Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sci-Fi Sundays #2 – The Giant Claw

The Giant Claw (1957) is a bit unique among the dozens of giant monster movies that were made in the 1950s. Its subject isn’t a spider, cockroach, or some other insect; its size isn’t attributable to the wayward effects of nuclear radiation. Nope, it’s a giant buzzard from space that’s come to Earth to terrorize mankind.

But first, the set-up: a lone test pilot spots a UFO that no one on the ground picks up on radar, which convinces his superiors that he’s gone crazy. It takes the disappearances of several other aircraft to convince everyone that something strange is going on, and that the test pilot may in fact be right. Although the mysterious shape that constantly appears in the sky is clearly the silhouette of a giant bird, every single person that sees it describes it as a “flying battleship.” This even includes the governments of foreign countries, who haven’t conferred with American military forces even in the slightest. Apparently, the fear of giant flying battleships is universal.

Their misconceptions aren’t helped by the fact that no one seems to know what the term “UFO” actually means. Each time a pilot radios back to base with the exclamation that he’s seen a UFO, the response is always “What is it?” or “Can you see what it is?” or something along those lines. Of course he can’t see what it is, you dimwits, or he would have just told you rather than saying he was unable to identify the flying object that he saw.

Figuring out what the UFO really is turns out to be a simple matter of setting up a hidden camera on a high-altitude balloon. Making things easier, the bird-monster looks right into the camera for half of the pictures. Speaking of which, the space buzzard is both one of the stupidest and one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on film. I would try to describe it to you, but words really can’t do it justice…so instead, I’ve posted a picture of it above. And if you think that looks ridiculous, then let me assure you, it’s even more absurd in motion.

What’s even funnier is seeing what the bird does to its victims. It’s always careful not to outright destroy the jet fighters that attack it (to no avail) throughout the movie. That way, it’s able to eat the parachuting pilots with a uniform crunch that sounds like a clip from a Pringles commercial. The reason that no one can harm the creature at first isn’t entirely obvious – as it turns out, it’s protected by an antimatter force field that can only be destroyed by a “focused meson emitter,” whatever that is. After they hit the bird with that, it’s a fairly easy matter of shooting the thing out of the sky.

As dumb as the movie sounds, parts of it are actually somewhat cleverly written. One scene has the main character and his love interest exchanging baseball jargon in a way that’s so overtly sexual I’m not sure how it got past the censors. There are a few similarly funny scenes, and while they’re not pure comedy gold, they don’t need to be. After all, that’s what giant space buzzards are for.

Movie Rating: ** (2 out of 4)
Entertainment value: ***½ (3.5 out of 4)

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