In OUR ARMIES AT WAR, WITH MONSTERS, I devoted some time to comparing 1954's GODZILLA and 1953's WAR OF THE WORLDS-- films which both depict scenes in which unstoppable entities wade through the megadynamic forces unleashed by mortal armies. I demonstrated that both films satisified the "signicant value" of the combative mode, but that WAR OF THE WORLDS did not satisfy the "narrative value" because the defeat of the alien conquerors comes about not because of any effort by Earth's defenders, but by forces not allied to those defenders. When opposed megadynamic forces exist in a narrative but are not the main focus of the narrative, such a work is "subcombative" and the opposed forces are what I will term "diffuse forces" rather than "centric forces"-- on which I may write sometime later.
This essay, though, deals with the differing ways in which works which possess the same "narrative value" of the combative may pass or fail the test of the "significant value." I dealt with this subject earlier with respect to spectacular violence-- or the lack of same-- in MEGA, MESO, MICRO PART 2. In this essay I stated that the 1960s teleseries VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA demonstrated only "functional violence" despite the fact that its heroes frequently overcame "megadynamic threats." In contrast to that, the 1960s STAR TREK satisfied the significant value of the combative because both the heroes and their antagonists demonstrated their superior energies in scenes of spectacular violence.
Though I did not stress it at the time, I will now state that "spectacular violence" is the only narrative functionthrough which one can descry the "megadynamic" or "exceptional" level of two opposed forces. To show this, I will return to the same subject matter as the ARMIES essay: giant monsters (or similar forces) taking on the armed forces.
In my review of the 1961 Danish monster-flick REPTILICUS, I labeled this film a "combative drama."
However, in my same-year review of an American "creature feature" from 1957. THE DEADLY MANTIS, I labeled it only as a "drama," though not a "combative" one.
Both films feature scenes in which military forces blast away at giant hostile critters. Why is one combative and the other is not?
The reason is that in REPTILICUS, there is-- despite the inferior nature of the FX, upon which I commented in my review-- an attempt to portray the forces of the Danish military as awesome forces in their own right, comparable to the bombardments seen in the influential model of GODZILLA. One of the more impressive scenes-- again, going more by the concept than by its execution-- is one in which the army manages to set the giant monster on fire. This development does not stop Reptilicus, who simply dives into the sea and waits to regenerate its wounds before making another attack on humanity. But it does show that the military commands its own spectacular, and hence exceptional, forces.
In contrast, though THE DEADLY MANTIS does boast generally better FX-- and probably enjoyed a better budget for them-- the creators of this creature-feature's "mise en scene" don't succed in potraying the military's efforts as spectacular, though of course the Mantis itself is.
In contrast to Reptilicus being given pause by a fire-attack, here's the Mantis simply brushing off a soldier's attack with a flamethrower.
When the Mantis is brought low, it's by accident. The U.S. Air Force is unable to shoot down the flying fiend, but while flying through a cloudbank the Mantis collides with a jet. The creature's resultant injury brings it down to earth, so that it takes refuge in the Holland Tunnel.
This makes it possible for a squad of armed men to confront him on their own level. As the wounded creature attacks the men, it initially shrugs off most of their gunfire. Only a last ditch effort by one of the lead heroes saves the day, as said hero lobs a bomb right into the arthropod's face and kills it.
Still, this victory is comparable to those enjoyed by the crew of the Irwin Allen teleseries: the heroes in both cases triumph not by superior force or strategems, but by luck and dogged persistence-- which is not the characteristic of exceptional megadynamicity.
On a tangential note, I think that in general most works that focus on the military-- be they naturalistic or otherwise-- tend to emphasize the "emotional tenor" of "persistence" rather than "glory," as those terms were defined here. The military is more often defined by the quality of winning conflicts through group effort rather than individual excellence, and that may be one reason I couldn't view the heroes of STARGATE as fully in the genre of adventure, despite some superficial likenesses.
Obviously, though, there are some exceptions.
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