The Green Slime / Death and the Green Slime / The Battle of Space Station Gamma / Gamma Sango Uchu Daisakusen (1968/1969) -***Ĺ
Monster movies produced in partnership between American and Japanese studios are very rarely good, but you can nearly always count on them for a wild rideó so now just imagine what happens when you add Italians to the mix, too! The MGM-distributed The Green Slime grew out of a collaboration between Toei and a little-remembered US production company called RAM; that much is generally known. But what isnít reported as widely is that RAM appears to have drawn a substantial proportion of its funding from Italy, and if you know what to look for, it isnít hard to spot that influence on the film. Most visibly, The Green Slime features a notable Italian B-movie glamour girl in a major role, but perhaps more importantly, its basic story was devised by Ivan Reiner, who had earlier contributed to the screenplays of Antonio Margheritiís notoriously loopy Space Station Gamma 1 tetralogy (The Wild, Wild Planet, War of the Planets, Planet on the Prowl, and The Snow Devils). A number of plot points in The Green Slime will be so familiar to fans of the Gamma 1 films that they might be tempted to interpret this movie as being set in the same fictional world. In any case, with Reiner doing the plotting and Kinji Fukasaku in the directorís chair, is it any wonder that The Green Slime wound up being one of the most deeply bizarre sci-fi films of the 1960ís?
Fukasaku and company begin by showing us how much less Armageddon would have sucked if its running time had been held to something well under half an hour. United Nations Space Commandís General Jonathan Thompson (Bud Widom) is alerted by his staff that a huge asteroid called Flora has been mysteriously dislodged from its usual orbit, and is now hurtling toward the Earth. Time is short. Indeed, only ten hours remain until the predicted impact by the time Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) arrives in Thompsonís office. Sending Rankin into space is problematic, as he is in the process of resigning from the Space Command, apparently over some ugly business from a few years ago involving his former closest friend, Vince Elliot (Richard Jaekel, of Grizzly and Latitude Zero), but Thompson believes that only by reuniting ďthe best space team I ever hadĒ will it be possible for the UNSC to deflect Flora from its collision course. Elliot, for his part, is now the commander of Space Station Gamma 3, so it is from there that the two officers will embark for Flora with four other astronauts, with the aim of planting sufficient trimegaton detonators to blast the asteroid into a cloud of comparatively harmless debris.
So what was it, you ask, that soured the relationship between Rankin and Elliot? Well to begin with, Rankin was in charge of some mission or other on which Elliot caused the deaths of ten men while attempting to save one who had become trapped in a compartment with something life-threatening. Rankinís report on the incident led to a formal inquiry, and though Elliot appears to have been exonerated (the details are murky, but Iíd hardly think the UNSC would hand over control of a space station to an officer who had been found guilty of gross recklessness), he never forgave his friend for filing the report in the first place. Furthermore, Elliot is now engaged to marry Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi, from Captain Nemo and the Underwater City and The Sensuous Nurse), who awkwardly enough is also Rankinís ex-girlfriend. Finally, Rankin is quite simply a cock, and itís impossible to imagine how either Vince or Lisa ever tolerated him to begin with. Naturally, it ruffles feathers all around when Thompson puts Rankin in charge of the mission to destroy Flora, but Elliot is sufficiently professional to suck it up and accept the temporary abrogation of his usual authority over Gamma 3. Rankin, on the other hand, is not professional at all, swaggering around the station preening and strutting like he owns the place, pulling rank on Elliot on the slightest pretext, and doing his damnedest to insinuate himself between Vince and Lisa and to break up their engagement. He also turns grouchy and petulant when confronted with the news that the plan for the mission to Flora has been revised to include a tagalong by Dr. Hans Halvorsen (Ted Gunther). Say, Commander Rankin? You know all that complaining youíll be doing for the rest of the film about other peopleís unacceptable resistance to following orders? Pot. Kettle. Black.
The expedition to blow up Flora is a success, but all does not go exactly according to plan. For one thing, the asteroid begins accelerating as it enters Earthís gravity well, meaning that the timetable for the mission has to be stepped up as well, and the astronauts come very close to sharing in the destruction they visit upon the wayward space rock. But of greater importance, there turns out to be life on Flora. Wherever there is a concavity in the landscape, Rankin, Elliot, Halvorsen, and the others encounter puddles of radiant green slime. The slime evidently consists of billions of microorganisms which possess some rudimentary sensory apparatus, and which somehow feed off of energy sources. For while the astronauts themselves remain unmolested by the slime, it slithers up to coat all of their mechanical and electronic equipment, and none of their devices will function after a few minutesí exposure to the substance. Halvorsen collects a sample of the slime to bring back to Gamma 3, but Rankin will have none of that. Before he and his men re-embark aboard their ship for the trip home, Rankin seizes Halvorsenís sample jar and shatters it on the ground, refusing to countenance the idea of the scientist bringing any of that crud onto his space station. Oh, waitó itís Elliotís space station, isnít it?
So have any of you ever dropped a jar of jelly on the kitchen floor? And do you remember what happened to the jelly inside when you did so? Thatís right. It splattered all over everything. Well, when Rankin smashes that specimen jar full of green slime, some the slime gets on the astronautsí space suits, and they thus bring it with them when they return to the station. Not only that, because of Rankinís bizarre insistence that everything his team took to Flora be subjected to a triple run through the quarantine sterilizeró which sterilizes things by irradiating themó those small splashes of slime on the space suits rapidly grow to thousands of times their original size, eventually coalescing into a vaguely humanoid monster with long, pincer-tipped tentacles and a huge red cyclops eye dominating what would be its face if it had any other features. While the occupants of Space Station Gamma 3 celebrate the against-all-odds elimination of the apocalyptic threat to the homeworld (this movie was made in 1968ó just you guess what the celebration looks like), that monster starts roaming around barbecuing everyone it meets with electrical discharges directed through its tentacles. After a while, it finds its way to the stationís main power generator, and that finally gets the attention of Elliot, Rankin, and the rest of the crew. Acting on the advice of Dr. Halvorsen, Elliot orders the slime creature captured, but the attempt accomplishes nothing but to get several of the security guards under the command of Captain Martin (Robert Dunham, from Godzilla vs. Megalon and Dagora, the Space Monster) electrocuted to death. Rankin takes charge then, and chases the creature off by shooting the hell out of it with a laser rifle. In point of fact, however, this is the worst possible thing he could have done, because the monsterís blood, feeding off the stationís power core, soon gives rise to a whole army of the deadly creatures, which overrun the entire station.
While it is undeniably more conventional, conceptually speaking, than Kinji Fukasakuís contemporary Black Lizard, everything about The Green Slime, from the rubber suits representing the final developmental stage of the slime creatures to Luciana Paluzziís wardrobe to the psychedelic proto-funk theme song, is determinedly peculiar. Even the division of labor between the Western and Japanese aspects of the production was strange, in that The Green Slime was shot with an exclusively Japanese crew and an exclusively Western cast. But what must almost certainly be the strangest thing about it is the treatment of its ostensible hero, Jack Rankin. For those of you who havenít been keeping score, Rankin, evidently out of resentment at having been ordered at the last minute to bring a scientist along on what had originally been a purely military undertaking, deliberately sabotages the scientistís mission, and does so in a way that leads directly to the introduction of a dangerous alien lifeform onto Gamma 3. He then orders extraordinary sterilization measures which transform a relatively benign breach of quarantine into a major threat to human life. And not content with that, his response to said threat causes the lethal aliens to infest the whole of the station. Along the way, he arrogates to himself authority which he does not legitimately possess, stabs a man who was once his best friend in the back so often that you could make a drinking game out of it, gets enormous numbers of people killed, and ultimately costs the United Nations Space Command untold billions of dollars (or whatever unit of currency theyíre using in this vaguely defined future) and at least a decadeís labor. And yet heís portrayed in a manner that inescapably identifies him as a man weíre supposed to root for and admire. What the hell is going on here? Actually, I may have the answer. Fukasaku reports that his aim in directing The Green Slime was to create a sci-fi parable for what was then transpiring in Vietnam. Nobody that I know of has ever taken him seriously on that point (and really, can you blame them?), but I believe it may in fact be the key to understanding this movie, which certainly defies understanding on any other level. Looking at The Green Slime in light of the Vietnam War, a protagonist who makes things catastrophically worse at every turn, who never seems to learn a goddamn thing from any of his mistakes (or even to recognize that he has made any mistakes to learn from), and who tries to smooth things over in the end by making heroes of the people he fatally fucked over now that theyíre all too dead to tell their side of the story, makes a twisted kind of sense. Conventional wisdom has it that whatever serious subtext Fukasaku attempted to work into The Green Slime was scuppered by the American producers, who just wanted a fun, flashy movie to show on the drive-in circuit, but a close, hard look at Commander Rankin makes it easy to conclude that some of that stuff managed to sneak through anyway.
Focusing on Rankin as an embodiment of orphaned social commentary makes watching The Green Slime an even more delirious experience than it would have been anyway. This is, overall, an exceedingly clumsy and ridiculous film. The actors were quite plainly chosen more for their willingness to fly to Japan and work for chump change than they were for their ability to convey character or deliver a line of dialogue. The decision to put a Japanese firm in charge of the special effects was a somewhat unfortunate one, for although The Green Slime is said to have been budgeted at nearly three times the average level for a Japanese film of the late 1960ís, that still wasnít a lot of money by Hollywood standards, and The Green Slime would be playing to audiences who had already seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. The monster suits, as befits their origin, are imaginative to the point of overkill, and any dedicated monster movie fan will spend much of the film marveling over the profusion of apparently functionless growths, protuberances, and extrusions that cover the creaturesí bodies. And most of all, like the majority of its decadeís science fiction films, The Green Slime features production design which seems to have been predicated upon the assumption that the world of the future was simply going to become more and more like the late 1960ís with each passing year. Naturally, all these things are the source of The Green Slimeís charm, but when you consider them in tandem with Fukasakuís apparent goal of making something like Dr. Strangelove in Outer Space, the result is nothing less than an alchemy of madness.