8:00 PM, 14th March, 1999
Captain Picard (Stewart) is called to assist after android Data (Spiner) suffers a severe malfunction while on an assignment. The assignment involved the monitoring of an apparently primitive society in a region called the Briar Patch. On arrival Picard finds the Star Fleet admiral in charge of the mission is eager to see him leave. Picard quickly finds that there may be more to the mission that simple observation, and more to the planet than can be seen at first glance. Could this be the spring of eternal youth?
The ninth Star Trek movie takes a step away from the formula of all the previous movies. Instead of threats at a galactic level, or at least directed towards Earth, this movie focuses on a colony of only 600 people on a small isolated planet. This move isn't entirely successful, because it isn't until the very last part of the film that there is any sense of danger for the participants, as until then all the combat is carried out on a civilised level involving transporter weapons. The main problem with this film is that writers Rick Berman and Michael Piller suffer from a delusion that they can be funny. They can't, and this reduces the film to a series of failed one liners. Some of these do work - Data has some great lines. But for the most part, the attempts fall flat on their face. Add to this inconsistent characterisation of practically everyone in the film, and what you have is a film that will please neither hard-core trekkies nor the wider audience. It has been described as 'the first Star Trek date flick', which is true to an extent. But this is perhaps a mistake when audiences have grown up expecting more action from Star Trek than this delivers. Probably the best of the odd-numbered Trek films, but not in the same league as First Contact.
9:30 PM, 14th March, 1999
If you appreciated Alex Proyas' stunning masterpiece, The Crow, then his follow-up film Dark City is a must-see. In a gloomy city that has never seen daylight, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) is a fugitive wanted for a series of brutal murders. With no memory of who he is, he must struggle to prove his innocence and remember his past. In his quest he stumbles upon the nightmarish reality that aliens are using the city as part of an experiment to discover the secrets of the human soul. The Strangers, as they are called, alter the city and the memories of its inhabitants. Sharing the aliens' telekinetic powers, John fights to destroy them before they destroy him.
This film has Atmosphere. The visual imagery is extraordinary, and exudes foreboding. The city is drab and gothic with gloomy buildings towering overhead, flickering neon signs and pedestrians bustling along dingy sidewalks. Beneath it all lies the vast cave-like liar of the aliens. However this film is not only visually impressive, but offers a high degree of intellectual stimulation. It reflects on the significance of memory and identity, and the plot contains several unexpected twists to keep the audience guessing. Solid performances by Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt ensure the story is credible and engaging. Even if you're not a big fan of SF films, you'll love Dark City.
11:00 PM, 14th March, 1999
Mike Nelson is trapped on an orbiting space station by a mad scientist who is determined to send him insane. The scientist chooses to do this by forcing him to watch the very worst science fiction movies of all time. In order to stop himself going mad, Mike has built three robots to keep him company. And to lessen the sting of non-stop bad movies, they choose to heckle them. This week, the movie is the early 50's This Island Earth.
MST3K (As it is normally known) is a cult TV show in the US. The movie wisely chooses to simply take the normal formula and extend it by about half an hour. It's a fairly simple concept, but it really is unbelievably funny. You'll laugh till it hurts with this movie. The real strength of this film is the writing, with the acting of the lead and his robot friends being totally unimportant. The one complaint I'd make is about how much of This Island Earth isn't shown. It makes it a little hard to follow what's going on in the film-within-a-film, with at least one very obvious gap in the narrative. It doesn't detract from the humour, but it does mean that there's no real chance of following the plot. To the best of my knowledge, this will be only the second time this film has been on the big screen in Canberra, and may well be the last time for a while. I recommend that you come and see this while you can. You won't be sorry you did. Oh, and don't forget to stick around for the end credits.
11:30 PM, 14th March, 1999
This film, the second by director Guillermo del Toro, the man behind Cronos, a genuinely original and inventive film, lacks fire. It is a relatively standard, beware-the-dangers-of-messing-with-that-which-you-know-not, story, wherein Dr Susan Tyler (Sorvino) through genetic manipulation creates an insect designed to mimic and destroy a plague of virus-carrying cockroaches in the city. Although she builds in failsafes to ensure the wee little beastie doesn't survive its original mission, something goes wrong. Now something is hunting mankind. Tyler soon realises the insects have somehow evolved at an impossibly high rate and are now approaching the point where they can mimic humankind and begin destroying their only remaining predator. They must be stopped.
Our heroine manages to pick up small group of people, some willing to assist, some merely trapped in this living hell, and the usual series of events occurs. Unfortunately, del Toro seemed unable to twist this fairly standard group of misfits into an interesting, suspenseful, SF, horror thriller. The characters on the whole are identifiable fairly early, thus suggesting the actors have done a competent, if on the most part less than brilliant, job. Mira Sorvino appears to be the latest actress going for the action crown and plays the strong, intelligent female scientist turned warrior/survivor well, steering clear of clich and blatant stereotyping. The rest on the whole merely play the obvious, showing us the reluctant hero, the coward, the... you get the idea. Hell, you've seen the idea in other films.
11:59 PM, 14th March, 1999
The world is in danger because a giant planet, made of pure hate, is heading for the planet Earth. The only thing that can stop it is the mysterious "Fifth Element", which is being returned to Earth by the aliens who were holding it safe. Unfortunately, along the way it is shot down. From the crash site a small sample of DNA is recovered, which is rebuilt into the form of Leeloo (Jovovich), a mysterious woman. She escapes from the research facility where she is being held, and lands in the taxi of Korben Dallas (Willis). Dallas finds himself caught up in the quest to find all five elements, and save the Earth.
Luc Besson apparently thought of the plot of this film when he was in High School. It shows; this is pure comic book drama. The characters are larger than life, the baddies are very bad, the goodies are pure as the driven snow, etc. But you don't watch a film like this for its insight into the purpose of life. Instead, you watch it for the action sequences and set pieces. And in this regard, it really is an excellent film. The only really good acting comes from Jovovich, who is quite convincing as someone who is dropped into an alien environment. But the direction and editing is good, and the soundtrack is very well done. Probably not one of the most brilliant films ever made, but definitely one of the most fun.