Innerspace

Innerspace. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t recall at the moment if this started as a direct remake/sequel to Fantastic Voyage, was merely inspired by it openly, or just has a similar concept, but I do know that I was first made aware of the existence of Innerspace when researching Voyage. I have dim recollections that it might be a “suggested by” treatment of the novel sequel to Voyage?

Anyway, I also just discovered it has Martin Short as the hapless fellow who doesn’t realize he’s got a tiny explorer inside him, which ramps up my interest in it. Also, the idea of cutting back to comedy sequences outside caused by what’s going on inside reminds me of Osmosis Jones, only with live action/VFX instead of cartoon animation.

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Galaxy Quest

Few things have been kept alive by love for half a century. That club will probably be growing enormously for the next few years because so much of our culture was born in the 60s and 70s, but this week, fans are celebrating that milestone for Star Trek. While anything can achieve fifty years since just by the nature of time, fifty years continuous is something special in pop culture. If the Animated Series is included, the longest hiatus in Star Trek is only around five years. There’s a new movie in theaters now and a new series coming direct to home streaming next year. And it all began before men walked on the moon.

So I came to the question of how to celebrate it here. I grew up with Trek. Trek was in the house before I was born. The number of times I’ve watched the first six movies probably adds up to dozens, and the ones worth talking about as representative of the franchise have been talked about to death. I’ve seen every episode of the original series at least once. I saw the new movie a few weeks ago. What can I talk about?

Galaxy Quest. Dreamworks Pictures 1999.

The 90s were the height of Star Trek as a franchise. From 1993 to 1999, there were always two series in production, and from 1994, there were movies on top of that. There was always something new in Trek, and as the internet grew, it became much easier to talk about it with other fans. Continuity was huge even before there was a shared universe across three productions to keep track of. And as the preeminent fandom in the public’s eye, Trekkies were the easiest target to spoof the weird fans who take the things they love maybe a bit too seriously.

 

And then along comes a movie that spoofs Trekkies themselves. What if somebody completely didn’t understand the concept of fiction and dedicated their lives to a show, forcing the actors to be their characters for real? What if somebody loved a show so much they made it real?

What strikes me about describing the story like that is that the idea of a fictional story colliding with the real world is actually pretty common, but it’s always through magic. Last Action Hero comes to mind, and Stranger Than Fiction is a good example of not explicitly being magic, but it’s a weird thing that is narratively indistinguishable from magic. The Thursday Next novels interestingly begin with a bit of technology to jump into the fictional worlds in the first book, but dispense with it subsequently. I’m sure there must be other examples of fiction intruding upon reality through a purely sci-fi mechanism (aliens receive TV broadcasts, model their society around the show), but I can’t think of any.

Of course, Peter Q. Taggart is clearly based on William Shatner. Ego to the brim, alienating the castmates that are stuck with him, and too stuck in the glory days to realize it. That he is the main protagonist makes him sympathetic, but it has to get pretty savage to break Taggart down to the point where a real-life space adventure is what he needs. Everyone else is a bit more vague. Tawny Matheson’s best parallel is Uhura, but they cast Sigourney Weaver and arguably her function is more of a parody of Tasha Yar at tactical. I have a dim memory of the novelization letting her find a function that wasn’t just repeating the computer and looking pretty, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t have time for it and she just ends up embracing the part. Tommy Webber is mainly a Wesley Crusher type, but casting him black invokes Geordi’s season at the helm as well. Dr. Lazarus is kind of a hybrid of Spock and Worf. Dane/Rickman is clearly emphasizing the Spock side, but his cool logic in this case is an attempt to control his hot-blooded warrior tendencies.

I really enjoy Tony Shalhoub’s performance, but they cast him as Fred Kwan/Tech Sgt Chen, and he’s not at all Asian. If they’d given Fred a surname of a more appropriate ethnicity it could’ve at least been a joke about Hollywood casting anyone vaguely not white in any ethnic role, but instead it’s an honest example. Shalhoub is of Lebanese descent, but could be mistaken for Mediterranean European, and so this spoof of a show that was promoting diversity before diversity was a watchword comes off as having a token black guy and a token woman/love interest, and everyone else is white guys. And one green monster.

But they’re just the ones having the adventure. The real heroes of this story are the fans. The alien fans who were united by their respect for the “historical documents” from another world, and the human fans whose knowledge of the show guides the crew to victory. In the end, the Thermians are encouraged to make their own adventures, to be inspired by the Protector rather than devoted to it. Fans that become creators are what keeps franchises going, spawning legacies without bound. The Thermians will make their own history, and Galaxy Quest will live again. And Star Trek, and its fans, will continue the mission.

The Core

The Core. David Foster Productions 2003.
The Core. David Foster Productions 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I think of this movie as “Armageddon with Dirtronauts” (from a Dick van Dyke Show pitch). I really just know the log line, something’s wrong with the Earth’s core and we need to go fix it. Apparently it’s too dangerous to send robots to that kind of temperature and pressure so humans have to go instead.

It’s actually a fascinating idea to send an expedition below the crust, even if the conceit is ludicrous. At least Journey to the Center of the Earth is so divorced from science (I think even in Verne’s day the hollow Earth theory was at least on the way out) that it can be read as pure fantasy. With what we currently understand about the planet, no good can come from sending people that deep inside it, and the only sources of story there come from just how implausible such an expedition would be. So I’m going to try to enjoy this on its internal consistency, because the way it pretends to be science just preemptively frustrates me, but it otherwise looks like fun.

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Battle of the Worlds

Battle of the Worlds. Ultra Film 1961.
Battle of the Worlds. Ultra Film 1961.

Before watching the movie:

I found this while looking for b-movies for Movie Monster Month, but it didn’t look like it had a monster focus, so I left it. However, it looks like it makes up for it by having an insanity focus.

With a title that sounds like an H.G. Wells knockoff, this is a story about trying to avoid a planetary collision between Earth and a rogue planet headed right for it. Pretty much a “turn your brain off and have fun” concept. But then on top of that, this movie was filmed in Italian, but they cast Claude Rains in a prominent role, and his performance is in English. It’s probably going to be distracting having only one character not dubbed, and would be even if I hadn’t found out ahead of time.

I’m not certain if I’ve reviewed any foreign movies in the past (aside from the raw material making up What’s Up, Tiger Lilly?, which is a special case), but I can think of a few I’ve wanted to include but decided against for that reason. I guess that barrier is as broken as documentary film is now.

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Primer

Primer. ERBP 2004.
Primer. ERBP 2004.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure how long ago this movie came to my attention. I think it might have been when this comic was published, which was roughly six years ago, but I’m not sure but that it hadn’t come up before then. It seems to have the reputation of being the densest time travel movie ever, but then it seems a vast majority of the audience couldn’t understand Back to the Future Part 2.

The most specific thing I know about the plot is that it concerns a time machine with rules often cited as probable for potential real time machines, but rarely used in fiction because it limits the kinds of stories that can be told. The title always makes me think of a textbook, but I think it’s more likely to be about priming the machine due to those operational restrictions.

Between the highly cerebral reputation, the independent production, and a synopsis I saw that is likely to just be describing the first scene in a zero-tolerance approach to spoilers, it seems entirely likely that this could be an hour and a half of two guys in a room talking about what they’re going to do with the machine and only at the end revealing the actual result. I have seen duller “people just talking” movies about mindbending concepts. (See Mindwalk, which adapted a nonfiction book about physics by having a few characters meander through an art gallery talking. Or maybe don’t.)

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Alien

Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.
Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.

Before watching the movie:

This is definitely not part of the Movie Monster Month series. Because it’s a new month, of course.

I have the impression that this movie basically invented Sci-Fi-Action-Horror as a subgenre, or at least is why it’s so predominant. I don’t dislike that combination, but I do mind that it seems to have choked out the alternatives, at least through the 80s and 90s.

But anyway, this is very ingrained in culture, so the scariest part is that I haven’t seen it yet. Ripley is up there with Sarah Connor (in Terminator 2) for awesome female heroes, and John Hurt’s most famous role is as the guy who explodes. There’s a walking backhoe fight. (That’s Alien 2 I think) These are things it’s impossible not to know.

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Earth vs. The Flying Saucers

monster_month

Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Clover Productions 1956.
Earth vs the Flying Saucers. Clover Productions 1956.

Before watching the movie:

I’m closing the month with another sci-fi B-movie. I’m not sure how I first heard about this one, but I know it only by the title. It sounds like one Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have riffed, but they haven’t (at least, a cross-reference search only points to an episode for Earth vs. The Spider). It’s one of the B-Moviest of B-movie titles out there.

Knowing nothing of the plot besides the title (which pretty much spells it all out), I can only assume that the pilots of those flying saucers are eventually shown, so this can count as a monster movie. This seems to be a safe assumption, since the poster appears to show menacing ground troops, but these are either spacesuits, mechs, or robots. Which are probably good enough.

This isn’t in 3D, but I almost feel like I should wear red-blue glasses for it.

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