Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Science Fiction Double Feature from 1984

Science Fiction - Double Feature
Dr. X will build a creature
See androids fighting Brad and Janet
Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet
Oh-oh at the late night, double feature, picture show.

You know what? A 70mm film print discovered down a salt mine in Mount Isa isn't really the sort of thing you get to see on the big screen very often so who was I to turn down an offer to see it rather my preplanned media screening of (ahem) The Dictator? It turned out to be a bonus that I knew absolutely nothing - literally nothing, I'd never even heard of it before beyond its name being bandied about in conversation once or twice - about the film, Nick Castle's The Last Statfigher, proved to be a bonus as the film itself was as much of a discovery for me that the 70mm film print was to film enthusiasts. Seeing it play alongside fellow 1984 science fiction title, The Philadelphia Experiment, made for a rad double feature. Hey, it was 1984, I can get away with saying "rad", okay?

As for The Last Starfighter, it sure was a blast. Oh sure, the visual effects - two years after Tron revolutionised the tech, but still before computers were the norm and the first time that a on a so-called "Cray X-MP supercomputer" - are dated, hopelessly so at some point, but where this film differs from the aforementioned Tron is that its story and the rest of its creative components are strong enough to withstand the test of time. Tron is terribly boring (as I imagine it was in 1982, despite its eye-popping visuals), but Nick Castle's film belongs to a catalogue of films that Hollywood just doesn't make anymore. Video games and movies can indeed come together and be adventurous, cinematic, and creative after all. Thanks to the earnest (and, it must be said, attractive cast) performance of Lance Guest, some wonderful alien designs, an utterly majestic and captivating score by Craig Sagan, and a healthy dose of Americana - I want to live in the "Starlite Starbrite" trailer park - help raise The Last Starfighter to loftier territory that its nostalgic reputation may suggest.

The scenes in space are sadly less interesting that those on Earth, perhaps because so much time was put into the visual effects that little effort was put into making the sets look less like cardboard, but it's probably also because the humans are actually kinda fun to be around. The assortment of trailer park residents are given attention by a screenplay that knows the lead character's, as well as the audience's, affection for them is important for the final scenes. Don't get me wrong, The Last Starfighter isn't particularly deep, or working on a wholly different level to other teen adventure films, but I appreciated the effort paid to the peripheries. And, I know I've already mentioned it, but Craig Safan's original music score cannot be praised enough. To hear it in 70mm 6-track sound was mighty impressive. Full of orchestral bells and whistles alongside the dreamy space themes, military bombast, and elegiac romance that combine to convey genuine awe and wonder. It's an instant favourite. As for the film? It's an impressive effort and a step above some of the more famous films of the era that attempted similar ideas. B

The second movie in my science fiction double feature was Stewart Raffill's The Philadelphia Experiment. Seemingly a film of repeat viewings in the youth of my viewing party, I'd never seen it but I'm glad I stayed as it turned out to be a hoot. Both Experiment and Starfighter are played deadly serious and sincere, but this one has a bit of a silly streak thanks to its oft ludicrous action scenes and logic. It says a lot when I say my favourite moment was when an extra very clearly got hit in the nuts during the hospital chase scene. You know the kind, where the chasers seem to crash into every single possible thing even when there's a clear path for them to follow. Or how about Nancy Allen looking freakishly like Frances McDormand's "Marge Gunderson" in the final scene? Or the bit where a car just explodes, because that's what cars do in action movies? Or the way a car keeps mysteriously appearing and disappearing in the background of a driving sequence? I like to imagine that wasn't a case of bad continuity, but just a rip in the time travelling vortex that also sees two marine's shipped off (oh ho ho) from 1942 to 1984 thanks to a botched scientific experiment. Yeah, it's all fairly silly, but entertainingly so.

If I wanted to get serious though I could point out the impressive cinematography of Dick Bush (unfortunate name, that) and the equally fine music by Kenneth Wannberg (which I accidentally typed as "Wangberg" just to keep the phallic theme alive) keeps the quieter moments alive. There is also a particularly well-executed scene of two cars careening through an orchard. Alternating between tight shots deep in the action, and the fluid action filmed from a helicopter above, it's a stand out scene in an otherwise fine film. B-


Michael Pare doing a James Dean impersonation! I mean, the acting's not good, but he's a fine specimen that makes a psuedo-shlocky bit of genre fare go down easier.

AHEM! Now, I was lucky enough to see these two films back to back in a double feature because of the efforts of one place: The Astor Theatre. I and many others have known for a while now that this legendary movie palace will reach the end of its lease in 2015 and their landlord currently has no plans to renew it. That means no more amazing double features like this one, nor any rereleases for films such as Labyrinth, Dr Strangelove, American Graffiti and Two-Lane Blacktop. Not only that, but The Astor is the only cinema in Australia that endeavours to play 35mm and 70mm prints whenever possible, plus 2K and 4K digital when not. 70mm titles like Baraka, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hamlet would all but cease to screen in this country, and I find it highly doubtful that another cinema would pick up the slack and play 35mm prints of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and The Holy Mountain back to back (Monday 4 June if you want to be there like I will!)

It would be not only a great loss to film and arts culture for the city of Melbourne, but a great loss to culture globally. The cinema is host to weddings, private functions, film festivals and special events whenever regular programming isn't on. It's legacy as one of the last of a dying breed should not be taken lightly and the cinema's management need all the help they can get to make St Michael's Grammar aware of the injustice they will be committing by closing the cinema and to do so would be to single handedly end a globally recognised institution. If everybody who reads this signs the petition - whether you live in Melbourne and go there regularly or not - then that's just one gesture. Pass it along to anybody else who has a love for film and we can get that number high. Imagine the outcry if The Alamo Drafthouse had to close! There's also a rally organised for Saturday 16 June. As the unofficial home of Rocky Horror, Dr Frank-N-Furter compels you!

1 comment:

Caleb Wimble said...

This has to be the first time I've seen a Craig Safan score referenced explicitly here or anywhere else on the web. I worked with him while acting in the premier of his stage show Club California, which might better be described as "Slavery and Rape in the Kosovo Sex Trade: The Musical!" Which about says it all, I think.

I do have a lingering fondness for his Last Starfighter soundtrack, pretty much the perfect nostalgia fix for the sound of 80s scifantasy synth.