When MGM comes knocking on your door with an offer to direct a film about green goo that morphs into lumpy tentacled monsters, what do you say?
Prior to The Green Slime, Kinji Fukasaku was among Japan’s New Wave directors, responsible for a number of stylish crime dramas – Blackmail is My Life / Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei (1968) – so perhaps it seemed like a perfect break into the Hollywood film scene.
MGM was actually a co-producer among several of this el cheapo, G-rated production, shot at Toei’s own studio in Japan using lots of tiny, shiny plastic models with visible wires and hard studio lighting. The sets were minimal, and the supporting cast of non-Asians (er, everyone) was likely staffed with wannabe thespians from the local U.S. Navy base.
Robert Horton (Wagon Train, A Man Called Shenandoah) is Commander Jack Rankin, lured back into service when a giant asteroid is spotted on a collision course for Earth within 10 hours. Rankin’s job is to head what’s ostensibly a suicide mission: fly up to the orbiting space wheel (the Gamma-3)now commanded by his ex-best friend Vince Elliott (The Dirty Dozen’s Richard Jaeckel), and lead a team to the asteroid where they have 45 mins. to drill explosives into the soil before Command Center on Earth blows up the destructive projectile.
The first half hour, believe it or not, is basically Armageddon (1998). Instead of oil rigger Bruce Willis being jealous of losing his daughter’s love to young snot Ben Affleck, it’s two commanders still fuming over Dr. Lisa Benson, the space wheel’s hot doctor, played by Italian redhead Luciana Paluzzi, the sultry actress who vivified cruel bitch goddess Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965).
What took director Michael Bay almost 3 hours to accomplish in Armageddon was done in less than 30 mins. by Fukasaku, because once on the asteroid, the four fine screenwriters responsible for this film (including co-co-producer Ivan Reiner) introduce the story’s real antagonist: a glowing, pulsing, oozing green slime. After a glopnick of goo gets stuck on a crewman’s pant leg, high energy exposure from the space wheel’s decontamination suit activates the goo’s reproductive DNA, making it get very big.
The Green Slime then becomes The Blob (1958), but this new cinematic twist adds green siblings that grow sparkly tentacles, lose their slimy structure, and waddle forward using chubby legs and red Cyclops eyes to seek out and attack humans, and touch anything bright, shiny, and powered by a 60 Hz current
Ray guns don’t work because spilt blood spawns more green Cyclops weebles, and like the Predator 2 alien, the creatures can repair themselves using the sparkly tips of their tentacles. Even the nets mandated by humanist/softie Elliott are ineffective, since the tentacles’ electric activity burn and short out anything they touch.
If the creatures take over the space wheel, they’ll surely turn it into a derelict vessel, sending it straight to Earth where the creatures will wipe out all life, so the surviving humans must rig the ship to self-destruct before escaping in shuttle crafts.
The Green Slime has perfect genetic makeup. Actors repeat each other's primary statements with faux intensity, and Paluzzi, the film's token heroine, carries a deeply concerned visage throughout the entire film, and never wears anything less than a mini-skirt/brief medico dress. (Sadly, there is no moment in the film when Paluzzi enacts the poster’s superb sexual hyperbole.)
Knowing he was limited to a few small sets, Fukasaku had cinematographer Yoshikazu Yamasawa film the actors in medium close-ups, saving all wide shots for exteriors. Editor Osamu Tanaka cut each scene down to base essentials: objects, people, and the camera are in constant motion, making each cut fast, tight, and kinetic.
Fukasaku frequently directs his cast to converge towards a shot's center as the camera tracks forward, as when the crew watches footage of exterior ship repairs on a control room monitor.
There are some clever ideas in The Green Slime: a remote video car is used to tap into the wireless security cameras in each room, and the film's future world is wired for fast and immediate communications. Not clever is Vince's idea to catch the first alien using a net, but neither brilliant is Jack's desire to fire a gun at the creature when it's at the base of the ship's nuclear reactor.
The asteroid from where the slime originates is a quasi-Martian - red and rocky - but the team's golf carts travel the surface with complete ease. Equally facile are the wobbly drills which burrow round holes a few inches deep for the square boxes of time-released explosives. When the asteroid goes kaboom, the editing is spastic, mixing frenetic zoom-ins with rapidly flipped number cards instead of an electronic numeric display.
The film's music score is a mish-mash of original cues by uncredited Japanese composer Toshiaki Tsushima, stock music from the Valentino stock music library, and a ridiculous theme song by Charles Fox about, er, a green slime.
After The Green Slime, Fukasaku returned to native Japanese crime dramas (including the Yakuza Papers series) and achieved huge success in 2000 with Battle Royale / Batoru rowaiaru.
Perhaps unimpressed with the lack of critical praise for The Green Slime, co-producer/co-writer Ivan Reiner apparently disappeared from filmmaking, although his prior effort was the Gamma Quadrilogy – Wild, Wild Planet / I criminali della galassia (1965), The War of the Planets / I diafanoidi vengono da Marte (1966), War Between the Planets / Il pianeta erra (1966), and The Blue Devils / La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967) - which MGM released to English markets.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan