THX 1138 / faceless numbers

”The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

 

1t is n0t exactly clear, whether it was Erich Maria Remarque, the gre4t German writer of war, sadness and l0st generation, or Joseph Stalin, the blo0dy Soviet mastermind, to pr0nounce these painful w0rds, although surely b0th had the right f0r it. E4ch fr0m the opp0site p0int of view.

”THX 1138” is a perfect illustration for what it means to be a N° in an ill, mechanical, drug-oppressed society that is even more deadened than “Fahrenheit 451”, “1984” or “Metropolis”. Heck, people even had names there.

Here… everybody is just a number. Numbers are perfectly intertwined in the stunningly sterile visuals of the story, crawling here and there, mixed with muffled camera surveillance footage and faceless chrome police robots that keep on repeating “we are here to help you”.

We are here to help you.” A recurring nightmare motif now.

 

Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi.

In Italy ”Silent Running” was released under this name… ”2002: la seconda odissea” ( = the second odyssey). That’s really classy sassy.

”Silent Running” suffers from many problems, like Bruce Dern with his cheesy lines and overacting, inaccurate scientific part and folk songs by Joan Baez that make look those scenes like an ecological New Age propaganda/hippie’s dilemma. It’s a naive flawed story with many drawbacks, yet somehow it still manages to transmit its kind emotion. The film was indeed influential, being an inspiration to ”Wall-E” and C-P30 and R-2D2. Duncan Jones, the director of the beloved ”Moon” also admitted that ”Silent Running” was one of the influences.

How does all that look now? Well… surprisingly all spaceships, technologies and special effects still look fine, even if obsolete. The real problem of the movie are the characters, their motivations and the scientific part. And the script, which obviously seemed to be covering just about 30 minutes of the time – the rest felt like a badly prepared improvisation.

Too many times during the viewing I had to ask myself: “Why would they do that?” (that is normally a very bad sign). But hey, it’s a naive 70-s’ sci-fi about a bunch of guys floating on a special spaceships that contain all kinds of flora and fauna because, ehm, Earth is full of glass and concrete and the temperature is the same everywhere. Add long haircuts and funny costumes. That is so 70-s.

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The climax of the stupidity is somewhere in the 3/4 part of the movie, when all the plants carried on the spaceship are dying for no apparent reason. The main character – who is a top-notch scientist who has spent the last 10 years of his life with his beloved plants and as the movie shows that’s the only thing he cares about – tries everything to solve the problem but nothing works. And you know what?

He didn’t know that the plants need light to grow. Yep, you didn’t mishear. A top-level biologist didn’t know that plants grow with light.

All this stuff really prevents you from enjoying the movie because it’s not that kind of film that has enough action or mind-blowing special effects. The storyline doesn’t help – it’s divided in 3 parts, 2 of which feel like a time-filler and are completely unnecessary. Some scenes made me feel like they were there just to show ”look how we can shoot that”. The acting is pretty annoying, I didn’t like Bruce Dern’s performance here as it felt strained and laboured with some weird psychopathic hints and for the 80% of the movies you’ll observe only him and just a couple of droids.

The folk – FOLK – soundtrack by Joan Baez felt completely out of place, luckily there were only a couple of songs. But those scenes made me feel like I am watching an ecological New Age propaganda.

Some of this could be explained with the limited time for shooting and just 1 or 2 takes for each scenes, as cinemaincloseup notes: ”The film was made under extremely trying circumstances, as every cent had to be fully accounted for and a great number of scenes had to be shot each day, to meet the thirty two day shoot schedule. This stipulated that most shots had to be got in one or two takes, which in all honesty is blatantly obvious throughout the movie, as Dern overacts on occasion and fights appear staged.”

But even apart of that, Dern’s lines felt incredibly cheesy.

”Look at that little girl’s face. I know you’ve seen it. But you know what she’s never going to be able to see? She’s never going to be able to see the simple wonder of a leaf in her hand. Because there’s not going to be any trees.”

”You know when I was a kid, I put a note into a bottle and it had my name and address on it. And then I threw the bottle into the ocean. And I never knew if anybody ever found it.”

Anyway… with all this criticism, there are still many things to be enjoyed. Really. The droids were interesting and felt more alive than humans. In fact, the robots that you see in the movie were projected specially for three amputee actors.

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The most beautiful part of the movie is the flight through the Saturn’s rings. Originally that part was intended to be developed for ”2001”, but Trumbull didn’t have enough time to finish it so another one was developed. He later came back to the original sequence and used it in ”Silent Running”.

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Worth watching? ”Silent Running” is a showcase of why old sci-fi movies often look so horribly dated – the problem here is not with special effects or technology, but with its characters that feel unnatural, the script that seemed to be expanded on a Procrustean bed, the scientific inaccuracy and some typical elements of the 70-s culture.

Trumbull’s obviously inexperienced in directing and you can feel that. Ultra-low budget (for this kind of project) with just 1-2 takes for each scene don’t help, obviously. The central premise is naive, although still valid and relevant. With all its drawbacks, there’s still a lot to enjoy in ”Silent Running”. I wouldn’t consider it an all-time classic movie, but it surely may be a good insight into the early 70-s sci-fi.

2/4… for the lovely robots and the incredible flight through the Saturn’s rings

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P. S. Here and here is a very comprehensive movie analysis.

A Boy and His Dog

a_boy_and_his_dogDirector: L. Q. Jones. Starring: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Tim McIntire (voice), Jason Robards, Alvy Moore. USA, 1975. Budget: $400,000. IMDb: 6.6. My rating: 3.5/4. Eccentric post-nuclear black comedy.

– Civilization lies smother and decaying under an ocean of mud, belonging to anyone who’s strong enough to kick and fight and take it for their own. God, that’s dramatic, I like it.
(Blood the Dog)

– Now let run through the modern presidents.
God, what good’s all this history crap gonna do me?
– Just do the presidents.
(a dialogue between Vic and Blood the Dog)

– You’re still constantly overreacting. I’ve absolutely no idea how I managed to keep you alive so long.
(Blood The Dog is commenting Vic’s actions)

According to the pet ownership statistics from 2012, 36.5% of American households (43,346,000) own an average of 1.6 dogs. That means 69,926,000 dogs living with families in the United States.

It would be impossible to write about “A Boy and His Dog”, remaining a refined and delicate narrator, so let’s set it straight – we have a nuclear holocaust movie about the survival of a female-obsessed illiterate teen Vic who scavenges for food and his misanthropic telepathic dog Blood with a highly developed intellect and odd sense of humour. It’s also a story about friendship, love and helping each other (yeah, I am still talking about the same movie). The combination of both makes it an unusual and touching experience.

I really liked this film. It feels different and odd compared the most of the 70-s sci-fi (which I often find cheesy) and stood well the test of time. The film was also a huge inspiration for lots of cult stuff like ”Fallout” game series and ”Mad Max”. George Miller once said, ”to make Road Warrior, I took a Boy and His Dog and went commercial.”

”A Boy and His Dog”, with all its oddness and decay never feels too commercial or action-driven (nor too brainy/artsy) and you’ll actually see little gore – mostly, only reverberations and repercussions of the nuclear war.

”I like to talk to the audience for two or three minutes before showing the movie. I say, ‘I hope you like the movie. If you don’t, you’re screwed, because you’re never going to be able to forget it.”
(L. Q. Jones, the director)

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Augmented reality. Day 4. Weakness and strength

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Let them laugh at their passions.

Because what they call passion actually is not part of their soul, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world.

And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a giant, and strength is nothing.

When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies.

Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.

(Stalker, 1979)

Dark Star

dark_star_ver2Director: John Carpenter. Screenplay/story: Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter. Starring: Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm. USA, 1974. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3.5/4. Odd science fiction space comedy.

– Now, Bomb, consider this next question very carefully… What is your purpose in life?
– To explode, of course.
– And you can do it only once, right?
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

– All right, Bomb… prepare to receive new orders.
– You are false data. Therefore, I should ignore you.
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

I must confess – I have never really liked John Carpenter. And I barely enjoy horror movies (with some notable exceptions like “The Shining”). I watched “Halloween” recently and enjoyed it at times, but if we forget for a moment its heritage, I find this cult slasher pretty mediocre. While admitting Carpenter’s immense influence, I’ve always seen most of his films made with little creativity, without that special sparkle that would lighten up everything. He is too technical in his approach, like an artisan, not an artist, who is methodically repeating similar feel and techniques in different movies. Note: I didn’t watch “Halloween”, “Escape from New York” or “The Thing” when they were released – movies that I don’t find bad, but just… pretty average in everything and with superficial characters? I’ve always felt Carpenter cares most about showing what happens to his characters, but not really the characters themselves.

But “Dark Star”, Carpenter’s and O’Bannon debut movie, made me change my mind about him. This little space comedy is like a fireworks show that you setup by yourself on a New Year’s Eve in the backyard. It’s an extravagant parody on space movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in particular. Fresh, well-crafted, wry and weirdly funny. Continue reading

Inquest of Pilot Pirx

PirxDirector: Marek Piestrak. Starring: Sergei Desnitsky, Alexander Kaidanovsky, Vladimir Ivashov, Zbigniew Lesien, Boleslaw Abart. Poland, USSR, 1978. IMDb: 6.6. My rating 3.5/4. Android and space travel science fiction thriller.

– Brown, do you believe in God?
– It’s not part of my duties.
(a dialogue between Pirx and a crew member)

– Your world is horribly empty for me, your ideals laughable and your democracy is just a reign of schemers chosen by fools.
(one of the main characters)

“Inquest of Pilot Pirx” is one of those good old sci-fi movies I miss sometimes so desperately. Unhurried, detailed, with a smart plot and good acting, the film takes its time to prepare you for everything and develops slowly, but somewhere in the middle you suddenly realize that it’s grasping you right by the throat. Based on a series of short stories by Stanislav Lem, “Pirx” a solid psychological sci-fi thriller about human-like androids and space travel, that with years gained somewhat of a cult following, especially in Poland and ex-USSR countries. It didn’t have a lot of realistic CGI for what was largely criticized, but surprisingly it aged well – what did not seem realistic turned out to be very cool from a graphical point of view.

The style and overall feel of “Pirx” is something like “Blade Runner” vs. “Alien”… but the movie was actually made few years before them. Among all the cool stuff about androids and increasing levels of suspense, “Pirx” featured first-person view 6 years before “The Terminator” and here it’s not just some pure entertaining element, but an organic part of the plot. Good old science fiction, dammit.

”Pirx” also caused a chain reaction in my mind about several important topics:
– Why there has been no progress in A. I. development since the 50-s and do we really need it – in its classic sci-fi understanding? (short answer would be ‘no’)
– Why pre-CGI or early CGI specials effects were often more awesome than the photorealistic CGI we have nowadays?

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