MT VOID 02/12/99 (Vol. 17, Number 33)

MT VOID 02/12/99 (Vol. 17, Number 33)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/12/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 33

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
Rob Mitchell  MT 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


Academy Award nominations of science fiction, fantasy, or horror films include

   - Ian McKellen in GODS AND MONSTERS (Best Actor)
   - Ed Harris in THE TRUMAN SHOW (Best Supporting Actor)
   - Lynn Redgrave in GODS AND MONSTERS (Best Supporting Actress)
   - THE TRUMAN SHOW [Peter Weir] (Direction)
   - THE TRUMAN SHOW [Andrew Niccol] (Original Screenplay)
   - GODS AND MONSTERS [Bill Condon] (Adapted Screenplay)
   - PLEASANTVILLE (Art Direction)
   - WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (Art Direction)
   - PLEASANTVILLE (Costume Design)
   - A BUG'S LIFE [Randy Newman] (Music for Comedy or Musical)
   - MULAN (Matthew Wilder/David Zippel/Jerry Goldsmith] (Music for
     Comedy or Musical)
   - THE PRINCE OF EGYPT [Stephen Schwartz/Hans Zimmer] (Music  for
     Comedy or Musical)
   - PLEASANTVILLE [Randy Newman] (Music for Drama)
   - "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" from ARMAGEDDON [Diane  Warren]
   - "The Prayer" from QUEST FOR CAMELOT (Carole Bayer Sager, David
     Foster, Tony Renis and Alberto Testa (Song)
   - "That'll Do" from BABE: PIG IN THE CITY [Randy Newman] (Song)
   - "When You Believe" from THE PRINCE OF EGYPT [Stephen Schwartz]
   - ARMAGEDDON (Sound)
   - ARMAGEDDON (Sound Effects Editing)
   - ARMAGEDDON (Visual Effects)
   - MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (Visual Effects)
   - WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (Visual Effects)

Special Effects:

It is, I think, the common wisdom that something has gone wrong with the science fiction film. We are getting a lot of films like INDEPENDENCE DAY, GODZILLA, and ARMAGEDDON that are not really very good science fiction. The whole reason for their existence seems to be to show off special effects. The feeling is that special effects have run away with the intelligence of the science fiction film and we really can expect only big, violent stupid science fiction films from this point forward. This theory seems to be one that everybody has noticed and everybody seems to agree upon. I would like to question if that is what is actually happening. Instead of special effects domination of the science fiction film, I would like to suggest that something different is happening. I think that science fiction is coming to dominate the spectacle film.

Science fiction films were a rarity before 1950. There are some notable classic films before 1950, such as METROPOLIS and THINGS TO COME. Occasionally films that were made for a horror audience would be more science fiction than horror. This would include films like THE INVISIBLE RAY. But it really took the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan to convince the general public that the changing world of science would have an effect on real people's lives. But already common since the silent days were the big spectacle films like THE MARK OF ZORRO and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.

From the beginning of the 1950s there were better and worse science fiction films. The first science fiction film of the 1950s was ROCKETSHIP XM--a quickie rushed through production to exploit the publicity of the upcoming DESTINATION MOON. The latter film, under the production of George Pal, made heavy use of visual effects. They became part (or perhaps always were part) of Pal's style in science fiction films. Pal completed his trilogy of science fiction spectacle with WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. These were not intelligently written films but their main entertainment value was in what they created for the eye. The special effects were not always perfect. But they were sufficient to advance the plot. It was much like watching a marionette show. You would not confuse what you were watching with reality. You had to suspend your disbelief. You occasionally had to do that even in the big budget adventure films like THE SEA HAWK. The great sea battles were frequently between rather obvious models. In the 1950s and 1960s though there was some overlap, notably from Pal, most of the spectacle films were historical epics, especially Biblical epics. Titles that come to mind are GIANT, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE VIKINGS, SPARTACUS, and BEN HUR.

Hollywood liked the spectacle film because you always could whip one up. You invested in enough Viking costumes and enough Viking ships and a story where two men who loved each other end up fighting to the death, and there you have a piece of history right on the screen called THE VIKINGS. You invested in enough togas and enough chariots and a story where two men who loved each other end up fighting to the death, and there you have a piece of history right on the screen called BEN HUR. Sometimes the stories were good, sometimes not. But you knew from the beginning about what the costs were. An expert could look at the script and make a back of the envelope calculation. You might be able to whip up a FORBIDDEN PLANET, but only if you had the "creatures from the id" concept. Of course, you could whip up some pretty bad science fiction films also. But for the most part the science fiction film was not ready for spectacles. You had a few decent science fiction films come out and a lot of spectacles, and rarely were they the same films.

But as the years went by the film industry had a bigger and bigger problem with the spectacle. History education was not what it once was. A filmmaker knew exactly what it cost to put a Viking on the screen, but was less and less sure that the viewer in the audience actually knew what a Viking was. Hollywood filmmakers see audience members saying, "Who are these Vikings? You know, they seem to be a lot like old-time Klingons." So the big, often dumb, spectacle films are moving from historical themes to science fiction ones. Science fiction is the mythology of our age.

I am sure no filmmaker sat down and said, "You know, I am really worried about what might happen if a giant mutant iguana should attack New York City." What the filmmaker more likely said was, "We have the special effects to do it. Let's show a giant monster trampling New York City." You still have a few decent science fiction films come out each year, films like GATTACA, THE TRUMAN SHOW, and DARK CITY. But a bigger and bigger piece of the spectacle output is also science fiction. Yes, we get our films like BRAVEHEART, our films like THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, but they are getting rarer. Instead we get some big science fiction spectacles--often dumb, sometimes not so dumb. So by proportion it looks like special effects are taking over the science fiction film. In fact we are getting about the same number of decent science fiction films that we have gotten for decades and the spectacle films that at one time would have been historical are now in large part science fiction. [-mrl]

PAYBACK (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Several months ago Porter, played by Mel Gibson, was double-crossed and left for dead after he participated in a robbery. He wants his $70,000 share and is willing to burn down or kick his way through anybody who stands in his way. He faces bigger and bigger enemies, who intend to stand between him and his money, but he is tougher than any of them. And he knows how to play hardball. It is obvious that whomever Porter faces is going to come out second. The fresh characters keep the film watchable, but even a large cast of veteran actors cannot make this remake of 1967's POINT BLANK believable. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

Several months earlier Porter (played by Mel Gibson) planned a clever robbery. He was supposed to get a cut of $70,000 as his share. Instead he got nothing but bullets in the back before being left for dead. As the film opens he is being treated by the just about the most nightmarish doctor imaginable. It is a painful scene to watch and will not be the last painful scene by a long shot. It was not easy getting back on his feet, but now he is and he wants his money. But the proceeds of the robbery went to the Syndicate, an organization not generally known for fast and friendly refunds. The harder Porter pushes for his money the harder he is pushed back by people who have the power to push back. But Porter is able to counter-punch for every punch. Along the way we get amusing portraits of hoods with sado-masochistic tastes, crooked cops, prostitutes with hearts of gold, prostitutes who are nothing but greed, and bizarre Mafiosi. This is a film with many bizarre characters, not all as funny as the trailers would have you believe.

PAYBACK had the potential to be a modern OUTLAW JOSEY WALES if the lead had held the film together. But Porter is just not a very well written character. Occasionally he is smart but more often he gets out of trouble by being lucky. Somebody shows up at just the right time, or he is just in the right place because he needed cigarettes. When someone tries to kill him with a bomb he knows to check just the right object in the room. Or over the telephone he hears just the right background conversation. And in a fight he hits harder and shoots straighter than anybody else. In fact he is saved so often by contrivances that the story becomes predictable and one rarely has to watch the film. We just know he will come out all right even if painfully the worse for wear. He is basically Superman and the bad guys do not know it yet, but they are way over-matched. The script was a cooperation between Terry Hayes and Brian Helgeland. Hayes wrote the excellent thriller DEAD CALM. Helgeland (who also directed) wrote the scripts for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and CONSPIRACY THEORY. He also did work on the script for THE POSTMAN. PAYBACK itself is a remake of POINT BLANK (1967). Here, however, their character's capabilities are just not very plausible and Gibson cannot carry the film the way Lee Marvin did.

Among the familiar faces in all-too-brief roles are William Devane, James Coburn, and Kris Kristofferson. Coburn just lights up the screen. All three are Syndicate members of various ranks. David Paymer is a small-time hood with the wrong friends in the police department. Maria Bello of ER plays Porter's friend and confidant. Ericson Core's camera-work keeps the colors muted, mostly in blues and grays. This has much of the emotional impact of black and white photography, without actually using black and white.

We have seen before the story of the good-guy crook who plays hardball with anyone who gets in his way. For better thrills, the viewer might want to rent the original POINT BLANK. This remake gets a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly.
                                   -- Voltaire