Friday, May 9, 2014

Robot Monster

Robot Monster (aka Monster from Mars)
Phil Tucker

Ro-Man (or Ro-Man Extransion XJ-2 to his friends) played by George Barrows, has wiped out all human life on Earth save for eight survivors who have figured out a way to stay hidden from his scanners. Ro-Man’s plans run into a little snag when he finds himself falling in love with survivor named Alice (Claudia Barrett). Soon he finds himself at odds with his boss The Great Guidance and The Plan. What’s a gorilla-robot-alien-monster supposed to do?

If Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has been crowned Ms. Bad 1950’s Science-Fiction, Robot Monster is certainly the runner-up. Perhaps it is only one Tim Burton helmed biopic away from being just as celebrated. Both films share a lot of similarities, along with budget minded special effects, both Plan 9 and Robot Monster put sympathetic antagonists up against lunkhead leads. While Wood’s film benefits from the performances of Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, and Dudley Manlove (although perhaps not in the way Wood expected), Ro-Man/George Barrows is forced to carry his entire film by himself.

The failings of Robot Monster are many.  One of its biggest being a tepid love story that feels as spliced into the story as the well used stock dinosaur footage that shows up. Ro-Man himself is a gorilla with a diving helmet/television combo for a head and therefore very hard to take seriously as a threat. Perhaps the most egregious crime is the ham-fisted way the movie attempts an ‘It was all a  dream… or was it?’ ending that is more aggravating than shocking.

So what does Robot Monster have going for it? Two things: First, Ro-Man is a delight to watch. His character development is a humorously dark take on the romantic comedy as we watch the stuffy Ro-Man’s life go all to pieces when he falls in love with a beautiful woman.  He’s hounded by an overbearing boss and given a task that should be easy to accomplish but he  somehow keeps screwing it up. Ro-Man is the perfect comedy anti-hero. Robot Monster’s second strength is the one element that is most often left out in television broadcasts, the 3D. The film was shot in 3D and for an inexperienced crew working with a complicated process, the results are surprisingly good.  Robot Monster uses its 3D well, from the bubbles floating around Ro-Man's lair, to the monster himself thrusting his hand towards the camera as if to reach out and crush all the puny humans in the audience.

Robot Monster is an excellent gateway drug for weird film. It has a running time that is mercifully brief and thus keeps things moving (if never believable). Ro-Man is a fun villain due to the conflicting nature of his appearance and his intent. If you can view it in 3D, it adds a little more spectacle to what is an otherwise dull looking movie.  I can see its age and cheapness keeping viewers away but I feel its one of  pillars of trash SF. Robot Monster truly lies at the point on the graph were “must” and “cannot” meet.

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