Friday, 5 December 2014


d. John Sherwood (1957)

After a marvellously solemn monologue about the nature of comets and the daily threat they pose to the Earth, The Monolith Monsters starts with a chunk of obsidian black space rock smashing into a Californian salt flat, spreading debris all over the desert. When the rock gets wet, it grows, forming vast towers which then topple over and smash, with each broken piece growing again to form a new tower. For the people of the small community of San Angelo this presents two problems: firstly, their little town is directly in the path of the rampaging rocks and, secondly, anyone who gets too close to the space debris has all the silicone sucked from their bodies and subsequently turns to stone. It’s a hell of a concept (sci fi film genius Jack Arnold was one of the men behind it) and it’s well executed, too.

The shots of the black monoliths growing, falling, then springing up again, in particular, are startling, especially when you realise that, with nothing to stop them, they could, with time and rain, crush the whole world. There’s no question of the rock being intelligent, it just does what it does, over and over, unthinking, unfeeling, and unaware of any consequence. It’s rather chilling, but then nature, regardless of its point of origin, often is.

The main characters in the film are Geologists* and Doctors, so the focus is on finding a logical, scientific solution rather than simply screaming and hoping for a lucky break or an act of God. I’m not sure if a sentence like ‘Chert, Feldspar, Pyroxene, almost all of the Olivine group, Flint, almost solid Silica' makes any sense to someone with a BSc, but it sounds right to someone who hasn't, and that’s half the battle.

* The chief scientist is the excellent Grant Williams, perhaps best known as The Incredible Shrinking Man, another Jack Arnold master work.

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