Sunday, 26 October 2014

Doomsday Machine (1972)

At the outset of this movie, a spy sneaks past guard dogs by throwing a cat over a wall and waiting for them to chase it.

Goofy nonsense like that is why I watch these boxed sets.

The spy discovers that the Chinese have developed a super-weapon that can destroy the planet, and will use it in 72 hours.  Because they have a death wish, I guess.  Given that one of the characters in the film refers to them as "chopstick jockeys", I don't think that the film-makers were interested in depicting the Chinese as anything more than a plot device.

The US reacts by amending a planned mission to Venus.  Instead of 7 men, the crew will now be 4 men and 3 women; a last ditch effort to save humanity if the Earth is destroyed (hence the movie's alternative title, Escape from Planet Earth).  I'd make some comment about seven people being too small a population base from which to rebuild, but this is a movie where Venus is apparently considered safe for human habitation, so it's a tad redundant to worry about scientific plausibility.

Anyway, the ship sets off, with most of the crew unaware of why the sudden change in personnel has occurred.  Two of the women know, and one of the men - I shall call him Old Guy; with the others being Young Guy, Boss Guy, and The Sex Offender - works it out pretty fast.  The others will soon be on the same page as well, when they witness the destruction of the Earth in an effects sequence largely recycled from other films.

The ship continues toward Venus, with the crew pairing off: Boss Guy with Blonde Woman; Sex Offender with Brunette Woman; Young Guy with Russian Woman.  Unfortunately, the destruction of the Earth is causing the ship to be bathed in radiation.  If they stick to their original timetable of 4 months for the voyage, they'll all be sterile by the time they get there.  The only hope is to make it in two months.  And the only way they'll have the fuel for that is if the crew is reduced to three!

The computer is tasked with determining who should survive, but the Sex Offender manages to get himself and Brunette Woman killed off when he tries to live up to his name, and Young Guy and Russian Woman sacrifice themselves to save the ship from a malfunction.  So the question becomes moot.

And up until now, the movie has actually been terrible but kind of fun to watch.  The tacky sets, weird multi-coloured lighting, and goofy writing being quite enjoyable (favourite moment: the artificial gravity acts up, causing a ham salad to float in the air.  Nothing else.  Just the ham sandwich.  Pigs can fly!).

The enjoyment is about to end, however.

You see, most of this movie was filmed in 1967, but the production was never completed for some reason (probably money).  The rights and footage were purchased four or five years later and an ending produced.  Because why let a little thing like "not having the original cast or sets" stop you?

Adrift in space, Young Guy and Russian Woman spot a derelict Soviet vessel (which had been mentioned earlier in the script).  They enter it, and their spacesuits magically gain opaque visors, in a futile attempt to conceal the fact that the actors have changed.  It's a cunning illusion that works well ... provided you can overlook that they completely different voices (including the woman having no Russian accent), that the suits are a different colour, or that they are the same size now when the woman was clearly smaller than the man, before.

But you know, I would be willing to forgive that as a necessity of the circumstances, if it let to an ending that continued the film's inept charm.  But it does not.  Instead ... well, it would literally have been better to have them crash on Venus and choke in the poisonous atmosphere, instead of what actually happens.

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