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Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Blue Planet II & The Black Scorpion

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, July 30, 2018 07:18pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Both of these Blu-rays came out in the past three months.

Blue Planet II, BBC Earth:
At Amoeba Music we sell a lot of DVDs of abstract video set to psychedelic music that are used by Blue Planet IIpeople who are bombed on pot and psychedelics to blow their minds to. Well, those stoner viewers have found their new holy grail with Blue Planet II. This is one of the trippiest things I've ever seen; every episode is utterly surreal and mind bending, and the best part is there are no drugs involved -- this is pure straight up reality. The oceans are an alien world to us land dwellers and David Attenborough's high def cameras reveal this reality to a degree we've never seen before. Thanks to recent developments in technology and photography, this is the clearest we've ever seen the underwater realm. In all older ocean documentaries, the light and colors beneath the surface have always been muted or blurred due to that fact that cameras couldn't equal the details of human vision. But photography has finally caught up and all the scenes in Blue Planet II are as crystal clear as if you were there underwater viewing the events through a scuba diving mask. In fact, this Blu-ray is the new gold standard for high def. When I popped this in I couldn't believe how sharp and clear the pictures and details were, they were even better than other recent Blu-ray releases.

I may be going out on a limb, but this might be the best documentary ever made about the sea. Only Blue Planet IIJacques Cousteau's documentaries are even in the same league and they were made years ago, long before the new technology that allows Blue Planet II to truly take us where no man has gone before. In fact, there's footage shot in infra-red and total darkness, so the camera actually shows more than the human eye can perceive. We get to see manta rays and squid feeding in the pitch dark for the first time ever. This Blu-ray set is kind of like one big wow moment after another. There are blooms of millions of jelly fish, schools of dolphins over five thousand strong, lakes of brine on the bottom of the sea, phosphorescent deep sea fish that look more like the light show at a rave than living creatures. There's sleeping schools of whales, octopuses that constantly change color, and schools of tropical fish so beautiful you gasp involuntarily when you see them. I highly recommend purchasing a copy. This is the kind of thing you can watch over and over.

The Black Scorpion, Warner Archive:
Fans of stop motion animation rejoice! This classic Wills O'Brien film has finally made it to Blu-ray high The Black Scorpiondef! The Warner Archive has upgraded this beloved bug eyed monster film of the fifties and this is the best version of it we've ever seen. The movie is considered by many to be one of O'Brien's lesser works and while it's no King Kong, it still has some classic special effects sequences that long ago made it a staple of Saturday night horror movie shows. The movie starts with a gigantic earthquake and volcanic eruption devastating the Mexican countryside. Two scientists traveling through the devastation stumble across evidence of mysterious deaths that can't be explained by the geologic upheaval. It soon turns out that the earthquake and eruption have unleashed a species of gigantic scorpions that have been buried under the earth for eons. These monsters make short work of the local citizenry and the army is called out to fight them. They discover the scorpions’ hidden lair in a giant underground cave which the two scientists explore. The scenes in the cave are the best in the movie. Wills O'Brien creates a hellish subterranean realm of fearsome monster worms, spiders, and scorpions. These scenes are as good as anything that O'Brien ever created, and I actually have some suspicions that some of these scenes may have originally been used in the legendary lost King Kong spider pit scene.

For those of you not familiar with the lost spider pit sequence here is a quick redux: The original cut of The Black Scorpion pitKing Kong included a scene where Kong shakes a bunch of sailors off a log and they fall into a deep pit. A number of the sailors survive their fall only to realize that the pit is filled with huge spiders and insects who devour them. The scene was deemed to be too horrifying for all audiences and locations and only a few of the prints of Kong, most playing to urban audiences, did not have the scene edited out. Over the ensuing years all the prints that contained the spider pit sequence have been lost and the scene is considered to be one of the holy grails of lost cinema footage. I believe, (along with a number of other critics) that the footage was not totally lost but that O'Brien recycled some of it for this movie. I'm fairly certain of this because I've actually seen the lost spider pit sequence. When I was a kid, for a few years in the late sixties and early seventies, I lived on Signal Mountain in Tennessee. Even nearby Chattanooga only had two out of the three major network stations. There was a third local TV station, Channel 64 I think it was called, that broadcast out of a small town called Soddy Daisy on the back of Signal Mountain. This was a small privately owned station that wasn't affiliated with any of the networks and only broadcast old movies and TV shows. The first three or four times I watched King Kong was on Channel 64, and their print of the movie had the spider pit scene. It is hard for me to convey how horrifying this scene was. It was by far the most unsettling and frightening scene in the movie. In fact, it kind of interrupted the flow of the movie because all the scenes that actually had Kong in them were rather tame in comparison. As a horror fan, it immediately became my favorite scene in the movie. I religiously watched King Kong every time Channel 64 played it. In the years after we moved away from Tennessee, I continued to watch King Kong whenever it played on television, but I was always puzzled by the fact that no other station aired the movie with the spider pit scene. I just assumed that the local censors had found the scene too horrifying for general viewing and had edited it out. Whenever me and my brother would watch it we'd be like,"What the hell happened to that crazy spider pit scene?" It wasn't till decades later that I discovered that the spider pit sequence is one of the greatest pieces of lost footage in the history of cinema. The Black Scorpion contains some of that scene when the scientists are down in the cave full of scorpions. The giant worms and trap door spider come straight from Kong, I think a couple of the scenes with the scorpions are from Kong as well. So if you love King Kong, you have to buy this Blu-ray.

The movie itself looks wonderful. This is the best print of The Black Scorpion that has ever been released. The picture is nicely cleaned up, and the special effects scenes are so sharp you can see tons of details that were never visible before. This is especially noticeable in the scenes in the cave with all the underground monsters. The details you can see on O'Brien's models are breathtaking. There is also a great collection of bonus features that appear to have been remastered. These include some excellent animation sequences by O'Brien's assistant on the film, Pete Petersen, that were made for films that never got made. The real highlight of the bonus features though is the prehistoric scene from the Irwin Allen documentary feature film The Animal World. It's in eye popping color and was the last collaboration between Wills O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. If you're a fan of stop motion animation or classic monster movies in general, this Blu-ray belongs in your collection. It’s kind of the perfect distillation of all the things that make Saturday night monster movies great.

Relevant Tags

Jacques Cousteau (1), David Attenborough (3), Nature Films (1), Ray Harryhausen (6), Documentary (30), Cult Film (21), Film (180), Movie Moment (13), Jon Longhi (25), Wills O'brien (1), King Kong (1), Spiders (2)