and a body which makes it look like a cross between a half eaten burrito and a turd.

The creature has a distinctive whine that would make a great ringtone for a film geek, reproduces quickly and feeds off the ship's power supply. After the initial attack Gamma 3 soon finds itself overrun with them, and it's up to Jack, Vince and the girlfriend between them, head nurse Lisa (Lucianna Paluzzi) to organise the saving of the day with nothing but their fraught relationships, ray gun rifles and square jaws.

Though it's easy to laugh at, if you know anything about film history you'll appreciate the hand crafted quality of it all. Wide shots of spaceships and planets with matte painting backgrounds are all miniatures (the smoke from the hobby shop rocket boosters of various craft or explosions duly trail upwards, even in deep space), and the asteroid scenes looked like the production borrowed the Star Trek sound stages next door while thair crew was off at lunch, a few metres of fibreglass rocks and a starfield painted on the back wall.

Of course it was thousands of miles from the Paramount sound stages where they made Star Trek. The entire thing was filmed entirely in Japan with a Japanese director, part of the coproduction deal between MGM and Toei Studios (which is still going, its most recent Hollywood collaboration was the Power Rangers reboot). If you want even deeper geek trivia, it was co-written by Bill Finger, who invented the character of Batman along with artist Bob Kane.

It's rollicking good fun with no pretensions above simple pulp. Depending on your point of view you can point and laugh at the bad editing, 60s era ideas of how we'd dress in the far future and most of all, the creature designs that sit somewhere between audacious and ridiculous, or you can enjoy the craftsmanship.

It's also kind of an anachronism, emblematic of much earlier movies from MGM and the other grand studios of the golden era. A year after the movie brats were emerging and (as we know looking back) the business was being upended by movies like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider, this was a throwback to Old Hollywood. The heroes were iron-jawed, can-do, protestant and white and even the marketing reminds you more of the 50s sci-fi era of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. The poster features the skin tight space-suited bombshell leading lady in the clutches of the dastardly creature, none of which happens in the film.

It seems they made one concession to the changing social mores of the time. Where it might have had a comically bombastic orchestral score in earier years, the opening titles are accompanied by a psychadelic rock tune about the titular substance.

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