The Turner Classic Movie channel is amazing… It always provides something watchable, even if you’re not interested in the subject matter. The other night I stumbled upon a picture that got me thinking in a way much too sophisticated for such trash. It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) is certainly no Citizen Kane. It’s not even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But it does contain value due to the context within which it was made and the way it relates to the world we live in now.
I’m not a big science fiction fan and this one did nothing to change my taste. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel shoddy from teeth to tail. Future ASC member Ken Peach was the cinematographer and it’s no insult to say this was not his best work. The story is wanting, too: A group of astronauts are stalked and murdered in their spaceship by a mysterious, shape-shifting force. If that rings a bell, it served as the source material for an immeasurably improved 1979 treatment known as Alien (Ridley Scott\Derek Vanlint).
That’s where the resemblance ends. A hollow narrative, clumsy direction and cardboard sets – not to mention, the terrible acting (they’re so earnest, the poor dears) – all just beg for a foot through the TV screen. When was the last time you saw an astronaut fire an M1 rifle or toss a pineapple grenade inside his fully pressurized spacecraft? The special effects are laughable and the monster, when it finally appears, looks like the Creature From the Black Lagoon’s destitute cousin. Insult to injury, these hysterical proceedings are underscored by a Theremin-heavy music track. I assure you, this was not what inspired Jimmy Page to include it in the Led Zeppelin stage shows a decade later.
The wheels started turning when I realized It! The Terror From Beyond Space was released sixty-three years ago. On a certain level, this movie is about the technology of its day, its fantasies and aspirations. That it has become unintentionally comical is not the filmmakers’ fault, but it does bring up some troubling questions. Six decades from now, will people have a similar reaction to the work we’re producing today? Will some of the things we’re doing now seem as pathetic to them? Or can we only hope to appear benignly antiquated?
In 2021 we have much more in common with the world of 1958 than the people of that era did with the world of 1895. It seems so long ago, but it’s really not. Think about how we mark so much of our lives. Hop onto a feature or TV series and you can see eight months go by in a flash. In terms of style and culture, trends that used to take years to wilt now burn out in a couple of weeks. With time passing and society changing so quickly, we may well find ourselves and what we’ve done discarded as anachronisms sooner than we imagine. Appreciably sooner.
Then again, maybe not.
Contemporary people always think of themselves as the epitome of sophistication. We’re arrogant and imagine that no one ever had a sentient thought until we came along. And surely, we’ve got things more under control than they did in the past. What idiots we are! The truth is this: There exists no idea, emotion, impulse or action that hasn’t been conceived or experienced innumerable times – long before any of us were on the scene.
And that’s OK. We can only make films with the awareness and sensitivity we hold at this moment, hoping for the best. This gives us the freedom to create wildly and without regard for consequence. It’s also not the worst thing in the world to have someone get a good laugh out of your work sixty-three years down the line. At least you’d be remembered for offering a witness to the time and world you once lived in.
So, how will we ever know our fate? My wish is that we’re all around in 2084 to find out.