Monday, March 4, 2024

Statement Making Seventies Science Fiction

Despite what may be perceived now as hokey special effects or over the top, low budget fare, these science fiction parables from the seventies era provide intriguing commentary then and now.

Crimes of the Future

Not to be confused with David Cronenberg’s recent, unrelated Crimes of the Future, this 1970 short and its nil budget dystopian bizarre with poor pacing and structural flaws is not for everyone. Fortunately, the silence, slow movement, and stillness match the 1997 concrete, fallen industrialized affluence, and empty isolation. An androgynous cleric clad in black provides an unreliable, detached report on how a cosmetics plague has killed all the women and led to increasing gender and social changes. Red nail polish worn on the left hand or painted toe nails decide who is mugged, beaten, or allowed to consume the “chocolate” secreted by “special” men since there are no women. Repetitive sorting socks or underwear scenes reflect a perverted ritual collection while barefoot and white gloved pedophiles have disturbing secret meetings. Distorted sounds and an in limbo atmosphere create unease as the repression escalates to wicked violence, child trafficking, and terrible sexual deviance all seemingly justified as an attempt to find a cure. It would be fascinating to see Cronenberg redo this as a full bodied film today. Venereal disease references, biological differences, and veiled statements on institutionalizing homosexuals for “therapy” are ahead of their time, and the ironic title belies an upsetting real world horror finale.

Quintet

A solitary, bearded, and bundled Paul Newman (The Hustler) leads this icy, desolate 1979 tale of a snowbound civilization where birds are rare, seal hunting is scarce, and trees are memories. Information is lost and no one is really sure how many years it has been as echoes, broken glass, icicles, and dangerous crackling sounds accent the ruined photos and damaged crystal chandeliers. Despite his chilled exterior, Newman’s Essex isn’t unfeeling. However, he has a list of names due revenge and the killings must play out within the high stakes Quintet rules. The mysterious sixth man in a five player game adds an interesting confusion to the high brow competition, and viewers must pay attention to the one man chess amid coercion, explosions, Latin oaths, slit throats, and assumed identities. Prowling dogs, frozen carcasses, and on location filming at the abandoned Montreal Expo create realism, and the titular pentagon shaped symbolism dominates the futuristic furniture and decor. Although frosted glass and mirrors help hide the small scale production’s cut corners, director Robert Altman’s (The Long Goodbye) Vaseline framed camera lens is too noticeable today as is the stilted start and plodding runtime. At times, the game concepts fall flat and the try hard cult-like tournament mentality doesn’t quite come across. Thankfully, the desperate, nothing left to do but kill pointlessness hits home. Tense shocks and insensitive deceptions accent the cerebral tone as the intriguing melancholy escalates in the final act. This somber, life imitating art statement is eerily prophetic in the notion of games and movies becoming social reality obsessions.


Saturn 3

Underground Titan bases, a twenty-two day eclipse, cut off communication, and evil robots spell doom for Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), and Harvey Keitel (Mean Streets) in this 1980 British tale. Certain unnecessary set pieces obviously influenced by Star Wars could have been excised to leave the isolated supply run’s ulterior intentions unknown. Weird scene transitions and erroneously epic music also try hard as uneven, commonplace machine chases are placed above the intriguing personal elements. Choppy editing reveals the behind the scenes troubles before an apparent twist and meandering action underestimate the audience and pad the final twenty minutes. Thankfully, the hydroponics lab is cool with artificially blue tinted water and green lit plants for our couple who has never been to earth, gone outside, or breathed real air. Unfortunately, chess with their machine leads to ominous device sounds and sinister spying while conversations in the shower, sheer robes, nudity, sex, and drug experimentation stir the pot between our older gent, his younger woman, and the newcomer blunt about his desire. Eerie, self re-assembling, advanced, demigod robots intend to replace the once idyllic and now obsolete couple amid symbolic jacking in interfaces, blasting hoses, and heads sliding into the robot cavity. Scary injuries and creepy surgeries create tension alongside arguments, violent tendencies, and foolish attempts to think one can control the intelligent machinery. Though flawed in not focusing on the taut science fiction triangle; references to Hector, Troy, and the original fight over a woman accent the man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself conflicts.

Westworld

Androids run amok in this 1973 sci-fi western written and directed by Michael Crichton (Coma). Crichton’s debut direction is simplistic with of the time slow motion and aimless running to and fro amid preposterous logistics and safety ignorance. Then-futuristic empty white sets and technobabble gibberish are filler alongside big computer wows and now unnecessary pixelated robot viewpoints. The colorful saloon facades, medieval games, and Roman hedonism don’t look that bad considering the paltry million dollar budget, however modern viewers will probably expect more from the catastrophic resort meltdown than a one on one pursuit and abrupt finale. Fortunately, there are mechanical malfunctions, shootouts, feastings, brothels, and bar fights a plenty. Guns, swords, and sex robots add to the cool for James Brolin (Skyjacked) as we fear the gloriously unyielding, Terminator-esque, gunslinger in black Yul Brynner (The King and I). This is the ultimate vacation where man has his decadent and violent desires fulfilled, but it’s all controlled by technicians behind the scenes who eat while they watch the depravity unfold. Guests sleep unaware as suspicious, misbehaving man made machines reset the excess. Are these possibly sentient androids fed up with human seductions and taking matters into their own hands for one destructive hurrah before their batteries fail? Though at times the potential is undercooked, the western meets SF peril provides enough food for thought.

Zardoz

Ruffian Sean Connery (Goldfinger) upsets the hedonist future in this 1974 international production directed by John Boorman (Excalibur) brimming with 2293 post-apocalyptic horseback warriors and a surreal floating head spewing ammunition from its giant mouth. Immortals playing god tell Exterminators to kill the lesser Brutals with guns is good and penis is evil mantras, and understandably the population control allegories can get lost in the often laughable flying head, psychedelic crystals, and giant green pretzels. The overlong, trippy seventies production shows its limitations with goofy happenings, saucy vignettes, and intercut montages strung together via psychic induced strokes and an immortal vortex with a cool decoder ring. Our flying head cruises to the quaint English countryside with relics of the past where jealous women and fey men disturbed by Connery’s masculinity rely on an advanced computer intelligence before being so idle they become catatonic. Trials where the penalty is aging and realizations that what you’ve been led to believe is now the corruption you were trying to prevent provide intriguing nuggets, truth will outs, and revenge. Despite a rushed action finale, man shooting at himself in the mirror to destroy his fallible god and high concepts such as artificial intelligence, cloning, reverse eugenics, and euthanasia overcome the silly design. Modern viewers have to laugh at the ridiculous deus ex machina wizards and nonsensical screaming yet this deserves to be watched more than once for the Tree of Knowledge osmosis, jacking into their matrix insights, and snake in the garden sex making man both savior and destruction.

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