Tuesday, March 13, 2018

KRONOS (1957)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

In my review of FORBIDDEN PLANET, I remarked that the creative people behind the film seemed to have gone far beyond anything they'd done previously in their respective careers. The corollary to this is also that none of them ever did anything quite so outstanding.

KRONOS came out the year after PLANET, and the later film is also credited to a story idea from Irving Block, a production designer on both films. But KRONOS was also a low-budget effort from a small company called Regalscope, and the credited screenwriter, Lawrence Goldman, brought no particular passion to the story of an alien device-- called an "energy accumulator"-- that invades Earth. Director Kurt Neumann had made his bones as a journeyman director of better-than-average Tarzan films, like TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS, but his only exceptional directorial work wouldn't come along till the next year, when he helmed THE FLY. 

It takes KRONOS quite a while to get going. A flying saucer sends an energy-construct-- possibly alive, possibly not-- down to Earth to possess a commonplace motorist. The motorist is instantly possessed by some vague alien consciousness or program. He then seeks out a redundantly named scientific laboratory, "Labcentral," penetrates the lab's security and passes on his "possession" to a major scientist named Eliot. The motorist dies, and Eliot then serves as the "inside man" for the never-seen alien aggressors. In particular, he wants to make sure that when the saucer is discovered, the U.S. Air Force attacks it. Despite the meddling of some of Eliot's subordinates, particularly leading man and leading lady Les and Vera (Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence), the saucer is shot down and plunges into the ocean off the coast of Baja California. However, this is only a stratagem designed to activate the giant energy-device within the saucer. The monolithic machine has no consciousness-- it shows no reaction when Les and Vera employ a helicopter to land on its head-- but when it gets ready to start sucking energy, not even an atom bomb can stop it.

The name given to the gigantic, energy-absorbing mechanism is the one cool mythologem of the Block-Goldman story, but it's curiously underdeveloped.  A newsman says that someone took the name from the "evil giant" of Greek myth, whose main distinction was that of devouring all of his children so that the giant's reign would never be threatened. Probably Goldman didn't pursue this symbolism because the people of Earth weren't related to the creators of the giant robot. Still, to a small degree Kronos still works on this level, as the spawn of godlike aliens who have decided to wipe out humankind. The idea that the aliens have gone through all this trouble simply to steal Earth's energy with their colossal robot never proves particularly persuasive.

The only hiccup in the aliens' well-laid plans is that Eliot's possession doesn't fully take, and sometimes the scientist recovers enough to pass on insights to the defenders of Earth-- at least, when he isn't being deemed to be out of his mind. However, it's leading man Les who has the brilliant insight to over-feed Kronos with special energy designed to make him short-circuit-- which is less like the outcome of the original Kronos story than various tales in which a monster is slain by feeding it something noxious, as with Bel and the Dragon.

Kronos, looking like a giant capacitor with piledrivers for legs, might be considered a take on the Martian tripods of the 1953 adaptation of Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS-- in which film, it will be remembered, the invading vessels also survive a nuclear blast. It's an imposing presence, but it seems that the producers weren't concerned with anything else. Les the Scientist is no Clay Forrester, and his relationship with Vera is forgettable, lacking even the minor touches of the "dueling romance" theme seen in many SF films of the period. KRONOS is a film with one good mythopoetic concept, stuck in a film with a lot of bland mundane dialogue and characterization. 

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