Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten Movie and TV Robots: Rubber Suit Monster Edition

Mysterious Dr. Satan
Why would a blog about rubber suit monsters be making a list of top ten movie and TV robots, you might be wondering? We noticed that most of the robot rankings out there for film and broadcast science fiction are too much of a mixed bag for our tastes. The other top ten lists put all kinds of robots together. How can you compare live action and animated robots, or example? For us, the premier robot representation, especially on the big screen, is a guy (or nice looking gal) in a robot costume. It's the natural enhancement of the rubber suit monster!

So the robots on this list are not cartoon animations, CGI's, or radio controlled animatrons. They are also not androids that are pretty much regular people on the outside with implied gears on the inside (like in the original Alien, Bladerunner, the enforcement cops in THX 1138, Yul Brynner in West World, or The Terminator--who becomes a CGI anyway). We're not up for telling ourselves throughout a film that this actor with a gear or lens stuck to their face is supposed to be a robot. Computers like HAL in 2001 are also not it. HAL was great, but he's not a robot. We like to watch a person, 98% of them at least, wrapped in a fantastic costume play a robot or monster. A note: new Dr. Who show's robots do qualify for our list and are popular, but we find them very annoying. The robots can be scary, or lovable, just not like nails on a chalkboard. We also do appreciate some of the non-suit robots. The stop-action, animated model robots in the original star wars were wonderful, for example. Here's our list of top robots:

10. Lost in Space Robot (B-9 environmental control robot). We know that this was a really bad show. We also know that if you were a kid in the 1960s, you watched it. Lost in Space was like a slow motion train wreck. But that robot was a blast. The slinky arms were nutty, as was the telescoping glass eyeball, halo, or whatever it was supposed to be that craned out of its upper body. This robot deserves fame and appreciation just for its, "Danger, danger Will Robinson!" warning calls.

9. Original Battlestar Galatica "Cylon" Robots. Cylons are on this list because lots of people love the old and new Galactica shows, which is important. The robots from the old show get a shout out here because they had a guy walking around in the costume, and pulled off this sort of cool retro 1950s heavy chrome automobile fender and grill aesthetic.

8. Robocop Robot. Another crappy movie franchise that made a bundle for the schlocky producers. But Peter Weller, whose costume qualifies for this list because he was completely covered in it save his lips and chin, really created a memorable character. The film also gets points for attempting to lampoon the all too real police state. Fun factoid is that Weller won the part because his lips looked the best. I think that's studio flack hype, but it's fun.

7. Forbidden Planet "Robby The Robot." This was the perfect movie robot for its time. This robot did not have a bad angle and made beautiful toys. It actually was kind of a little scary in the film too, if you were young enough.

6. Wizard of Oz "Tin Man." Not taking any arguments about this one. Tin Man is amazing.

5. The Day The Earth Stood Still "Gort" Robot. This film and this robot are in a class all by themselves. The robot's aesthetic is so spare and elegant. It wears its metal suit like it was on the spring runway in Milan. Everything in this movie worked including this singular rubber suit robot. If you get a chance to see the film in large format, go for it. There are details inside the ship that don't come through any other way.

4. Metropolis "False Maria" Robot. Another superlative. She is the rubber suit automaton by which all others are judged. Her style is quoted by costume designers again and again, from Star Wars to Dr. Who. But nothing compares to Maria in the film in all her Art Deco, black and white, silent film glory.

2. & 3. Star Wars "R2D2" and "CP3O" So lovable. They are a pair. And incredibly, there was somebody inside the R2 costume driving it around. They were pretty small but they were in there.

1. Godzilla Movie Franchise "Mechagodzilla." All stars encounter their character's evil twin, if their show or film franchise is around long enough. It is only right that the king of all rubber suit monsters Godzilla would have its robot mirror image. Mecha was genius. It was so much fun watching these two slug it out. Will have to watch it again soon.

Honorable Mention: 1940's The Mysterious Dr. Satan robot - truly a "man in a can."

Monday, April 11, 2011

American Monsters: American International Picture's Obscure Rubber Suit Monster Virtuoso, Paul Blaisdell

Although Japanese rubber suit monsters like Godzilla have a large fan-base, sometimes we like our homegrown latex space aliens and cinematic scientific accidents best.  Though not as famous as American film monster technicians like Ray Harryhausen or Bob Westmoreland, no rubber suit monster blog would be complete without looking at Paul Blaisdell's work for the insane American International Pictures.

Through the 50s and 60s American International specialized in producing low-budget screamers pitched at teen audiences.  Blaisedell was their monster maestro making wonders on a shoe-string for much of their history.  Stories of Paul are legion among his fans, such as having to whip up monsters after filming ended and inserting them post production.  Paul is also known for cobbling quite convincing creatures together with basically rubbish. Paul used sections of carpet tied together with rubber cement because his budgets wouldn't allow for a full rubber casting of the monster.  He is also famous for making due with a negative cash flow when directors spent the fx budget on a different film.  This is supposedly how Paul came to American International in the first place, when the now legendary Roger Corman left nothing for special effects after shooting a creature feature, and they needed someone who could make them something out of nothing.

Paul's referral to American International and the Corman debacle came from a friend-turned-agent, Forrest J. Ackerman.  Ackerman, who was writing for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, liked the illustrations Paul did for his story, and got Paul working in the B film industry post haste.  Interestingly, Paul had a similar background to Godzilla's creator, Eiji Tsuburaya, as a technical draftsman.  Also, Paul made the monster suits to fit himself, in order to test their operation.  If the suit did not fit the stunt actor, it would be Paul inside the suit performing on camera.

Snaps to Chad Plambeck and his excellent tribute to Paul and Jackie Blaisdell.

Friday, February 11, 2011

G-Fan: Best Rubber Suit Monster Magazine Ever!

In days of old, or BC (before computers), fans of rubber suit monsters like Godzilla, relied mostly on user-generated, low-tech, hard-copy publications to find each other in classified ads, critique the films and other monster media, and invent new stories.  The premier publication for Godzilla and other Japanese cinema kaiju monster lovers was G-Fan Magazine.

Still holding its own, even now that most of this monster-related fan communication has shifted to Internet chat sites and blogs, G-Fan was the creation of Canadian high school teacher and uber 'zilla fan-boy, J. D. Lees in 1992.  Originally a two-page mimeographed newsletter mailed to a few like-minded Godzilla enthusiasts, G-Fan quickly became a full-fledged magazine with beautifully appointed full-color art work.

Besides producing a high quality fanzine about giant sci-fi monsters (the "G" in the mag's title stands for "Giant" after Godzilla movie studio Toho International asked G-Fan to stop using copyrighted materials), Lees also facilitates some other important rubber suit monster fan culture that can't happen on the world wide web.  If you check the G-Fan Magazine web landing page, you will discover that Lees and his helpers are also the sponsors of periodic face-to-face extravaganzas like the "G-Fest" fan conventions, and the "G-Tour" trips to Godzilla movie studios and filming locations in Japan.

Rubber suit monster scholars like David Kalat (we are endlessly tickled by the fact that there are academics devoted to Godzilla), claims in his book, A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, that G-Fan Magazine is one of the most important primary research sources for criticism related to Godzilla.  In particular, Kalat thinks that G-Fan's published surveys of its readerships' likes, dislikes, and habits form the most complete picture of who rubber suit monster fans are.  For example, a survey of G-Fan questionnaire findings tells us that Godzilla and other Kaiju monster fans are predominantly male, in their teens or early twenties, and single.  Maybe Lees needs to do a "G-Harmony" Godzilla fan dating service next?  We also know from the G-Fan reader surveys that the best Godzilla movies were the first one (Godzilla 1954), the last (Godzilla: Final Wars 2004), and the worst was the American CGI version starring Matthew Broderick (Godzilla 1998) -- although most G-Fan's paid for a ticket to see it in the theaters anyway.

(Props to David Kalat, J.D. Lees' website, and Wiki)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sex and the Single Monster: The Secret Life of Godzilla

Who else out there agrees that sex is probably the last thing that rubber suit monsters bring to mind?  Okay, a B-movie swamp thing carrying off a bikini-clad bathing beauty does imply the possibility of some off-camera spawning.  But the babe that slimy grabs off the poop deck won't exactly be laying eggs for her gill-man to fertilize at the bottom of the stream, will she?  Face it, not a lot to think about here.

Apparently for some parts of fandom, and for the cultural critics who chase after them, there is something going on.  An example of an important area of perpetual speculation and inquiry has to do with finding out what sex Godzilla is?  Does it have a gender?  A wonderful fan website, "Ask the Kaiju King," thinks 'zilla has been different sexes depending on the movie.  Many fans solve this ambiguity by claiming that Godzilla is both he and she, or a self-procreating hermaphrodite.

You'd think this kind of revery is a clear indication of too much time on one's hands, but not so!  Critic William Tsutsui reports in "Godzilla on My Mind; Fifty Years of the King of Monsters" that fans not only wonder if the monster has a sex, but if it is having straight or gay sex?  One site from the "Nerd World" domain Tsutsui observes, is a first-person "Zillafag" perspective of the green one's Out-and-Proud gay lover.  Another fan site sees Godzilla vs Megalon as a completely queer movie.  Even the New York times' film reviewer Vincent Canby thought he saw an unnatural affection spring up between grade-school character Ken-chan and the big guy in Godzilla vs the Smog Monster.  The gay/straight dilemma is fodder for endless suppositions.

So then, what is that certain something that brings sex to mind when watching a Godzilla film?  'Zilla scholar David Kalat says it's not your imagination.  His tome, "A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series," recounts how studio execs decided to adopt the pacing of popular Japanese softcore sex movies.  The studio heads decided that Godzilla, like porn, would need to have a stimulating scene every five minutes, otherwise the kids watching the film would get bored and start running around the theater.  When Godzilla was fighting or trashing some part of Tokyo, the kids stayed quiet and glued to the edges of their seats.

Of course, it's a no-brainer that there should be some crossover somewhere between rubber suit monsters and the burgeoning latex-wearing fetish set?  Nope!  Haven't found it.  Not for lack of trying, however.  But the whole latex outfit search thing almost made my laptop go up in flames!  If you find a link, drop me a line.

Check out the "monster-on-monster" action in the trailer for 'Godzilla vs the Smog Monster'...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: VEOH and the Search for Rubber Suit Monster Videos

One of our peeps at MovieFanCollectibles was doing an online search for an old sci-fi flick.  He found an interesting viewing website at video aggregator VEOH.  VEOH doesn't provide new content, but brings videos together in a user-friendly full screen format, once you download their player.  It's supposed to make finding and watching content out on the net easier.

VEOH is free (for now, anyway) and has a strange mix of old movies, with a fair selection of sci-fi and horror, early and obscure animation, and hygiene or social guidance clips about the dangers of drugs.  We're guessing that's because VEOH thinks old movie fans like other contemporaneous film genres for their querky outlook and sketchy production value.

Originally a California start-up, VEOH has since been acquired by an Israeli company. VEOH received attention early on when Michael Eisner, retired from Disney, became an angel investor in the company's second round of venture capital infusions.  VEOH is also somewhat unique because of limited viewership inside the US.

Hard to know what the niche VEOH is going for in the expanding on-line movie viewing market.  But they have lots of fun-looking content, sort of what would be great for late night intoxicated viewers.

The dreaded? Killer Shrew
Rubber Suit Monster Blog recommends checking out the site because of hilarious monster costumes in VEOH's movie line-up, such as:

"Killer Shrews" An unbelievably bad low-budget horror film with dogs running around dressed up in throw rugs that are supposed to make them look like giant carnivorous shrews.

"Creature from the Haunted Sea" This rubber suit looks like a combination of cookie monster and a live action Homer Simpson crusted in barnacles.

But at MovieFan we really like VEOH because it brought together a lot of Godzilla footage ready to view, thus it's a winner.  A word of caution if you go there - the website is so absorbing that it can make time disappear - be prepared to surrender an hour or more looking around.

Tip: be sure to search VEOH by "length relevance" as well as genre, to find rubber suit monster movie-length vintage videos available there.

Thanks to Wiki and About for the 411 on VEOH as a corporation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Godzilla, Gojira: What's in a Name?

Fully understanding the charm and timeless appeal of a movie monster like Godzilla may not be entirely possible. It's campy Japanese old school FX allure is at times inexplicable. Is it the ungainly rubber suit?  Is it the film-makers' conscious pandering to fans with silly vulgarity? Here at MovieFanCollectibles, the fun starts with the name. We love the name. It has a power all its own. Anything that is ungainly or uncooperative in a mildly annoying way, for us, gets "-'zilla" attached to the end of its noun or proper noun (like "cat-zilla).

Where did such an evocative name come from? According to recently deceased (February 2010) pop culture historian and pulp SCI-FI writer Jim Harmon, there is much lore flying around about the naming of Godzilla. Apparently it all started, as these things often do, as a nick-name turned working title for the designers and writers developing the film's concept.

In film, concept often comes before plots, names of characters, or titles of finished movies in the can. A recent example was with the wonderfully bad disaster movie "Snakes on a Plane," or "SOAP" for short. SOAP was the working title for a high concept (i.e. light on plot) Hollywood action movie being shopped around to well-known actors. Samuel L. Jackson agreed to do the film, but only if they kept the silly working title.

The dynamic dino was first known as "Gojira," which Harmon says was a play on words from the first film's crew at Toho International productions (東宝株式会社 Tōhō Kabushiki-kaisha), who married the English word gorilla with the Japanese word for whale, "kujira." There you have it. To the Japanese, Godzilla looks like a big old "moby-kong."

For Western audiences, Gojira was translated by distributors into Godzilla. Harmon recounts further naming legend which says that Godzilla is supposedly a cross between a "god" or awesome creature of impressive size, and "zilla,"  which refers to the monster's lizard-like qualities.

Even if none of this is true, Harmon deserves major chops for spinning a good yarn in his tome, "The Godzilla Book."

Fun factoid: Toho International also produced the films of Akira Kurosawa.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top Ten Best Movie and Television Rubber Suit Monsters of all Time

Here is MovieFanCollectibles' list of the best live action rubber suit monsters. The list is highly partial and subjective. We're sure you have your own list and will in many cases take extreme exception to ours. That's fine. Write back to us. Answering your mail will keep our minds off the state of global politics (which is arguably what rubber suit monsters personify anyway!). Best argument to the contrary will win a fabulous piece of Hollywood movie memorabilia from our extensive inventory. Check out the collections by clicking this line.

Besides just having that je ne sais quoi that puts the monster on our list, our only other criterion for making the cut is full-body rubber encasement (with one reptile pants exception, see below). If it's not full body rubber, then it's really just make-up.   

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
If you were ever a parent or a kid, there is no need to explain the hours of high-camp goofiness that these guys pulled off to keep the little ones entertained. They also get extra points for being a truly bizarre mash-up of popular culture references. Power Rangers were in the same rubbery ball park as the turtles, but were not really monsters.  TMNTs score still more points for having, according to Aussey Sci-Fi critic Robin Pen,  a directly descending lineage from the daddy of all rubber monsters, "the big G."

9. The Gorn (Star Trek, The Original Show)
All the Star Trek shows and movies mostly settled for slapping some molded rubber onto foreheads, noses and ears,  We'll be the first to admit that the antennae on those little blue spacemen Andorians were pretty wacky.  But we agree with the guys over at TV that the full-body rubber suit Gorn is a true classic.  Extra points for the mano-a-monster action in that episode where the Gorn monster really opens up a can of whup-ass on Kirk.  Gorns also look like a stunted relative of the "Big G."

8. Marshmallow Man (Ghostbusters)
Dan Akroyd said that given the right circumstances, anything could seem evil.  According to Sam Delaney of The Guardian, "Stay Puft's familiar mascot combined elements of real life brand ambassadors the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Bibendum (aka the Michelin tyre man)."  It was silly. It wasn't really a monster.  But it was the production's FX designer crashing around Manhattan in a pretty dope rubber suit.

7. Raptor Pants (Jurassic Park film franchise)
We just loved the idea of this.  Seems that with all the dinosaur CGI and animatronics Spielberg production bucks could buy, nothing was a good enough stand-in (heh, heh) for Raptor legs in the close-ups with live-action actors.  So they filmed stunt people from the waist down wearing rubber Raptor legs.    

6. & 5. Dr. Who and the Outer Limits
These shows had no end of rubber suit monsters (or foil-covered cardboard, bubble wrapped monsters for that matter).  We're talking sheer volume here.  Way too many to enumerate in this space.  Both shows have websites and online video compilations devoted to these wonders.  Go back and review them in your own time  

4. The Original Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars, Return of the Jedi)
You have to agree that the non-CGI Jabba viewed in large format was ludicrous and disgusting.  It also got extra points for size: it was really three guys in a rubber suit.  Jabba loses points in our book, however, for not following through and chowing-down on Princess Leia.  Carrie Fisher is still out there terrorizing the the world. 

3. Alien/Aliens Monster
This chilling monster happened early enough in the game that it made sense to dress up a really tall skinny kid in a rubber suit. But what a rubber suit!  It seems like almost every alien in a movie afterward, CGI or live action, makes some sort of visual reference to it.  The monster also scores major points for being part of a production design scheme that came from the twisted mind of H.R. Giger.  Few people are neutral about this artist.  You either love Giger's work or hate it.  Whatever end of the spectrum you fall on, there is no question that his participation in the movie's design brought great legitimacy to the historically maligned Sci-fi film genre.

2. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Scores major points for having an original 3-D release (take that digital cartoon blue dudes from Avatar--you haven't lived until you've seen CFTBL in Large format 3-D).  Sometimes old school is so much better than anything else.  Swamp Thing at the drive-in was also a great time.

1. Godzilla
You saw it coming. The big G zilla-monster is the best ever.  Godzilla is to the rubber suit monster what Ray Harryhausen's King Kong is to stop-motion animation.  In both cases, it is the one by which all others are judged.  Our company even has a cat named for the beast, we love it so much.   

Thanks to TV Tropes and Wiki for background on this article.