cast: Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence, John Emery, Morris Ankram, and George O’Hanlon
producer and director: Kurt Neumann
78 minutes (unrated) 1957
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Image DVD NTSC Region 0 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Made during the same period as Earth Versus The Flying Saucers (1956), Roger Corman’s It Conquered The World, Hammer’s X – The Unknown, The Monolith Monsters, the cultworthy Quatermass 2, and the frequently ridiculed The Blob (1958), this is superior B-movie material with enough visual impact and artistic integrity to elevate it well above the standard for 1950s’ sci-fi hokum. Basically a prelude to alien invasion, the plot of Kronos tells of how a mysterious asteroid arrives on Earth by splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico – only to emerge from the sea as a gigantic extraterrestrial device, which causes havoc in Mexico before attacking the USA.
The alleged space rock is so obviously a flying saucer that today’s viewers are likely to question the (apparent) stupidity of the film’s scientist heroes, but we should remember that this was only a decade after Roswell, and predates the golden age of space pioneers (from Yuri Gagarin to Neil Armstrong). Curiously, the scientists’ original belief that this uncannily aerodyne threat is nothing more than a harmless meteor lends a certain veracity to proceedings, as if their healthy scepticism about ET life, and the possibility of an unwelcome visitation from the stars, makes their eventual investigation of the monstrous machine all the more compelling, driven at first by a fascination about its origin and purpose, and not by a paranoid fear of it because it’s something unknown.
Surprisingly, the Kronos machine’s design is just a couple of large black boxes linked by a tube, with a dome and antennae on top, stacked above four cylindrical legs which pump up and down in an amusing parody of walking. Its strategy of simply absorbing all the energy generated by manmade power sources proves every bit as destructive to the industrial landscape of postwar America as the Martian machines from genre classic of War Of The Worlds (1953). And, while Kronos owes a significant debt to that earlier film, the overall style of this lower budgeted, b/w offering is similarly impressive, boasting unique special effects by Jack Rabin, and Irving Block (who wrote the story from which Louis Goldman’s screenplay derives), artfully blending quality miniatures, clever photographic tricks, location shooting, and animation. The eerie scope images of the bizarrely sinister Kronos, squatting menacingly on the horizon, or striding purposefully across the countryside, evoke something like an unexpectedly mobile version of Kubrick’s 2001 monolith – springing magically to caricatured life – yet this was several years before the film of Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘first contact’ scenario gave us one of science fiction’s greatest screen icons! In particular, there is a scene that could be viewed as a precursor to the monolith of 2001, in which the huge Kronos machine retracts its dome and folds away its legs (as if it is crouching down) to form a seamless black box (and therefore a smaller target) just before the USAF drops a H-bomb on it, recalling similar nuclear strikes from the aforementioned War Of The Worlds. This shot predates the Kubrickian Space Odyssey’s chilling vision of a darkly omnipotent monolith on the Moon, standing aloof and wholly unaffected by mankind’s interference. As a powerfully aesthetic image of sheer alien otherness, Kronos is in this – admittedly singular – regard at least equal to the generally more extraordinary 2001.
There’s a rather laboured, and unfortunately dull, subplot about the possessed chief of an atomic research lab, and (of course) we have the obligatory romantic relationship between stars Jeff Morrow (who played the memorable alien Exeter in This Island Earth, 1954) and Barbara Lawrence, but Kronos offers more than the sum of its parts, and director Neumann (who went on to make cult kitsch SF, The Fly), ensures it stands out from the crowded parade of 1950s’ SF flicks.
The region-free NTSC DVD has Dolby digital mono sound, a crisp anamorphic transfer, and the original theatrical trailer.