Monday, February 27, 2012

Movie Monday: Destination Inner Space

This week's movie is the 1966 sci-fi extravaganza Destination Inner Space!

While doing research for the article "Ten Genre Posters To Die For" that I did for The Terror Trap, I came across a number of posters for movies I had never even heard of! Destination Inner Space was one of those, and while the one-sheet didn't make my final list, it was awesome enough that it really made me want to see the movie. I mean, maybe you can resist a giant sea monster attacking a group of undersea explorers piloting cool sci-fi-ish ships, but I can't!

So put on your scuba gear, and dive dive dive!
DIS opens with Submarine Commander Wayne (Scott Brady) arriving at an undersea research station called SeaWatch. Maybe I was expecting too much from this movie from the get-go, but Destination Inner Space let me down in just the first few minutes: I was hoping for at least a brief shot of a super-cool, 60s-style futuristic lab, or even just a great matte painting. Unfortunately, we get what is clearly a toy subbing (sorry) for what is going to be the main--heck, virtually only--set of the movie:
Commander Wayne is introduced to the various members of the crew--including Dr. LaSatier (Gary Merrill), and biologist Rene Peron (Sheree North) whom Wayne takes an instant like to:
There's a lot of talk talk talk, including some stuff about having women--women!--on board, and in positions of responsibility yet! This truly is science fiction.

LaSatier's equipment has picked up a strange moving object on the ocean floor, and its concluded it can't be a whale, or a dolphin, or any sea creature. Two of the SeaWatch's crew, an underwater photographer (the gorgeous Wende Wagner) and her boyfriend Hugh Maddox (Mike Road), venture out to take pics of the mysterious craft, but they can only get so close.

Back on SeaWatch, it becomes clear Wayne and Maddox have a past. Soon thereafter, the ship starts moving and gets closer to SeaWatch, cutting off the lines of communication between it and the Navy ship that is monitoring them from above. When the ship stops near the edge of a trench, LaSatier decides to send some of the crew to swim out and take a closer look--and he picks Wayne, Maddox, and Welles.

When our intrepid crew make their way onto the ship, the find it strangely deserted:
...well, not entirely deserted: a small gray cylinder is found, and Maddox insists on bringing it back aboard SeaWatch. Bad idea! Back on the station, the cylinder starts to grow and grow, until out of it comes a beast so hideous no human can comprehend it:
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit: this sea monster is clearly a cheap suit, but it's not without it's charms. Unfortunately this fearsome beast does little more than just sort of stagger around and wrastle people into submission. It attacks Wayne and another crew member; Wayne escapes, leaving the other man at the mercy of the creature (officially credited as The Thing).

This causes the already tense relationship between Wayne and Maddox to explode; turns out they served on a Navy ship together and Maddox blames Wayne for the death of some of the crewmen. Wayne turns it back on Maddox, revealing that he knows that it was Maddox who, in the process of saving himself, accidentally sealed the fate of his fellow sailors. This huge moment is brought up and then resolved in about three minutes; after a few seconds of Maddox gnashing his teeth everything is forgiven and everyone gets back to work.

The Thing escapes into the ocean, causing part of SeaWatch to begin flooding. The Thing suit is designed in such a way that it's clearly hiding a scuba tank, but what the hell, I enjoyed watching this thing move around underwater:
Unfortunately, there's very little of the creature in the movie. There's more talk (LaSatier wants to understand the creature, while Wayne of course just wants to kill it), and the Thing attacks the Navy ship, killing some of the crew. It also destroys the SeaWatch's air supply, leaving them less than 12 hours' worth of oxygen left!

Later, it is seen loitering around the ship's entrance, they decide lure it out of hiding via some bait: Commander Wayne himself! This plan works, and they jab the Thing with some harpoons, which only wounds it. They capture the creature, and our heroes turn their attention towards a supply of eggs found on the alien ship.

The Thing escapes, and chases after Wayne, Maddox, and Welles, who are planning to blow up the ship. As Wayne gets Welles to safety (she is just a girl, after all), Maddox and The Thing square off, with the explosives about to go off!

Who lives, who dies? I won't reveal that here (indeed, no one was allowed to be seated while this scene was in progress, lest Destination Inner Space's shocking finale be ruined*). I will mention that Commander Wayne, after comforting the Dr. LaSatier, banters a bit more with Rene, who takes the direct approach in regards to her feelings to our crusty, middle-aged hero:
...The Ever-Lovin' End!

As if you didn't know already, this movie is profoundly silly. Made on the cheap (and then some), it's the kind of junk sci-fi that was, er, blown out of the water by more sophisticated movie fare like Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released only two years after this. There's so much screen time wasted on the Crazy Idea that women can be smart too that it's laughable. The film's lead, Scott Brady, was barely over forty when he made this but looks much older; seeing him condescend and leer at Sheree North is, while understandable, makes DIS feel even more retrograde.

That said, the creature (oh, excuse me, "The Thing") is still fun to look at, even though he's not much of a threat. How a creature that flew millions of miles across space and lives at the bottom of the ocean can't out-wrestle some regular humans is beyond me.

But it's hard to really get a hate on for Destination Inner Space; it's a fairly short movie (less than 85 minutes), and it's so lovably square that I found myself charmed by it's aw shucks, isn't the ocean amazing? tone. The story itself is quite sound; I'd say this is one sci-fi property begging for a remake!

Destination Inner Space is available on DVD via Amazon, so if this review makes you (for some reason) want to see the movie, drop this blog a nickel by clicking away:

*I made that up.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Sometimes heart and a general good feeling can save a movie from the Z-list!

rob! said...

So true!

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