Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Dark Star (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four guys in space.

Dark Star is a scout ship used to destroy planets in the galaxy that are considered unstable. Its crew consists of four men: Pingback (Dan O’Bannon) who keeps a pet alien resembling a beach ball in the back storage room, Talby (Dre Pahlich) who spends all his time sitting alone in the ship’s observation deck, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) who enjoys playing around with the ship’s emergency laser rifle, and Doolittle (Brian Narelle) who spends his time dreaming about being able to water surf again. The men have all spent 20 years on the ship and its begun to take a toll on their mental state as well as the ship’s mechanical framework, which ultimately challenges their survival.

This started as a student project while director John Carpenter and O’Bannon were attending USC’s film school back in 1970 and it was met with such enthusiasm that they decided to lengthen it into a feature film. Although critics at the time loved it the public didn’t, which caused the film to be shown to virtually empty theaters only to finally find a second life on the DVD market where it has now achieved a strong cult following.

Despite being an obvious parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey it doesn’t just play it up for cheap laughs, which why it works. Too many times parodies overplay the comedy elements by using an Airplane-like structure that is just one slapstick gag after another. Here there’s an actual story with character’s motivations that make sense given their circumstances and coming off more like a quirky observation of the psychological effects of space isolation instead of just a cheesy comedy.

The special effects are impressive especially given its limited budget. Sure some of it is tacky including having the ship’s console board made up of ice cube trays turned upside down, or space suits made of muffin tins and helmets worn by the crew that were actually designed for children. Yet there’s a share of cool moments too like the flashing lights used to represent a meteor storm in space or a scene involving a former commander (John Carpenter) kept in cryogenic suspension and even a nerve-wracking moment inside an empty elevator shaft.

The most memorable segment involves an alien that resembles a beach ball with little feet. Initially this looks absurd and makes the film seem too silly, but when the alien manages to escape from its holding cell and begins creating havoc on the ship it starts to seem, as surprising as this may sound, creepy and gives the film a certain chilling edge that was later used as the basis for Alien.

There are enough original moments here for it to be appreciated by just about any sci-fi fan with a funnybone. The fact that the story focuses on the crew’s mental deterioration and the ship’s eroding structure is not all that far off from reality either. Many other big budget sci-fi flicks, in their quest to bombard the viewer with the latest overblown special effects, usually ignore the psychological angle of being trapped on a spaceship for long periods of time would have, which thus gives this movie, as campy as it ultimately is, a certain insightful edge.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Jack H. Harris Enterprises

Available: DVD

The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cat alien seeks assistance.

Jake (voice of Ronnie Schell) is an alien who closely resembles a cat that lands his disabled spaceship on earth and is unable to get help from his mothership to return back to his planet. Using his powerful collar that allows him to speak telepathically he seeks the assistance of Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) a lab assistant who seems smart enough to understand Jake’s dilemma. Before they can do anything though the army comes in and takes the spaceship and stores it inside a warehouse under tight security forcing Frank and the cat to break into the building in order to retrieve the ship and get the cat back to his planet.

I admit that when I was 9-years-old I watched this movie and came away thinking it as ‘pretty cool’ and for a kid I suppose this could still seem passable, but for any discerning adult it’s nothing more than mumbo-jumbo sci-fi. The biggest issue is the collar, which allows the cat way too much power.  He, or anyone else touching it, can do virtually anything even flying through the air or moving other objects through mind control. The thing is so powerful that you hardly feel that the cat is in any type of real danger, which hurts any potential tension. The plot has one caveat, which is if the collar is ever taken off of the cat then he is helpless. Yet this rarely occurs and when it does he, or somebody else, is able to retrieve it quickly making this plot-point a mute issue. The collar even allows him to fly a disabled plane making me wonder why then he couldn’t just use it to do the same thing to his disabled spaceship.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is different from other Disney films of that era in that it doesn’t end with a climactic car chase, but instead has a hair-rising finish in the air with Berry standing on top of an airplane wing trying to rescue his girlfriend Sandy Duncan who is trapped on a helicopter that has no pilot. The stunt work for this is quite impressive and exciting, but I kept wondering how long a helicopter could go in the air without a pilot before it would spin out-of-control and crash. Of course this finally does occur once Duncan is conveniently rescued, but I kind of felt in reality it would’ve happened much sooner.

The film’s final scene involves the cat getting sworn in as a United States citizen, which is pretty loopy since he’s still allowed to go around wearing his collar, but how could the government trust anyone with that since it would virtually allow them to do just about anything? And wouldn’t it attract foreign powers looking to steal if for their own nefarious means making the film’s ending seem more like just a beginning to a far more complex subplot.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The cast is unusual for a typical Disney film too in that there’s not a single child or teen present even though it’s a movie aimed for kids. Instead it has Berry who is so utterly benign he becomes offensive in his inoffensiveness. McLean Stevenson as his sports betting pal is fun and Harry Morgan is quite amusing playing another one of his blustery overly-authoritative characters. Schell, who speaks for the cat, gets a small role as one of the members of the army, but has his voice dubbed. James Hampton, who appeared with Berry in the TV-show ‘F-Troop’, can be spotted in a small role as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Running Man (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A deadly game show.

The year is 2019 and the United States has turned into a militarized police state. In an effort to keep people’s minds off of their bleak existence the government broadcasts game shows in which the contestants are convicted felons who fight for their lives against well-trained and well-equipped assassins called ‘stalkers’. When Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit he is put onto one of these shows called ‘The Running Man’ as a contestant, which is hosted by Damion Killian (Richard Dawson). They then try everything they can to kill Ben, but to their surprise Ben proves to be far more resilient than they ever expected.

The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. However, the novel is far different than the movie, which had the main character traveling to different towns in the northeast while here the game show action gets confined to a dark, dingy studio. The main character was also thin and meek-looking, which would’ve been more interesting had he been that way in the movie as it would’ve made him seem even more like an underdog.

The film’s comic book look is fun for a while and the shots showing the audiences stunned reactions as Ben continually takes down these supposedly unbeatable stalkers is funny. It also makes some good points regarding media manipulation and the hypnotic power of television although it’s too generalized and could’ve gone further with it.

The casting though is particularly good including Ricard Dawson as the egotistical game show host. He did some acting during the ‘60s, but was mainly known for his work as a panelist on ‘Match Game’ and hosting ‘Family Feud’ and yet here he falls into his role with complete ease and easily steals the film. It’s also fun seeing Jesse Ventura, who later became the governor of Minnesota wearing a tacky looking wig. Former football player Jim Brown gets one of the best roles of his film career as a stalker whose punk hairdo resembles that of a skunks and Barbara Lux is amusing as an old lady who swears liberally.

While the dark humor is engaging the story does get quite derivative. Watching Ben defeat the stalkers one-by-one becomes mechanical and redundant. The film also fails to display any type of futuristic vision as the characters use phones that are still connected by a cord, have computers with big, clunky keyboards, and watch TVs that are still of the boxy variety.

Spoiler Alert!

The most disappointing element though is the ending, which differs greatly from the one in the book and is far too neat and tidy. The idea that one determined individual can single-handedly take down a deeply corrupt system is the stuff of romanticized fiction. Having the brain-washed masses suddenly become ‘de-converted’ by showing them actual news coverage wouldn’t really work. If people have been feed a lie for so long they’re not necessarily going to know what the truth is when it hits them and may actually just consider it to be a ‘lie’. Throwing in a ‘feel-good’ ending diminishes the dystopian theme and dark humor that came before it making the film nothing more than a marketing gimmick with no real bite.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Lobster Man from Mars (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen makes bad movie.

J.P. Shelldrake (Tony Curtis) is a desperate Hollywood producer looking for a film that will be guaranteed to bomb at the box office so he can use it as a tax write-off to help him pay off his back taxes. He thinks he’s found the potential answer when he receives a film directed by a young novice Stevie Horowitz (Dean Jacobsen) entitled ‘Lobster Man from Mars’, which comprises to be a tacky send-up to cheesy ’50s sci-fi flicks, but the film surprisingly does well sending the desperate Shelldrake even further into a hole.

The film is the so-called brainchild of Stanley Sheff and Bob Greenberg who in 1977 were offered $50,000 by a studio to write a script in the vein of a low budget ‘50s movie, but the two decided instead to make it a movie-within-a-movie and use it as an excuse to poke fun at all the clichés many of those films had. Unfortunately once they completed the script the studio pulled out of the deal forcing them to spend the next 10 years looking for another studio to fund their project. Finally in 1987 they were able to secure financial backing and then just two days before filming was to commence Greenberg died in a car accident and thus never got to see the script he worked so hard on come to fruition and this film ended up being dedicated to his memory.

However, what may sound funny and clever in concept does not always reflect what ultimately comes out on the screen. The film relies too heavily on lame, corny humor as well as broad caricatures to propel it. Cheesy B-movies and Hollywood studio bigwigs are easy targets that have been satirized many times before and this parody fails to supply any new spin to it.

The benign, blank personality of the young filmmaker is completely wrong. I went to film school during the ‘80’s and met first-hand some ‘up-and-coming’ young directors to-be and they behaved nothing like the dull kid here. They always had a pretentious attitude about them like they were the next Kubrick or Spielberg in waiting. They would never have made a corny ‘50s styled flick as that would’ve been considered ‘unhip’ and instead they would’ve tried to emulate the latest trendy hit like Dune or Rambo or maybe even a gory slasher movie.

Bad movies are fun when the filmmakers were trying to make something serious, or ‘profound’ only to have it end up being unintentionally humorous yet this kid’s movie has obvious gags in it like he was trying to make something campy, which then kind of loses the whole point. I also kept wondering how the kid managed to find so many different actors to play the parts and how he was able to fund it.

Things would’ve been funnier had everything been filmed in his own house or backyard while they tried to poorly disguise it as being someplace else. All the parts should’ve been played by his high school friends or family members some of whom would be forced to double-up and play two or maybe even three different parts. The film should’ve also of had a third running storyline dealing with the behind-the-scenes calamity of how the silly movie got made in the first place. I’ve worked on several low budget 48-Hour projects and believe me the stuff that goes on behind the camera on those amateur productions is far more interesting than what you end up seeing on screen.

The ‘innovative’ movie-within-a-movie concept fails to work because it doesn’t cut back to the film producer screening the movie enough. Instead we’re forced to watch 15 to 20 minutes of the cheesy flick only to see the producer’s reaction for a brief half-minute and then back to the cheesy flick until it seems like that’s all there is and the secondary storyline becomes an afterthought.

The ‘twist’ where the kid’s movie inexplicably becomes a giant moneymaking hit is nothing more than a plot rip-off from the far superior and funnier The Producers and it doesn’t really make sense. First there’s no way the American public, as dumb as their movie tastes can sometimes be, would flock to see this kid’s awful flick to the tune of it becoming the highest grossing movie of all time. Even if it did make that much money wouldn’t it then mean that the producer would have enough money to pay off his back taxes and thus stay out of jail?

If you want to watch something genuinely funny then check-out an actual B-movie from the ‘50’s that was trying to be serious, but ended up not being instead of this thing that tries to be intentionally lame until it becomes just plain too lame. You’ll be far more entertained I guarantee it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Release: January 29, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Sheff

Studio: Electric Pictures

Available: DVD

Electric Dreams (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: His computer becomes jealous.

Miles (Lenny Von Dohlen) is a young architect seeking to get his life more organized, so he buys a personal computer (voice of Bud Cort) and sets it up in his apartment. A beautiful young cellist named Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves in next door to him and practices her cello each day while at home. Miles’s computer, which goes by the name of Edgar, overhears her playing and falls in love with the sound and her in the process. When Miles becomes attracted to her the jealous computer tries everything it can to thwart their relationship.

I enjoyed the imaginative visual style implemented by Steve Barron in directorial debut. In fact it’s the film’s only selling point as the bland script offers little that is funny or interesting and drags on at a snail’s pace with hardly anything actually happening.

Sometimes it’s fun watching films from a bygone era and seeing how much technology has changed, but this thing gets so fanciful with it that it becomes illogical instead. Clearly the filmmakers had no understanding at how a computer actually works as this machine is able to do things that no normal PC could. For instance it’s able to make the knob on Miles’ door turn hot, so he can’t leave his apartment. It’s also able to connect to the servers of Miles’s credit card company even though this is before the advent of the internet and somehow shut off his credit. There’s also a scene where Miles pours champagne on the computer’s keyboard, which doesn’t permanently disable it even though we all know that in reality it would’ve.

It takes too long for the computer to become evil and then when it does it ends pretty quickly. The machine lacks a distinctive look and should’ve been made more ‘evil’ appearing, which would’ve helped coincide with the film’s otherwise flashy visual look. Bud Cort’s voice talents go to waste as it gets electronically altered until it’s unrecognizable and therefore could’ve been anyone’s.

Madsen is good, but the story is geared too much towards the preteens. The trite, overly innocuous script needed more bite, or an added edge to make it interesting to adults who will most assuredly be bored.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Barron

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Region 2 and 0)

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) is a housewife/mother raising two rambunctious kids (Shelby Balik, Justin Dana) while married to Vance (Charles Grodin) who works in advertising. After being exposed to some products from her husband’s company she begins to shrink until she becomes so small that she is forced to move into a dollhouse and drink out of thimble since a regular glass would be too big for her to hold.

The film is a modern remake of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and as much as I loved the original this version takes the storyline in a completely different direction, which for a while proves interesting. Director Joel Schumacher comes up with some wild color schemes and the knowing satire makes great points in its observations on modern suburbia as well as American consumerism. Screenwriter Jane Wagner manages to employ some well thought out scenarios and the special effects aren’t bad either.

Unfortunately by the second-half becomes muddled with scenarios that are no longer funny, but genuinely horrifying and sad instead. The satirical edge gets lost and replaced with an over-the-top mad-scientist-trying-to-conquer-the world angle that becomes cheesy.  I was also confused with how Pat was able to continue to find clothes to fit her especially after she gets smaller than even a toy doll. The film seemed to touch on every other possible problem, so they should’ve had at the very least had a throwaway scene analyzing this one.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets too cute for its own good as Pat shrinks to nothing and then has what’s left of the small outfit she was wearing fall into a puddle of spilled chemicals, which somehow makes her big again. This however ruins the poignancy that had been created from showing clips of bells being rung around the world from different countries in remembrance of Pat, which had a certain profound message that no matter how small you are you can still have an impact. Instead of giving the film some substance it goes for a last-second gimmick that cements it as being an empty-headed comedy and nothing more.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tomlin’s performance is excellent as she creates empathy for her character, which helps make the story more engrossing as you genuinely build concern and sympathy for Pat’s welfare. Noted make-up specialist Rick Baker garnered a cult following for his convincing performance of an ape, although the shot of the animal giving some people in an elevator the finger is pushing it. The movie though as a whole works only in spurts with a message and tone that is too unfocused and inconsistent to be completely effective.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Logan’s Run (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life ends at 30.

In the year 2274 no one is required to work and all desires fulfilled with the only catch being that everyone must die at 30, or at least go through the so-called carrousel to see who can be ‘renewed’. Logan (Michael York) works as a sandman who is in charge of tracking down the ‘runners’, which are people who try to escape the fate of the carrousel and instead find refuge in a secret underground community known as the sanctuary, which is somewhere outside of the domed city where everyone lives. The computer, which runs the domed city where Logan resides, orders him to find the sanctuary and destroy it. To do so Logan must pretend that he is a runner and uses the help of fellow runner Jessica (Jenny Agutter) to guide him, but what they end up discovering shocks them both.

The film’s selling point is its special effects, which weren’t bad for its time period. The most impressive is the sequence dealing with the carrousel where actual holograms were used. The opening bit where the camera shows a bird’s-eye view of the domed city then zooms into it is impressive too due to all of the painstaking detail that must’ve been put in to create it, but it also becomes clear that it is simply a miniaturized reproduction that looks a bit hokey. The interiors resemble the lobby of a swanky hotel and isn’t visually interesting while the costumes show no imagination as everybody wears essentially the same outfit with the only difference being some are red and others green.

The film deviates quite a bit from the 1967 source novel, which was written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson with the biggest change being that in the book the age to die was 21. Supposedly the reason the age got upped was to allow for a broader range of actors to choose from, but even here they cheat because York was already 33 when he did this and Richard Jordan, who plays a fellow sandman was 38. Having the script stick to the original age of 21 and hired actors who were that exact age would’ve made a far stronger visual impact especially having them put to death when they barely looked ready for adulthood.

York’s character is annoyingly naïve as he never questions the authority while fully drinking into their propaganda and it takes Jessica to get him to see things differently, but it’s hard to empathize with a guy who can’t think for himself and kills others without question. Also, when they make it outside the dome they have no idea what the sun is, which seems almost absurd. Yes, they’ve been living in a doomed city all of their lives, but wouldn’t they at some point have some curiosity of what was outside of it, or learn in school about the outside? Maybe it was just me, but the character seemed too transparent and almost non-human.

Spoiler Alert!

The weakest point is the ending where they find out unlike the book that there really isn’t any sanctuary, which comes off as anti-climactic and then having them instead come upon a desolate grounds of Washington D.C., which seems too reminiscent to the ending in Planet of the Apes. It also doesn’t make sense. Although never fully explained one can surmise that apparently civilization was destroyed by some sort of nuclear holocaust, but if that were the case it would’ve caused a nuclear winter, which would’ve blotted out the sun and not allowed anything to grow for decades. Having all the green foliage everywhere would’ve been impossible and how exactly was the old man character played by Peter Ustinov that they come upon able to survive it?

The way Logan is able to destroy the computer, which then destroys the whole city when he returns to it by simply not giving it the answer it wants to hear is too convenient. A computer system that is able to run a city for so long would’ve had  some sort of back-up system installed in case something overloaded it otherwise the city would’ve blown many years earlier if it were really that easy to do. It also never explains who ultimately was behind the creation of the doomed city and secretly running things from behind-the-scenes as every computer must have some person, or group of people who initially made it and then programmed it, so who were they?

End of Spoiler Alert!

Farrah Fawcett has a good bit part as a girl working at a saloon that allows people through laser surgery to change their identities. Ustinov is also quite good as the old man who easily steals the film from the younger performers without much effort. The story it mildly compelling, but compared to classic sci-fi films it is pretty vapid.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Anderson

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inside the human body.

When a Soviet scientist (Jean Del Val), who has sought asylum in the US and has crucial top secret information to give to the government, is shot in an attempted assassination, which leaves him comatose, it is up to a team of five American agents (Arthur Kennedy, William Redfield, Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasance, Stephen Boyd) to go inside his body through miniaturization and remove the blood clot on his brain with the help of a laser. The miniaturizing process is a new invention that only lasts sixty minutes before the person, or object that has been made smaller will begin to regrow. The participants must work fast, but there is an added problem as one of them is also secretly a spy who is intent on undermining the mission.

The film is hailed as a classic by many and this is mainly due to its special effects, which even in this day and age aren’t bad. The question of what gets represented here is what it would really look like if a person were put into an actual body is hard to tell, but the effects are exciting even though the characters were simply matted in front of a green screen to create the psychedelic looking background.  Yet I was still impressed as it gives off a sort-of surreal vision that made me feel like I had been transported to some foreign world along with the cast.

The script though unlike the effects is about as amateurish as you can get and if the action hadn’t been so meticulously designed this might’ve been considered a movie more suited to a camp film festival. For one thing it moves too fast particularly at the beginning. There needed to be more of a backstory about how this miniaturization process had been invented, how long it had been put to use, whether it was safe to use and who was the first to try it and had that person had any after effects none of which gets explained and is simply glossed over.

The characters are also overly obedient and willing to take on any assignment with little if any objection no matter what the potential danger. The Stephen Boyd character gets driven to the science lab and then when told that he’ll be shrunk to the size of a fingertip he puts up very little argument even though anyone else would be frightened about the prospect. Having one of the other characters call home to loved ones, or refuse to go on it would’ve helped make them seem less one-dimensional and robotic.

The crew’s conversations are boring and done in too much of a rhythmic way. Anytime an unforeseen problem arises one of them almost immediately comes up with a solution to it. We learn nothing about these people as the journey progresses nor care all that much about them. In fact the only interesting verbal exchanges that do occur are between Edmund O’Brien’s character and Arthur O’Connell’s who are inside the lab and monitoring the proceedings.

I do not have enough background in the science arena to know how authentic any of this is, but Isaac Asimov who was hired to write the novelization to the movie, stated that the script was full of ‘plot holes’. The one thing that did stand out to me was the part where the crew members are inside the patient’s inner ear and all the doctors inside the lab are forced to stand perfectly still and not make any noise as the sound vibrations could prove dangerous. However, it’s virtually impossible for there to be no noise at all. Even if someone tries to be perfectly quiet other noises that are less conspicuous would become more prominent like breathing, heartbeats, or other background sounds. In either event there would still be sound waves going through the patient’s ear long before one of the nurses accidently drops a medical utensil on the floor like they do here.

For popcorn entertainment it’s not too bad. In fact my favorite part was watching the process of how the crew gets miniaturized, which is actually pretty cool, but this is one of those films were you clearly can’t think about it too hard or it will ruin your enjoyment.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Silent Running (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He saves the forest.

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a member of a 4-man space crew residing on a shuttle called Valley Forge that house underneath giant glass domes plant and animal life that was made extinct back on earth. One day the crew is ordered to destroy these domes, but Freeman refuses and kills his fellow crew members when they attempt to. He then jettisons the craft further into space and uses robotic drones to help keep the forests alive, but is horrified to learn that the members of another space ship called the Berkshire have been able to locate him and now want to board his vessel where they’ll soon find out what he has done.

This film marks the directorial debut of special effects wiz Douglas Trumbull and much like with his ‘80s effort Brainstorm is strong on visual design, but lacking in story substance. The script never bothers to explain what caused the plant life on earth to die, or why they are suddenly forced to destroy the domes on the ship. It’s almost like the three screenwriters, which included Michael Cimino, were merely content to come up with a very basic concept with a lot of simplistic plot devices bundled together.

The way Freeman is able to trick his superiors on the other end of the radio relay into making himself look innocent is so pathetically easy that it is hardly entertaining to watch. I would’ve thought in such as technologically advanced age that there would be cameras installed on the ship, so others could monitor what happens and not simply rely on verbal feedback from the crew.

The story’s second and third acts are in desperate need of more conflict. Instead of wasting time showing cutesy, silly scenes of Freeman playing poker with the drones there should’ve been a bad guy nemesis on the ship trying to thwart Freeman’s attempts to save the forest. The way he is able to kill off the other crew members is too easy especially the Cliff Potts character as all Freeman has to do is lightly push down on Potts’ neck with the handle of a shovel and it’s enough to kill him even though I thought he had just been briefly knocked unconscious as Freeman never bothers to check the man’s pulse and this was the type of character who could’ve come back to life and hide out on the ship while creating trouble.

Attempts to add some intrigue by having the plants in the forest suddenly die off mysteriously is utterly lame. I immediately presumed that it was because of a lack of sunlight, but Freeman the so-called botanist takes several days and lots of research until he finally comes up with this same conclusion, which is pathetic.

The songs by Joan Baez are loud and shrill and having to listen to three of them simply to bulk up the runtime only proves how empty the script is. The numerous flashback sequences showing footage that the viewer has already seen earlier are equally unnecessary.

Dern is good and helps hold the thing together in a role that I felt was tailored made for his acting style and was surprised to learn that he was only given the part after 17 others had turned it down. I also liked the outer look of the space craft even though you could clearly tell that it was a miniature. Unfortunately there are not enough compelling elements in the story to keep it interesting and the long stretches where little happens will easily bore most viewers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Rated G

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube