Space Probe Taurus. 1965. Dir. Leonard Katzman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.
It’s really way too nice a day out there to be doing a full number on this film. I’m only here because 1) I haven’t written one of these reviews in a while, and 2) apparently it features giant crabs – and I’m a sucker for giant crabs. Even though I’d probably scream and fill my pants if I saw one IRL, but still, the attraction’s undeniably there. I really enjoyed the giant crab in Love & Monsters, for example. So here’s a (very rapid) point by point response to Space Probe Taurus, a film so niche it gets 0% on RT, no reviews, nothing but radio silence and an embarrassed shuffle. Looking forward to it.
0.40 Apparently it’s a Burt Topper Production. Burt Topper – my favourite name.
1.40 The obligatory intro. Graphics like a mashup between The Clangers and a Dorling Kindersley history book.
2.18 In fact, scratch that – it’s more like the intro to Star Trek, before they edited it down to two minutes six
2:59 An astronaut staggers into a rocket, coughing, bent over, like he’s coming in from a fag break by the vents. Behind him you get a glimpse of a noxious looking planet, REALLY not worth the trip, but at least it’s free parking.
3:50 The guy staggers onto the empty flight deck, falls back into his lounger and calls Earth control asking them to blow the ship up for him because honestly he’s too sick. The military guys back on Earth hesitate about a second, then press the button helpfully marked ‘DESTRUCT’ (but not too big you might inadvertently lean on it)
5.23 More big orchestra soundtrack as the Announcer tells us we carried on with exploring the universe anyway. Shrug.
6:42 A slick TV presenter is in Earth Control speaking so smoothly to camera I’m in danger of dozing off despite the heat. He calls over General Tillman, the military director of the Hope probe, which is what this is now, apparently. General Tillman walks like a robot on holiday, a jaunty but still officious rocking from side to side, his arms articulated at the shoulder (which I suppose, in a way, they are). I’m surprised his hat doesn’t slide off. Maybe it’s bolted.
7:21 Gen Tillman explains to the audience about the design of the ship in a little speech which is pretty much the director apologising to the audience that their special effects budget couldn’t stretch to weightlessness. (They must’ve blown it all on the giant crabs – I’m hoping).
9:04 We’re on the flight deck of the Hope probe now. Three men and one woman. They all seem pretty grumpy as they go through the systems checks, which is basically flicking switches, watching dials spin round and bulbs flash. The sound effect for all this is worryingly like chickens in a coop. Brrrrrr-ccck-ccck-ccck. Although maybe they’ve taken chickens along, too. I don’t remember seeing any in the credits, but we’ll see.
9:24 These guys are absolutely the last guys on Earth you’d want to go with on a short drive to the BEACH, let alone a lightyears trip to the stars. I mean – I’d be opening the hatch and taking my chances halfway off the launch pad.
10:35 Dr Wayne goes up to Colonel Stevens and says she hopes he’s not bitter. He says as he stated at the time, in a mission with four crew there’s no place for a woman. Oh-kay. Dr Wayne replies ‘That’s not what Noah said when he built the Ark’. Ooh – Bible burn.
12:15 Dr Wayne leaves the flight deck. You can imagine the sexist fall-out from the guys now she’s gone. At one point one of the officers argues that apart from being a scientist, Dr Wayne’s 120 pounds lighter, so they get to carry more equipment. ‘And she carries some pretty nice equipment of her own.’ Euch. They should call this film Space Probe Creep. I’m sweating like I did in Alien, but for the wrong reasons.
13:30 They come across an unidentified spaceship. It hangs in space like a juicer with wings. (As a side note, this film is 1 hr 20 minutes, and I reckon at least 20 minutes of that is waiting for the doors to slide open and shut each time. Plus every order and every radio communication is repeated – that’s – every order and every radio communication repeated. Over.)
15:00 They get permission to intercept the alien craft from General Tillman. Colonel Stevens and some other dude get suited up to board it. I love their suits. It’s like they’re carrying a small washing machine on their backs, connected to the helmet by the hose from a vacuum cleaner. No wonder they’re all so grumpy.
19:20 It may be an alien craft, but they’ve still got lightbulbs. There’s one over the door, which is a nice touch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mat on the floor. Picture of a crab, maybe. Please wipe your claws before coming indoors.
19:40 Colonel Stevens’ spacesuit has got a black chest detail that’s very like a bra. Just saying.
20:00 They find a rotating structure. ‘Could be a power source’ says the Colonel. Yeah. Could be a clothes horse.
20:24 Cut back to Dr Wayne and the other guy listening to the Colonel’s commentary. They both look really hacked off – like they’re wondering if they can get away with closing the hatches and quietly going into reverse.
20:40 An alien walks in – big ears, top of its head like an exposed brain, flicking its tongue in and out rapidly – so all in all quite a bit more attractive than Col Stevens.
20:56 Col Stevens offers the alien his hand, but the alien jumps on him (which might be their way of saying hello – not sure yet)
21:00 Apparently the alien is choking him. So the other guy shoots him. Fair enough.
21:40 They make it back to the probe, but then the Colonel decides to go back and blow the alien ship up ‘because it’s oozing radiation…’
24:00 Several close-ups of the others waiting for the Colonel to finish arsing around with his bomb. If they asked the director for notes on how they should respond, he either gave them and they didn’t make sense, or they forgot what he said, because really they just look like I do when I’m waiting for a bus. Without the tension.
25:42 They watch the alien ship blow up. ‘Nothing left but a bad memory’ says one of the others (no idea who). Actually, the VERY grumpy one is called Paul. He’s like the grand parent you take to a garden centre for a bit of a day out – who says they NEVER go anywhere – and says they’d REALLY like to go to the garden centre – but when you get there only moans about how expensive everything is, and says his tea is cold and steals a packet of seeds.
26:57 ‘Finally to discover another race – then have to destroy it’ says Paul, happily.
28:08 The other crew member is called John. He’s the one the alien attacked. He makes a long speech which basically boils down to ‘you can’t trust aliens’. It’s the kind of speech you might hear in the backroom of the Badda Bing, not out in space. Mankind is truly doomed.
29:00 John is sleeping in his lounger. We are privileged to see what he’s dreaming about – which is rolling about on a beach with Dr Wayne, a saxaphone playing in the background. I think they blew the wrong ship up.
33:00 Whilst John is down in the lab being sexually inappropriate with Dr Wayne, the Colonel and Paul sit on the flight deck eating travel sweets and talking about the good old days.
36:00 The obligatory meteorite shower scene. They look like flaming meatballs. The crew put the forcefield up – which works for a bit – but then something goes wrong and they speed up too much. Not something I thought this film was in danger of.
39:56 Close up on Paul, blowing out his cheeks like he KNEW the garden centre was a bad idea.
40:23 ‘Eight percent deviation from true course…’ (one of the standout pieces of dialogue from the last ten minutes or so). Meanwhile they head towards Taurus or something. When they’re twenty seconds away the Colonel says he’ll give them ‘full reverse thrust’. Oh-kay.
41:24 They make more fuss landing that thing than me parallel parking.
41:33 Planet Taurus or whatever it is looks like a gently revolving Ferrero Rocher.
43:03 They land in the sea, though. Nice one, Colonel. We’re treated to a close up of someone setting a lava lamp in an aquarium. I don’t hold up much hope for these giant crabs.
43:32 Paul gets on the blower to Earth Control. There’s a sarky tone to his voice. ‘This is Hope One to Earth Control…’ rolling his eyes…. like he absolutely KNEW this was going to happen. They come all this way only to break down on the bottom of an alien seabed. They could just as easily have stayed home and watched the baseball.
44:30 The Colonel goes down into the engine room and – correct me if I’m wrong – but seems to think turning it off and on again will be enough to fix the problem.
46:30 The best scene in the whole film so far. If you don’t see anything else, you must see this. We’re back at Earth control. The radio guy can’t get through to the probe, so he turns to a woman sitting at a desk. ‘We can’t get through to Hope One,’ he says. She gives him SUCH a look – flatter and harder than a steam iron – then slowly picks up the phone and dials General Tillman. ‘I’ll enter it in the log,’ she says. ‘Hope One – location unknown.’ Wow. I don’t care if the crabs are meh – the journey’s been worth it.
48:00 A VERY protracted scene where the crew stand about looking even grumpier. Stuck on the seabed of some unknown planet. Computer on the fritz. What they wouldn’t do for a yaddah yaddah. Only the incidental music has any hint of drama (do I detect a basenote of CRAB in those violins – yeah – a FIDDLE CRAB…. har har …. and that’s why I don’t get invited on any interstellar flights)
49:25 A hatch slowly opens. Someone goes up a ladder. (It’s not exactly Fast & Furious). By the way – you can tell they’re underwater because of the sound of flushing and an echo sounder – although that may be John in the can.
51:50 Dr Wayne is feeling the pressure. The Colonel gives her some emotional support, and apologises for being so sexist earlier. ‘Does that mean when we get back to Earth you can take me out for a real dinner some night?’ she simpers. ‘You just name it,’ smiles the Colonel – so broadly his false teeth nearly pop out.
54:14 They dance around each other with hokey romantic dialogue so nauseatingly off it gives me cramps. Then they kiss. Actually, I love the way they kiss in these films, which is a clamping of mouths colder than two spaceships going airlock to airlock.
55:00 John and The Colonel get all toe-to-toe over whose fault it was they ended on the bottom of the ocean. Paul talks them out of a screwdriver fight. So he has SOME use, then.
57:20 The Colonel goes down to see Dr Wayne in her lab. ‘How grows your garden?’ he says. Inappropriately. Suddenly the spaceship rumbles. ‘Must be an underground tremor’ says the Col – although I’m guessing / hoping crabs.
58:00 They all gather round the scope. Flip around till you see crabs. Normal crabs – not even made up. ‘What a horrible looking creature!’ says Dr Wayne, like she’s never been to the beach before (which is just as well, given John’s dream).
58:40 ‘What ARE they?’ says Dr Wayne. Well – I’m no doctor – but I’m PRETTY SURE THEY’RE CRABS.
58:50 You see a distance shot of some crabs loitering round a model rocket in an aquarium. OMG. The effects budget must’ve been literally TENS of dollars.
59:00 ‘But what ARE they?’ says Dr Wayne. ‘Well – I’m not sure – but I think they’re another species of crab,’ says John, embarrassed. The crew stand around the scope talking about how life evolved on Earth, first in the sea, then on land, dinosaurs and whatnot. The Colonel wants to go out and explore. ‘I think I can handle crabs,’ he says. Well – Colonel – we ALL think we can handle crabs…
1:01:50 They release a balloon to go to the surface to check the atmosphere. It bursts when it reaches the surface… but it’s WAY less exciting than it sounds. Dr Wayne analyses the results – it’s like Earth apparently. Only crabbier.
1:03:13 John gets into his gimp costume.’It’s hero time,’ he says. ‘Stay close to the bottom all the way,’ says Paul, trying not to wink. John tells them his surname is Andros, so they can name a chapter after him (or an STI). He goes through the airlock – which takes about five minutes. The Colonel and the others go back round the screen to put bets on how long John makes it. ‘They’re bunching up’ says the Colonel, like he’s suddenly an expert on crabs, or maybe boxer shorts.
1:05:00 The Colonel activates the force field to annoy the crabs. They bounce around like some of them are actually made of plastic.
1:05:57 Stock footage of a scuba diver swimming through weeds. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew hang out round the computer, fixing it by snipping wire and looking hopeless, which is pretty much me whenever the WiFi goes down.
1:06:29 Actually, crabs obviously aren’t the only problem here. An alien appears, looking like an actor in a monster costume, a cross between a merman and an aunt I used to visit sometimes.
1:07:00 John gets out of the water, hobbling painfully on the stones with his flippers off. He looks up at the utterly normal looking cliffs, frowning like they’re the most amazing things he’s ever seen – although, to be fair, if he’s from New Jersey…
1:07:50 The monster watches him from the water, struggling a little in its monster suit, spitting water, cursing their agent for getting them the gig when they coulda been in something more regular, like a TV western or something.
1:08:20 Meanwhile, back on the probe, the crabs have given up. Paul and the Colonel are still arsing around with the computer. ‘How long has he been gone?’ says Paul. ‘It’s hard to concentrate on this – I keep worrying about him.’ Yeah, right. They try hard not to snigger.
1:09:20 Back on the surface, John has finished collecting his samples and puts his scuba gear back on to return to the ship. The merman intercepts him. They roll around in the weeds. He burns the merman off with a flare. Wounded, he swims one-armed back to the ship. Next thing you know he’s lying on a cot bed whilst they cut his rubber suit off (or maybe that’s another one of his dreams). But after saying that the ‘land is what we’ve been looking for’, he dies. ‘Oh no!’ says Dr Wayne. I’m not as upset as she is, for some reason. Or Paul. He folds his arms and explains why really it’s not so bad. He’s obviously the kind of scientist who perks up when someone dies.
1:14:13 Back to the computers. The music is more urgent now. Either their wire works or it doesn’t. I’m guessing it will. You can’t do anything without good WireFi. (Pause for loud and appreciative laughter). Meanwhile, Dr Wayne is back in the lab, mixing stuff up, the whole thing looking suspiciously like a kitchen.
1:15:00 Paul gives a speech about how he wishes he could’ve known John better. No-one’s convinced, Paul. Save it for the inquest.
1:15:58 ‘Strap in!’ says the Colonel as they prepare to lift off. But wait … ‘Something’s holding us!’ says the Colonel.
1:17:00 Yep. You get a long-shot of crabs hanging on to the rocket – which might be a sign of affection but you never know with crustaceans. The Colonel activates the force field, which stuns the crabs (but not me). They countdown from ten (the crew, not the crabs). Side note: Why do they always have to countdown to launch? Why they can’t just say ‘Okay – let’s go!’ There’s probably a rocket protocol. That and throwing yourself around when anyone says meteors.
1:19:20 Back up in space, they rotate the cabin and set the controls for home. ‘One more thing to do…’ says the Colonel, climbing out of his lounger. For one horrible moment – WAY scarier than the merman or the crabs or General Tillman’s secretary – I think the Colonel is going to kiss Dr Wayne. But no, he’s going to the radio to call control. ‘This is Hope One,’ he says, flexing his dimple. ‘Mission Accomplished. We’ve found a liveable planet. And we’ve named it…’ (He looks at Paul and Dr Wayne … What’s he going to say? Planet John? …) Andros One. And make sure you spell it right. That’s A N D R O S. One.’ (So if they end up calling it Androswon it’ll be on him).
So what’ve I learned?
- In space, no-one can hear you scream impatiently for a door to finish opening and closing.
- If your computer has crashed, try stuffing wire into it.
- If your forcefield isn’t working on giant crabs, why not try buckets of creamy garlic butter sauce.
- It’s often hard to tell if an alien is being aggressive or affectionate. Best just shoot it.
- It’s often easy to tell if a crewmate is being sexually inappropriate. Best just shoot it.
- Whatever happens, don’t make eye contact with General Tillman’s secretary