Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hero's Journey, and Plan 9 From Outer Space

In my recent MST, I made a joke that Plan 9 From Outer Space made use of The Hero's Journey, a narrative structure that is talked about in greater detail in the Wikipedia article I just linked to. But I wasn't joking when I said that; whether by accident or by design (probably the former, given that Plan 9 isn't a movie you can plan so much as it just let happen) Ed Wood ended up incorporating the The Hero's Journey into his story. A butchered, nearly unrecognizable form of the journey, but a form nonetheless. Why this is, I can't say for certain, but my guess is that Ed Wood's subconscious contains the same kinds of archetypical stories that our myths and legends are been made out of. He's just REALLY bad at articulating them.

I admit, given the gimmick of my MST series, doing something like this is kind of hypocritical. But hey, it's all in good fun! I know Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie, but it's such a hilariously bad movie that one can't help but laugh at it. If you haven't seen it yet, you can see it at If you don't know what The Hero's Journey is, Extra Credits did a really good series on it, which you can find here and here.

The Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure is the first phase of The Hero's Journey, where some new information or a change in circumstance call an ordinary guy to venture into the unknown. Jeff Trent, the airline pilot, fulfills this role when he spots a flying saucer outside of his cockpit.  The army makes him swear to secrecy, which leads into...

Refusal of the Call

...which is the part where the hero attempts to rejects his destiny for one reason or another. In this case, Jeff is afraid of going back to his job and leaving his wife alone. This gets resolved when his wife reassures him that she'll be just fine. 

Supernatural Aid

In this part of the Journey, the hero gains aid either directly or indirectly from an outside source. This might be a bit of a stretch, but I believe this part comes when the military guys figure out what the aliens are trying to say using their "Language Computer". Though Jeff isn't directly involved in this part of the story, it contributes to the story's climax by prompting Col. Edwards to investigate further, where he eventually meets up with Trent. 

Crossing the Threshold
"Crossing the Threshold" is when the hero leaves the known world behind, and crosses into the unknown. In Plan 9, it's the point in the story where Not-Dracula attacks Trent and the others, prompting them to investigate the graveyard where the ray that vaporized the old man originated from...

Belly of the Whale

...and once they actually reach the graveyard, Trent leaves his wife behind in the police car and enters the graveyard. we can say that Trent is in "The Belly of the Whale", where the hero allows himself to be swallowed by the unknown.  

The Road of Trials

 I suppose the zombies could count as "The Road of Trials", but they never actually confront Trent and the others. Really, the only "Trial" they have to face is figuring out where the flying saucer is, which turns out to be embarrassingly easy. The road of trials is supposed to represent the hero's transformation, but nobody really gets any character development, so I guess it makes sense that the road of trials is similarly anticlimactic.

No Woman as Temptress and 
No Meeting With The Goddess

With the so called "trials" out of the way, Plan 9 skips past the "Woman as Temptress" part and the "Meeting With the Godess". I suppose you could make the argument that the female zombie could have been the "Woman as Temptress", since she leads several red-shirts to their doom, but she never directly encounters Trent so again, it's not really a character builder.

Atonement With the Father

This part of the story occurs near the end, where In the movie's climax, the hero must confront the ultimate power in his or her life. In this case, Trent learns the truth of why the aliens have invaded, that they are trying to stop earthlings from destroying the universe by splitting the rays of the sun. (because as we all know, "A ray of sunlight is made of many atoms!" ) Thus, in order to save the world, Trent must not only confront the extraterrestrial threat in front of him, but he must decide whether humanity is worth saving in the first place!

...Well, that's probably what Ed Wood intended, but it didn't really turn out so well.


Long story short: after a brief fistfight with Eros (the alien commander), Trent manages to damage the ship, which explodes as it tries to escape. As this part of the story should, this gives Trent and the others time to reflect on their recent adventure, as they wonder if any other aliens will follow Eros' footsteps. 

Conclusions are for Sissies

Of course a better story might have the main characters demonstrate that they've actually learned something, even a throwaway line about the danger of the Solarbonite bomb would show that they've taken the alien's message to heart.

Instead we get an ominous message from this guy about how what's mundane today would seem fantastic in the past, and how there might be space aliens all around us, and we would never know it. While this isn't exactly a great conclusion, it's kind of a product of the times. Remember that the US was at the height of the Cold War; some people thought we would go to war with Russia at any minute!  Subconsciously or otherwise, the filmmakers of the time picked up on this, and as a result movies of the time tended to have these sort of really tense endings. Just look at the ending to The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released just a few years before!

So that's Plan 9 from Outer Space! A silly movie that just happened to work on some fundamental levels. If you have any questions, comments, or have another silly movie that you want me to seriously analyze, please let me know in the comments!

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