The Best Science Fiction Film of 1968: Quatermass and the Pit
In 1968 a science fiction film produced in England appeared in American theaters that dealt with the repercussions of finding an ancient extraterrestrial artifact. The discovery of this artifact acts as a sort of sentinel; a clarion call from the alien intelligence that sets in motion a series of events that will forever change the course of the human race. The movie wasn’t a huge box office sensation, but is today considered one of the classic examples of the science fiction genre, and a multitude of fans consider it to be one of the greatest movies of the decade. And, no, I’m not talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Produced under the title Quatermass and the Pit, but released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth, the film is one that should definitely be on your Netflix queue.
In many ways, Quatermass and the Pit-which is how I refer to it since that is what you should look for when conducting a Netflix search-is absolutely the equal of its much more famous brother, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where Stanley Kubrick had his extraordinary talent and an equally extraordinary budget, Quatermass and the Pit has an extraordinary idea. The discovery of the monolith on the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey initiates a journey outward toward contact with an alien intelligence. In Quatermass and the Pit, the discovery is here on Earth and eventually the realization comes that Martian colonists have been buried deep beneath the ground for millions of years. A spaceship is found and nearby are also the fossilized remains of what may possibly be some missing links; inside the spaceship are insectoid corpses. They may remind you of the empty locust shells you used to pick off pine trees when you were a kid.
Naturally, this whole thing completely baffles the officials in charge so they decide to bring in an expert on aliens, one Dr. Quatermass. Through a series of intellectual leaps of the kind that only guys with names like Einstein, Hawking and Urkel can make, Quatermass comes to the conclusion that five million years ago these Martians-who apparently have the same kind of insanely genocidal hardwiring that real life humans have-tried to escape their own futile destiny by attempting to colonize earth by doing a little genetic splicing of their DNA into what they viewed as the most likely Earth-bound species to evolve to Martian status: Australopithecus. Darwinian evolution thereby follows a brilliantly conceived path in which those monkey-men take a few million years to turn into Homo sapiens, masters of the universe, the dominant species.
It’s a brilliant conceit, reflecting on everything from Carl Jung’s archetypes and collective unconscious to the debate over evolution versus intelligent design. Further complicating things is that it just so happens that the place where the spaceship is discovered was considered cursed during Medieval times; in fact, its name-Hob’s Lane-is translated into “Devil’s Haunt.”
The idea is that the Martians-who had a lot of time, apparently-were content to wait until the lowly ape men evolved enough to create the necessary technology that would be required to rule the universe when their genetic coding was reawakened. There is a problem, however, and this problem is what gives Quatermass and the Pit the slight edge over 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick, for all his cold, logical, pragmatic disillusionment establishes at the end his optimism that alien intelligence and human DNA will produce a bona fide superhuman, born as the Star-Child. The genetic sculpting in Quatermass and the Pit doesn’t go so smoothly. After five million years the dilution of the Martian DNA poses some difficulties; some humans are quick to pick up on their coded messages, while others are torn between human goodness and Martian evil. Once the Martian plan kicks into high gear, it is expressed as a horned demon that sits in place over London calling up the coded messages. But since not all respond, chaos ensues and there is anarchy in the UK.
The really odd thing-the really brilliant thing-is that the Martian plan is bent on recreating its own original genocide. These little insectoid critters didn’t so much plan on ruling the world as rewriting their own sad history on Earth. Their plan included not just the beginning of intelligent life on earth, but its end as well. While it is true that Quatermass and the Pit ends happily, the happy ending comes with a caveat that doesn’t exist in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is hope at the end of Kubrick’s masterpiece. There is a definite sense of dread hovering over the end of Quatermass and the Pit.
The idea that alien DNA is present in human beings is certainly one that shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. The Bible tells us that God created humans in His own image. That is also the idea behind this movie. Only here, our God is really nothing more than an alien civilization. And seriously, wouldn’t that explain one heck of a lot of things that the Bible doesn’t?
Get to Netflix and looked up Quatermass and the Pit and add it to your queue. You’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey and you’ve been confused. Quatermass and the Pit is a much more conventional movie with a narrative and interesting characters and all the things you really want in a movie. But its theme is just as mind-blowing as Kubrick’s.
Interestingly enough, Quatermass and the Pit exists in two versions. There is the 1967/1968 big screen version as well as a British TV miniseries from the 50s. I haven’t yet seen the miniseries, but I’ve been informed that it has occasionally show up on such newsgroups at alt.binaries.multimedia.vintage-tv.