Category Archives: sf film

RIP #6

Patrick McGoohan, #6 on one of my favorite classic sf tv shows The Prisoner, died yesterday at the age of 80. Perhaps it’s best he didn’t live to see the remake of series that is currently in production. Either way, he will be missed. *Sniff*

Soviet Zombies

I’m not a Metallica fan, but their new video is a great piece of short sf filmmaking.

Adaptation of the Original Original

The blog Diversions of the Groovy Kind has a reproduction of an entire 1970s Marvel Comics adaptation of “Farewell to the Masterhere. It’s a lot more enjoyable than the second half of the current film remake.

A Tale of Two Movies

Curiosity got the better of me, and I actually went and paid to see the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Considering my last adventure at the movie theater, I probably should have known better. But it was both not as bad as I expected and far worse. Granted, I thought I’d hate it. But in the end, the first half of the film I found intriguing. The second half? Like a drill slowly burrowing into my brain as the second hand on my watch moved backwards.

This “reimagining” of Robert Wise’s 1951 classic exchanges the fears of earthly war mongering for environmental devastation. Klaatu’s race/organization/whatever doesn’t fear what humans will do to each other, but to the precious resource that is a planet able to support life. In the original, Klaatu is sent with robot guardian Gort to warn humanity that its destructive nature (and development of nuclear arms) will ultimately force the rest of the universe—the civilized part that is—to destroy it. Klaatu in the current film comes without warning to destroy humans right now. Humanity is inherently destructive to the environment, he decides. Though after a little squishiness, he’ll see that there is “another side” to us later in the film.

The Good.
1. I actually liked Keanu in this film. He was able to pull off a foreignness in his portrayal that made “first contact” believable. In the original film, Michael Rennie’s Klaatu becomes more and more human. We never make the mistake of thinking the same about Keanu’s Klaatu. There is a distance between him and the human characters throughout.

2. The premise of an advanced civilization’s concern over the environment. There’s ample belief in the scientific community that few planets like ours exist. That an advanced civilization would consider this planet as a resource that far outweighs the moral implications of genocide seems plausible.

3. The morality of Klaatu’s civilization. On the other hand, that this “advanced” civilization chooses to destroy humanity instead of sharing technology and helping us along is interesting. Though Rennie’s Klaatu threatens humanity with destruction at the end of the film, he is sympathetic to its primitive state throughout. Keanu’s Klaatu doesn’t have any patience for us. His civilization seems to have a sense of entitlement. I found this interesting to ponder.

4. The technology of Klaatu’s civilization was fascinating. Gene manipulation, biological interface with electronics, and organic metal. Truly awesome.

The Bad.
1. Why does every Hollywood film have to have a cute fatherless/motherless child?

2. If this other civilization is so concerned about the environment over everything else, why does a little weepiness from the previously mentioned cute child cause Klaatu to reevaluate wiping humanity out? So a kid cries about his dad, does that really mean we won’t burning this baby down with greenhouse gases, plastics, and overpopulation? I say torch the humans.

3. Everything after Klaatu meets with Dr. Barnhardt. If you do see this film, when John Cleese leaves the screen, LEAVE THE THEATER.

4. I still don’t see why this film had to be remade (or “reimagined”). The original is a piece of art from a certain period. It forever belongs there. There was nothing about it that needed to be updated or reinterpreted. Please, Hollywood…please start producing some original screenplays.

don’t underestimate the ferocious beat of the dark side

Vonnegut 2081

One of Vonnegut’s most famous short stories, and one of my favorite short stories period, is “Harrison Bergeron.” In HB, society has achieved equality for all…by force and by lowering people’s capabilities to the most basic level possible (the only way to achieve true “equality” in skill). The agile and strong are weighted down. The intelligent have buzzing noises forced in their ears. Those with excellent vision are given lenses to distort it. And so on. The piece can be found in many collections, including Welcome to the Monkey House. So go read it!

Vonnegut first tested out the idea of equal disability in The Sirens of Titan through his description of some believers in the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent:

Everyone wore handicaps of some sort. Most handicaps were of an obvious sort—sashweights, bags of shot, old furnace grates—meant to hamper physical advantages. But there were, among Redwine’s parishioners, several true believers who had chose handicaps of a subtler and more telling kind.

There were women who had received by dint of dumb luck the terrific advantage of beauty. They had annihilated that unfair advantage with frumpish clothes, bad posture, chewing gum, and a ghoulish use of cosmetics.

One old man, whose only advantage was excellent eyesight, had spoiled that eyesight by wearing his wife’s spectacles.

A dark young man, whose lithe, predaceous sex appeal could not be spoiled by bad clothes and bad manners, had handicapped himself with a wife who was nauseated by sex.

The dark young man’s wife, who had reason to be vain about her Phi Beta Kappa key, had handicapped herself with a husband who read nothing but comic books.

Redwine’s congregation was not unique. It wasn’t especially fanatical. There were literally billions of happily self-handicapped people on Earth.

His idea was then used as inspiration for the 1995 film Harrison Bergeron. Now, in my humble opinion, many attempts at adapting Vonnegut’s material to film have been greatly flawed. I would include the 1995 Sean-Astin-vehicle Harrison Bergeron in that category. Nonetheless, there’s a new production based on Vonnegut’s famous work in the works. This one is called 2081. And I gotta say, in all fairness, the trailer looks kind of intriguing. (Gulp!)

The Man Who Fell to Earth, Part II

Mary-Lou: “What are they like, your children?”
Newton: “They’re like children. Exactly like children.”

The 70s and early 80s were interesting times for speculative filmmaking. That period contained a series of artistic, pensive films that were the children of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alpahville, as well as a trio of films that would completely alter the landscape of the genre by creating an immense appetite for big-budget, space westerns that form the core of an entity now know as “sci-fi movies.”

Films like The Lathe of Heaven and Born in Flames distorted known landscapes into the otherness of future. While films like Silent Running made the future of robots and self-contained environments present. And as for the societal fears of a sexually emerging and violent youth…A Clockwork Orange.

One of the pinnacles of this type of speculative narration, in my opinion, is Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. Roeg’s film is significantly different from Tevis’ novel. On a grand scale, he makes you work as a viewer for meaning. Visual suggestion and subtle dialogue replace some of the more overt aspects of Tevis’ book. He also builds substantially on the implied sexuality of the novel. Newton and Betty Jo (renamed Mary-Lou in the film) have an intense physical relationship. Bryce, the professor turned World Enterprises Corporation obsessive, is no longer the widow, but a divorcee jumping from tryst to tryst with interchangeable coeds looking for someone who is both like their father and also nothing like him. And Farnsworth, Newton’s patent lawyer and business partner, has become a vulnerable homosexual partnered with a younger, stronger lover.

Part of Roeg’s brilliance in this film is casting. As a character, Newton is otherworldly (duh). He at times mimics human emotion, and at others, feels it more intensely (perhaps). Through money, he’s powerful. But his frail body and ignorance of human behavior make him exposed to manipulation and control. So it was a real stretch when Roeg courted David Bowie to play this androgynous, lost-in-the-world alien (ha!). Bowie is brilliant.

Roeg sets the film in New Mexico (as opposed to the Kentucky of Tevis’ novel). The landscape is like that of Newton’s world–a world beset by drought–, but here it is populated with cowboys and dusty main streets instead. As viewers, we’re often privy to the visions and dreams of Newton. In them, he often thinks about his family and the time he left for Earth. But does he miss them? Does he miss his world? Is he sad? Roeg gives us no clear answers. And, as in the novel, Newton sometimes just prefers to have a drink.