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Image Entertainment presents
Tommy: How did you get those swell superpowers, Mr. Yellow Jacket?
DVD ReviewHis costume might look a little like it was a leftover from a marching band, but former fighter pilot Cal Crawford (Blaine Wheatley) has become America's greatest superhero known enigmatically as The Yellow Jacket, battling evil in all its forms. With the ability to not only summon the collective power of actual yellow jackets but fly (thanks to a set of mechanical wings that give him Rocketeer-ish flight), Cal/Yellow Jacket has his work cut out for him here. He has to take on his deadly-but-sexy arch enemy Dragonfly (Kimberly Page), who is in cahoots up with brilliant Nazi scientist Dr. Veisenhammer (Gerold Wunstel) and a certain titular character, all of whom have wanton death and destruction on their collective minds.
As if that weren't enough, there's a death ray, oriental robots, a giant mouse, pretty moon girls, ancient temples and submarine battles.
Maybe all the gags don't work as well as intended, but Monarch of the Moon tries its best to be a broad comical homage to those old action/sci-fi/serial adventures, this time from writer/director Richard Lowry, and it's the kind of film where the narrative is literally cut into distinct chapters (Pyramid of Despair, The Doomsday Ray, etc.), each with their own title cards, dangerous cliffhanger, voiceover recap and then a preposterous resolution that bears little resemblance to what just happened at the end of the previous chapter.
It's a full-length feature made on a ridiculously small budget that is probably actually better because it was done so cheaply, and where the sets look appropriately flimsy and minimal, and even the visual effects match the wonky caliber of those old time serials; no one will ever confuse this as a serious special effects showcase. And that's all good, because capturing that genre sensibility accurately is key for something like this to really work, because otherwise it would look too polished, and that would just fudge the whole concept.
Most of the cast—including our hero—leans toward using a just shy of overdone community theater approach as an acting style, and like the visual element, it seems to fit spot on with the type of films Lowry is trying to mimic. No disrespect intended, but I don't think anyone will recall Buster Crabbe or Charles Middleton from those 1930s Flash Gordon serials as being particularly great actors, instead they were left to mouth corny dialogue that propelled an often illogical storyline forward in some way or another. That's what the stock character parade does here, including a ditzy secretary (Monica Himmelheber), a pipe-smoking professor (Phil Van Tee) and a gung-ho Boy Scout (Brent Moss), all of whom use nicely exaggerated gestures, expressions and line reads to convey that necessary sense of almost tacky camp.
That is, except for Page's Dragonfly. And here's where a very subtle grooviness makes Monarch of the Moon just a little bit different, because she plays it all deadly straight as the villain, or at least as straight as she can decked out in a kimono trying to wage pure evilness (that's her on the cover looking all Amidala-ish). While the rest of the cast is left to purposely overclock their performances for proper genre effect, Page stands out because she doesn't turn her character into a quirky over-the-top caricature, and even when she's fending off a hail of gunfire with nothing but a pair of hand fans, she gives Dragonfly a nice graphic novel feel, which should be no surprise since Lowry's film was produced by comic book conglomerate Dark Horse. The way the Dragonfly character is portrayed really tilts this one back on itself in a way that maybe won't jump right out at you, but it is a clever sort of nuance that pays off well.
It's tough to straddle that parody/homage fence, and the risk of total catastrophic stupidity lurks around every corner. Lowry, however, handles the bumps pretty deftly, and the odd comedic miss tends to not seem as tragic just due to the silly nature of the whole thing. Image has included both the color and black-and-white versions of Lowry's film for this release, as well as his previous full-length bonus feature, the 1950s sci-fi knock Destination Mars! (see Extras below).
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Monarch of the Moon is offered up here in both black-and-white and color versions, each in 1.33:1 fullframe. The two presentations each have their own distinct charm, but if I had to choose I'd take the purposefully juiced color version. It just seems more nostalgically accurate somehow. Either way, both prints have plenty of intentional nicks, splices and debris to give it that special aged look, and the effect does help sell the premise.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and like the video portion it's tough to really nitpick this. Voice quality is clear, though music manages to probably sound deeper and fuller than it should if it were really an old serial. The intentional hiss and crackle is part of the bit, so finding any actual flaws is a tough one.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Lowry, Chris Patton
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: Disc one carries both color and black-and-white versions of Monarch of the Moon (each cut into 24 chapters), with the color version featuring a chatty commentary track from director/writer Richard Lowry and producer/co-writer Chris Patton. I tend to find the goings on of shooting an extremely low-budget film potentially pretty fascinating, and Lowry and Patton have a lot of well-laid out input, pointing out how certain effects shots were done in a bedroom, what was done in After Effects, and how the concept of the film fluctuated a few times during pre-production.
Over on disc two is a real hip plus; it's an early work from Lowry and Patton that does for 1950s sci-fi what Monarch of the Moon did for serialized adventures. The film is Destination Mars! (01h:20m:56s)—the even-lower-budget-but-almost-more-brilliant homage that lovingly pays tribute to the pure camp of 1950s B-movie sci-fi in all its Ed Wood-ian glory. The humor is a little less blunt here, and it's more about the matching the cheapo texture of the period, and it's a real beauty on all fronts.
It is presented as an actual "lost film" from fictional director Joseph P. McDonald, and the first twelve minutes is done in a mock documentary style outlining the sordid history of the project, cast and crew. It is an extremely well done segment that does a wonderful job setting up the actual feature itself, in which an army of Martian women in spaceships launch a deadly attack on Earth. The fake doc open is so authentic—and largely played straight—that it wouldn't surprise me if some people actually believe Destination Mars! was really a "lost" film.
There's also a commentary track for Destination Mars!, once again from Lowry and Patton, this time joined by writer/de facto special effects Tor Lowry, who point out the film was originally intended to be a sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space, but they couldn't secure the rights. Like the track for Monarch Of The Moon, this one is full of insider info on how everything was shot on the cheap, and when they talk about researching things like how the credits should fade to match that B-movie 1950s style, you know these guys are serious about trying to get the details right.
Disc two also includes a segment for Destination Mars! called Behind the Scenes (05m:42s), which is a three minute trailer of sorts, followed by two and a half minutes of random footage shot on the set during production.
Inside of the hinged two-disc case, there's a 12-page color comic of another Yellow Jacket adventure, this time The Metal Menace of Megapolis, in which a huge robot is threatening the city, penned by Dark Horse comics Mike Richardson.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThis is very dangerous territory—making parodies of/homages to old fashioned sci-fi serials—but it's done right here by Richard Lowry. Made for next to nothing, but looking like it was all spent wisely, both Monarch Of The Moon and the bonus feature Destination Mars! have that kitschy, cheesy scotch-tape-and-tin-foil look down pat, and the cast helps make it all work better than it should have, especially Kimberly Page as the kimonoed villain Dragonfly.
A very nice two-disc set from Image that is calling out to all B-movie nerds.
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