Year: 1968 Company: MGM / Ram Films / Southern Cross Feature Film Company / Toei Co. ltd
Runtime: 101′ Director: Kinji Fukasaku Writers: Bill Finger, Ivan Reiner, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair
Cinematography: Yoshikazu Yamasawa Music: Charles Fox, Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther, David Yorston
Robert Dunham, Gary Randolf, Jack Morris, Eugene Vince, Don Plante, Kathy Horan, Linda Miller
Disc company: Warner Archive Collection Video: 2.35:1 progressive Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: None Disc: DVD-R Release Date: 10/26/2010 Product link: Amazon.com
After the discovery of an impending asteroid impact of apocalyptic proportions, Commander Rankin (Horton) heads to Earth-orbiting space station Gamma III – home of his old flame (Paluzzi) and former friend (Jaeckel) – where he mounts an all or nothing anti-asteroid offensive. The mission is a success and the asteroid is destroyed, but a more insidious threat is lurking… Unbeknownst to Rankin and his crew a speck of primitive space-life is transferred from the renegade asteroid to the space station, where it spawns an army of tentacled monsters with a passion to kill, kill, kill!
The Green Slime is a delightful, dreadful, confounding paradox of late-’60s science fiction mayhem – an overly-ambitious and under-achieving opus that stands alone at both the top and bottom of its own singular heap. Produced by Ivan Reiner and Walter Manley in cooperation with Japan’s Toei Company The Green Slime is the narratively unrelated but thematically similar offshoot of Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma One series, a collection of space station-oriented sci-fi cheapies produced in Italy by Reiner and Manley in the middle-’60s and distributed, with the exception of 1966’s Planet on the Prowl, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Though a considerable ad campaign and wide domestic and international distribution granted it a moderate financial success The Green Slime was a critical failure, and its release marked the end of Reiner and Manley’s careers in film production.
There’s a time for all things of course, and if online reception to Warner’s release of the film on DVD (via their on-demand DVD-R service, the Warner Archive Collection) is any indication The Green Slime‘s time appears to have come. Whether that’s for better or worse is for someone else to decide.
Like the Gamma One films that serve as its prototype, The Green Slime is made up of three elements balanced in more or less equal proportion – dull human drama, hip space-bound action, and obvious, under-funded special effects. The latter are here directed by Akira Watanabe (Gappa the Triphibian Monsters) and Yukio Manoda (Latitude Zero), two talented effects artisans with decades of experience between them. The Green Slime must have been quite a challenge for the two directors and their staff, as the production required a wide array of effects shots (rockets flying, space station exteriors, exploding asteroids, and a horde of rubber-suit monsters) but provided little in the way of money or time with which to properly accomplish them. Tokusatsu cinema, succumbing to the exploding popularity of genre television shows, was already in a state of transition when The Green Slime was produced, and effects budgets and shooting schedules would only grow more constrained in the coming decade.
I have too much respect for Watanabe, Manoda and their staff to complain too much about their work here, which I’d argue is a step or two above what had been the norm for the Italian-made Gamma One films. That’s not to say that the effects are in any way believable (the infrequent bluescreen work is especially obvious), and The Green Slime‘s smooth and antiseptic aesthetic was way out of style even at the time of its release. Global interest in the Apollo program and films like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey had audiences primed for science fiction that was truer to life. Escapist fantasies about swingin’ space stations overrun with monsters were old hat, as were the practical effects that brought them to life.
Antiquated as the effects may be, they’re far easier to overlook than The Green Slime‘s human interests. The cast is dependable enough – television actors Robert Horton (a regular of Wagon Train and star of A Man Called Shenandoah) and Richard Jaeckel (Latitude Zero, The Dark), Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and bilingual Toho regular Robert Dunham (Dogora the Space Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon) – but the writing is the pits. Reiner, Manley and co-writers Tom Rowe and Charles Sinclair (Track of the Moon Beast) are alright so long as they stick to the basics of space-men fighting space-monsters, but go astray in their efforts to juice up the human drama with a trivial and distracting love triangle. It’s a dull, predictable plot device that strangles the pacing of the film to death and makes the hero – Commander Jack Rankin – out to be an unlikable and self-absorbed asshole.
Director Kinji Fukasaku seems to have been as enthusiastic as the rest of us with regards to the clunky drama, filming it in swaths of largely static shots and occasionally spicing things up with a zoom or some dolly work. The shorter Japanese release version of The Green Slime bypasses the love triangle gibberish all together and instead focuses on the anti-asteroid maneuvers and monster antics, with little filler in between. In the direction of action Fukasaku proves stronger. Though he was still finding his way at the time of the film’s production it still bares his technical trademarks – dynamic, handheld photography, angular blocking and rapid-fire cutting. The brassy and march-like original score by regular Toei composer Toshiaki Tsushima (The Magic Serpent, Battles Without Honor or Humanity) suits this material well, but is largely replaced by limp, forgettable cues in the longer American cut (an early rocket launch is rendered especially dull by the process). The exception to the limp and forgettable rule is the opening title theme, an awful but endearing fuzz-rock piece by Charles Fox that ushered viewers into and out of the domestic cut (and most international versions) of the picture.
It’s undeniable that there’s a lot working against The Green Slime, and I readily admit that its space-bound melodramatics have proven, more than once, to be a powerful cure for insomnia, but the more I see it the more my fondness for it grows. I always find myself forgiving the film of its many, many trespasses and enjoying what it gets gleefully, jubilantly right. The Green Slime ultimately isn’t about jerky-jerk Rankin, his twist, or his unlikely competition. It’s about space-men fighting space-monsters in a late-’60s fantasy world of jazzy space stations, rocketships, and brilliant yellow laser blasts; a world where all the women wear mini-skirts and the prevention of the apocalypse is celebrated with champaign, fireworks, and a dance party. 2001: A Space Odyssey may have shown us the future as it could have happened, but I’ll be damned if The Green Slime‘s doesn’t look a lot more fun.
The Green Slime was previously only (officially) available as a dodgy pan-and-scanned pre-record VHS from MGM and remained conspicuously absent from the domestic DVD marketplace until late last year, when Warner released this remastered widescreen edition as part of their Archive Collection. While I’m happy to finally see the film available on DVD I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the release itself, or Warner’s DVD-R-on-demand service in general. The Green Slime is offered as a burned DVD-R with nothing in the way of complementary content for the absurd price of $24.95. The ad campaign for this one is half the fun, and that Warner couldn’t be bothered to include even a trailer is lamentable.
How does the film look? Pretty good, with some caveats. Warner offers up The Green Slime‘s American release version in the native ‘Scope aspect ratio for the first time ever. The progressive and enhanced 2.36:1 widescreen transfer is cropped slightly on all sides in comparison to the Japanese R2 DVD from 2004 (which offers the shorter cut of the film only, and no English audio or subtitles) and presents with more dust, speckling and debris, but improves upon it in other ways. Colors are vivid and contrast deep, and the level of detail is strong if slightly softer than on the Japanese disc. The drama seems even more torpid in the original aspect ratio, less the movement and cutting employed in the pan-and-scan process, but the action expands nicely. The only audio option is a serviceable Dolby Digital Mono track in the original post-dubbed English, and it sounds just fine. There are no subtitles, SDH or otherwise.
The film itself is must-see material in spite (and at times because) of its shortcomings, but its long-awaited DVD debut is a real disappointment. While the chance to see The Green Slime in the original ‘Scope gives this Warner Archive release some definite appeal, it’s a far cry from the deluxe edition many fans have been craving. I’m finding Warner’s “less for more” strategy increasingly irksome as more and more desirable titles (like the first two Gamma One films, Wild, Wild Planet and War of the Planets) see release, and am more than a little annoyed to see other companies (Sony, MGM) following suit, but that’s an article for another day.
Film: Forgiven Video: Very Good Audio: Very Good Supplements: None
Harrumphs: Several – high price, no supplements, no subtitles.
Packaging: Standard DVD case.
Final Thoughts: The Green Slime is a tough one not to love once the eponymous monsters arrive, tiresome as its drama can be. Warner’s new widescreen master makes it easier than ever to appreciate its colorful production aesthetic, but a lofty price tag and dearth of extras are real turn-offs.