37th Boston Science Fiction Film Festival — Parte the Firste

a.k.a., The Thon (a.k.a. Boston Buttnumbathon)

This is my second time attending the Boston Sci-Fi Movie Marathon, or The Thon, and as I’ve done before, I decided to write a breakdown of the line up–or at least as much of it as I had the stamina to consciously enjoy. I did this two years ago and wasn’t sure it was in me to do it again, but I guess I am a closet masochist.

Beginning at noon, we had some opening comments from the organizer, Garen Daly, followed by a Thon tradition, the Merrie Melodies classic from 1953, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. Believe me, it never gets old. Afterward, we launched directly into the first feature:

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I’d already seen this one a few weeks prior on DVD, and so I knew two things going in. First, I knew not to overcritical of the science portrayed in the film. The only thing the film-makers did accurately is show that research chimps must have some form of lifestyle “enrichment” (i.e., televisions) in their cages. Second, I knew not to expect much from either the plot or acting in the film. James Franco (and how I’m not impressed with him) is out acted in every scene by a chimp. Of course, that’s not fair, because the role of lead chimp, Caesar, is acted by Andy Serkis, who is apparently now typecast as only being able to play humanoid beings while wearing a green zentai suit. Before I spend too long berating this film, let me just highlight the two things that bothered me the most about it: 1) James Franco and Frida Pinto; 2) they aerosolized a freaking virus with no cure and no understanding of its effects in the human population and then proceed to work with it in a low-containment environment slightly more controlled than my kitchen.

2. Brainstorm (1983). This movie has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager and I was ecstatic to get the chance to see it on the big screen. I think of it as the spiritual precursor to both Kathryn Bigelow’s VR thriller, Strange Days, and the broad conceit in the Matrix. While still enjoyable and filled with some nuanced personal storytelling (Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood’s divorce is portrayed very well), this film is bogged down by some horribly unnuanced story-telling and outright laugh out loud moments (not good for a sci-fi thriller). There’s a slapstick moment in the middle of the film where a hapless security guard does battle with out of control assembly line robots and a (staged) fight between Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood that goes like this:

NW: Go to hell.

CW: No. You go to hell.

NW: Go to hell!

CW: No. You go to hell. [Walken pause] You go to hell.

That’s not dialogue that makes me wish I’d penned it. Still, I love this film.

3. War of the Satellites (1958). This is one of Roger Corman’s quickies. Made in only eight days, it shows its low-budget roots with stock footage and minimalist set design. There’s an interesting political message in this film as an extraterrestrial intelligence is threatening mankind with extinction if it continues to pursue space travel. Our response is to give several speeches at the UN propounding a manifest destiny in space and that nothing can hold a free people back. Since the head space bully who has taken over the body of the leader of the space program can’t seem to scuttle his own project, despite his best efforts, I’m not sure we ever had much to worry about. It was an enjoyable camp break from the serious pictures that preceded it.

4. Endhiran (The Robot 2010). I’m not sure how to begin a summary of this film. It’s a Bollywood retelling of Frankenstein. Dr. Vaseegaran creates a sophisticated robot named Chitti Babu (both played by the same actor) to be a super soldier–although it can cook, sing, sew, clean, and dance as well as fight. During the course of this three hour number the movie goes from romantic comedy to love triangle drama to horror film to sci-fi thriller to giant monster movie. As one would expect there are several song and dance numbers peppered throughout the film that neither make sense nor move the narrative forward. More importantly, there are a few cultural milestones which just don’t translate for an American audience. First is when Chitti saves a girl from burning to death in her apartment, but having rescued her from a bathtub without having found a way to cover her naked body the crowd turns against him and she is so overcome with shame that she immediately runs out into traffic and commits suicide. The second moment that made me cringe is when Dr. V. has dismantled his perfect weapon (rather handily with only a hatchet) and as a final insult splashes a jar of acid in his creation’s face. I’m sure these moments resound profoundly with an Indian audience, but they seemed to fall flat with the Thon crowd. If anything, the climactic final battle gave me a new appreciation for Clive Barker’s classic story, In the Hills, In the Cities. [Endhiran Video] Endhiran works well enough as a testament to complete excess and lack of restraint. This film literally has something for everyone.

Next there was the Alien Mating Cry Challenge. This event seems to usually take the form of the most annoying bird call you can imagine, but it was a nice break after Bollywood. I definitely needed to do some deep knee bends after three plus hours of that.

5. Dimensions (2011). This was easily my favorite movie of the Thon. Thoughtful and quiet, it was the exact opposite of what came before. Typically I hate time travel movies because of the grandfather paradox that no one (except Harlan Ellison) seems capable of dealing with. In Dimensions they deftly avoid the grandfather paradox by introducing many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics in order to explain how changes made in the past would affect the present or the future. The movie is like Masterpiece Theater with Erwin Schrödinger and Ludwig Wittgenstein trying to build H.G. Wells’ Time Machine out of a piano. Great stuff! Not for anyone who is looking for big explosions or fast-moving action.

Since a bout of norovirus has left me as weak as a kitten, I am going to break this into two entries. When we return, Attack the Block, Scanners, Re-Animator, AND MORE!

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~ by poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq on 23/02/2012.

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