Earth Minus Zero

Director: Joey Travolta (Yes, the brother of John)
Pat Morita, Brock Pierce, Sam Jones

Sometimes, in my quest to convince you readers to take a chance on certain unknown movies, I feel like singing. Here's a little number from the musical Pal Joey, though with alternate lyrics: I'm wild no more / I hear you snore / You're telling me to go out the door / Bewitched, bothered and bewildered - am I! I also feel that I have given you paradise, but what did you do? You paved over it and put up a parking lot. What am I getting to here? Well, if you are a long time reader of The Unknown Movies, you will know that in the past, I have reviewed a number of examples of movies from one certain film company. And that company is PM Entertainment. Movies from them that I have reviewed include Last Man Standing, The Sweeper, and The Silencers. PM didn't always make good movies, but when they got it right they made masterpieces such as those three examples. But my efforts to publicize PM Entertainment and their movies have given me disappointing results. I think that to date I have only received one e-mail from a reader saying that he decided to check out PM movies as a result of my efforts. In the past, I tried everything I could think of to encourage you to seek out PM's best movies. I tried reviewing a few of their duds so I could mention that PM did make some good movies. I also tried reviewing some of their non-action movies (such as the horror-themed The Art Of Dying). Nothing has worked. In fact, it's been over a year since I have reviewed a PM movie, since despite my passion for them I felt burned out by my unsuccessful efforts.

But recently, when I was in a thrift store looking at used VHS movies, I found a PM movie that, upon finding it, recharged me and showed me a possible new perspective I could use to inform you of PM movies. True, the movie I found was another non-action movie from them, but it was so different from the ones I reviewed in the past, I felt it would make for a fresh review and further illustrate the colorful library of PM movies out there. The PM movie I found that day was Earth Minus Zero, and it comes from a side of PM that even PM fanatics like myself might not know existed during the company's history. You see, Earth Minus Zero is a kiddie movie. Yes, PM's Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin may have made a name for itself with its R rated movies like Golan and Globus did with Cannon, but like Golan and Globus they also made a number of PG movies for the family market, some of them including Little Bigfoot, Two Bits & Pepper, and the films in the Magic Kid series. Anyway, part of me was thrilled to find not only a new PM movie I hadn't seen before, but of a different than usual genre that would give my review a new angle and a new way to inform people of PM movies. But I must also confess that there was part of me that was dreading the inevitable task of watching Earth Minus Zero. That reason also being around the fact that it was a kiddie movie. You see, generally I don't like movies that are aimed mostly or totally at the prepubescent crowd. I found that these movies most of the time do not strive to hit new heights, instead setting their sights lower than even the intelligence of the average kid.

I know that if you go to the genre index of this web site, you'll not only see that there is a section for family movies, but a fair number of such movies I have reviewed. The reason that I review the occasional family movie Earth Minus Zerois not only to give the site variety, but in the hope I can tell readers that there are some family movies with brains. Most of the time that isn't the case. When I read the video box's description, I admit that I thought I would be in for more of the same. Here's the plot on the back of the box: "In the far off universe of Vitala [Note: Wait a minute - isn't there just one universe?], a zoo has been built by an advanced civilization. It's (sic) purpose: to preserve specimens of civilizations that will eventually destroy themselves. Its species catcher: a scorpion-like creature that is able to transform itself into anything it wants. Its name is: Minus. As Minus lands on Earth to capture some humans, a typical suburban family, the HELLER'S (sic), struggle to get by. Mom, Dad, their teenage son Joey, six year old daughter Cindy and faithful dog Monte don't realize how good life really is. Minus transforms himself into a mild mannered pizza delivery boy, and is welcomed into the Heller's home. Once in, he whips out an odd looking ray gun and shrinks Mom and Dad to the size of ants. When he sets the gun down to scoop them up, Cindy enters and begins to play with the gun and shrinks Minus. Everyone must bind together against their new enemy - Minus who is armed with advanced technology including virtual reality beasts and missiles. In a dazzling special effects display, Joey and the Heller family battle with Minus in this fun filled action packed movie."

As you probably concluded by reading the above description, Earth Minus Zero got a lot of its inspiration from the 1989 family movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Some of you probably got the idea to lift your nose high if you ever come across Earth Minus Zero, feeling that this is a cheap rip-off. I can understand that, but what about its intended audience of children? You have to remember that kids like repetition - remember how your kids got you to read the same bedtime stories over and over? I truly believe that many kids would be open to a rip-off if the rip-off was done well and maybe had a few fresh ideas to engage them. I felt the same way when I popped the video cassette into my VCR and pressed play... but it didn't take me long into the movie to conclude that it was going to be garbage. For one thing, the characters in the movie are, almost without exception, utterly obnoxious. Minus the alien constantly keeps talking to himself, spouting off useless lines like, "If I don't fight back, I'll be destroyed for good!" during a space battle with battle cruisers out to blast his ship. Later on earth, he tangles with a couple of journalists (played by Rhonda Shear and Don Stark), both of which are a such exaggerated depictions of greedy reporters that even kids won't laugh, and will sense phoniness instead. It doesn't get any better with the members of the Heller family. Little girl Cindy is so obsessed with video games that she utters "Nintendo!" numerous times during the course of the movie. (Nintendo is thanked in the closing credits.) As for the parents and their teenage son Joey, they take the problem of their shrinkage so calmly that we can't get involved in their plight. If they are bored, then the audience will be bored as well.

The one character in the movie that didn't make me cringe was scientist Dr. Jefferson, played by Pat Morita. Morita takes his role seriously, becoming neither a stereotype or a doofus. He brings some interest to the movie whenever he appears (though I was more interested in why Morita's character had a Western last name, which is never explained.) As much as Morita tries, however, he alone can't save the movie, which goes wrong in every other way you can possibly think of. I'll next move to another big part of the movie, the special effects. Even for a low budget family movie, the effects are shockingly bad. While Honey, I Shrunk The Kids used oversized props and sets to make the characters appear to be small, Earth Minus Zero chooses to use the easiest (and cheapest) methods to do this. All they did was take a still frame shot for the background (shot very close to the camera to make the photographed objects look big), and superimpose tiny-sized shots of the shrunken characters on top. That's right - we never get to see the shrunken characters directly interacting with their big environment. Plus, often these scenes look significantly darker and grainier than the rest of the movie. There are also some computer generated effects in the movie, but even for 1996 these effects look clunky and move without smoothness. There is also some stop-motion animated effects near the end the movie. While that may sound interesting to special effects purists, let me warn you that half of this footage is shown so distorted that it's impossible to appreciate. As for the other half of this footage (shown normally), it turns out to be more stop than motion.

Maybe kids will forgive the rotten special effects (especially if they haven't seen many movies with better special effects.) Maybe kids will accept the childish-acting characters, since they are near that level of mentality themselves. I am not sure, however, if they will accept a movie with a screenplay that is full of plot holes as well as an incredible amount of stupidity and gags that constantly fall flat. Adults certainly won't. First, I'll give you some examples of what this movie considers to be funny. We have one character accidentally destroying Los Angeles International Airport, which I don't think was funny even before 9/11. Kids karate-kick adults, sending them flying through a second story window. There is an extremely gross moment when the family dog accidentally snorts into his nose the shrunken father, and the father is show to be completely covered with dog mucus after he's sneezed out. And the alien's commander has a Jewish accent and uses Yiddish terminology. As for the script's non-humorous shortcomings, we have a top scientist whose lab is located at a high school, we have the young daughter going to bed right after the threatening bad guys are kicked out of that window (and with their parents still shrunk downstairs), and the daughter playing with a remote control car while she's upstairs and the car is downstairs. All this eventually leads to a supposed happy ending, with the unemployed father offered partnership with the scientist, who somehow forgot that his lab was completely destroyed several hours earlier. He also forgot the movie was beyond repair long before this ending.

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See also: King Kung Fu, Star Kid, Willy McBean And His Magic Machine