Archive for January, 2012

Ultimate Warrior 1

DirectorRobert ClouseProducersFred Weintraub & Paul HellerWriters: Robert Clouse & Fred Weintraub. Starring: Yul Brynner (Carson), Max von Sydow (Baron), William Smith (Carrott), Joanna Miles (Belinda), Richard Kelton (Cal). MusicGil Mellé. Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld. EditorMichael KahnWarner Bros, 1975 (94 mins).

A Film of the Future

Ultimate Warrior 2Ultimate Warrior 3

The Ultimate Warrior (1975) is a post-apocalyptic Kung Fu movie directed by Robert Clouse and starring Yul Brynner and Max von Sydow. It was part of a cycle of violent post-apocalyptic movies made in the ’70s which included The Ωmega Man (1971), A Boy and His Dog (1974) and Damnation Alley (1977). It is a predecessor to George Miller‘s Mad Max (1979) and its sequels (and numerous rip-offs) and, most obviously, John Carpenter‘s Escape to New York (1981).

The Ultimate Warrior is set in the New York of the then-near future of 2012 (the normally reliable Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has it incorrectly dated 2022) after the fall of the West due to fuel shortages, crop failures and pandemics. New York is now inhabited by scattered communities living on the scraps of civilisation. One of these communities is lead by Baron (Von Sydow) who has maintained some degree of civilization.

Carson

Brynner plays Carson, a samurai-like warrior for hire who advertises his services by standing motionless, half-naked, meditating atop an overturned bus. He is approached by a delegation lead by Baron who needs muscle in his struggle with a more barbaric gang lead by Carrot (William Smith).

Brynner was a Russian-born star most famous for playing  Mongkut, the eponymous King of Siam, in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I (1956), and  Chris Adams in  John Sturges‘ The Magnificent Seven (1960). He had already starred in one successful sf action movie,  Michael Crichton‘s Westworld (1973), in which he played a silent gun-slinging android; here his character is almost as taciturn.

At first Carson seems to ignore Baron’s advances until Baron’s party are attacked by Carrot’s men while returning home, when Carson comes to the rescue. This is the first of several action sequences in the movie. The film is directed by Robert Clouse and produced by Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller, the team behind the Bruce Lee‘s English language breakthrough movie Enter the Dragon (1973). Clouse would later direct the  Blaxploitation action movie Black Belt Jones (1974) starring Lee’s Enter the Dragon co-star Jim Kelly,  Jackie Chan‘s The Big Brawl (1980) and  Cynthia Rothrock‘  China O’Brien (1988) – though, in truth, he generally lacked the skill to generate much excitement from his action scenes.

Stabbing

Rather shockingly to contemporary audiences, Carson is a knife-fighter rather than a martial artist as such, and not averse to stabbing his opponents in the back. Stabbing gets a bit of a bad press these days thanks to some people taking it too far but back in the ’70s everyone was at it (see Leela in Doctor Who). The result is that the violence lacks the balletic grace of the more authentic Kung Fu movies but feels more brutal. Interestingly, in Bill S. Ballinger‘s novelization, based on an earlier draft of the script, Carson acquires the knife rather later in the story: he rescues Baron’s party using proper martial arts.

Ultimate Warrior

Back in Baron’s stockade we later learn that it was the offer of cigars which persuaded Carson to take the Baron’s side, rather than any sense of justice. Carson is a morally ambiguous figure and is, perhaps rightly, regarded with suspicion by the other members of the commune. Carson tells Baron that he is just passing through New York on the way to an island off the coast of North Carolina where he hopes to find his sister. Baron, suspecting that his own community has little chance of survival, asks Carson to take his pregnant daughter Melinda (Joanna Miles) with him, together with her husband Cal (Richard Kelton) who has developed a strain of disease-resistant seeds with which he hopes to reintroduce agriculture.

Carrot

William Smith was a familiar figure from 70s and 80s action movies like Clint Eastwood‘s Any Which Way You Can (1980), Conan the Barbarian (in which he played Conan’s father, 1982) and  Francis Ford Coppola‘s Outsiders (1983) and Rumble Fish (also 1983), as well as TV shows like  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and The A-Team, before becoming the last ever Marlboro Man. More recently he played Dracula in The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula (2001).

Cal is murdered by Carrot’s men in an ambush and Baron is killed when his own people turn on him. Carson and Melinda escape through the subway system pursued by Carrot’s men. Rather inconveniently Melinda goes into labour and Carson has to deliver the baby. Carson then remains behind to fight Carrot’s gang while Melinda makes her escape, with her baby and her husband’s seeds (I suspect the symbolism is deliberate).

Angry CarrotChopping Carrot

The final duel between Carson and Carrot is genuinely exciting as they fight, locked together at the wrist, by chains. The conclusion is as cynical and brutal as only ’70s movies are, and leaves little space for a sequel though apparently the studio had hopes to continue the story.

Clouse, Von Sydow & Brynner

The partly electronic soundtrack is by American painter, sculpter and  jazz musician Gil Mellé, who also scored Robert WiseThe Andromeda Strain (1971) and  Rod Serling‘s TV series Night Gallery.

The film was edited by Michael Kahn who would soon go on to edit Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); his collaborations with the director continue to today. He has garnered seven Academy Award nominations for Best Film Editing, winning three for Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), and has been nominated for six BAFTA awards, winning two, for Schindler’s List and Adrian Lyne‘s Fatal Attraction (1987).

The Ultimate Warrior was released on Region-free  DVD in 2008, paired with Montgomery Tully‘s Battle Beneath the Earth (1967).

Ultimate NovelizationUltimate DVD

References:
  • Ballinger, Bill S.,  The Ultimate Warrior (Novelization, 1974)
  • Brosnan, John & Peter Nichols, ”The Ultimate Warrior” (1979) in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
  • Brosnan, John, The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film(1991)
  • Newman, Kim,Millennium Movies: End of the World Cinema (1999)

”Are you all sitting comfybold two square on your botty?”

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of one of my childhood heroes, ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin (1911-2002).

Unwin’s comedy was largely based around his invented language ‘Unwinese’, or ‘Basic Engly Twentyfido’, probably named after philosopher Charles Kay Ogden‘s ‘controlled languageBasic English – but whereas Ogden was motivated by a desire to make language simpler to aid learning and international communication Unwin’s was to delight his listeners with gobbledegook that almost makes sense.

Unwin has been described as the greatest linguistic innovators since James Joyce and this opening to his version of ”Goldylocks and the Three Bears” illustrates why:

     ”Now, once a-polly tito. You may think that doesn’t sound quite right. But believe me, once a-polly tito it is, and in this case it was Goldylopper’
     ‘Goldyloppers trittly-how in the early mordy, and she falolloped down the steps. Oh unfortunade for cracking of the eggers and the sheebs and the buttery full-falollop and graze the knee-clappers. So she had a vaselubrious, rub it on and a quick healy huff and that was that. So off she went, and she went trittly-how down the garbage path, and at the left right-hand-side goal she passed a [sniff] poo-pom, it was hillows a humus heapy in the garbage! But never mind. Erm… she lost her wail.’’

– Stanley Unwin, Goldyloppers and the Three Bearloaders

Unwin provided the narration for the B-side of The Small Facespsychedelic LP Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968), telling the story of the dreamer Happiness Stan and his pursuit of the ‘missing’ portion of the Moon.

Unwin voiced Father Stanley Unwin in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series The Secret Service (1969) – but Lew Grade, in one of his many short-sighted decisions,  cancelled the show because he thought Unwin’s language would alienate American audiences .

Sources                

Dare I say it? Dare I say that I, a plain, prosaic lieutenant in the republican service have done the incredible things here set out for the love of a woman–for a chimera in female shape; for a pale, vapid ghost of woman-loveliness? At times I tell myself I dare not: that you will laugh, and cast me aside as a fabricator; and then again I pick up my pen and collect the scattered pages, for I MUST write it–the pallid splendour of that thing I loved, and won, and lost is ever before me, and will not be forgotten. The tumult of the struggle into which that vision led me still throbs in my mind, the soft, lisping voices of the planet I ransacked for its sake and the roar of the destruction which followed me back from the quest drowns all other sounds in my ears! I must and will write–it relieves me; read and believe as you list.

At the moment this story commences I was thinking of grilled steak and tomatoes–steak crisp and brown on both sides, and tomatoes red as a setting sun!

– Edwin Lester Arnold,  Lieut Gullivar Jones: His Vacation

Edwin Lester Arnold (1857-1955) is mainly remembered for his science fantasy novels The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890) and  Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (also known as Gulliver of Mars, 1905).

Arnold travelled extensively with his parents.  A Summer Holiday In Scandinavia (1877)

Arnold’s father, the poet and journalist Sir Edwin Arnold is best known for The Light of Asia (1879), a free translation of the Lalitavistara (The Birth of Buddha), the ‘biography’ of Gautama Buddha, and is credited with bringing Buddhism to the attention of the West. Buddhist themes, particularly Reburth, were to play a large part in the fiction of his son. The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890) concerns the repeated ressurection of a warrior hero at times of need.

Gullivar Jones is a US Navy Lieutenant on shore leave with nothing more pressing on his mind than an evening meal when a small being wrapped in a carpet plunges to Earth beside him. He takes the creature to hospital but it dies and Jones takes the carpet home with him. Idly pacing his room, wishing he was on Mars, the carpet wraps him up like a cucoon and whisks him off to the Red Planet.

Magic carpets are not generally, of course, regarded as legitimate forms of extraterrestrial transport in science fiction but Arnold is writing in an older tradition – that of the Fantastic Voyage. Indeed the language he uses is largely archaic compared with the more journalistic prose of Arnold’s contemporary, H.G. Wells. The Wells books Gullivar Jones most closely resemble are The Time Machine (1895) and The First Men in the Moon (1901).

Roger Lancelyn Green (1976) has suggested that the Jupiter of John Jacob Astor IV‘s planetary romance A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) might be a possible influence on the jungles of Arnold’s Mars.

Richard A Lupoff (1965) has made a persuasive case for Liet. Gullivar Jones being the inspiration for Edgar Rice BurroughsJohn Carter of Mars stories. Certainly both protagonists are veterans of the American Civil War who travel magically to an exotic Mars, have exciting adventures and rescue beautiful alien princesses.

Arnold’s novel is more satirical, however, and as the title suggests it belongs to a tradition extending back to Jonathan Swift‘s Gullivar’s Travels (1726, revised 1735) and up to H.G. WellsThe First Men in the Moon (1901). Gullivar Jones is a flawed hero, his successes more modest.

Arnold’s novel was loosely adapted by Marvel Comics as Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars in the monthly comic  Creatures on the Loose  beginning in #16, March 1972. The scripts were by Roy Thomas,  Gerry Conway and sf novelist George Alec Effinger; the artwork was by Gil Kane and Bill Everett.

Gullivar Jones also appears in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill‘s Steampunk comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999), and in Jean-Marc Lofficier‘s Steampunk novel Edgar Allan Poe on Mars: The Further Memoirs of Gullivar Jones (2007).

Sources
  • Arnold, Sir Edwin (1879) The Light of Asia: A Renunciation
  • Arnold, Edwin Lester (1877) A Summer Holiday In Scandinavia
  •  (1886) Coffee: Its Cultivation and Profit
  •  (1887) Bird Life In England
  •  (1887) England as She Seems: Being Selections from the Notes of an Arab Hadji
  •  (1890) The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician
  • — (1892) Rutherford the Twice-Born
  •  (1893) On the Indian Hills: or, Coffee-planting in Southern India
  •  (1894) The Constable of St. Nicholas
  •  (1895) The Story of Ulla and Other Tales
  •  (1901) Lepidus the Centurion: A Roman of Today
  •  (1905) Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation
  • Astor, John Jacob IV (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice (1917) A Princess of Mars
  • Clute, John (1977) ”Edwin Lester Arnold” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online edition)
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn Green (1976) ”Introduction” to Arnold, Edwin Lester (1905, New English Library SF Master Series edition)
  • Lofficier, Jean-Marc (2007) Edgar Allan Poe on Mars: The Further Memoirs of Gullivar Jones
  • Lupoff, Richard A. (1965) Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure
  • Moore, Alan & Kevin O’Neill (1999) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Swift, Jonathan (1726, revised 1735) Gulliver’s Travels
  • Thomas, Roy, Gerry Conway, George Alec Effinger, Gil Kane & Bill Everett (1972) Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars in Creatures on the Loose #16-
  • Wells, H.G. (1895) The Time Machine
  •  (1901) The First Men in the Moon