3-D Film Archvie and BayView Entertainment team up to unleash the ultimate three-dimensional science fiction epic, Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster! A notoriously low-budget feature, the film is a riot but also an impressive technical marvel with excellent 3-D visuals and one of the craziest creatures in all of cinema! Fully restored for 3D, 2D, and Anaglyph 3D, the film looks better than ever on home video with excellent audio and over two hours of informative and entertaining bonus features! Highly Recommended
Some films are destined for success. Some films are destined for failure. Some are destined to be immortalized as a cult classic. When Phil Tucker set out to make a science fiction film in 3-D in four days with little more than $16,000, it was merely to make a 3-D showcase film for producer Al Zimbalist. He had no idea the film would live on as a multi-dimensional cult classic. Reportedly Tucker attempted suicide after the critical drubbing the film received at release, but nonetheless, he should be proud of this zany, never-dull, incredibly entertaining visual marvel featuring the best gorilla-suited alien monster of any film ever made!
Our film sees a family unit of Hu-Mans, the last on Earth struggling to survive the onslaught of the deadly Ro-Man (George Barrows), a war-like race of aliens under the control of the Great Guidance (also George Barrows). The Professor (John Mylong), his wife Martha (Selena Royle), and their children Alice (Claudia Barrett), Johnny (Gregory Moffett), and little Carla (Pamela Paulson), and the scientist Roy (George Nadar) are all that remain. Together, they must find a way to outwit Ro-Man and put an end to his destruction if they hope to survive and repopulate the planet.
Front to back, Robot Monster is barely an hour long. When it hit the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was one of the rare few films to avoid any serious cuts to the story. In fact, they had to add two shorts with extra host segments just to pad the episode out to its full runtime. With that in mind, Robot Monster is a difficult film to cast in terms of strictly “good” or “bad.” It’s just damned entertaining. While director Phil Tucker may have taken the critical backlash personally, the film survives today because it is actually a lot of fun. It often tops lists of “The Worst Film Ever Made” but that doesn’t mean it’s unwatchable or boring. It’s the opposite on both fronts.
There’s no avoiding the ridiculousness of poor George Barrows marching through Bronson Canyon in a hundred-pound gorilla suit and a fishbowl helmet. His extended sequences of just stomping around the hills and brush to Elmer Bernstein’s score is a hoot. It’s impossible to not laugh at or broadside the imagery with a riff. However, on a technical level, you have to appreciate what this film managed to pull off. It did a lot with very little.
In four days with less than $20k and barely two months of post-production Tucker and his crew churned out a complicated 3-D feature for Al Zimbalist to showcase his affordable 3-D camera rig. Not only were they working with the complications of shooting in 3-D, but there are numerous post-production tricks at play. Watching this film for the first time in 3-D, you get to properly see and experience Earth’s destruction in the viewscreen sequence which used Double Vision. This is a process of the right eye seeing one image while the left sees something completely different. It’s jarring and disorientating but it’s also striking to see two competing views of planet-wide carnage.
On top of that, the film also features several sequences of optical effects layered over optical effects. Even the simple panning shots of Bronson Canyon show some impressive and carefully staged cinematography. It may have been cheap, but it wasn’t unprofessional. And now we can see the film as it’s meant to be seen. After frustratingly languishing in a limbo of contentious rights disputes, Robot Monster can finally be unleashed upon the Hu-Man fans eager to watch this 3-D gem as originally intended.
As an added bonus, the film is now properly buttressed with the Slick Slaven 3-D short Stardust In Your Eyes which was originally shown with Robot Monster in theaters. With a simple quilted background, Slaven works the audience like a lounge comic, rolling impressions of famous celebrities of the era into the music while also coming up with some rather clever ways of working the three-dimensional space. If for nothing else, his comedy routine is actually the perfect warmup for the main feature to come. There’s a lovely award-winning short documentary Saving Slick from filmmaker Sean Thrunk in the bonus features, so check that out too. All told fellow Hu-Mans, Stardust In Your Eyes and Robot Monster is a great way to spend an evening with your 3-D glasses on!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Ro-Man attacks Hu-Man physical media collectors with Robot Monster on Blu-ray from 3-D Film Archive and BayView Entertainment. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 Disc, the disc is housed in a clear case with bonus features information on the inside of the artwork. If you were a Kickstarter backer you may get a pretty slick lenticular of the cover art. If you have a 3-D television or projector, your setup should automatically cue up the digital 3-D experience, but you can choose 2D (why?) or Anaglyph 3D (one set of Anaglyph glasses are included).
Ro-Man attacks Blu-Ray in 3-D and the results are often glorious. I was fortunate to catch a screening of this restoration in Ohio a few weeks back and I’m glad to see that the thrilling theatrical experience translates to home viewing nicely. Now I admit my enthusiasm does come from a weird love for this film but I’m genuinely excited to finally be able to enjoy the film in proper 3-D. I have a 3D VHS tape from Rhino that I rarely ever ran simply because it was an awful visual experience.
From the first frames, you can fully appreciate the amount of depth and dimension at hand. It may have been cheap and easy to shoot in Bronson Canyon and the abandoned structures, but it makes for some interesting scenic photography. Foreground, middle ground, and deep background objects along the z-axis fully utilize three-dimensional photography. Then you have Ro-Man’s amazing costume with that fishbowl helmet and radio antennae! The goofy gestures from Great Guidance in the viewscreen alone make this 3-D restoration worth it. The Double Vision segments certainly are jarring as your individual eyes process two separate images at the same time, but I didn't feel it was strenuous or visually problematic. I also didn't experience any unsightly ghosting or parallax artifacts.
Without original negative elements available, the 3-D Film Archive team had to work with the best surviving 35mm print elements available. That unfortunately included instances of gaps or missing frames in the right or left side elements at various points. To work around that, some frames are repeated so the film doesn’t go out of sync. It happens only a handful of times, but it isn’t all that distracting, more like a visual stutter where if you blink you’ll miss it entirely. Image detail is overall strong with a healthy film grain structure, but that can fluctuate a little throughout, sometimes it's not quite razor sharp, but it's still miles beyond anything we've had on home video before. It's just one of those things of working with print elements. Unless the negative magically turns up and in halfway decent shape, this is likely the best we’re going to see for Robot Monster and it’s another impressive restoration effort, to say the least. 4.5/5
Once again 3-D Film Archive delivers an excellent Anaglyph 3D option. While not as good as the standard digital BD3D experience, it’s still quite good. If you don’t have a full 3-D setup at home it’s a great way to watch the film. I never felt any eyestrain or headaches with the red/blue lenses. This is especially cool so that you can experience the Double Vision sequences. 4/5
2-D is also available, but really, you’re here for the 3-D experience. In 2-D the film is a lot easier to make fun of because a lot of the visually interesting elements are lost. That Billion Bubble machine looks pretty cool in 3-D but in 2-D it’s just a strange and humorous effect. 3.5/5
Robot Monster also attacks Hu-Mans with an excellent DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Between screenings on television and cheap DVDs, the film always had pretty crap audio, but this sounds damned good. Hiss, pops, and cracks aren’t an issue. Dialog is clean and clear so you can fully enjoy some pretty ridiculously entertaining line reads from our cast and the mighty Ro-Man! You can also now appreciate the intense almost overly-dramatic score Elmer Bernstein composed for this film. Free of any serious hiss, snaps, crackles, or pops, it's a remarkably clean audio mix.
3-D Film Archive delivers one of their most ambitious slates of bonus features this side of one of their 3-D Rarities collections. There are 3-D extras, 2-D extras, as well as some vintage rarities like Bela Lugosi - You Asked For It restored from the original 16mm kinescope. Now the trick for the 2-D and 3-D extras, they’re streams of content separated by chapter stops. The inside of the disc artwork lays out what you get and I’ll give you an overview of each of these with an applicable timestamp. They're all worth digging into and the main feature audio commentary is a great listen!
3-D Bonus Features (1:03:52 Total)
2-D Bonus Features (37:34 Total)
Robot Monster may often be dismissed as one of the “worst films of all time” but it’s so much more than that trivial honor. Made as a showpiece for accessible 3-D filmmaking equipment for independent filmmakers, this quick, made-on-the-cheap film withstood the test of time and has become a genuine cult classic. It’s a zany, weird, and wild little film - but it’s a ton of fun. Thanks to one guy's sharp eye in a random film storage unit, we now can all properly enjoy this incredible flick! Newly restored for 3-D as it was always meant to be seen, it’s even more fun than ever! The digital polarized 3-D transfer is terrific and another excellent testament to what can be done for these films. If you don’t have a compatible television or projector, the Anaglyph 3-D option is also impressive. Of course, there is 2-D, but where’s the fun in that? Tag in excellent audio on top of over two hours of interesting, educational, and overall very entertaining bonus features and you have a heck of a packed Blu-ray release. Great Guidance commands it, add it to the collection! You Must! - Highly Recommended