Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ Category

British Director Nicolas Roeg’s works, which include Walkabout and Don’t Look Now, are often meandering and esoteric, movies that are difficult to unravel and demand repeat viewings.  The Man who Fell to Earth, his 1976 adaptation of author Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, is no exception.  It’s difficult to watch, although not in the same way a film like, say, Sex in the City 2, is.  It requires the viewer’s undivided attention, and, even then, it’s likely that many will be left scratching their heads (I’ll admit to being one of those people).  Maybe though, The Man who Fell to Earth isn’t meant to be immediately understood.  Instead of giving to the audience, like so many summer blockbusters, it asks of them, and its effectiveness as a film is reliant on the amount of thought dedicated to interpreting it.

David Bowie plays a humanoid alien who comes to Earth seeking water for his drought-stricken planet.  Once arrived, he begins to build a corporate empire, using the advanced technology of his own world to develop and patent hundreds of new inventions.  With the money amassed by his business venture, he, under the pseudonym Thomas Jerome Newton, begins construction on a spaceship, intending to bring water to his family and his own world.  Shortly after his success as a business man, he meets Mary-Lou, a young, simple girl working as a maid at a hotel.  They eventually marry, but Newton’s alien origins cause the relationship to sour.

Newton comes to Earth with a mission, a sole desire to ensure the survival of his race.  While his planet dies, the alien begins as quickly as he can to construct the ship that will bring him back home.  Roeg brilliantly employs editing in order to both trivialize and emphasize the importance of time.  There is never any indication when, or how much, time has passed.  Frequently, five or ten years will go by between scenes with little or no indication.  Newton himself never ages, so these quick, subtle jumps simply represent the insignificance of time to him.  It passes, and he works towards his goal, and at first, the only thing that matters is water.  But as the film progresses, Bowie’s quest is sidetracked by gin and the encroachment of his own developing humanity.  The film returns to Newton’s desert planet to reveal the plight of the family he’s left behind and to remind the viewer that time, which passes so quickly, is running out.  Perhaps the “temporal” cuts also serve to imply that Bowie’s alien has simply lost track of his goal, of who he truly is.

There's a starman/waiting in the sky/He'd like to come and meet us/but he thinks he'd blow our mindsI think Ben Stein needs to introduce him to Clear Eyes

Thomas’ disguise is just that: a disguise.  It allows him to “go through the motions,” maintain the illusion of humanity.  He is like the television programs he becomes so enraptured with:  “The strange thing about television is that it doesn’t *tell* you everything,” Newton says.  “It *shows* you everything about life for nothing, but the true mysteries remain.”  He is, for all intents and purposes, only the image of a man.  On an emotional level, on the level which gives meaning to human existence, he is isolated, incapable of hatred, as he tells Mary-Lou after he reveals his true form to her, and, as is implied later during one of his last meetings with his former wife, incapable of love.  “I don’t love you, anymore,” Mary-Lou whispers.  “I don’t love you,” replies Thomas.  There is no adverb indicating past affection.  His is a statement which encompasses all time, past, present, and future.  For Thomas, there is, supposedly, only pretense.  Yet changes occur in his behavior throughout the movie, changes which lead him down a precarious road, one which he seems unable to stray from.  The switch from water as his preferred drink of choice, to liquor, is perhaps the first and best indication that he is losing his identity.  This culminates in a bizarre sex scene between himself and Mary-Lou, one which is so primal, yet so dispassionate – the clash of two separate beings, struggling for dominance.

***1/2

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 Fascinating Fact: Nicolas Roeg initially wanted author Michael Crichton, who was 6’10”, to play Thomas Jerome Newton.

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Recommended Films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Don’t Look Now

Next Weekend

Movie #11

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Plan 9 From Outer Space

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here.”

When a movie begins like this, the viewers should know immediately that they’re in for a treat and, like gag shop treats that look like candy but taste like fish, Director Ed Wood’s magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, will leave a smile on your face but a bad taste in your mouth.  It’s is considered by many to be “The Worst Film Ever Made” and, after having sat through seventy-eight minutes of shoddy editing, bad acting and even worse dialogue, I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite its many, many shortcomings, Plan 9 deserves more credit than it gets.

The plot is this: A group of aliens establish a base in a Californian cemetery, fearing that the day when humanity creates the Solaranite (a bomb that literally explodes sunlight) and brings about the destruction of the universe, is drawing ever closer. Their plan? To resurrect the recently deceased and use this army of the undead to march against the living.

***Spoilers Ahead***

The plot holds elements of another Sci-Fi classic, although one of considerably more merit. The underlying message of this film, like that of The Day the Earth Stood Still, seems to be that humanity’s pursuit of power, coupled with our violent nature, will result only in our own demise. However, whereas The Day the Earth Stood Still ends with a call for peace and unity, the final act of Plan 9 has the intrepid protagonists beating the aliens senseless and lighting the UFO on fire. Not exactly what I was expecting.

Truthfully, the entire movie is a mess. Night turns to day, and then back to night, in just a few shots. Characters fall to the ground and knock over several of the cardboard tombstones. The strings on the flying saucers are clearly visible. Shots are reused in places. Footage of Bella Lugosi from a film Woods was working on with the actor before his death was used and, when new scenes needed to be filmed, Woods used an actor who bore no resemblance to Lugosi whatsoever and hid this fact by obscuring his face with a caped arm.

It's Bella Lugosi...or is it?

These problems, and the others that permeate the cult classic, are the reason that it’s developed such a devoted fan-base. It’s a movie that, like most cult films, should be enjoyed with friends. Ed Wood earnestly tried to make Plan 9 good, and though the movie lacks finesse, and Wood’s ignorance of cinematic technique shines through in almost every scene, his passion for his job is evident (I just wish I could say the same for the actors).  Plan 9 is absolutely unapologetic in its terribleness, and for a good reason; Wood still managed to accomplish quite a bit despite his lack of talent, money, and time.  Firecrackers thrown at a backdrop serve as anti-aircraft fire.  Cardboard is used in abundance.  While it’s clear that little to no attention was paid to the finer details of movie production, it’s also evident that Wood did the best he could with what he had.  This is the film’s one and only saving grace, and it has had a tremendous impact on the movie’s ability to engage audiences and keep them coming back for more.   Sometimes, it’s not so bad to be considered “The Worst Film Ever Made.”

Stars: ***1/2

Best Quotes:

Criswell: Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it… for they will be from outer space.

Paula Trent: …A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?
Jeff Trent: Yeah, either that or its counterpart.

Recommended Viewing: Ed Wood, Jailbait

Saturday, April 16th

Movie #2