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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Robot Monster
Robot Monster
Image // Unrated // October 10, 2000
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 12, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

There are some movies whose fame comes not from the awards and accolades they have received, but from the scornand distain heaped upon them. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Battlefield Earth, and Gigli all fall into that category.    While people will stay up arguing which is the absolute worst, one movie that is definitely in the running is Robot Monster.  This movie is so mind bogglingly bad, that it is enjoyable to watch.

The plot doesn't make any sense.  It starts out with a boy, Johnny, and his sister Carla playing in what is described as a "forest."  Only there aren't any trees.  Or shrubs.  Or grass.  It's really just dirt and rocks.  In any case, the two siblings run into a pair of archeologists excavating in a cave.  They talk for a moment until the children's widowed mother, Martha, and older sister, Alice, arrive and take them back to their picnic site so that they can have a nap.

Okay, it's a tad bizarre that the family is picnicking in a quarry, but I can live with that.  From here on out, the movie decides that plot is a really overrated aspect of fiction, and just sort of meanders where it will.  Everyone takes a nap, and Little Johnny is the first to wake up.  He goes exploring among the rocks and hits his head.  When he comes to, he sees a gorilla with a steel diver's helmet and antenna.  It is Ro-man from the planet Ro-man.  Johnny overhears how Ro-Man has exterminated all the people on earth, except for eight that he can't seem to find.  Johnny runs home unnoticed.  His 'house' consists of the intersection of two cement walls with no roof and rubble on the floor.  His father George, (who was the archeologist professor in the a few minutes ago) explains how he has invented a serum that will inoculate people against every disease.  A side effect of the drug is that it also makes people immune to Ro-man's weapons.  The professor has given the drug only to his family and a few assistants, and these are the eight people Ro-man is hunting down.

Now Roy enters, who was the archeologist's assistant, but is now Alice's suitor.  She's not too interested in him at first, even though he is the last eligible man on earth.  (That's got to be a blow to a guy's ego.)  But she soon comes around.

The group decides that their only hope of survival is to talk to Ro-man and hope they can reason with him.  George contacts him with a video phone that they happen to have, and proclaims that they want to live in peace.   Ro-man refuses to listen until he gets a glimpse of Alice, and falls madly in love.   He offers to discuss a peace treaty, but only with Alice.  After breaking the connection, George and Roy refuse to let Alice go to the meeting, because it's much too dangerous.  (Obviously, this is years before Sigourney Weaver was in Alien.)

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT.  Just skip to the next paragraph if you'd like to avoid them.  Their only chance for peace thrown away, Roy and Alice get married and go on a honeymoon. (What??)  Soon after they are leave, Clara runs after the happy couple and gives some flowers to her sister.  On her way back she runs into Ro-man.  Not in the least scared of this creature that has killed two billion people, she stand in front of him while he lumbers up and kills her.  Then Ro-man shuffles off (he can't walk very fast) and finds Roy and Alice.  He kills Roy and carries the girl to his cave.   With his dying breath, Roy manages to tell the remaining people that Ro-man has captured Alice.  George, Martha, and Johnny come up with a witty plan:  Johnny will surrender to Ro-man and hope for a painless death, while the two adults rescue Alice.  (Yes, that is really their plan.)  While they are coming up with this scheme, Ro-man's superior, the "Great Guidance" orders Ro-man to kill Alice.  He can't do it.  Hearing Johnny yelling that he is surrendering, Ro-man leaves the cave and kills the boy.  The parents resuce Alice, for all the good it will do.  The Great Guidance, angry that Alice has gotten away, uses his powers to kill Ro-man for disobeying him, and then releases his "cosmic tube rays" that "resurrect prehistoric life."  We are then treated to some scenes of dinosaurs fighting lifted from One Million B.C.  The earth starts to crack open and disintegrate when.......Johnny wakes up!  It was all a dream.  The main characters gather in the cave and chat about how glad they are that Johnny wasn't hurt and then leave.  Just as they are out of sight, an army of Ro-mans (or is it Ro-men?  What is the plural of Ro-man?) walk out of the cave.  So end one of the greatest stinkers of all time.
End Spoilers

Granted this is a very low budget movie.  Made for $16,000 and shot in four days in 1953, you can't expect high production values.  But there is so much wrong with this movie, it's hard to know where to start.  The acting is bad, but the dialog is worse.  This film contains some of the most unappealing lines ever read in a movie.   Most of Ro-man's dialog just doesn't make any sense what so ever.  "My pulse has been reduced to plus zero zero."  Or my favorite speech in the film:  "I cannot, yet I must.  How do you calculate that.  At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet?  Yet I must, but I cannot!"

The others characters have wretched dialog too.  In one scene Roy says to Alice "You're so bossy, you should be milked before you come home at night."

The direction is horrid.  The composition is ghastly, and the camera hardly ever moves.  Many of the shots last much too long.  There are scenes that have no reason at all for being in the movie, a lot of them.  There are shots of Ro-Man just walking around.  And more shots of Ro-Man walking around.   And there are errors that would have been easily fixed with a retake, that were left in.  There is one instance where someone bumps the camera, and they didn't bother do it over.

There are many, many internal errors too.  While watching this, my seven year old son was pointing out the mistakes and continuity errors.  When the movie was done, he asked why the movie was titled Robot Monster.  I couldn't answer him.  It's not clear if Ro-man is a robot with a fur covered body or an alien with breathing apparatus on.  They just never bothered to explain it.

The only quality aspect of the movie is the musical score.  Written by Elmer Bernstein, who went on to do such notable films as To Kill a Mockingbird, and True Grit, the music was very good and appropriate.  It would have been improved greatly by a larger orchestra, but even with the small group they used, it's a good sound track.

The thing that makes this film though, is that everyone acting in it is very earnest.  They are taking this very seriously.  It was almost as if they had no idea how horrible the lines they were reciting sounded.  And that is what pushes this movie from just "really bad" to "so bad it's good."   And this film is very fun to watch.  The incomprehensible plot, and the myriad of errors and mistakes puts this film right up there with Plan 9 From Outer Space.

This film was originally released in 3D and 2D versions.  Don't let the fact that this in not in 3D deter you from purchasing it.  There is some question whether the 3D version of the movie really was three dimensional.  Rumor has it Robot Monster was shot with only one camera, and that they sent two copies of the same print to the theaters equipped to show 3D films.  (3D films at the time had two slightly different prints that were projected through two projectors at the same time to create the 3D effect.)  I am not sure if a 3D print of the film still exists that would give a definitive answer.

Update:  There is a full 3-D print of Robot monster still in existance!  It was shown at the World 3-D Film Expo which was held September 12-21 2003 in Hollywood.  Apparently the director DID do a good job with the 3-D effects.  To quote from the 3-D Film Expo's promotional material "remarkably the B&W 3-D is generally pretty good."  (Many thanks to Steve Phillips for bringing this to my attention.)    

The DVD:



This DVD presents the movie in its original 62 minute version.  There are several edited versions of this film that have been released at different times in the past.  One copy has four minutes of footage from One Million B.C. added to the begining before the credits, and there is a colorized verson too.  As far as I can tell, this DVD has not been editied.

Audio:

This DVD has a mono audio track.  There are no subtitles.  The movie was originally advertised as having a stereo audio track, but that doesn't mean that it had one.  I find it hard to believe the such a low budget movie went to the expense of having a stereo mix.  In any case, the sound is passable.  There is some hiss but it is minimal.  The dialog is clear and easy to understand.  There isn't a lot of impact, even when the earth cracks open, but it probably didn't have a lot in 1953 either.

Video:

Presented in full frame, as it was shot, the video on this disc is acceptable.  It's not great, but they did find a good print of the film, and it's very watchable.  The picture is a little dark.  There are not any details in the shadows, and when the professor is sitting in the cave at the beginning of the movie, his dark shirt disappears into the background creating a floating head effect.  Due to the lack of quality in other aspects of this film, it could have been filmed that way.

There are many flecks and dirt specs on the print.  Not overwhelming, but a good amount.  There is some other instances of print damage; a line down one side of the picture for the first minute or so, a couple of missing frames in one spot.  It never lets you forget that you are watching something that was on film at one time.

There are some digital artifacts visible too.  The strips on Alice's dress disappear when she moves for example, but these instances are minor and they are not distracting.

On the positive side, the print that they used is much cleaner than any I've seen for this movie up to this time.  For the most part the print is clean, and though a little dark, hasn't lost too much contrast.  It is not hard on the eyes, despite my criticism.  The sad fact is that the picture quality of this movie is about as good as it is going to get.  Yes, it could be restored, but who is going to spend the incredible sums that would entail?

Extras:

There is a trailer for the movie featured on the disc, something that I think should be included on all DVDs.  The trailer is rather entertaining, and is better than the movie itself in a lot of ways.  It is of lower video quality than the feature, with the picture being softer and more blurry, but it's still watchable.  There are also trailers for several other movies from the same time period:  Bride of the Monster, Jail Bait, Rocketship X-M, and Destination Moon.

One other item of note:  This DVD was originally released in a snapper case.  The newest copies are showing up in keep cases.

Final Thoughts:

Bad dialog, bad acting, and bad direction.  A convoluted script that makes no sense.  Cheap special effects, and no sense of continuity.  Top it off with a horrible monster, and you've got a film that is actually fun to watch.  Especially if you watch it with a group of friends, so you can all laugh together.  This would make a good party movie.  Highly recommended for fans of early 50's science fiction movies and people who can appreciate truly awful film making.  Recommended for those of you out there who could use a good laugh.
 

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