Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Val Guest's Quatermass 2 (1957)

Old school science fiction's fun. I have a small magnet on my fridge from a pest control company with a large termite looming in the shadows, Cloverfield-style. I believe the fear that it attempts to instill in me is the severe reduction in value that the little critters will bring to my home in a dwindling economic market, rather than the fear of a large horde of mutated insects coming to destroy my home, my neighborhood, the state, and the world in a quest for world domination. Old school science fiction also has the wonderfully ironic addition of the absence of any modern technology: no cell phones, laptops, fax machines, or readily-accessible and on every street corner, weapons of mass destruction. Almost all technology comes from the imagination: super-groovy radars that monitor the atmosphere for meteors, one-button rocket panels, and Darth Vader-ish radiation outfits. Old school science fiction is full of fear and speculation, primarily of a growing dependence on technology and also of unknown outerspace. In the Nigel Kneale penned and Val Guest directed Quatermass 2 (1957), those fears are real. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) uncovers an alien invasion in the British countryside and attempts to expose the situation and cure it. However, from the local village folk to London, he is met with contempt and derision. Quatermass is seemingly alone in his quest; no one wants to acknowledge that there's a problem and deal with it. I'm so grateful that that problem doesn't exist today. Quatermass 2 is a gem from the early days Hammer studios, based upon Nigel Kneale's BBC serials of the same name.Quatermass 2 opens with a couple rushing to get help. A young woman's beau has been infected by the gas seeping from a rock that fell out the sky. Meanwhile, Quatermass is huffing and puffing with anger: his rocket project funding has been cut off. No trips to outer space for anyone anytime soon. That's okay, because the visitors are coming to Earth and they're taking over with the not-so-subtle use of mind control. An entire village has been reduced to rubble while a large man-made metal structure looms over countryside. Supposedly it's for food production, but Quatermass knows better. His biggest enemy in his quest to save the world from alien invasion is government bureaucracy and local mob mentality. Val Guest's direction is more suitable for the stage rather than the screen, although Quatermass 2 does have its visual flourishes. The large metal outpost is shot effectively as imposing and looming in wide angles. The best scenes are within those walls. When Quatermass is able to convince someone in the government to do an impromptu inspection of the plant, Guest is able to make the modern-looking steelworks appear completely alien. Kneale's screenplay reflects that attitude: humankind's quest to destroy itself through a seriously advanced chronological jump in technology. The local villagers want to keep hush about the situation at the plant, because it's their source of economic viability. It isn't until that it's revealed that the occupants of the plant want to kill them that the villagers are willing to do anything about it.
The performances are all good and predate modern method-acting. The artificiality of the acting and the visual style can be annoying to modern viewers, but I'm quite a fan of cinema of old. I'm also a huge fan of Hammer films, so expect to see more on these pages. Quatermass 2 is certainly campy. John Carpenter channeled this vibe in the eighties with his wonderful They Live (1988) and Prince of Darkness (1987). In fact, if you substituted the seriousness of Quatermass 2 with spoof, then it would become a perfect episode of South Park. However, regardless of the era, Quatermass 2 will always be fun, because good science fiction always says something about humanity. What it says doesn't change, just when we are willing to recognize it.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Refrigerator magnets displaying large termites looming in the darkness are large and in charge.