The Cyclops is a giant monster movie with the crappiest special effects you’ve ever seen. By 1957, backscreen projection was solid technology (King Kong used it in 1933, for crying out loud), but that’s too fancy for The Cyclops. Instead, they simply superimposed images of creatures onto footage of the actors, making the monsters transparent.
Still, the story told in The Cyclops is sound. I love the characters and the group dynamics and it would make a great ensemble piece for a small cast of actors.
Susan Winter (Keira Knightley)
Susan Winter is a woman searching for her fiancé, Bruce Barton. Barton’s plane went down in Mexico a while ago. I forget how long, exactly. It was months, at least, and maybe a couple of years. Certainly long enough for everyone but Winter to have given up hope that he’d be found. Winter’s been trying to organize a search ever since, but unfortunately, the Mexican government refuses to allow her access to the region where Barton disappeared. Unrelenting, Winter has funded her own expedition to the forbidden jungle, but the small team still has to get around Mexican authorities to fly into the area.
The original film is clunky in the way it handles the early exposition, but there’s potential for some great drama and action right off the bat as Winter and her team force their plane through opposing forces.
I picked Knightley partly because I just like her; partly because she’s a fantastic, tough actress who can give Winter the determination she needs.
Martin Melville (Woody Harrelson)
Winter finances the expedition by convincing wealthy speculator Melville that there’s uranium in the area where Barton’s plane went down. Melville puts up part of the money in exchange for claim rights to whatever uranium they find.
In the original, Melville’s played by Lon Chaney, Jr. He’s a greedy, selfish man who causes all kinds of problems once he learns that there really is uranium in the area. He wants to get back to file his claim as quickly as possible, Barton be damned. It’s that conflict with Winter that drives a lot of the drama throughout the film. Woody Harrelson would make a powerful, slightly unhinged opponent for Knightley to overcome. Fortunately for her, she has an ally.
Russ Bradford (Benicio Del Toro)
Bradford is a scientist, but his reason for being on the mission is that he’s a friend of Winter and Barton’s. He’s also obviously in love with Winter and wants to help her put to rest her hopes about finding Barton so that she can move on with her life.
I picked Del Toro because I’m tired of seeing him play creepy villains. He’s a great actor and I’d love to see him in a complicated, but positive role like this one.
Lee Brand (Kate Beckinsale)
The pilot and owner of the plane. Brand is a guy in the original, but there’s no reason the character has to be male; especially with a name like Lee. Melville knows that he only has to convince Brand to leave the mission early in order to make it happen. He tries to convince Brand by suggesting that the pilot could fly Melville home early and then come back for the other two.
Melville’s rich enough to make that worth Brand’s while, but Brand understands that that’s completely outside the original arrangement with Winter. The question is whether or not Brand’s the type of person to stick to the letter of the contract or take a lucrative deal when it’s offered. Beckinsale plays heroes and villains with equal ease, so she could do awesome things with a conflicted entrepreneur like Brand.
With all the human drama in place, all that’s left is to include some modern effects when the team discovers that the radioactive area is crawling with giant lizards, spiders, birds, and other animals. There’s also the cyclops of course. His origin is all too easy to guess, but it’s the human drama that keeps the movie going. The mystery of the giants is just icing for the cake.