Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Movie Reviews 317 – 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.

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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.

Movie Reviews 286 – Battlefield Earth (2000)

February 4, 2017

Battlefield EarthMaligned by the masses. Ridiculed by the critics. As certain as I felt it would provide little entertainment or satisfaction, Battlefield Earth, the adaptation of Scientologist founder L. Ron. Hubbard’s novel has always been a scab that I knew I would have to peel back at some point in my life. That time has come.

As implied by its full title, Battlefield Earth: A saga of the year 3000, a millennium in the future Earth has been invaded by aliens who are mining the planet for gold. The Psychlos are nine feet tall, natty dreadlock haired, warrior like invaders that have decimated the human population on the planet. Of the few humans that remain, those that have not been captured by the Psychlos are now living in isolated tribes far from the Psychlos having regressed to a primitive state. The free humans have only the legends of gods that made their presence known to their civilization and are now punishing them for their sins. One savage among them, Jonnie (Barry Pepper), defies the tribe elder to forage for better resources and also answers to his questions about those reputed gods.

Jonnie is soon captured by the Psychlos and is brought to their massive enclosed base city in which there are many human captives. The Psychlos need a breathing apparatus when not in their base as exposure to Earth’s atmosphere can be deadly and reciprocally the humans need a similar filter while imprisoned there. The Earth is just a resource colony for the Psychlo home planet and ruthless head of security Terl (John Travolta) finds himself continually denied a return home because of some past indiscretion. When he discovers that his underling Ker (Forest Whitaker) had planned to keep a newfound gold deposit to himself he takes over the operation himself. But Terl cannot mine the deposit himself. He realizes that the recent captive Jonnie is smarter than the other vermin humans and subjects him to ‘learning machine’ hoping to get information out of him. To Terl’s surprise, Jonnie learns the Psychlos’ language and convinces Terl that he can lead a band of humans to mine the gold deposit for Terl without arousing suspicion from the Psychlos’ leader But Jonnie uses the opportunity to work outside to mount a rebellion with both the free humans still roaming about and the current captives.

If you combine the flaccid acting, moth-eaten dialogue, and cavernous plot holes, you begin to get a sense of the fiasco at hand. As I haven’t read the 1000 plus page novel (I guess we can no longer apply the ‘phonebook’ adjective as those are relics of the past), I can’t comments on how the adaptation adheres to the source or the quality of the source for that matter. But the journey from novel to film does shed some light. I refer to this film as Barbarino’s Folly, as Travolta, a devout Scientologist, was the one who flogged this movie to the movie studios for years, only to finally make a deal with Franchise Pictures, then a ‘studio of last resort’ catering to such vanity projects and also with him footing some of the bill as one of the producers.

Not quite making the ‘so bad it’s good’ list, the movie does have the cool looking Psychlos, and while the effect is not done perfectly, the oversized aliens set against normal sized humans does work at times. But the groan moments are to numerous and head slap inducing – what the hell was an actor as fine Forest Whitaker doing in this mess – for me to recommend even one mock viewing. I have no idea if the movie espouses Scientology doctrine as I suspect was Travolta’s goal in making it. But if that were the case I’m sure the list of people wanting their money back was longer than any new recruits to the cult.