Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mysterious Island

Mysterious Island, 1961 I grew up with Mysterious Island. In those pre-Betamax dark ages, you had to keep a keen eye on the TV Guide if you wanted to watch your favorite movie again and again. Then, inevitably, you'd have to run out of the room to go pee just as your favorite giant-animal-monster was about to terrorize the buxom heroine. Oh, DAMN! I missed the first thirty seconds of the giant bees! Watching it nowadays, my finger is never too far from the fast forward button. Ray Harryhausen's good stuff (note giant crab, bee, and chickenish thing in the poster above -- and that's not all!) is intercut with long, boring bits of dialog as our castaways struggle to survive on (badummm!) the Mysterious Island. I have no patience for this as an adult. As a kid, the talkie stuff functioned as foreplay, raising tension in anticipation of the orgiastic monster scenes. When I set about the process of world-building for my novel, I think Mysterious Island must have been lurking through my unconscious mind, diddling my muse. My aliens are little more than giant Harryhausen-style critters. Big birds, dogs, pigs, spiders, and so forth. Sure, they have their little quirks that make them alien, but I wanted my creatures to be immediately imaginable by the reader. I dislike extraterrestrials which demand much from me in the 'inner eye' department. Moties? Feh. Niven's puppeteer? Uh. I'll take Niven's Kzin (giant cats), thank you very much. I suppose many readers are just the opposite. They crave the strange. Show me something I've never seen before. Yeah, I know there are SF fans out there who think that way. I cracked the problem in a different (and, I hope, equally satisfactory) way, by giving my readers situations they might never have imagined possible. Like, say, a giant fly going down on a giant spider. When was the last time Niven gave you that, huh? D.

9 Comments:

Blogger Lilith Saintcrow said...

The trick is to give just enough to make the monster recognizable- and stop so the reader can personalize it and make it uniquely scary just to them. BWAHAHAHA!

I have to admit, that chicken-thing is pretty sweet.

9/13/2005 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

OMG, Doug, I practically had a Depends moment looking at that chicken thing.

Wait? Do you suppose THAT'S actually the unknown monster on "Lost?"

Lost...The Mysterious Island...connection?

9/13/2005 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Know what else I love about that movie? They kill and eat just about everything they meet up with, including Mr. Funky Chicken.

9/13/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Lilith Saintcrow said...

No Monster can stand up to the human digestive tract, baby. You better believe it.

9/13/2005 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

But did it taste like chicken?

Lilith, I just re-read your comment. ALIEN was the scariest book I ever read as a teenager, because the alien was very generally described. With a vague outline, my imagination took over and scared the hell out of me.

Liked the movie, hated the monster. Bring on the flies, Doug!

9/13/2005 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Lilith Saintcrow said...

Hey Robyn!

Yeah, that's why Lovecraft is in so many printings despite being a terrible writer- he had the gift of giving enough description to let us scare the hell out of ourselves. :)

And ALIEN scared the bejesus out of me too. Did you read the Alan Dean Foster book? He totally rocks.

9/13/2005 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Here's an interesting movie for you, Lilith: The Keep (1983), directed by Michael Mann, with Scott Glenn and Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot). Great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream -- worth renting the movie just for the soundtrack.

The monster is scary as hell for the first 2/3 of the movie. Then, Mann made a horrible mistake. He showed the monster. Once you see him (he looks like the Jolly Green Giant), all fear and tension dissipates like fog. Still, the first 2/3 of the movie is a great example of how it should be done.

Besides, it's always fun to see Nazis getting killed in horrible ways.

9/13/2005 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

The scariest thing on that cover are the facial expressions of the two humans. Like bad actors whose only way to show any emotion is a half open mouth.

The Smart Bitches should dissect that cover. :)

9/13/2005 05:41:00 PM  
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