Danny Johnson Saves The World by RJDiogenes

It's that time of year again. Independent producer Chris Mihm's annual foray into the wonderful world of black-and-white B-movies has yielded another loving homage. Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend the premiere this year (thank you, Winter from Hell), but I got my DVD this week and I'm ready to give you the lowdown.

This year's film, the tenth in the series of Mihmiverse films, is "Danny Johnson Saves The World." As many of you may know (and as the Mihmiverse umbrella title implies), these films are all interconnected—loosely, as all are standalone films—and Danny Johnson has appeared several times as a supporting character. Now twelve or thirteen years old, he has graduated to leading man.

The Mihmiverse films have all run a gamut of B-movie sub-genres, from mutated BEM attacks to Space Opera, but the last couple have really expanded the range of the franchise. DJSTW is more overtly a kids' film than the others, and the entire cast is composed of young and younger children—the only adult to appear, aside from aliens, is Danny Johnson as an old man. (One downside of this is that most the familiar faces from prior movies are absent, which kind of disappointed me because I've met most of them and like them quite a bit—in particular Dan Sjerven, who is a real sweetheart of a guy.)

The movie, needless to say, is unrelenting fun and worth the blind buy—not one of these films has failed to be that. The kids do a great job. Elliott Mihm carries the film as the pre-teen adventure hero and his younger sister is just adorable as his younger sister. There are two newcomers to the stable of Mihmiverse actors, playing Danny's maybe-girlfriend and annoyingly impish buddy, and they are both great. One criticism I'll level at the film (to make this an authentically critical review) is that these two are not in the movie anywhere near enough (in fact, Cassie isn't even seen on the flying saucer); I hope Chris is able to work both of them into future films.

Aside from the flying saucer, the retro coolness of the film includes a stop-motion dinosaur, a stop-motion non-humanoid extraterrestrial monster, a menacing robot, and an infestation of diminutive aliens. The stop-motion effects are fantastic and the robot is marvelous, all worthy of the best of the classic drive-in spectaculars of the 50s, but the alien invaders are quite interesting indeed. They are, to put it simply, puppets. They are intended to evoke Muppets (from spaaaace) and if that seems a bit at odds with the retro 50s premise (except maybe for "The Giant Claw"), it works here because of the format of the movie.

The "present" of the movie takes place in Danny's retirement (at Christmas, though not much is made of that) as he tells the story to a couple of his grandkids. It's probably meant to be analogous to "today" in the Mihmiverse, but that is left vague. In any case, the story is told in flashback and the reason that the puppets work so well is that we're getting the story second-hand and Chris uses that to mess with our minds a bit. First of all, is Danny telling the truth or is this just a tall tale to entertain the kids? On the one hand, one of the flashbacks includes a scene from "The Giant Spider," which we know was true in the Mihmiverse; but on the other hand, in another scene the narration is wildly different from what we actually see on screen. And grandpa's memory is known to be a bit foggy. So I think what we are seeing is an old man's exaggerated memory of an incident that occurred when he was twelve—so whatever these creatures actually were, in his mind he sees them as puppets. It's a wonderful story device (unless I'm wrong).

The plot? Aliens want to take over the Earth. The outcome? If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read the title.

If you're not familiar with the Mihmiverse, there's more info here. If you're nostalgic for the days of drive-in movie theaters and black-and-white non-blockbusters with hand-made special effects—and you should be, even if it was before your time—get these movies.

And next year, I'll be at the premiere in person again, if the creek don't rise.