Sci-Fi December: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill and Ted illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerBill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – 1989

Dir: Stephen Herek | Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin

Year: 2688, 1988, 1805, 1879, 410 BC, 1401, 1901, 1810, 1429, 1209, 1863, 1,000,000 BC

Review: There is more than enough high school movies out there where some kid gets in hot-water over his grades and needs to come up with some wild plan of action to rectify the problem. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of those movies, but there is one key difference, its “excellent”. What do I mean by that? Well, by the terms of this film an “Excellent Adventure” is one where you travel through time in a phone booth capturing various historical figures and then using them within your lavish oral report in front of the entire student body in order to pass history class. One of the unannticipated side effects of presenting such a report is that you will become the most influential icons of our entire Human species for at least 700 years. I can’t offer much critical opinion for this movie because its useless for this type of film. You’ll like it or hate it for the same reasons you like or hate Encino Man or maybe Dude, Where’s My Car. Not great movies, not even that funny of movies, but just something absolutely attached to a time period of your youth and due to the right circumstances its affixed itself to part of your past and it can charm you whenever you come across it. But if your a square, or were an old dad at the time, its beyond stupid and you just can’t get it and never will.  In terms of science fiction its real weak, there is whole slews of problems with how they could be affecting time by literally picking up and removing important figures from the past. Not to mention how it doesn’t even make sense why people from 2688 needed to go back in time to ensure mankind’s survival by aiding them in completing a history report – as far as I can tell its just something that needed to be done and I figure they did the research. If there is anything that anyone should take from this film it is this poetic nugget passed off as a mere-joke delivered by a meat-head jock, but is really a thought provoking reflection on our progress as a civilization and our place in the world.

“Everything is different, but the same. Things are more moderner than before. Bigger…   and yet smaller! There’s computers. San Dimas high-school football rules!!” 

Sci-Fi Decemnber: Frequency

Frequency illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerFrequency – 2000

Dir: Gregory Hoblit | Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher

Year: 1999, 1969

Review: Due to an atmospheric anomaly (maybe something to due with the Aurora Borealis) a son is able to speak to his father 30 years in the past via a H.A.M. radio. The discovery has a litany of consequences as the son reveals that his father (a firefighter) is going to die in an explosion. Reluctant to believe his son throughout the day his claims about a world series baseball game proves to be true, and when faced with the exact incident his son described he uses that information to escape a burning building. When the two make communication again that night they discover other things are beginning to change and the son is acquiring memories of two different pasts, one where his father survives and one where he dies. The son (a cop) begins working on a case they discover to be a cold-file on a serial murder from 30 years ago – and due to his fathers survival it changes histories path and his mother becomes a victim of this serial killer as well as several more women. The two then team up to try and find serial killer using information from both time lines and save these women’s lives. The entire movie plays out like a long Twilight Zone episode its an interesting take on the time traveling sub-section of Science Fiction. There is several instances where the rules are swayed to the favor of the film and the plot of the crime-drama more so than you would expect to happen in reality, while its a shame they don’t go as full bore as they could’ve, it still satisfying to see how they use time. The film outside of the sci-fi aspects is a bit limp and the performances, dialogue, and direction are pretty stock and won’t be anything you walk away remembering. If you are a time travel fan this is well worth the watch.

Sci-Fi December: 12 Monkeys

Twelve monkeys illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer12 Monkeys – 1995

Dir: Terry Gilliam | Statting: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt

Year: 1990, 2035

Review: Time travel can be a tricky bit, especially when you are sent back to investigate something that makes you sound like a lunatic. Imprisoned convict Bruce Willis is sent back to the 1990’s (from 2035) to find any information he can about a radical environmental group called ‘The Army of the Twelve Monkeys’, however, the information and the resources at hand in the present day is unreliable and Bruce Willis’ character is sent back to the wrong year where he is committed to a mental hospital. After returning to the present day with an assumed lack of information it is discovered he in fact had encountered some key figures which may have lead to the eradication of 99% of the population in 1997 and Willis is once again sent back to unravel the plot. This movie is great, and its full of fantastic time-travel loops and holes for the characters to get wrapped into. Brad Pitt delivers a Golden Globe winning performance that launched him into his leading man status. The sets, costume design, music, and spiraling plot are all classic signatures of Terry Gilliam’s direction and it is buttoned-in enough to make it one of his best and most accessible films to date.

Sci-Fi December: The Man Who Fell to Earth

The man who fell to Earth illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerThe Man Who Feel to Earth – 1976

Dir: Nicholas Roeg | Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry

Year: 1976

Review: David Bowie in his first starring role plays an Alien who has landed on earth in an attempt to amass resources to bring back to his home planet in order to save it. He begins this process by engaging in American business and patents a number of alien technologies to become extremely wealthy. However his confusion of human behavior, booze, love, sex, an obsession with television, and government intrusion prevent his progress and stall him for decades. This is a long and sprawling character study that shows how modern day america (or earth) can generate roadblocks for others due to suspicion and jealousy even if its completely unnecessary and unwarranted. David Bowie was an excellent choice for this role and seems to have been made for him. Not only does his behavior and appearance seem rather alien as it is – he has since admitted that during the entire filming schedule of the movie he was extremely high on cocaine at all times. So, I am sure that aided in his departed and confused performance. The entire film can be long and meandering and leave details in the shadows that can be difficult to pin point at times. But its an interesting sort of “art house” science fiction experience and much of the direction really works well considering we are to be putting our selves in the shoes of a confused alien. If you are a patient film viewer I recommend it, otherwise you may not enjoy the drifting nature of how the story is told and how the years pass by.

Here is the official trailer which does a terrible job of representing the movie:

Sci-Fi December: The Ωmega Man

Charlton Hestons teeth illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerThe Ωmega Man – 1971

Dir: Boris Sagal | Starring: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosaline Cash

Year: Post-apocalyptic 1977

Review: This is one of several adaptations of the 1954 novel I Am Legend (others being ’65s Last Man on Earth, ’07s I Am Legend) and in this adaptation a plague is set on via biological warfare killing off most of the earth, but leaves behind a handful who were never fully affected and have turned over to become light-sensitive homicidal maniacs. In the novel a natural bacteria spreads turning people in Vampires. Charlton Heston plays a scientist who was able to use an experimental vaccine on himself in the last few moments and it works, saving his life and leaving him the only unaffected man on earth … OR SO HE THINKS! The maniacs have waged war with Heston believing he represents the evils that lead to this plague (science, technology) and they are the chosen and oppose “Those who Use the Wheel”. This is a very 70’s film, mainly because the constant overuse and overly bombastic funky music or the flute soaked arrangements used to score so much of the movie. There is that certain look to the sets from this time period, like everything has 10 coats of paint on it and its lead house-paint for everything. The make-up on the mutants is pretty bad with some rough-looking contacts lenses. But beyond all that, and the fact that a 48 year Heston look like he’s 68, and the gross jumpsuit he wears at the end, this is a fairly entertaining film. I am sure this was a real interesting concept in 1971 before so many more post-apocalyptic films had been created and left this one behind. Its not the best, and its not the worst (unlike the jumpsuit Heston wears, thats certainly the worst).

Sci-Fi December: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension

Buckaroo Banzai illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension – 1984

Dir: W.D. Richter | Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd

Year: 1984

Review: Dr. Bucakaroo Banzai is a japanese/american rock and roll guitarist/vocalist physicist neurosurgeon test pilot and he has just discovered how to pass thru matter (a mountain) in a modified Ford F-350 pick up. This discovery draws the attention of some some aliens who have been secretly working on an alien craft disguised as members of the Air Force research team. At the same time these aliens mortal enemies from Planet 10 have arrived and they are trying to fend them off as well as steal Buckaroo Banzai’s discovery while he is also unraveling their plan with the aid of his band The Hong Kong Cavaliers and help the aliens from Planet 10. Its a sci-fi action-comedy romp that feels like it belongs in a similar vein to Big Trouble in Little China. Its always sorta cool, moves quickly, and has some fairly funny moments but never flat out comedic. If I had seen this when I was a young kid in the late 80’s / early 90’s I would probably have become a real big fan – it just feels like a great VHS rental.

I enjoy this trailer quite a bit:

Sci-Fi December: Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek 2 illustration by Jeff SchwartzbauerStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – 1982

Dir: Nicholas Meyer | Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Mantolban, Kirstie Alley, DeForest Kelley

Year: 23rd Century

Review: Following the less than stellar critical reception of  Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well as less than expected ticket gate (despite setting ticket sales records, and still being the most successful with adjusted inflation), Gene Roddenberry was forced out of the producers seat and the film budget slashed to a fourth for its sequel. The results are widely considered to be the best film in the entire Star Trek film franchise. I personally have not seen all the original Cast films, but from what I have seen I would agree to that fact. Khan is a worthy and interesting foe for the Kirk and his crew and there is also themes addressing age, success and failure, friendship and loss which give these characters some added depth and intrigue. The special effects I am sure were impressive for the time using some state-of-the-early-80’s computer animation for the computer monitors and to show a simulation of a planet being terraformed. The sets however look a little rough in places and tend to look very artificial, which was acceptable when this was a Television program, but are real cheap for a major motion picture. Its entertaining and fun, and you’ll get more out of it if you are a fan, but then there is also a major gaff which sends hardcore original cast fans up the wall but really doesn’t matter for the sake of the story. If you are new to Star Trek films, you can’t really pick a better starting place.