Saturday, March 31, 2007

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Recently while idling and looking for a movie to download (Aside: I know this will cause panic if any of the IITB wise men read this. Someone who downloads movies AND blogs about it. Sacrilege. Read this, if you haven't read enough already; especially the 4th paragraph.) I came across this piece of information:
In the television series The X-Files, Fox Mulder watches Plan 9 whenever he needs to focus on a difficult problem, claiming that the film is so incredibly bad that it shuts down the logic centers of his brain, allowing him to make intuitive leaps of logic.

Having Mulder as one of my childhood idols, I decided I needed intuitive leaps of logic too. If this wasn't enough, I recalled this conversation from a Seinfeld episode:

"This isn't plans 1 through 8 from outer space, this is plan 9, this is the one that worked! The worst movie ever made!"

Now I have watched "My Cousin Vinny" beacuse of George's obsession with Marisa Tomei, and decided not to watch "The English Patient" because Elaine hates it so much. I have also searched for "Sack Lunch" and "Rochelle, Rochelle: A young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk" only to learn that they were fictious movies. So given the X-Files and Seinfeld connection and the obvious attraction of watching the worst movie ever made made my choice very easy. I decided to get Plan 9 and watch it.

I do not belong to the majority of people of my age who are prejudiced against black and white movies and hence term each and every one of them equally bad. Infact I might have watched more B&W movies than colour ones. I'm saying this beacuse Plan 9 happens to have no colour too, but that doesn't affect my judgement in any way. I found the movie fitting to all the praise it has gathered nevertheless.

To be honest there are far, far worse movies that have been made and that is reflected by the fact that this does not make to the IMDb bottom 100. But most of them lack things of such fantastic proportions like aliens digging graves to raise the living dead in order to convince their existence. Which is why this movie has stood the test of time. If we forget the story for a while, Plan 9 is guilty on every other count you care to charge it on. There are whole pages of details you will get, so I won't bother to cite my amateurish observations.

You get the flavour right from the first lines that are spoken:

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

Those living in the past may take note. And learn.

The UFO's they show in this movie are a site to watch. Small, shiny, wobbly looking like cheap plastic plates. The magnum opus is the ending scene, a burning UFO over the LA skyline and the final explosion. Sight of a century. Why were these aliens concerned about us anyway? To prove supremacy and rule us? No, the answer is simple:

Colonel Tom Edwards: Why is it so important that you want to contact the governments of our earth?
Eros: Because of death. Because all you of Earth are idiots.
Jeff Trent: Now you just hold on, Buster.
Eros: No, you hold on. First was your firecracker, a harmless explosive. Then your hand grenade: you began to kill your own people, a few at a time. Then the bomb. Then a larger bomb: many people are killed at one time. Then your scientists stumbled upon the atom bomb, split the atom. Then the hydrogen bomb, where you actually explode the air itself. Now you can arrange the total destruction of the entire universe served by our sun: The only explosion left is the Solaranite.

I'll come to the fantastic concept of Solaranite later. First what would they do if stopped from their mission? You guessed it right, invoke Plan 9. The emperor, very feminine for some reason, rolls it out nonchalantly, like it was some item in the shopping list his wife gave and he forgot at the shopkeeper's. Umissable dialogue delivery:

The Ruler: Plan 9? Ah, yes. Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead. Long distance electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead.

Effortless. Now coming back to their concern about Solaranite, here's what it is. Be prepared for a sense numbing explanation:

Colonel Tom Edwards: You speak of Solaranite. But just what is it?
Eros: Take a can of your gasoline. Say this can of gasoline is the sun. Now, you spread a thin line of it to a ball, representing the earth. Now, the gasoline represents the sunlight, the sun particles. Here we saturate the ball with the gasoline, the sunlight. Then we put a flame to the ball. The flame will speedily travel around the earth, back along the line of gasoline to the can, or the sun itself. It will explode this source and spread to every place that gasoline, our sunlight, touches. Explode the sunlight here, gentlemen, you explode the universe. Explode the sunlight here and a chain reaction will occur direct to the sun itself and to all the planets that sunlight touches, to every planet in the universe. This is why you must be stopped. This is why any means must be used to stop you. In a friendly manner or as (it seems) you want it.

Wow! Just wow! What imagination. Unprecedented. These are things that make this movie immemorable.

I found the scene with an old man stepping outside his house, mourning his wife's death and in a confused state of mind, very corny. Turned out it was the footage of Bela Lugosi, the famed Dracula star, which the director Ed Wood had shot for some other purpose. He decided to incorporate it anyway as a homage to Lugosi and had to complete the rest of the scenes by Tom Mason, the chiropractor of Wood's wife at the time, who played his scenes holding the character's cape in front of his face. Wood was apparently undeterred by the numerous physical differences such as height and build that distinguished Mason from Lugosi; i.e., that Mason was nearly bald while Lugosi retained a full head of hair until his death. (Years later, one video distributor made light of this, adding the blurb "Almost Starring Bela Lugosi" on the tape box.)

After watching the movie I began the post movie research, which almost takes the same time as the movie itself. There I realised that a movie had been made on Ed Wood, the director of such consistently bad movies with such fantastic scripts. The movie, released in 1994 was titled Ed Wood and starred Johnny Depp in the lead role. I realised I might be one the few people of my generation to have watched Plan 9 first and then Ed Wood.

It was a very enjoyable experience watching Ed Wood after Plan 9. For those willing, I would make it compulsory viewing in that order. The movie depicts the life of the cross dressing director, with a love for Angorra sweaters, and his strange ensemble as crew. Orson Welles and Bela Lugosi are his idols and he decides to revive the career and provide employment to an ailing Lugosi in his movies. That part is very touching and Martin Landau even got a supporting actor Oscar for portrayal of Lugosi.

The movie references many of the movies Ed Wood had done, including one "Glen or Glenda" where he portrays his own life and plays Glen/Glenda in the movie. He compares this performance with his idol Welles and his acting and direction in Citizen Kane. Welles would have been so proud. Also Wood showed the movie to his girlfriend and she found out about his dual life after watching the movie and promptly broke up. This whole setting reminded me of 8 1/2. No offences to Fellini but we might just have him too as long as Welles is getting referenced.

Ed Wood climaxes and ends with Eddie directing his greatest creation: Plan 9 From Outer Space which he convinced the the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills to fund, no less. As a homage to his idol and friend Lugosi, he included that footage I mentioned earlier. The same sequence I found corny after watching Plan 9 suddenly seemed to be so touching after watching Ed Wood.

So go watch both of them if you can. Those here may get Ed Wood easily. If you want Plan 9, you know who to buzz :)

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