Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yeti-Giant Of The Twentieth Century (1977)

The Minnesota Iceman entered the public consciousness (or at least the public consciousness of Minnesota) in 1968.  Owned and exhibited by Frank Hansen, the display consisted of a block of ice containing a hirsute hominid creature (Missing Link?  Bigfoot?  Sean Connery?) posed almost as if sculpted by Michelangelo.  Hansen traveled around, and (like the greatest hucksters) gave contradictory information about the Iceman and its authenticity (much like Barnum's Fiji Mermaid, a "genuine fake").  At that time, it was scrutinized and determined to be an actual creature.  Shortly thereafter, it vanished.  Hansen displayed another Iceman later, but it differed in just enough ways from the original and, in according to all reports, was definitely manufactured by human hands.  So, was it obviously fake to cover up something about the original?  Was the original a hoax (as many have stated) to begin with?  And why did no one ever thaw it out to have a proper look at it in the first place?  The mind boggles.  You decide.

Morgan Hunnicut (Edoardo Faieta, billed as Eddie Faye), owner (funny enough) of Hunnicut Enterprises, travels into the wilds via helicopter (see my review of The Big Alligator River to see my thoughts on helicopters in Italian fantasy cinema) to get his buddy, Dr. Waterman/Wassermann (John Stacy), to examine a giant his mute nephew, Herbie (Jim Sullivan), found in a block of ice in Northern Canada.  On the scene are Hunnicut's niece, Jane (as in "Me Tarzan...," played by Antonella Interlenghi, billed as Phoenix Grant), and his henchman, Cliff (Tony Kendall).  Needless to say, as soon as the Yeti (Mimmo Craig, billed as Mimmo Crao, and looking like a cross between Bionic Bigfoot and Rikki Rockett) is thawed out, hilarity ensues...I mean...carnage ensues.

Gianfranco Parolini's (the man who gave us Sabata) Yeti-Giant Of The Twentieth Century (aka Ice Man aka Yeti-Il Gigante Del 20. Secolo) is one of a string of cash-ins on Dino De Laurentiis's 1976 King Kong (which, coincidentally, was originally planned to be a giant "missing-link type" rather than a giant primate).  Like South Korea's A*P*E, Shaw Brothers' Mighty Peking Man, and America's The Mighty Gorga (okay, that one was earlier than 1976, but still...) it follows the same basic plot.  A giant beast is found by modern man, dragged into civilization, becomes curiously (and somewhat inappropriately) attracted to a human woman, breaks out of captivity, and is usually (but not always) destroyed.  The creature is always primitive, but here the Yeti is actually from (by the stunningly accurate scientific method Dr. Waterman employs) a million years in the past.  Not only does this make the Yeti a fish out of water, but a being out of time (a la Captain America, Trog, of Joe Bauers).

It would be bad enough to be ripped from your home and put on display, but to find yourself suddenly in a new, strange world where no other being you're familiar with even exists anymore is a veritable treasure trove of cinematic pathos just begging to be mined.  The filmmakers do touch on this, but they don't do anything other than touch.  The Yeti (sort of) adopts Jane and Herbie as a surrogate family, interestingly both employing and avoiding the bestiality angle inherent in just about every other iteration of this tale.  He even goes so far as to comb Jane's hair with a giant skeleton from a brobdingnagian fish he has just finished devouring (yes, really).

Speaking of cinematic madness, Yeti... is loaded with it (and the filmmakers were probably loaded when they made this...that's not fair...they were probably just high).  Waterman's team thaws the Yeti out with flamethrowers.  The Yeti chokes a thug between his toes.  The monster even gets his own theme song, sung by The Yetians.  The Yeti Mania that follows his unveiling is an intriguing opportunity to comment on the transience of fads and the pervasiveness of consumerism in the modern world, only absolutely nothing is done with it.  and it's the little, insane touches like those above which distinguish the film at all from any of its ilk.  But only just.

On a technical and narrative level, this film is pretty bad.  The matte shots with the Yeti invariably have the different elements' lighting mismatched.  The eyelines are rarely correct.  The Yeti appears almost to have been chroma keyed into some shots.  His height changes every time you see him.  Sometimes he simply seems to have been overlaid on a random shot just to have him show up with no sense of depth or perspective at all.  the story itself hits the big beats it needs to hit, but there's so much skipped, ignored, or just flat out dismissed, you rarely have any orientation as to what is actually going on other than in very broad strokes.

And then there's Parolini's dependence on closeups and his nigh-total eschewal of establishing/master shots.  The film's action is blocked as if it were being shot inside a refrigerator box.  Add to that the transitional and continuity issues, and one really has to wonder how this thing got made at all.  With that in mind, Mr. Craig's portrayal consists entirely of broad, mugging expressions, the shots of which both start and end with bug-eyed incoherence (and the winner of this week's BEM Award) and rarely match the feel or emotion of any of the shots with which they are juxtaposed.

Eventually, then, one has to ask, just what is it about giants that fascinates us (and let's be honest, the fact that this monster is a Yeti is utterly arbitrary)?  Behemoths have played prominently in mythology and literature the world over for centuries.  In cinema, there have been unique creatures (Godzilla and his brethren) as well as augmented versions of garden variety beasties (Them!, Night Of The Lepus, etcetera), right alongside genuine historical leviathans (generally dinosaurs, though arguably Godzilla fits into this category as well).  Their titanic stature is both awe- and fear-inspiring.  They literally appear to scrape the heavens with the crowns of their heads.  Like seeing a mushroom cloud go up in the not-far-enough-off distance, you know you should be running, but there's some horrific beauty, some vague notion of reverence for the onrushing destruction that keeps you rooted to the spot.  Yet, rather dissatisfyingly, Yeti-Giant Of The Twentieth Century will only really have you shifting from cheek to cheek in that all-too-familiar dance of listlessness that the staunchest among us continually endure while sifting through oyster shit searching for those rare pearls.

MVT:  The Yeti is the only reason anyone would or should ever watch this.  That he's so mishandled and unimaginatively used is disenchanting.

Make Or Break:  The first shots we see in the film are from stock footage of glaciers crumbling.  A lot of them.  Rule of thumb: if the filmmakers pad out (and padding is different from stretching, just so we're all on the same page) the very opening of the film, that scene or sequence which is supposed to hook the audience's attention and help immerse them in the filmic experience, the rest of the movie will more likely than not be just as shitty and annoying.  Your mileage may vary.

Score:  4.5/10  

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