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  This installment of my "Then and Now" series will focus on the well-known film entitled "The Blob." The original version of the film was released in 1958, starring a 27 year old Steve McQueen (billed for the first and only time as "Steven McQueen"). The remake of the film was released 30 years later, in 1988, starring a young Kevin Dillon (and yes, he is Matt Dillon's brother). Both films feature the amorphous killer "blob," which rolls around and devours anything that it comes across, although the monster's origins are radically different in the two films.

The blob itself is a "monster" in the truest sense of the word: shapeless, mindless, and deadly. However there are some key differences in the stories as we shall shortly see.



Opening Credits:

Original Release (1958): The original credits feature cool animation and is actually accompanied by a theme song! "The Blob" title song was an early hit for none other than Burt Bacharach (how cool is that!): "Oh, beware of The Blob, it creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door, and all around the walls, a splotch, a blotch, be careful of The Blob." The animated title shot and "hip" theme song lead many viewers to think "The Blob" was going to be a spoof. (Interesting Trivia: The film was originally to be called "The Glob", but animator Walt Kelly had already finished with the opening credits, so the name was changed to match the opening sequence.)

Remake (1988): Dark, sinister, blockish letters emerge from a blue haze accompanied by synthesizer-heavy chords. The sound track and the "blocky" letters seem to foreshadow the blob's artificial origin in the remake's interpretation of the story.


The Hero:
Original Release (1958) - Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen): Steve McQueen had his first starring role in "The Blob," although he had already appeared in 3 films before this movie. Steve does a convincing job portraying the "teen-age" Steve Andrews, even though he was 27 years-old when they filmed the movie. As the movie's hero, Steve pieces together the solution of how to stop the blob (by sheer luck, actually) and saves the day (although he had no part in actually freezing the blob after he told the others of the solution).
Remake (1988) - Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon): At the age of 23, Kevin Dillon does a decent job playing the 18 year old mullet-coiffed rebel Brian Flagg. Undoubtedly an inferior actor in respect to Steve McQueen, Kevin's role in the remake in no way requires the same depth of skill as needed in the original release, so his performance is acceptable. In the remake, Kevin simply smokes, drinks beer (and the occasional ice tea), rides his motorcycle (with leather jacket, of course), and eventually wins the affections of the high-school hotty before single-handedly exploding the "snow maker" truck and freezing the blob.


The Girlfriend:

Original Release (1958) - Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut): The straight laced girl-friend in the original film, Jane Martin, seems to be more upset over losing her puppy than by being trapped in a freezer by a man-eating blob. The quintessential 1950's "girl" (for example, she nearly gets knocked unconscious by falling over a stack of canned goods at a grocery store...), she faithfully accompanies Steve in his efforts to warn others of the blob, changing her dress once or twice along the way.

Remake (1988) - Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith): The high-school cheer leader and designated "hot chick," Meg Penny, is a much more aggressive character than in the original release (but oh lord, that 1980's hair!) When her first boyfriend gets dissolved by the blob, she eventually falls for bad boy Brain (Kevin Dillon), and fights against the blob (and the evil scientists) just as effectively as the hero.


The Monster:

Original Release (1958): Unthinking, unfeeling, the blob crashes to Earth and quickly begins devouring everything in its path. The original monster was realized by both colored silicon gel and a modified weather balloon. Detailed miniatures built upon "tilt tables" allowed the set to be "tilted" and the silicon gel would flow under doors, through heating vents, etc., with very convincing effect.
Remake (1988): Some stop-motion animated models, but mostly bad CGI and blue-screen effects. With the advancement of special effects technology, the remake was able to include much more graphic scenes of the blob killing people. The special effects used for the smaller blob were much more convincing than the ones used later in the movie after the blob had reached an enormous size (CGI and blue-screen).


Summary:

What can I say? I liked the original "The Blob" much more than the remake. The 1958 version, as cheesy as it was (it was the 1950's of course!), had a sense of goofy charm, honest attempts at characterization, and a monster that nobody believed existed until the last 15 minutes or so of the film. The remake, unfortunately, relied more on gore and action sequences than anything else. Where the original was a tight, linear story (taking place in nearly the same amount of time as the movie's own run time), the remake clouds the story by introducing far too many sub-plots: notably the conflict between the girl and her two suitors (short lived as it was), and the ridiculous "Evil Government Scientists."

Regarding the remake's "Evil Scientists:" they turned out to actually be the source of the blob! The original blob is an alien entity that comes from outer-space, but for reasons unknown (maybe to spice up the movie), the blob in the remake is a mutated virus from a government satellite that has crashed to Earth. And yes, the blob was intended to be used as a biological weapon. (I'm soooo tired of that plot line....)

As noted above, the 1958 version of "The Blob" dealt primarily with Steve's efforts to convince the authorities that the blob was real. The blob killed people of course, but everybody believed that the victims were simply "out of town;" much to Steve's frustration and horror. When the blob did kill people, the attack was never shown in full detail. Rather, the horror was increased by partially revealing a struggling figure in the dark with some sort of "glob" on them (as when Dr. Hallen was killed), or in the case of the mechanic, we simply see his legs kicking from under a car while he screams, then the legs are quickly pulled under as the mechanic is devoured.

In the 1988 remake, the blob makes its presence known much earlier in the film, and essentially goes on a killing rampage for the rest of the run time. When the blob is smaller in size, the attacks are revealed in more detail (and gore): the still-living boy-friend struggling to free himself from inside the blob as he's dissolved, the smoking remains of the half-dissolved old man, pulling a guy down a kitchen sink drain (!), and so on. As the blob grows in size, the attacks become less gory and more silly. These attacks include plucking up people from the street with tentacles and swallowing them up like you would pick out pieces of popcorn and toss them into your mouth, squashing people with giant appendages, and so on. (There is even one scene in the sewer where the blob makes some sort of orifice and places it under people hanging from a ladder, letting them simply drop into its "maw"...accomponied by a sort of "roaring" sound if I'm not mistaken...) These attacks give the blob a type of malign intelligence that is not found in the original version. (Not to mention the remake's "mandatory" scenes of exploding cars, grenades, satchel charges, M16-s, and the rest of the "Evil Scientist's" armaments.)

As far as the story is concerned, the remake remains somewhat faithful to the original, but quickly diverges as soon as the scientists appear. Maybe it was just a sign of the times to have some nefarious government agency be responsible for the monster, but I found this sub-plot to be simply distracting: in addition to the protagonist's struggles against the blob, the struggle against the "mindless, heartless" government agency is brought into play as well. In fact, there is not so much difference between the blob and the government agency: both are concerned solely with their own welfare, and treat all others as expendable. Regardless of any hidden metaphor, I found the whole "government agency" plot line to be redundant. Furthermore, the remake of "The Blob" ends in a typical panorama of gunfire, explosion, and general mayhem, a sight that I have seen all too many times before.

So which is better? I have always been a fan of the sci-fi films of the 1950's and 1960's, so I would have to say the original version is better. I do not make this judgment based solely on my partiality for films of that era. "The Blob" of 1958 has better actors, more attempts at characterization (regardless of their overall impact), and a "blob" that comes from deep space: a malignant, mindless, killing machine of unknown origin. The 1988 remake of "The Blob" is a CGI blood-bath, full of explosions and gunfire, and a "blob" that turns out to be nothing more than an overgrown, mutated virus from a government satellite.

To each his own.

Further Comparisons:

Item
"The Blob" (1958)
"The Blob" (1988)
Run Time 82 min 95 min
Tagline "Indescribable... Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!" "Scream now, while there's still room to breathe."
Director Irvin Yeaworth Jr. Chuck Russell
Starring Actor Steve McQueen Kevin Dillon
Age of Starring Acting 27 23
Monster's Origin Arrives inside a meteor. Origin unknown. A mutated virus from a government satellite.
Monster's Demise Frozen with CO2 fire-extinguishers. Frozen by exploding "snow maker" machine.
Kill Count 4 shown + 50(?) from theater and bar 20 + shown, + countless killed in final melee
Budget $120,000 (1958) $9,000,000 (1988, est.)
Trivia The poster shown in the theater entrance is for a fake movie called "The Vampire and the Robot". The poster is actually for "Forbidden Planet" and simply has a false title pasted over it.

The old man who discovers the blob is played by veteran actor Olin Howland. "The Blob" would be his final film in a career than spanned almost 200 films going back to the silent era.
Rock salt was dyed purple to create the crystallized Blob for the ending of the movie.
 


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