Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Movie Reviews 370 – Seconds (1966)

November 24, 2018

I vaguely recall reading about the movie Seconds in some older Science Fiction film books over the years and also have run across it being discussed in some Horror forums but have not had the chance to watch it until now. Now having seen it I can understand how it loosely fits both genres and in fact can very much be considered a psychological thriller, and even more surprisingly an art house film as well. This one certainly fits many niches and delivers the goods for each one.

A well-to-do elder businessman finds himself nearing the end of a fruitful career but in loveless marriage and with nothing to show for his life when he gets a call from a supposedly dead friend with an interesting offer. It is the opportunity to drop out of life completely (including a having a faked death) and to undergo a radical rejuvenating surgical procedure that will transform him into a young man again, ready to start life anew.

At first Art Hamilton (John Randolph) is incredulous that Charlie (Murray Hamilton) is indeed his deceased friend an must be convinced. But once satisfied he enters a nefarious world of secret messages, covert transport, hidden offices, and a secretive corporation behind it all

While still a bit reluctant, he buys into the hard sell by “Mr. Ruby” (Jeff Corey) and after a prolonged session of surgeries and physical therapy emerges as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), complete with a fabricated background and home in an isolated resort to slowly integrate into his new life. He finds it difficult at first but a chance encounter on a beach with a vibrant young woman (Salome Jens) slowly changes his mind. Maybe he can adapt and enjoy life again? All goes well until a party is held at the resort where a little too much alcohol has Tony slipping out a few things about his past, breaking a cardinal rule of those who are ‘seconds’. Suddenly everyone there turns on him, but he is able to slip out and make a run.

The corporation eventually tracks him down and after a lot of discussion agree to another ‘rebirth’. But as he is shuffled into a room of men that seem to just pass the time, he runs into Charlie who is also waiting for another rebirth himself. Only when Tony is told that he is about to get his turn again does he discover one of the conditions that the corporation needs to address in order to perform their ‘service’. And Tony fits the bill.

This film has the semblance of a prolonged old Twilight Zone episode complete with some drawn-out ambiguity and mystery and ending with a crashing finale. All that but with the higher production values and a few other differences. One glaring difference is the abundant group nudity in a particular Woodstock-esque scene (hey, it was the sixties) that ends up being a turning point for Tony. There certainly was never any of that in the Twilight Zone!

Story aside, the cinematography is mesmerizing with lots of lens effects and the use of innovative, but highly appropriate angle shots and lighting. Some may get a kick seeing Will Geer (grandpa on The Waltons) and Richard Anderson (Oscar from The Six Million Dollar Man) in small but critical roles.

A top notch, somewhat obscure Science Fiction thriller that is quite riveting. Despite the title truly a timeless movie.

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Movie Reviews 367 – The Final Countdown (1980)

November 2, 2018

A few years before Swedish rock band Europe had a mega-hit with their song The Final Countdown I was sitting in a movie theater watching Kirk Douglas (101 and still kicking today I should add) in one of his last major starring roles. But The Final Countdown here is a bit of an oddity both for what we seen on screen; a Sci-Fi film which included Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross, Charles Durning and James Farentino – none of which you would associate with the genre including Douglas – and offscreen based on a behind the scenes revelation that I happened to pick up reading the credits.

The plot is simple enough. We have a modern day (well 1980 modern day) atomic powered US aircraft carrier, the Nimitz, with a full complement of supersonic jets, all armed to the teeth operating off the coast of Pearl Harbor when then are engulfed by a sudden unexplainable fierce magnetic storm vortex which appears to have brought them back in time. But not just any date. They are brought back to December 6th 1941. The day before the infamous surprise attack by the Japanese on the US naval base there which annihilated the entire US Pacific fleet and which forced the US to enter the fray of World War II.

This was an event that clearly changed history and now the captain (Douglas) must decide whether he should use the might of the carrier and aircraft at his disposal to circumvent the attack and alter history. Despite the fact that many lives will be clearly be saved by circumventing the attack, the change will also have an impact on how the war plays out. Would that mean the hindering or delaying the US involvement would allow the Axis to win? Not an easy decision to make regardless. I guess you’d call it a lose-lose proposition.

Star power aside, what makes this movie a fascinating watch is the powerful footage of both the carrier and it’s dizzying array of aircraft. Even after all these years the footage caught is quite mesmerizing. The production crew had almost full access to the ship and it is evident that many of the action scenes were clearly staged to showcase their capabilities. You can easily call this an armed forces recruiting device and I’m sure that was the intent in providing that special access in the first place.

Where the film does falter is how the eventual conclusion on what to do is practically hoisted into the plot after having a decent buildup of suspense. It’s a cheap cheat only partially rescued by a small time-anomaly final scene.

And that behind the scenes surprise I mentioned? While perusing the credits I happened to notice the name of Lloyd Kaufman listed as associate producer, production manager and even a minor playing role. Could this be THE Lloyd Kaufman of Troma studios fame who gave us such classics as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead? Yep, the one and only. Turns out that this was the movie that was the tipping point that turned him away from mainstream studios and embark on his now legendary B movie career.

Fun to watch for sure, despite the mediocre handling. And if nothing else you can play ‘spot Uncle Lloyd’ while watching some pretty amazing acrobatics.

Movie Reviews 366 – The Boys From Brazil (1978)

October 27, 2018

It’s hard to imagine that a movie featuring an all star cast of consisting such exalted actors that include Gregory Peck, Sir Laurence Olivier and James Mason could be anything other that an austere melodrama dealing with only the most serious of storylines. But The Boys from Brazil shakes off some the Shakespearean plaudits, first as a quasi B-movie science fiction, horror melange that dabbles in Nazi cloning experiments and secondly by also featuring Police Academy alumni Steve Guttenberg in a pivotal role.

Wannabe Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Guttenberg) believes he has stumbled upon some evil plot in Paraguay and even believes he has found the Angel of Death himself, notorious Auschwitz concentration camp human experimenter Dr. Joseph Mengele (Peck). When he makes a frantic stateside call to renown Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Olivier), Ezra’s response is basically “Tell me something that I and the rest of the world don’t already know!”.

But as the call ends with a chilling scream Ezra’s conscience gets the better of him and he does start investigating. What he finds is more puzzling than it is disturbing. The fact that remnants of the Nazi regime are murdering a select group 94 men across the globe that are exactly 65 years old and all civil servants and with no other apparent link including either political affiliations, religion or knowledge of one another. The shocking truth is no less than a diabolical attempt by surviving Nazis hoping to establish a fourth Reich! But how does killing 94 seemingly innocent men fit in with all this?

Based on Ira Levin’s (of Rosemary’s Baby fame) novel of the same name, this movie is not all Nazi intrigue as there are welcome moments of levity, most notably in a scene with Rosemary Harris (aunt May from the Spiderman film series) as an unapologetic young widow flaunting her wares to a much older Olivier.

I can’t say that these actors are all in top form as the concept is somewhat far fetched while based on some dodgy science and even more implausible situations, even beyond Guttenberg trying to be serious. Still, I enjoyed it 30 years ago and I enjoyed it again with this recent rewatch. I did find it ironic that Olivier, found chasing Mengele here had played the role of a similar Nazi doctor himself in Marathon Man only two years earlier. For his part, Peck was said to have relished the idea of playing the doctor as a welcome change from his usual Goody Two Shoes roles. It may not have hit the mark but it was certainly different.

Movie Reviews 365 – These are the Damned (1963)

October 12, 2018

 

Famed British production company Hammer Studios ruled horror cinema during the late sixties and early seventies with their lush and bloody Gothic offerings featuring stars like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. But in the earlier days the studio produced more mainstream thrillers, film noir and even Science Fiction films, underpinned by the magnificent Doctor Quatermass series.  One of those oft overlooked gems includes These are the Damned (released in North America simply as The Damned).

An mid aged American businessman visiting a small English seaport village is drawn by a beautiful young girl into an alley where he is brutally beaten and robbed by a gang of motorcycle riding hooligans led by the girls dominating brother King (Oliver Reed). Somewhat remorseful Joan (Shirley Anne Field) befriends Simon (Macdonald Carey) who not only still wants the girl, but hopes to rescue her from the clutches of her ruthless brother.

Escaping King, Joan brings Simon to safe haven she has frequented before, a remote house atop a seaside cliff, but the house is that often used by Freya (Viveca Lindfors) a sculptress who interrupts the couples interlude. Leaving the house Joan and Simon are chased by King and his boys but military personnel are scattered around the cliffside and intercept the two before King can get to them. They later learn they’ve  stumbled upon a highly secretive military operation run by Freya’s husband Bernard (Alexander Knox) in which a handful of kids have been kept completely isolated within chambers in the cliff. But these are no ordinary children as Joan discovers their ice cold skin and complete lack of basic common knowledge and how even Bernard only communicates with them via televised sessions.

The secret of the children may be a key to surviving the cold war’s nuclear crisis but the answer is so disdainful that Freya cannot even believe her own husband is behind the plan. But stumbling upon the children has even more immediate consequences.

This is a quirky one that begins as a rough and tumble troubled youth story that suddenly changes cadence to a dark science fiction mystery. One moment were listening to a rockabilly tune that goes “Black leather. Black leather. Rock rock rock” (trust me it’s catchy and played for all it’s worth) and suddenly we’re dealing with ignorant kiddie captives and military hide-and-seek. Oliver Reed’s King undergoes a similar transition from powerful angry young man to a blabbering and scared wimp.

I had to dig into the background of this one as it reminded me of so much of Village of the Damned (based on John Wyndham’s 1957 The Midwich Cuckoos) that I wondered if one was riding the coattails of the other. As These are the Damned was itself being based on the novel The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence written in 1962 I have to give Village of the Damned props and readily admit that it (both novel and movie) are better.

It may be inferior but if you like Village of the Damned, spooky kids, or atomic age stories, you’ll enjoy this one.

 

Movie Reviews 360 – Mars Needs Women (1967)

September 7, 2018

Mars Needs Women was another one of those elusive movie titles I searched for in vain during the VHS eighties. I was a rabid science fiction movie fan and with few exceptions – this being one – I managed to track down most of the obscure titles over the years but this one eluded me

Now you may guess that this was just another “men in silver suits” goofy alien movie that caught my eye – and in a manner that is true – but the real reason I wanted to see this one was because of Batgirl. You see the star of this film is none other than Yvonne Craig, A.K.A Babara Gordon, A.K.A Batgirl, in the sixties Batman TV series and just imagining her as some Martian maiden was enough to set off my Bat-O-Meter. But some films are best left unseen and my dreams of what may lay within were certainly better that what I eventually laid my eyes on screen.

The film begins with three women, each doing different things and going about their daily activities, suddenly disappearing in thin air ‘Bewitched’ style. This is immediately followed by news reports of a strange radio signal being received. The boys at NASA are put on the job and with spooling reels of computer tapes churning they soon decipher a simple three word message: Mars Needs Women!

While the intelligentsia are trying to figure out the exact meaning of those words a saucer with five very human looking male Martians lands somewhere in Houston and hole up in an abandoned factory. The “Martians” decide to split up, each with the goal of seeking out one woman that they can haul back to their home planet. As the five go about tracking their prey which include an airline stewardess, a go-go dancer (credited as “Bubbles” Cash no less), a college homecoming queen, and a painter, the leader of the group (Tommy Kirk) targets a Pulitzer winning “space geneticist” (Craig) and soon discovers… love. Awww!

From what I understand this bottom barrel budget oddity from a no name production company never even made it to theaters and instead ended up going directly to late night and cable TV broadcasts where it gained cult credibility and thus my own attention. The silver painted rubber diving suits chafes as much as the script and the only respite to some of the interminably stretched out scenes is the abundant use of NASA stock footage. But keep in mind that I’m a space nut so even those may bore some people.

The questions posed by the plot are endless. Why did the Martians broadcast the message when the intent was to secretly kidnap women? Did they really hope to save their entire planet with only five women? How can holding up a press card put someone into a hypnotic trance? Why was this film ever made in the first place? But more importantly, why did I bother watching this movie for a second time only so I could write a movie review?

Movie Reviews 352 – A Sound of Thunder (2005)

July 6, 2018

With the possible exception of Fahrenheit 451, the one other story of author Ray Bradbury’s vast creative oeuvre that is universally known is A Sound of Thunder, or more accurately the central point of the story itself more than the title. So well known is the concept of time travellers going back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth only to change history with the seemingly innocuous act of accidentally killing one butterfly that the term Butterfly Effect has been coined by chaos theoreticians. And if that isn’t enough of an accolade then the fact that has been parodied on The Simpsons surely cemented its relevance long before they made this movie.

It’s pretty hard to live up to the classics and this is another example of an adaptation that should have never seen light. Sticking fairly close (at least at first)  to the main elements of the original in which a corporation offers time travel excursions, with strict restrictions not to disrupt the past, even the venerable Ben Kingsley as the rich entrepreneur running the time travel venture could not save this film.

Instead of simply offering extinct species hunting expeditions the film plot has vacationers hunt one specific Allosaurus, destined to die anyway, over and over by each successive group of hunters, with second timing precision. Except on one such visit something goes wrong and the returning party is faced with a slightly altered future. But this is when the silliness used to pad the script to a feature length kicks in and destroys the simple, near perfect, original story.

The revisionist history begins with noticeable rapid plant growth, then increased volcanic activity, then… well just use your imagination as it is sure to be better than the raptor-baboons and other idiotic bits filmed. Not content with a single change in time, this version has time-ripple waves coming at predetermined intervals to add ever more dramatic points to the film, and equally numbered subtraction of IQ points from plot viability. The science fiction genre setting that made the original story so great was that it had a believability factor, however improbable it was. But this movie, starting on the right track (and the original source) dissolves with nonsensical added plot elements and even dumber action sequences.

Adding insult to injury is the abundant use of sub-par CGI and futuristic cityscapes that would be at home on the Cartoon Network or 1980’s music videos. Reading a bit more on the production notes of this film those deficiencies may have been a victim of the turmoil and multiple creative talent changes during production.

The film’s tagline is “Some rules should never be broken”. In that same vein,some movies should never be made. I wish that I too could go back in time and alter history so that I could get back the hour and forty-one minutes of my life spent watching this cheap imitation of a cherished classic.

Oh, look. A butterfly…

Movie Reviews 327 – Phase IV (1974)

January 5, 2018

Phase IV is one of those older science fiction movies that once held a fond place in my heart as it was one of those films that seemed to play over and over in the days of limited local television channels. When I started devouring science fiction literature I was not averse to reading novelizations and was delighted to read noted science fiction author Barry N. Malzberg‘s adaptation of the script. But there was one more compelling reason that I have been wanting to rewatch this film again, one that may surprise even a few friends. It all has to do with the fundamental element of the story: Ants!

Just about a year ago my son developed a keen interest in ants and by that I mean the desire to have living ants as ‘pets’ although as you can imagine this is not an endeavor one can easily satisfy. He, and then I myself did a tremendous amount of reading and also used what is becoming more and more the educational tool of choice; YouTube videos, to learn everything we could. The information out there is astounding especially given that the very multitude in species of ants leads to differing habitats, nourishment requirements and other environmental factors to be considered. Even after devouring all the information we could I tried to temper his expectations as I worried that the hardest part, and the one necessary requirement to even begin, namely that of finding a recently mated fertile queen, may prove to too hard. But I need not have worried as my son demonstrated a keen eye and managed to find not one but six queens of varying species that were soon laying eggs which quickly progressed to larvae, pupae and then workers ants. But enough of our myrmecological ventures. Suffice to say that with all these ants in my head (and in my house) I wanted to revisit this movie not having seen it in thirty odd years.

The plot consists of some celestial event taking place that at first leaves no lasting after effects as far as anyone can tell.  Only after some time has passed does Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) note some odd behaviour in ants, particularly in one desert region. The ants, usually solitary as colonies now seem to be not only cooperating, but exhibiting other unexpected characteristics.

After alerting the authorities a lab is quickly established and Hubbs is sent in with only a mathematical pattern researcher James Lesko (Michael Murphy) as an aide. There they take note of towering smooth surfaced monoliths created by the ants and who have also evidently increased their foraging abilities to now include fully grown livestock.

Impatient to wait for other observable activities Hubbs decides to destroy the monoliths resulting in the ants attacking the lone farm remaining in the area and ending up with the sole survivor, a young girl (Lynne Frederick) being rescued by the scientists. When the scientists try to quell the formic uprising with a yellow chemical agent the surviving ants quickly develop yellow ants that are immune to the mixture. With the battle now in full swing the exhibit ever more sophisticated attacks on the compound while the three isolated occupants try to decipher crude messages received from the ants with the survival of mankind at stake.

The feel of the movie is one that I’ve always felt rivaled that of The Andromeda Strain, another early 70’s science fiction favorite. But alas, seeing it now again the acting feels shoddy and the script is not as rich as I hoped or remembered it to be.

Culminating with a semi-psychedelic ending befitting the era, the movie toys with the question of who is the observer and which species is really under a microscope. The emotional detachment to death exhibited by Hubbs, somewhat crazed, imitates that of the ants themselves. While the plot lacks any real depth and is ambiguous on many fronts (we’re never clear on the global extent of ant uprising for one) the mix of close up ant footage is still remarkable after all these years. I can only imagine how many takes and attempts it took to capture some of the more ‘purposeful’ actions we see them doing. The very solitude nature of colonies and aversion to mingling of species that the plot points out being uncharacteristic is shown on screen, which must have taken great effort and patience to film. They also somehow managed to get symbols neatly placed on the heads of a few ants hinting at either a caste or other distinction (aside from species) but sadly these are never further explored or explained.

One of the real oddities of this film is that it was directed by Saul Bass which may ring a bell, but not for his directorial efforts. Bass, trained as a graphic designer, was the first to define and then master of the concept of sophisticated opening sequences for films. He is much better known for creating some of the most memorable sequences including many for Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest) as well as dozens of others and also for many movie poster designs inspired by those sequences.

Movie Reviews 313 – Destination Inner Space (1966)

September 10, 2017

Every now and then I take one for the team. I watch a movie I have absolutely no hope of being anything but formulaic, lame, and dumb. Destination Inner Space fit that bill and delivered on all accounts. Or would that be ‘fail to deliver’?

The story is about a remote ocean research platform and joining undersea facility that have been recording some odd sonar blips in the last few days and enlist the help of the military to try to narrow down their guess as to what it may be. It turns out to be a crashed space vessel of some sort containing bread loaf sized  frozen capsules. When the researchers enter the ship and bring back one of the capsules it starts growing at an alarming rate, eventually rupturing and releasing a man sized creature.

After killing the crew on the floating platform above, the creature battles the others below leaving them trapped with a dwindling air supply. The scientists hope to keep the creature alive for study while the military commander simply wants to destroy it. Which faction will win out?

Aside from the lame dialogue and silly, clearly evident miniatures used for some of the underwater structures, this movie has one thing going for it: a (poster accurate) badass looking

creature. The colorful rubber suit is a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Humanoids from the Deep. The one annoying thing about the costume was the huge hump on the back used to conceal the scuba air tanks for the underwater scenes. Kind of made me wonder how they filmed other all those other movies with underwater creatures. Hold their breath and many short takes I guess. But I digress…

The only person that can act in this movie is veteran character actor James Hong who has a minute role as Ho Lee (I think there is a joke somewhere in there with that name), the cook in the crew. But this was a very early role for him and he is barely on screen, and then only for comic relief.

Other than the plot directly related to the creature, there is a clash of characters between the military commander and one of the research crew, a former military man himself who has a personal beef with him. But even that is resolved so awkwardly you really have to question what the writer was thinking. With so little to go in the way of the story they decided to include not one, but two women to add some romance to the proceedings. I have to give credit in that they didn’t just stick with the barely-out-of-high-school hottie mentality and actually included one flirtatious middle aged woman. While the underwater scenes repeatedly use the same locations over and over, there is a cool looking two-man sub and some nice underwater footage.

The problem here is that all of the above can be had by just watching episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea but with better scripts, better actors, similar monsters and a lot cooler tech. So if a great looking monster is all you need, you’re OK with this one. Anything more and you’re out of luck.

Movie Reviews 308 – Welcome to Blood City (1977)

July 28, 2017

When four men and a woman wake up in a desolate and remote region without knowing one another or any idea of where they are, how they got there or even why they are there, all they have for a clue is a slip of paper in each of their pockets telling them they are murderers and how many people they have killed in the past.  Picking a random direction in search of answers they encounter two mangy frontiersmen who kill one of the men and rape the woman before being rescued (sort of) by a black shirted sheriff wearing a conspicuously large Red Cross patch with a sewn in ID number.

Thus begins Welcome to Blood City as sheriff Frendlander (Jack Palance) leads the ragtag group to the outskirts of the titular frontier town in which similar black shirted ‘citizens’ run the show, Frendlander being the so called top gun. The others in the town are either hired security men or, like the new arrivals, basic slaves that do all the work. We soon learn that the working framework of this society is based on a brutal scoring system in which one’s place in the hierarchy is based on the number of kills they make. The protagonist among the new arrivals is Lewis (Keir Dullea) who is soon ‘provoked’ (a code word meaning coerced) into a battle with one of the citizens looking to get another point. But when Lewis ends up winning against those stacked odds he learns that he basically takes the place of his attacker and is now not only a ‘citizen’ but the town dentist, having inherited the losers possessions.

But Lewis is more interested in helping out his original acquaintances,especially Martine (Hollis McLaren) the woman in that group who is now held in the town jail for her own protection as she has a number of citizens hoping to claim her, either by rights or other means.

Almost as soon as we’ve grasped the inner workings of this new world we’re lurched to a scene depicting a modern (make that 1970’s contemporary) electronics and computer laden control room with two white robed scientists peering into monitor screens and overseeing the events unfolding in Blood City. In the background we see a slabbed body wired to apparatus and other scientists muddling about. The twerking body is that of Lewis, reacting to his immersed state in Blood City. Meanwhile the male operator is berating his co worker Katherine (Samantha Eggar) for having inserted a simile of herself into the ‘game’ and as she smiles and counters his arguments while watching her doppelganger ‘citizen’ perched on a horse, both observing and hinting Lewis.

It’s never made exactly clear the nature or reasons behind this game although the operators are briefed for updates by some administrator/politician (Barry Morse) with some sense of urgency to the overall mission at hand discussing possible ‘Termination’ at some points. Lewis and the others also suffer from momentary flashbacks to their past, more tranquil days prior to their current predicament.

The film begs comparison to Westworld with the similar blend of Science Fiction which incorporates a virtualized wild west world despite the visitors being convicts instead of vacationers. But were Westworld excels in presenting a cohesive and believable scenario Blood City tumbles trying to be too smart for itself as a even a tenuous scrutiny of the plot reveals glaring holes in logic. As a pairing of political and science fiction thriller it also fails on both accounts. There was no political intrigue at all presenting only a veiled suggestion of what the project overseers we’re trying to achieve with the experiment and how this would fit in some worldwide order. Based on the administrators (Morse) character I even had doubts as to whether we were watching good guys or bad guys. Was it normal and lawful to have murderers treated as they were or was this some rogue underground operation? As for the science it too was only hinted at and never fully explained. Were only one or two of the residents in Blood City being tested or were they all? Katharine’s role within the game is nothing more than a tease instead of being some sort of bridge between the real and virtual that would have been beneficial to the bereft plot.

What made this an especially tough viewing for me was the dreadful state of the video transfer on my DVD (a double feature DVD paired with a movie called God Said to Cain and with this movie simply titled on the cover as Blood City). It was bad enough that it was a ‘pan and scan’ 4:3 formatted transfer but it was also muddy as hell and obviously had some other cropping done since it contained a lot of scenes where the characters heads were at the utmost top of the frame and in some scenes even had the heads lopped off completely. Perhaps some well meaning editor was trying to warn me that this was going to be a brainless movie. Honestly the Youtube clips for this movie look better than this particular DVD release.

I didn’t feel particularly welcome, it was a small town not a city and despite all the killing there was no blood. Time to rewatch Westworld to remind myself how a well made Sci-Fi Western can be entertaining.

Movie Reviews 293 – Barbarella (1968)

April 1, 2017

It begins with a veritable gravity defying striptease, one piece of clothing after another being excised and left to float in space. The spectacle takes place on a discernibly vintage shag carpet while an exotic music score plays and the opening credits adorn the act in progress. These suggestive and sensual characteristics are all a portents of things to come in Barbarella, the movie that brought the sexual revolution of the 60’s to science fiction cinema.

Before she became a political activist, hopped around in leotards and leggings to create and dominate the entire Workout Video industry and even winning a few Oscars, Jane Fonda (or “Hanoi Jane” as she would soon be known as) delivered the starring role as space faring sex-kitten Barbarella in one of the strangest science fiction comic adaptations to hit the screen.

The mindless plot begins with the President of Earth calling on the services of Barbarella to rescue prodigious scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) from the Tau Ceti space system worried that an invention of his, the Positronic Ray, may fall into the wrong hands. Arriving in the system Barbarella crashes into an ice planet and is soon captured by kids that unleash dolls with razor teeth. “The Catchman” (Ugo Tognazzi) whose job is to trap the kids rescues her, sailing off in a Wile E. Coyote inspired, self propelled sleigh. As he brings her back to her spaceship she agrees to his request to ‘get shagged’ the old-fashioned way and not with her customary use of  exaltation-transference pills, which she surprisingly enjoys.

Before long, her ship is sucked into some subterranean core where she meets the blind, angel-winged, bronze bodied Pygar (John Phillip Law)  and with the help of Professor Ping (legendary mime artist Marcel Marceau in a speaking role) she ends up in the land of Sogo, ruled by an Evil Tyrant who is aided by a Concierge (who is really Durand Durand). It’s all quite complicated (overly so) but Barbarella is first left to die being picked by birds (an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), meets a bumbling sex-obsessed Dildano (David Hemmings) and is eventually tortured by an excessive sex machine.

Add in blue dyed rabbits, plexiglass and bubble sets, psychedelic liquid light show backdrops, greeting of “Love” and you may begin to understand the absurdity of this movie. Fact is, aside from the visual feast comprised of kaleidoscopic sets, lavish costumes and nubile bodies, it’s really a terrible film with an atrocious, nearly incomprehensible script, gaudy score and lame attempts at comedy.

When the characters or the annoying ‘computer’ aren’t spewing technobabble we get to hear Barbarella talking to herself aloud, usually uttering cringe inducing puns as she screws her way through the galaxy. While the entire cast looks like they’ve just come from a fashion show on a Paris catwalk sporting revealing gold lamé and feathered garments, Barbarella herself has more wardrobe changes than a bride at a Vietnamese wedding.

If the point hasn’t been understood yet this movie featuring place names that include Palace of Pleasure, Labyrinth of Love, Chamber of Dreams is all about one thing: sex.

Directed by Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who would later give us two budget King Kong movies, the ill fated Dune adaptation, and the similar veined Flash Gordon, this bawdy romp encapsulates the sillier aspects of the 60’s.

But it did have quite a lasting effect in other ways. The name Durand Durand was later adopted by the musical group “Duran Duran” because they used to play in a nightclub named after the movie, while the name Barbarella has itself been adopted by many a ‘gentleman’s club’ (commonly known as strip joints to the uncultured) around the world including one right here in my home city. The concept of the Excessive Machine was used by auteur Woody Allen in Sleeper where he called it the Orgasmostron,  which was the name used in the French version of this movie.

I have to confess that while I usually prefer to seek out images of original movie posters to include with my blogs in this case I opted for the magnificent Boris Vallejo painting that was used for the 1977 re-release.