Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata: Infraterrestre

Cine Prods. Molinar, 2000) Exec Prod: Manuel Medina Martínez; Prod: Jesús Molinar, Héctor Molinar; Dir: Héctor Molinar; Scr: Gustavo Rubio; Photo: Juan M. Priego; Music: Sergio Carmona [, Roberto Serrano, Jorge Espino]; Prod Mgr: Jesús Molinar; Film Ed: Wendy Cervantes [, Sandra Salinas]; Spec FX/Sound Ed: Sinergy Studios

Cast: Santo [El Hijo del Santo] (Santo), Luis Felipe Tovar (Cmdte. Durango Sarmiento), Diana Golden (Dr. Alma Monreal), Héctor Molinar (Capt. Del Hierro), Blue Panther (Blue Panther), Arturo Molinar (Sgt. Ibarra), Manuel Ojeda (narrator), Turry Molinar (Diego)

Notes: well-crafted return to the screen of El Santo (i.e., El Hijo del Santo, who has generally dropped the "Hijo"). Not a perfect film, but a generally slick and entertaining one, made by people who obviously care about the Santo mythos. Unfortunately, the plans for a theatrical release apparently fell through, and this movie went direct to cable TV and video; hopefully it will be successful enough in these venues to warrant a sequel.

A prologue explains that, thousands of years ago, an alien race arrived on Earth, but were forced to move underground after a giant meteorite made the surface uninhabitable. Since then, they have lived undetected by the surface dwellers.

Diego and his parents are driving through the countryside when their pickup truck breaks down. Diego steps into the bushes to answer the call of nature, and from this spot witnesses the disappearance of the adults in a bright burst of light emitted by a strange flying craft. In a wrestling match with Blue Panther, Santo is nearly killed by his opponent and several men in black who leap into the ring. Later, two young women are leaving a nightclub with a man they met inside; suddenly, Blue Panther and the men in black seize one of the women and her escort, easily defeating some policemen who try to intervene.

In his high-tech lab, Santo is analyzing a video of his match with Blue Panther; the other wrestler has no personal history, and his powers are superhuman. National Security asks Santo to help investigate the rash of abductions which occurred that day--the only witnesses are Diego and the remaining young woman from the nightclub. However, Diego is in shock and cannot speak of what he saw. Psychologist Dr. Alma Monreal is called in to treat the boy; with the help of Santo, Alma gets Diego to draw cartoons of his experience, but his pictures show only a strange monster. Police commander Durango Sarmiento, recently assigned to the precinct, doesn't put much stock in the doctor's efforts.

As Alma leaves the police station with Diego, they are attacked by Blue Panther and the men in black. Santo and the police try to intervene but the villains escape with the boy. They are cornered in a building under construction--where several creatures with monstruous, lizard-like faces appear-- but fly away in a strange craft. Santo and Alma pursue in his flying car; a dogfight ensues and part of the craft crashes to the ground. When the police arrive, no one is in sight, but an open manhole cover reveals their escape route. Santo, Alma, and police officers Del Hierro and Ibarra descend into the sewers and are surprised to see Sarmiento there: he insists on joining the hunt.

Eventually, Santo and Alma are separated from the others: they find a passage to a secret underground city. Sarmiento reveals himself to be one of the villains: some of the aliens are planning to conquer the surface world, and the abductees will be used in experiments to facilitate this conquest. Instead, Santo defeats Blue Panther in hand-to-hand combat (his opponent gets tossed into an abyss) and captures Sarmiento.

Diego is rescued and reunited with his parents. Everyone returns to the surface; Santo says the Earth can continue to support both the underground aliens and the surface dwellers, now that the malcontents have been defeated.

The performers in Infraterrestre are quite good. Unlike his father, El Hijo del Santo does his own dialogue without benefit of dubbing, and while his voice is a little on the thin side (he's no Narciso Busquets, Bruno Rey, or Víctor Alcocer, the kings of manly dubbed dialogue), it's adequate and his delivery is fine. As mentioned earlier, the film makes a definite attempt to establish Santo as a larger-than-life superhero, giving him a secret lab loaded with scientific equipment, a flying car complete with a computer, and even bridging transitions between scenes with an animated shot of giant metal doors--emblazoned with an "S"--closing and opening. Santo is portrayed as a mature and intelligent hero, and even gets to sneak in a romantic clinch with the heroine. It's perhaps a little unfair to compare him in this movie with his two (very lame) Pérez Grovas pictures and his sole, ill-conceived Televicine effort (made nearly 20 and 10 years earlier), but it appears that El Hijo del Santo has finally grown into the Santo role and--just as important--has found filmmakers who want to resurrect the character in a quality manner.

The other two "names" in the cast, Golden and Tovar, turn in professional performances, as do Héctor and Arturo Molinar (the latter's role leans very slightly in the direction of comic relief, although this might be my imagination; in any case, this is very understated). The biggest complaint I have in this area is the characterization of Diego: the script insists on treating him as if he were a very young boy, but the juvenile performer in the role looks too mature for this.

Infraterrestre was shot on Super 16mm and includes a fair amount of digital animation. The "look" of the picture is quite nice, much more atmospheric and slick than most direct-to-video movies shot on 16mm; cinematographer Juan M. Priego should be congratulated for the lighting and texture of the live-action images (Priego's work on Marina and Espejo retrovisor is also excellent). The animation serves its purpose--to expand the scope of the picture and to provide special effects which would have been impossible to achieve effectively otherwise. While the animated scenes are clearly identifiable, only in one sequence--the most ambitious in the movie, a chase and dogfight between Santo's flying car and an alien craft--do they draw attention to themselves in a less-successful manner (I also didn't care for the animated muzzle blasts from pistols, but this is a minor point). The alternatives--lousy miniatures or a script which avoids special effects entirely--are all-too familiar to viewers of Mexican movies, and its nice to see that the producers of Infraterrestre decided to take a chance on this "new" technology. [Note: at least two other recent Mexican features have used computer animation--Serafín, la película and Vera-- but both were probably made with considerably more resources than Infraterrestre.]

Director Molinar (who also has a major supporting role in the movie) is very assured and professional at his job. The script has a few lulls, but the technical elaboration of the individual sequences and the overall pacing of the film itself are quite satisfactory. If there is any complaint to be made (and we might as well point out the criticisms, since they are relatively few), it is that Molinar follows in the tradition of virtually every other Mexican movie director in regards to shooting physical action (especially in wrestling-hero films): rather than relying upon camera angles, close-ups, and quick cuts to speed up the pace and heighten the impact of the onscreen fights, the sequences are presented in medium-shot, which tends to emphasize the staginess and wrestling-based origins of the combat. Santo contra el Dr. Muerte, in my opinion, had the best physical action sequences of any Santo movie and it is no coincidence that this was essentially a Spanishproduction based in a different tradition of filmmaking. The fights in Infraterrestre, like most Mexican lucha movies, feature beefy guys pushing and tripping each other and "cooperating" in flips and body slams, as opposed to any sort of "realistic" (or movie-realistic) fighting or more martial-arts oriented battles. The trailer for the movie, on the other hand, is kinetically edited to produce a much stronger effect and one can only wish the filmmakers had used some more of this in the film itself. [On the positive side, the music is quite good, effectively enhancing the onscreen action, including the fights.]

On balance, an entertaining and well-made movie.