Planet of the Apes (1968) is a True Sci-Fi Classic

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Go ApeIn 1963, French author Pierre Boulle wrote Planet of the Apes. It told the tale of three astronauts who travel to Betelgeuse and discover a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are savages. Thus, the start of what would become one of the greatest franchises in film history. From 1968 to 1976, the Apes series dominated with 5 feature films, a short-lived live-action television series and a Saturday morning cartoon. Following a Tim Burton reboot in 2001, we are now enjoying a new series of films with a third planned for 2016. And it all started with 1968s Planet of the Apes.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had purchased the rights to the original novel in 1963 but found little interest in Hollywood. But, after Jacobs began to earn himself a reputation, 20th Century Fox was interested and the project was greenlighted. As the script was being developed, and as in the original novel, the concept of three casts of Apes society was a groundwork that would survive to the final film. There are the gorillas, the more militaristic police force, the upper class orangutans who rule society and the more liberal minded chimpanzees who are the scientists. However, the technologically advanced aspects of ape society would be abandoned early on due to budgetary constraints. Legendary Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling wrote an early draft that was rejected. However, elements would be retained in what would eventually be the final draft, rewritten by Michael Wilson. The advanced ape society was now replaced with a more primitive (and cheaper to film) version. What did survive was Serling’s iconic final scene, still one of the best in cinematic history.POTA 1

Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 with top Hollywood actor Charlton Heston (The Omega Man, Soylent Green) in the lead role of astronaut George Taylor. Taylor is the commanding officer of a space mission that includes fellow male astronauts John Landon and Dodge, along with the lone female Stewart. Upon crashing into a lake surrounded by rocky terrain and desert, it’s discovered that Stewart’s hibernation chamber had cracked, leaving her to die before the others had awoken. Our three survivors leave the sinking ship in search of life on this strange alien world. They soon discover a humanoid species that appear to be mute. But before Taylor has a chance to name himself their god and take over the planet, he and the others are shocked to see gorillas on horseback hunting the humans. Fleeing for their lives, Dodge is killed and Landon is knocked over a cliff before Taylor is shot and captured.POTA 2

We discover that apes rule this planet. They are intelligent, using horses and living in dwellings, as well as possessing weapons. However, there is no electricity, so perhaps the best comparison would be that of Earth in the 1800s. Taylor is kept in a cage in what appears to be a zoo where humans are studied. He is eventually befriended by two chimpanzees, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell, It!, The Legend of Hell House) and Zira (Kim Hunter, The Seventh Victim), who believe Taylor to be different. Once Taylor regains his speech, it becomes a race to save Taylor and his mate Nova (Linda Harrison) from Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans, Rosemary’s Baby), who clearly knows more about man than he is letting on. The final scene is a stunning one, wrapping up the tale while leaving the door open for answers as to what really happened to the world Taylor once knew.POTA3

There are several aspects of Planet of the Apes which help it stand out as a true sci-fi classic. The script is intelligent, weaving a tale where we ultimately see that the flaws of mankind lead to its’ destruction but are the apes any better? A superior cast enhanced the script, from the main cast to the supporting actors, such as James Whitmore and James Daly. The shooting locations gave it an expansive feel, from the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon to Malibu Creek State Park. And as we are being treated visually, there is an amazing score by Jerry Goldsmith that was nominated for an Academy Award.

POTA4All of these combine for an amazingly fun flick that is one of my personal favorites. I have very fond memories and watching this movie countless times when I was a kid on Friday and Saturday nights. It not only launched a series of films, but a merchandising juggernaut that included everything from trading cards to action figures to coloring books to puzzles. Not to mention those great book-and-record sets!

I highly recommend Planet of the Apes and suggest you watch it on Blu-ray as the remastered picture is stunning. Be sure to watch the great documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes as well. Then, seek out the 2011 novel Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, written by Andrew E.C. Glaska. It expands on the movie by telling the story of what happened to astronaut Landon between the time he was captured and we see him return, lobotomized and mindless. Amazing illustrations by artists such as Jim Steranko make it well worth tracking it down.

Next time, we travel Beneath the Planet of the Apes! Go Ape!POTA5

Monster Movie Kid Lives Again!

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More than two months ago, I posted a rather ominous entry. The future of this Monster Movie Kid blog was unclear. However, Desmond over at the Dread Media podcast was indeed correct. He said that I would miss it and that I would be back. Well, Desmond, you were quite right. So…Monster Movie Kid lives again!!Its Alive 1

Real life has indeed been crazy in the last two months. My wife and I have relocated and now reside in the Kansas City metro area. Our old house closes next week and we’re two weeks away from moving our son to K-State University for his junior year. Not to mention our daughter is applying for jobs in numerous cities as she is set to graduate this fall. It appears that the Chamberlain family may all soon be gone from Wichita and embarking on new adventures.

Just today, I discovered that there are 80 movie screens in the suburbs of Olathe and Overland Park alone. There are over 250 screens in the entire metro area with independent films and special engagements at every turn. A paradise for a movie lover such as myself. So, I have set a personal goal of seeing at least one movie at each of the movie theaters. It may take me a while but I’m going to have fun with this challenge. Not to mention great comic book shops such as Elite Comics and three Half-Price Books location within 30 minute. Plus, I am now minutes away from exciting conventions rather than hours. Yes, I am loving it!

I quickly realized that I missed sharing my thoughts about some of the films I have seen in the last 2 ½ months. Admittedly, moving and real life has greatly reduced my movie time for now but, as the dust begins to settle, I discovered I really want to dive back into the deep end of the blogiverse.  After all, I’ve reviewed every Godzilla movie here, so I surely can’t let the new 2014 movie come and go without sharing my thoughts. I have Jodorowsky’s Dune waiting to be watched. Not to mention a strong desire to begin revisiting some classic black and white horror flicks. And with fall mere months away, I am glad to announce there will indeed be a 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween!

DuneGetting back into the groove may take a little while. There won’t be a schedule and I can’t honestly say when the first review will be posted. But just writing for this site is therapy for me. With my wife experiencing some unexpected health issues after our move, I plan to be by her side as we make the journey together. That makes writing even more important for me and played a big part in my decision to get back to it. Plus, there are some exciting things on the horizon regarding some of my earliest articles that I will want to share with everyone when the time is right.

Thank you for hanging in there as I dealt with a crazy schedule. Now, let’s return to the business at hand, break out the popcorn and get back to watching some wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) movies!

The End of the Road…For Now

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In the fall of 2012, I launched this blog without any lofty goals. I simply wanted to tap into my creative side of writing that had long been dormant. If only a couple of people enjoyed what I was writing, then I considered it a win. Through the power of Facebook and the podcast community, I found that there were more than a couple of people interested in what I had to say. It was flattering and served as fuel to push me forward.

However, the time is right for some change. Behind the scenes, my wife and I are making a big move onto the next phase of our lives. Relocating to the Kansas City area is just one part of it. Personally, I really want to take a step back from technology, specifically Facebook. I want to take the time to slow down and enjoy the real world a little more and spend a little less time staring at my computer screen. Technology is wonderful but it shouldn’t encompass your entire day.

Therefore, the Monster Movie Kid blog is taking an undetermined break. I had planned on reviewing The Rocketeer and The Phantom first but, after some positive comments on my recent series on The Shadow, I felt it was better to go out with a bang! So, I want to thank everyone for their support. And who knows, inspiration may hit me again come October and there are 31 days of Halloween staring at me! For now, take care and, again, thank you!The End

The Shadow Knows (2012) Is Worth Checking Out Despite The Flaws

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossI love a good documentary, especially when it offers up new information or thrilling images I had previously been unaware of or unable to see. So, when I discovered there was a recent documentary on The Shadow, I quickly ordered it from Amazon. For the most part, the journey was an exciting one. Sadly, the production values keep it from being definitive.

The Shadow Knows was released in 2012 and is a burn-on-demand product. The case is well produced and sturdy with the initial menu screen also looking quite professional. Unfortunately, it’s very early on that the documentary sends me back to the late 80s and early 90s when cheaply produced direct-to-video documentaries were all the rage. But, before we talk of the negative, let’s highlight the positive. Our narrator for this piece is Mike Lyons, who does a good job guiding us through a very detailed journey of The Shadow’s history. From his birth in the pulp novels to 2012, when rumors of a Sam Raimi produced movie was circulating the net. Lyons gives us extensive details on the pulp novels, including countless covers (absolutely stunning artwork) and readings from several stories. He covers all aspects of the radio program as well with lots of audio clips to enjoy, including a couple from the early 30s that I have never heard before. There is a section devoted to the movies and TV pilots as well as the 1994 Alec Baldwin adventure. He spends a little time on various products as well as the comics, especially the original 1940s series and the DC revivals from the 1970s and 1980s. He glosses over the 1960s novels and totally omits the Archie comic book series (which is actually a good thing but should have been mentioned). There is a lot of information in the over two hour documentary, broken into unique chapters which make for easy viewing. Some of the information I knew, other parts I did not. For this alone, I highly recommend The Shadow Knows.The Shadow Knows Documentary 1

However, there are some negatives about this DVD. For starters, the overall quality displays an obviously very low budget. Most of the presentation is visually appealing but there are numerous video clips that have some horrendous pixilation. There is a repeating image from the 1990 movie Darkman, which comes across as implying that’s what The Shadow looks like underneath his scarf. Mike Lyons is good as the narrator but then we have to endure a painful Margot Lane impersonation (voiced by Chris Noel) and a version of The Shadow which just seems off (voiced by Vincent Winans). Then, there is the background music. You’ll hear Tales from the Crypt, The X-Files, Dark Shadows, Superman and even Gone with the Wind. The clips are usually quite random and actually distracting to the topics on screen. I’m sure it cost money to secure those audio clips, so why they just didn’t use some generic mysterious music is beyond me. It would have been more appropriate and less annoying. At a price tag of $20, I do recommend adding The Shadow Knows to your collection as it is definitely worth watching. The producers clearly love The Shadow, so their efforts should be rewarded. However, I just wish they would have had a bigger budget to help make it look more polished. Perhaps a special edition somewhere down the road?

Shadow PulpWith that, my April journey with The Shadow comes to an end. While I have mixed reactions in regards to the early movies and TV pilots, I thoroughly enjoyed the Blu-ray presentation of The Shadow (1994). My ongoing love for The Shadow will continue. I discover “new” pulp novel adventures all the time and I enjoy reading the current ongoing monthly comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment. And, of course, I can never resist listening to the original radio programs that take me back to my childhood and listening to them on records with my father, lights turned out and imagination running wild.

The Shadow (1994) Finally Brings Our Hero To Life On The Big Screen

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossAfter the three disappointing films released in 1946, The Shadow film franchise would be laid to rest. By 1949, Shadow Comics had ended its run after 101 issues and The Shadow Magazine ceased publication due to a changing environment on the newsstands. The radio program remained strong until its end in 1954. Aside from two failed television pilots in the 1950s, The Shadow was pushed back into the very shadows from which he had emerged in 1930.

As with any good hero, The Shadow waited for the perfect time to return. In 1964, Archie Comics published a new costume-wearing version that only lasted eight issues. There were new novels in the 60s and radio stations began playing the old programs to a new audience. By the 70s, DC Comics had the publishing rights and brought The Shadow into the DC universe with not only his own 12-issue series but appearances in Batman and Detective Comics as well. More comic book series followed in the 80s but The Shadow was still missing from the big screen. That changed with the release of The Shadow in 1994.The Shadow 1994 1

Screenwriter David Koepp was hired to write the screenplay in 1990. Having been a childhood fan of the radio program, he tried to capitalize on aspects of both the pulp novels and the radio program. Alec Baldwin was cast in the lead role of Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow. Long before his television resurgence on 30 Rock and the constant battles with the paparazzi and his ex-wife, this was a time when Baldwin was still a rising star in Hollywood with such films as Beetlejuice, The Hunt for Red October and Malice. Yet, his ever present sarcasm and screen wit are here, contributing to what I think was a very good performance. His Lamont is a playboy in the mold of Bruce Wayne while displaying the inner conflict between his good and evil sides. On the flip side, Penelope Ann Miller played Margo Lane in a way that over-accentuated her sexuality, not quite the Margo I’ve envisioned. Not to mention the fact that she has telepathic abilities that, while contributing to the script, was not necessarily a wanted addition to her character.

The Shadow 1994 3The plot of The Shadow (1994) was by far the best visualization the character ever had on the big screen. From the opening scenes in Tibet, where we see Cranston as a drugged out warlord succumbing to his dark side, to the film noir visuals of New York City where he is now a “wealthy young man about town”, the film is a visual feast. It captures styles we had already seen in two other comic book films, Batman (1989) and Dick Tracy (1990), and it works very well here. Cranston is given a legitimate arch villain to battle in the evil Shiwan Kahn (John Lone), who is much like The Joker to Cranston’s Batman. Shiwan tries to lure Cranston to the dark side while he has dreams of global domination, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Genghis Kahn. Add to the mix scientist Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellan, The Hobbit and X-Men) and his atomic device, and you have the elements all in place for a battle of wits and mental skills with the innocent New Yorkers at risk of annihilation.

The Shadow is finally seen on screen as he should be. From the sinister laugh to the fedora and red scarf to his side arms and flowing cape, Baldwin really works here as The Shadow. His invisibility is great, including the wonderful scene where his footprints are visible in the water tank. Besides the great visuals, the supporting cast makes this movie even more fun. Johnathan Winters is Wainwright Barth (why they just didn’t call him Commissioner Weston is a bit of a mystery), Sab Shimono is Dr. Roy Tam (an agent of The Shadow pulled right out of the pulp novels), Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein) is cabbie Moe Shrevnitz aka Shrevvy and Tim Curry is the annoying Farley Claymore, putting in a somewhat uneven over-the-top performance. And, of course, I must mention the great music of Jerry Goldsmith, who adds atmosphere to a film already dripping with it.The Shadow 1994 4

I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow but that opinion is not held by all. It was intended to be the start of a new film franchise but poor returns at the box office killed that idea. The film has attained a bit of a cult status and just recently had a second and superior Blu-ray release. Not all fans of The Shadow enjoy this film but I think it is by far the best film adaptation to date. Rumors have been circulating of a new film for years but this is a character that I feel is best suited for the past. The only way it would work would be as a period piece. Until such a day arises when The Shadow returns again, this 1994 film is the last and best visual presentation we’ve been given.

Check out the amazing bridge fight scene courtesy of Shout! Factory and do some shopping for the new Blu-ray. Meanwhile, we have one more stop in our Shadow journey this month. Next time, I’ll be looking at a 2011 documentary as well as the current state of the franchise.The Shadow 1994 2

The Shadow Meets The Thin Man

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossBy 1946, The Shadow had become a household word. On radio, Bret Morrison was just beginning his long reign as Lamont Cranston that would last until the show’s end in 1954. In print, the pulp novels were going strong, still three years away from their demise. Shadow Comics had been on the racks for six years with another three left. The Shadow was a consistent success at every turn but the cinema. Rod La Rocque’s two efforts in the late 30s were disappointing. However, Victor Jory’s chapter serial in 1940 was a good adaptation, yet still lacking a little in the mystery department. After a six year absence, The Shadow was poised for a return in not one but three films. Unfortunately, our cinematic roller coaster ride was ready to hit another low point.

Monogram Pictures was one of many low-budget Hollywood studios that would crank out the B movies. But cheap in production didn’t always mean cheap in entertainment value. Most of these movies have fallen into public domain and can be quite fun to watch. If you cut them a little slack, they can be an easy way to spend an hour or so. The Shadow Returns would be the first of three quickly produced mysteries all released within the same year of 1946. In the lead role of Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow was Kane Richmond. He was an established B movie actor who played the lead role in the 1942 chapter serial Spy Smasher, so the role was in good hands, at least in theory. He does a fine job here as the lead actor, just not quite the Lamont Cranston we are familiar with. Barbara Reed plays Margo Lane more like a bubbly society girl with a lot less of the tenacity she had in the novels or radio program. We also get the usual supporting characters of Commissioner Weston, Inspector Cardona (who is now Lamont’s uncle) and cab driver Shrevvie, who all are pretty much on target.The Shadow Returns 1

Where The Shadow Returns fails is in the plot and overall portrayal of the lead characters. Lamont and Margo are written more like Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man series. The Shadow seems more like a prop and is not nearly as menacing as he should be. Sadly, there is no clouding of men’s minds or sinister laugh. His look is okay but I’m not sure why they felt he needed a mask. Victor Jory’s appearance was more on target. The plot is a bit confusing as it deals with murders and jewels and scientists. What kills the movie though is the comedy. The Shadow and Margo are not Nick and Nora nor should they be written that way. There is not much mystery, no suspense and very little character development among the suspects. I found myself hoping to get to the end and, when I did, I was glad it was over.

The Shadow Returns 2I really can’t recommend The Shadow Returns but, if you must, it is better than the two La Rocque films. It is available on YouTube, just be prepared for a real let down after The Shadow (1940). If by some chance you really enjoy Kane Richmond’s version of The Shadow, he came back for two more movies, Behind The Mask and The Missing Lady. I reviewed both of these movies last year when they were about to be dropped from Netflix. Check out my thoughts on those two flicks, which are really more of the same.

If you haven’t taken the time to read Nick Sauer’s review of the two television pilots on his blog, Fantastic Television, do so now. As always, it’s a good and quick read. Then, come back here later this week as we leap ahead to 1994 and see what Alec Baldwin does with a bigger budget and a story more true to the pulp novels. Meanwhile, cleanse your auditory pallet and listen to another classic episode of the radio program. This one is called The Creeper from May 29, 1938 and it features Orson Welles.

Nick Sauer and Fantastic Television Knows The Shadow

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossAfter the thrilling 15-chapter adventure of The Shadow in 1940, there would be a lapse of six years before The Shadow returned to the big screen. Kane Richmond would assume the role of Lamont Cranston in series of three films, all released within the same year of 1946. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at all of them, especially the first of that trilogy called The Shadow Returns. However, we’re going to leap ahead to the 1950s first and take a look at two television pilots.

My good friend Nick Sauer runs a blog I’ve mentioned here before, Fantastic Television. As the tag line says, it is the random thoughts of a genre TV addict. He too loves all things related to The Shadow and eagerly offered to help when he heard I was dedicating April to the films of The Shadow. I responded in kind and eagerly accepted his help. He will be covering the two television pilots, starting off with the 1954 attempt starring Tom Helmore as Lamont and Paula Raymond as Margot. Check it out today and then catch the pilot on YouTube. Then, be sure to start following his blog because he will then tackle the next pilot, The Invisible Avenger (1958). Richard Derr plays Lamont Cranston in that adventure, also on YouTube.Invisible Avenger 1

Special thanks to Nick for covering those two “lost” television pilots of the 1950s. Go to his blog today and then come back here next week as we’ll travel back to 1946 and see what Kane Richmond brings to the role. Plus, on the horizon we have Alec Baldwin turning in his 1994 performance and a little known documentary from 2011.