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Five Million Years To Earth (1968)

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Is it possible that racism and superstition originated in alien life forms? That's the premise of the 1967 sci-fi classic Five Million Years to Earth. The third in a series produced by Hammer films, it was also marketed as The Mind Benders, but in England was called Quatermass and the Pit for the 1958 British television series upon which it was based. Though the name change bothered writer Nigel Kneale, the film has attained a cult status as the best film of the Quatermass trilogy, following The Creeping Unknown (a.k.a. The Quatermass Xperiment) and Enemy from Space (a.k.a. Quatermass II).

Professor Bernard Quatermass is a pacifist superscientist. In Five Million Years to Earth, he's called to investigate a mysterious discovery found by workers excavating the supposedly haunted Hobb's Lane underground station in London. Forced to work together despite their personal differences, missile expert Colonel Breen and Quatermass discover what they believe to be an unexploded German bomb from World War II. But when the interior of the missile reveals insect-like creatures, and when hoodoo and mayhem break out around them, Breen and Quatermass must work together to re-contain the evil force that was released by the mass.

Scottish actor Andrew Keir stars as Professor Quatermass, taking over the role from Brian Donlevy (Song of Scheherazade), who had portrayed Quatermass in both of the previous flicks. Keir was no stranger to playing the good guy for Hammer films: he was Father Sandor in their 1966 Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Professor Julian Fuchs in the 1971 Blood from the Mummy's Tomb. Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), James Donald (The Bridge on the River Kwai) and Keir's Dracula co-star Barbara Shelley round out the primary cast.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the script came directly from Quatermass originator Nigel Kneale. Kneale considers himself a dramatic writer who uses science fiction as a vehicle for his many plays and series, and the staying power of his characters testifies to his writing talent. The Quatermass character from his teleplays has spawned three television series, four movies and a more recent radio play. When the original radio plays premiered, they had the same effect as Orson Wells' War of the Worlds, sending people chaotically running through the streets to warn of the impending danger of alien invasion. More recently, director Alex Proyas (The Crow) has been developing a remake of Five Million Years to Earth, and the British theatre company Creation Productions successfully staged a live version of the movie in 1997. weird

Kneale talked about the success of his original Quatermass plays and movies in the context of current sci-fi: "I think now we've got a much lazier audience, certainly an audience that demands, and has been given by every Spielberg epic, high-gloss definition without, very often, much content. The Quatermass stories were written with very little dependence on special effects. The stories are told through the characters and the action. Now that is one area where an awful lot of science fiction stuff, so far as I've seen, collapses. Construction of the story is often rotten and is waiting to be saved by the special effects. All too often nowadays, expensive films do depend on them and that's why we have this increasingly dry, hugely expensive stuff coming out of Hollywood."

He's got a point about the cost of things. After all, special effects assistant Ian Scoones remembers improvising a perfectly good cheap alternative for the Martian bodies in Five Million Years to Earth. "We based it on football games in pubs, where you get a line of plastic players stuck on a metal rod. We had loads and loads of locusts: there was an awful smell in the studio."

Five Million Years to Earth (1968)
Sunday, October 10, 1999 Rating: TV-14

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