Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Shape of Things To Come (1979): A Review

Shape of Things to Come (1979)
Directed by: George McCowan
Starring: Barry Morse, Jack Palance, Nicholas Campbell and Anne-Marie Martin

Pinpointing the precise nadir of the Canadian film industry can be a difficult task. There are quite a few points from which to choose, but 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come must certainly be in the top 5.

Ostensibly an adaptation of the HG Wells’ 1934 novel of the same name, the film has no real connection to the source material other than both stories are set in the future. In this future, mankind lives in domed lunar colonies and requires a drug (Radic Q2) from planet Delta 3 to combat radiation poisoning.

The tales focuses on two scientists; a good one played by Barry Morse and an evil one played by Jack Palance. The rest of the cast consists of a bunch of vapid young actors, save for Anne-Marie Martin (Sledgehammer!) and Nicholas Campbell who, apparently, was once actually young. I’ve got the feeling they only signed Palance for 5 days of shooting, as he might only have 12 minutes of screen time through the whole movie.

Toronto residents will get a kick out of seeing Ontario Place standing in for the supposedly futuristic New Washington. Things look pretty serene, but not for long. Jack Palance has taken over Delta-3 and has sent a cargo vessel carrying a shipment of Radic Q2 crashing through the protective dome. This sounds much more dramatic than it actually is: the special effects budget was obviously redirected to hair care products, diminishing the impact of this terrorist act.

Palance’s demands are pretty simple: put me in charge as ruler or you all die. There’s a lot of diplomatic mumbo jumbo that further slows down an already glacially paced narrative. The stoic Barry Morse, looking somewhat lost in these sub-Space:1999 sets decides to put together a small group, including one of cinema’s most annoying robot sidekicks, to defeat Palance.

Their high speed trek through space is a lesson in how not to portray hyperspace. Anyone could have create the same effect with a some fishing line, a toy Slave-One or Bird of Prey and some 70s wallpaper. There’s also a wonderfully cheesy bit in which Campbell and Martin ‘portray’ weightlessness. Along the way, they get to explore some Ontario countryside, drive an old Jeep and run into the some children with radiation poisoning, which apparently manifests itself by producing oatmeal on the skin.

Meanwhile… the group deposed by Palance does its best to get back into his compound. This entails running through some fake looking tunnels and the boiler room of some random building while avoiding Palance's army of robots. The robots are both the best and worst thing about this movie. They are the kind of robots you built with your friends when you were 12. Of course, you didn't take advantage of tax breaks and make a movie with them.

The climatic battle looks like something out of a LARPing For Beginners video, and Campbell and Palance fight over who gets to wear a highly coveted protective fishbowl over their heads. Mercifully, it eventually comes to an end.

Make or Break: It’s a break, and it’s really the unbelievably bad decision to make a bid budget space opera with $25,000 (Canadian). The whole thing looks atrocious and viewers expecting the poster must have been terribly disappointed. Canadian cinema has often excelled at portraying small ideas on the screen. You cannot do a dumb, action-oriented science fiction movie with some rakes and flexible PVC hose.

Most Valuable Thing: I want to say Palance soooo badly, but he was really sleepwalking here. I will actually go with Anne-Marie Martin as she was the only person on-screen with even a hint of charisma

Score: 1.5 out of 10. It's dreadfully boring and completely charmless, but there are a few 'so bad it's good laughs' (the giant projection of Palance is a hoot) scattered throughout the film. I only wish there were more. The script is wordy, the acting wooden and the direction is almost non-existent. This production makes The Starlost look like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1 comment:

  1. I was actually lucky enough to see a 35mm print of this last year and your comments are spot on. I'll admit to being as surprised as yourself that Nicholas Campbell wasn't born grizzled and wrinkled, and it's somehow so very, very Canadian in the way that only genre pictures made in the late 70s/early 80s can really be.