Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chariots of the Insects

Sometimes it's just weird where memories come from or why they infest our brains. Take, for example, two movies that my brain suddenly became desperately interested in remembering more than thirty five years after I'd seen them.

The year was 1971, and I was very nearly a teenager. It was, in fact, the summer before my 13th birthday if I'm not mistaken. In those days we weren't too hung up about sending our youngsters alone to the theater, and our lone walk-in theater in town was less than a mile from the house. This meant that I alternately walked or cajoled Mom into taking me. Then, for a buck-fifty we got a double feature, and another seventy-five cents got you popcorn.

For purposes of this narrative, I should point out that my mother was and is a voracious reader. She went through phases in her reading, though. One year it was romances, for example. Another year she went all Margaret Mead on us and started buying or checking out books like "Ishi: The Last of His Tribe." She became absolutely fascinated by tribes or races of people that no longer existed. But her most fascinating period for me was the "faux science or explorer" genre of books that were becoming ubiquitous in the late 60's and early 70's. Not to say that there weren't some legitimate scientists or explorers among them. Thor Heyerdahl, for example, had become famous for demonstrating that ancient peoples could very well have navigated across the vast Pacific ocean in boats manufactured entirely of reeds. Mom snapped up all of his books. However, for every legitimate author Mom patronized, there were plenty of supermarket pulp paperbacks to balance them out.

I remember Mom picking up a copy of Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods," and I decided to read it. I think it was primarily because we Latter-day Saints are fascinated with the whole premise of the Book of Mormon and its depiction of life in ancient America, and von Daniken devoted many chapters to those ancient cultures as part of his "research." It was pretty heady stuff for a young post-Star-Trekian male such as myself.

So you'll understand that, as soon as the movie by the same name was released, I was keen to see it. Back in those days movies would hit the theaters and hang around for absolutely months before disappearing into the void of TV "Movie of the Week" features. So it's not surprising that I didn't get around to seeing "Chariots of the Gods" until nearly a year after it first came out. By that time, it was being paired with a relatively newer film called "The Hellstrom Chronicle," and I decided to see them both.

"The Hellstrom Chronicle" was another faux documentary that was supposed to sound like a scientific treatise on the survivability of insects compared with mankind in a post-apocolyptic world. What it was, really, was a science fiction thriller designed to creep 13 year old boys out by making their skin crawl even faster than the insects were crawling. At least, that's the effect it had on me.

"Chariots" was first in the lineup that day, as I recall. I remember happily chowing down on popcorn during the movie and loving all the footage of ancient artwork that von Daniken kept trying to compare with astronauts or alien beings. The movie was every bit as entertaining as the book, although it may be indirectly responsible for the propogation of every nut-job UFO conspiracist and ET truther that we have out there today. Didn't quite convince me, but I was there for the entertainment value more than anything else.

Then came "Hellstrom." Now, for sheer cinematography, "Hellstrom" was hard to beat. The cameras did a nearly miraculous job of getting up close and personal with several species of insects that I never knew existed and have spent the past 38 years trying to forget. But that's the problem: It's a film I desperately needed to forget. The basic premise was, quite simply, that the earth would devolve back into some sort of tropical rainforest kind of planet (Al Gore had nothing on these people) and that it would be a race for survival between Man and Insects. And Insects (all of which were magnified to the size of industrial construction equipment) would win. (This is where I learned for the first time that cockroaches are pretty much indestructible. Thanks for that, guys.) I can also tell you that, even 38 years later, just thinking about this film can make my skin crawl. Now imagine spending an entire movie that way, and you'll understand why I resolved as a 13 year old boy never to think of that film again.

So why is it, 38 years later, that my brain suddenly, at 1:00 in the stinkin' A.M., decided it needed to remember the name of that film that played as a double-header with "Chariots of the Gods" (a film I don't really mind remembering) just so I could experience that skin-crawling sensation once again? There is no logical or even illogical reason that I can think of, except that it's one of those useless chores in which the brain engages from time to time, like trying to comprehend Congress, or staying awake in staff meeting.

Oh, well. One good thing has come out of this reminiscence. I'm tired enough now to go to bed and get some decent sleep. Assuming I can get these locusts the size of Mack trucks out of my head.

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