Another year, another Oscar night with no Oscars. For me, anyway. M once again trudged through the snow to an Oscar party at her friend’s place across the street, and I settled in to watch some unfamiliar science fiction. This is my seventh year doing this, but only the second year of inviting people to join me. Despite some miserable road conditions and a lot of wind – blown snow, I had a pretty good turnout. Only a few people got stuck at home and couldn’t make the drive (which meant we were a little less crammed, haha, so silver lining I guess). First up?
There’s been an earthquake convergence! And a mixing of civilizations! And there’s a globe spanning wind so amazing that everybody uses planes to get around (and occasionally to hit people)!
This one was a lot of fun, if a little loose plotwise. Not that it lacked one, but it seemed to change direction a few times. Bad guys became good guys and criminals became innocents and antihero types became more anti than hero. I expect much of this was intentional, and in a more polished film it might have worked, but the characters in this one felt more like cookie cutters that wouldn’t keep their shape than fully realized individuals that couldn’t be so simply described. Six of one, I suppose.
Ben Kingsley was in this one, too, but his five minutes were almost up before we even recognized him, haha.
I feel like Slipstream reached a little beyond its grasp. What felt like inconsistent characterization was probably supposed to be complexity and growth. I liked that it tried to drop us into a world and then show rather than tell, but it felt more incomplete than expansive.
Mark Hamill had a much smaller role than we anticipated. Slipstream seems to be one of those movies where they sell it on the presence of a well known actor in a lesser role, without really making it clear that’s the case. I forgot Paxton was even in it, despite him getting first billing on the DVD case. Added an element of surprise, haha.
All that said, we liked it. It could have used a lot of improvement, but I don’t want to give the impression it was a tire fire. It probably tried to do a bit more than it really had the chops for, but overall it was a win. Which brings us to…
The Andromeda Strain 
In terms of quality, this was the big winner of the evening. A fallen satellite/probe has brought something home with it, and that something isn’t good for people.
A whole town is dead, along with everybody that’s tried to enter since the satellite crashed. An elite team of scientists is brought together, and they attempt to identify and nullify the threat using… science. This is literally a few people in a bunker running tests for the better part of its two-hour-plus runtime, and it is absolutely intense.
Every answer brings further questions, and immense preparation proves insufficient as the team races to determine what exactly the potential epidemic is, and how to prevent it from destroying humanity.
The characters are well developed and each bring their own beliefs and scientific prejudices into this overwhelming situation. I can see why The Andromeda Strain is still considered by some to be the benchmark for epidemic/outbreak films; it really does everything right.
In addition to the town full of dead people, there are a few animal tests undertaken as they investigate the pathogen that are a little horrific; the movie bears a PG rating but those situations could with the heavy realism make that seem a little light to me. Plus, I think you’d want to be a little older to really appreciate it, anyway.
The crowd thinned a little after this one, as we were already rolling into the wee hours of Monday morning, but a few of us stuck it out for our final flick…
TimeRider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann 
TimeRider was a nice light romp of a movie, following a motocross biker with mad skillz and no navigational talents that gets lost and drives through a secret time travel experiment. Oops! Poor Lyle winds up a hundred or so years in the past with no idea what’s going on. But, seriously, no idea. Everything’s filthy, he keeps getting shot at, and nobody understands half of what he’s saying, but he mostly just seems to think he’s lost and things are weird. At one point somebody specifically namedrops the very recent Civil War, and he just responds that what they’re saying doesn’t make any sense.
This one definitely benefits from a healthy suspension of disbelief, but we had at least some idea of that going in. Not all the details, but we at least knew we were going to watch a motocross racer go back in time for some reason, so we were more or less in an appropriate frame of mind. Peasants are terrified of him, a local girl takes a shine to him, and of course the outlaws he runs into decide they need to have his ‘machine’ for their very own.
Some US Marshals turn up hunting said outlaws, and Lyle teams up with them in an effort to save the girl and his motorcycle. Classic stuff. We get a number of shootouts, some clumsy romancing, and a subplot back in our own time involving the scientists trying to find a way to undo their mistake. TimeRider didn’t feel like it was trying to do anything too fancy (it is what it is, if you will), but it promised me some goofy time travel shenanigans and it delivered.
I wish the Adventure of Lyle Swann had felt a little more adventurous, but overall we all had fun with it, and that’s really all we were asking for.
And that’s the 2019 Oscar Night Scifi Superfest! Time to start planning for next year.
Well, last weekend was the Academy Awards, which of course means M went across the road for her friend’s Oscar party, and I sat down at home with a bunch of Science Fiction movies I hadn’t seen (generally because they were before my time). This year I started with Time After Time, and it was delightful!
This one’s been on my list for years, but kept getting pushed aside up make way for other movies. I’m super glad I finally at down and watched it. HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack the Ripper (David Warner) through time and space to 1970s San Francisco, and meets a lovely and independent young lady (Mary Steenburgen). Madcap adventure, romance, and comedy ensue. Wells is charming and wonderfully naive, Jack is cruel and confident, you get the idea. I totally recommend this.
It was so good that I decided I could go high risk with my next selection, and that is how I found myself watching Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn.
3d, PG, 1983. I almost feel like that’s saying enough. This is one of those post-apocalyptic road rage movies that were so prevalent in the wake of Mad Max. Mostly they just make you realize what a genius George Miller was/is. Everything feels slow and unimpressive, the vehicles look lame, you get the idea. Maybe that’s more accurate though… What are the odds that everybody working on a car after the apocalypse is some sort of monster garage hero? This one isn’t what I’d call actively bad, it’s just not at all good. The bad guy is filling a giant crystal with stolen souls, the good guy always leaves his helmet in the tank-car, there’s a girl and a scoundrel and an honorable subvillain. It checks all the boxes, but does so with a crayon.
The final movie in this 2017 Oscar trifecta was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and what a closer! Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a rockstar/scientist (and brain surgeon?) who uses a rocket car and a black box to punch a dimensional home through a mountain, inspiring an interdimensional alien exiled/trapped on Earth to rally his War of the Worlds compatriots and steal the black box, triggering an interdimensional incident that could result in global thermonuclear war. Along the way we meet Buckaroo’s fan club slash militia, a romantic interest that seems to be the long lost twin of hours ex-wife, and a series of ever-less useful bureaucrats and aliens. I definitely enjoyed it, but I think I mostly just love that it exists; it was a very different era for truly creative endeavours.
That’s it for now. I’ve gotta say, I’m truly excited to see what I dig up for next year.