The year was 1979. The immense success of Star Wars had caused a huge demand for space-operas. Battlestar Galactica was a big success on ABC but would still face cancellation due to its massive production cost. Star Trek- The Motion Picture was eagerly awaited by geeks all over the continent and Disney would get into the game with The Black Hole.
But beating them to the punch that year was a space opera from Canada. This, of course, meant it was treated like the Second Coming of Christ in Canadian media with all the usual pats on the back we Canadians like to bestow upon our native sons no matter how embarrassing those hyperboles will sound in retrospect. Yessir. Canadian media is like one of those new age parents that watches their precious moronic progeny smear feces all the walls and declares “Look at how creative junior is!”.
This was no silly film set in a future where people live in lunar colonies, travel around in spaceship and yet do most of their fightings with lances and garbage can lids. No sir! This was adapted from the novel by the great speculative-fiction author and historian H.G. Wells: The Shape of Thing to Come.
Never mind that the book had already been adapted to the screen by H.G. Wells himself; that movie entitled Things to Come was now dated and quaint. Or so we were told, repeatedly, by hack critics and entertainment writers working from press kit an press releases but with no recollection of the original.
And so it was with great anticipation that this young lad of 16 sat in the Snowdon theatre, ready to watch yet another addition to a growing genre. One that starred Barry Morse (of Space 1999) and Jack Palance (at the height of his “anything for a buck” years) no less.
And what did I get for my support of my national film industry? 98 minutes of sheer, intolerable pain!
Gone was the impressive scope of the book and original movie- which have a narrative spanning over a century. Gone was the visual flair of the original’s director – the legendary William Cameron Menzies, father of production design. Gone was the script by Wells!
What did we get instead? A movie set in a future where people live in lunar colonies, travel around in spaceship and yet do most of their fightings with lances and and garbage can lids. No kidding!
Palance delivered his lines with total disinterest. Morse looked like he wanted to cut one of his arms off and become a fugitive.
The special effects were obviously done by guys who had read the “do it yourself” articles on special-effects published in Starlog magazine. But what would be good advice for guys making Super-8 movies in their garage would not be so advisable to guys working 35 mm on a big screen. Case in point: spaceship design. Starlog cued you to the fact you could make pretty nifty spaceships by cannibalizing existing model kits. TSOTTC did exactly that using models we immediately recognized. “Oh, look! It’s Space Station K-7 from Star Trek!”
The pain was truly intolerable. The carboard dialogue and wooden acting were truly taking their toll. That is, until a sweet, sweet release of Über-cheesiness saved the day: When we got to the explosive climax, the embarassingly cheap planet made-out-of-a-beachball could be seen emitting smoke before exploding. At that point, convulsion was replaced by maniacal waves of laughter from the audience in attendance. It was one of the most satisfying group reactions I had ever felt in a cinema.
Later, that year, I was standing in line in front of the Palace for the first showing of Star Trek-The Motion Picture (that’s when being a geek meant getting there two hours early not two weeks) when one of my friends nudged me to draw my attention to the even bigger nerds who got here before us. They were snickering at letter published in Starlog. The writer was humorously describing the smoky climax of TSOTTC declaring the film to be funnier than Chevy Chase’s next film.
“Man, you should tell them it’s you who wrote that!” prompted my buddy.
“Nah!” I replied, “Let me savour the fact they have no idea I’m standing right behind them.”
It was my first taste of anonymity. It was sweet!
Pain Level: 8/10
Quality of Pain: “I smell toast!”