Solar Yaaaaaaawn Crisis

Solar Crisis is currently available on instant Netflix.

Solar Crisis

 

Solar Crisis (1990) – Rated PG-13

“In this sci-fi thriller set in 2050, a huge solar flare threatens to destroy life on Earth unless a band of scientists can save the day by dropping an antimatter bomb on the sun. To make matters worse, there’s a saboteur among their ranks.”

One Line Review: Plot good but actors wooden and script way too exposition heavy

One of the primary rules of storytelling is never tell, always show. Sadly, Solar Crisis tells us at every turn. Most of the first act is solid, boring exposition. The film begins with some very inexpensive looking scrolling text, letting us know that Earth is doomed and to buy war bonds now. Don’t strain your eyes though as a narrator reads those same words aloud.

Could the movie poster above be any more generic?

They waste a good cast. Charlton Heston, certainly a sci-fi veteran if ever there was one, has little to do here and just scowls and collects a paycheck. Jack Palance chews the scenery as a desert rat. Peter Boyle gives Jack a run for his money as Arnold Teague. The rest of the cast are stiff and wooden, including lead Tim Matheson.

Director Richard C. Sarafian so disavowed this mess that he uses the Alan Smithee credit. The plot desperately needs streamlining. As with the later projects Armageddon and Sunshine, apparently saving the Earth isn’t sufficient to capture people’s interest. They have to add on all sorts of plot devices, including the ubiquitous traitor in their midst.

While Solar Crisis is terribly boring, it was certainly way ahead of its time with greedy corporations ruling the Earth. Danny Boyle appears to have lifted whole sections of the plot for Sunshine (much as he combined Day of the Triffids with Night of the Living Dead to produce 28 Days Later). At least Sunshine was exciting and visually attractive.

People Watch: Yes, that is composer Paul Williams as the voice of Freddy the Bomb (I don’t make this stuff up). Horror icon Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) has a small part as Matthew.

Aliens Attack Again! Species II Edition

Apparently Species was not enough so here we have Species II – also available on instant Netflix.

One-line Review: More nudity + less coherence + James Cromwell = meh

Species II (1998) – Rated R

“This 1998 sequel follows Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard), an astronaut on his way back to Earth after a mission to Mars. It seems that Ross picked up something on his voyage: an alien virus that’s causing his DNA to mutate, transforming him into a randy crossbreed intent on world domination through procreation. Can authorities stop him before he mates with Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a government-created clone of her human-alien hybrid mother?”

For the (inevitable) sequel to Species, the directing reins passed to veteran TV director Peter Medak. Rather obviously Species II decides to explore the male side of the equation. This allows the film to shamelessly pander to male fantasy scenarios. Yes I know the first one did that but this practically starts with an impromptu threesome.

Sil has been recreated as Eve, a rather unfortunate name given that the object is to have her NOT be impregnated. Apparently women of Sil’s race are created through genetic engineering (thus allowing a succession of possible roles for Natasha Henstridge) but men are created through contact with Martian slime. Why was this slime on Mars just waiting for astronauts to encounter it? Well it seems an unnecessary stretch but whatever gets the ball rolling.

Marg Helgenberger and Michael Madsen return to collect paychecks, I mean reprise their roles, as Dr. Laura Baker and Press Lennox respectively. Dr. Baker appears to have left sense behind and Press Lennox is only in the hunt for the money (insert Madsen joke here). Natasha Henstridge returns as Eve, a clone of Sil that Dr. Baker made so she could prevent future disaster (:P).

Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina and Forest Whitaker do not return so to round out the cast we have George Dzundza as Colonel Carter Burgess Jr., Mykelti Williamson as astronaut Dennis Gamble and an always welcome James Cromwell as Senator Ross. Just as a model was chosen as an alien for Species, the other alien here is male model Justin Lazard. Unfortunately he doesn’t shine here in the way Henstridge did in the first film.

Marg Helgenberger must have had a return clause that said she would do the movie if she didn’t have to appear nude and I’m guessing that Natasha Henstridge agreed to but limited her nudity. To make up for that director Peter Medak has pretty much every other woman appear nude or semi-nude in the film. I was only surprised that the all-female staff of the research center didn’t have a shower scene.

Species was a matter of B-movie style over substance. Species II jettisons the fawning over Henstridge, much of the designs of H.R. Giger, and the little bit of coherence that Species had. If you thought the team hunting Sil was stupid, the team hunting Patrick is downright moronic.

Notes to director Medak: Quarantine – that word doesn’t mean what you think it means. Don’t make your justifications needlessly complicated. If you’re staging a manhunt, perhaps more than two people should be involved. At least I didn’t see the boom in this film.

A few hilarious lines of dialogue from Senator Ross to his son – “Not if I can help it. Now there’s no way that they can find you here. The property is still listed under your mother’s maiden name. And I sure as hell am not going to hand you over to those Pentagon b#$%^s. I am taking you into Johns Hopkins for treatment.” Wait let me see if I understand this – you are telling your son that this is the perfect place to hide but that you are taking him into Johns Hopkins. Seriously? Did no one actually read the script?

People Watch: Look for Peter Boyle in an all-too-brief role as Dr. Herman Cromwell. Comedian / Law&Order perennial Richard Belzer appears as the President.

Outland – Help! We are Surrounded week

This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Outland is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Outland (1981) – Rated R.

“Director Peter Hyams transplants High Noon to outer space in this sci-fi thriller starring Sean Connery as William ONiel, a cosmic lawman on a Jupiter moon outpost who conducts an inquiry after three miners go mad and die in rapid succession. But his probe does not sit well with the mine manager (Peter Boyle), who is boosting worker productivity through dangerous drugs … and he promptly dispatches a pair of thugs to get rid of ONiel.”

“Such a smart piece of equipment, and a wreck like me trying to run it.”

Obviously no discussion of Outland can start without pointing out that it is High Noon set in space. Well High Noon is certainly a good template for a movie and it works well here.

Peter Hyams both wrote and directed this movie. In a very interesting move that pays off, although the movie is science fiction, Hyams keeps it grounded in reality. There are no ray guns, aliens, or even incredible technology. The whole story takes place on a mining station and the actors, when needed, wear bulky spacesuits.

This grounding without flashiness allows this to be more of a character-driven drama than an action film. There are good action pieces here along with many demonstrations of what happens when a person is exposed to space but primarily this is a showcase for the actors.

Sean Connery overwhelms with charisma here and puts in a highly watchable performance. This is easily one of his best post-Bond roles. Peter Boyle plays the slimy boss of the mining operation. He is good but put in better performances in Joe and Young Frankenstein.

Wonderful character actor Frances Sternhagen actually gets the female lead here and steals many a scene from Connery. This is my favorite Sternhagen performance. It is a real credit to the screenplay that her doctor character could have been a man without there being much of a difference to the story.

Outland was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound. It used the extremely short-lived Megasound system, yet still another attempt at boosting the movie experience through improved surround sound. The Oscar went to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Outland does owe a bit to Alien. Part of the genius of Alien was that it showed that eventually regular Joes and Janes would be traveling in space. Primarily Outland is a mining operation – secondarily it is in space. Even the poster riffs on Alien, “Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man”. The art and set design is also reminiscent of Alien.

I recommend this intriguing blend of mystery, western, and science fiction, mostly for the performances of Frances Sternhagen and Sean Connery.

Trivia: The evil corporation here, Con-Amalgamated, also features in Peter Hyams Capricorn One.

People Watch: John Ratzenberger plays Tarlow here. His most famous role is of course Cliff in Cheers but did you realize that Frances Sternhagen plays his mom in Cheers?

Swashbuckler

Well on day 4 of Swashbuckler week, I might as well address the movie titled Swashbuckler. Swashbuckler is available on Netflix instant play.

Swashbuckler

Pass: Swashbuckler (1976) – Rated PG

“A high-seas adventure unfolds as buccaneer Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw) saves his pirate buddy, Nick Debrett (James Earl Jones), from execution and rescues distressed noblewoman Jane Barnet (Genevieve Bujold). The sword-wielding trio proceeds to Jamaica, where they try to free the islanders from the swaggering, dictatorial Lord Durant (Peter Boyle). In true swashbuckling fashion, romance and hidden treasure round out the story.”

While not staggeringly awful like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Swashbuckler is sadly not very good. James Goldstone’s direction is rather pedestrian. This is a shame as I’m very fond of the star Robert Shaw and Genevieve Bujold and James Earl Jones are both capable actors. Peter Boyle, normally quite a good character actor, is terrible here as the Governor. The music is loud and horribly intrusive – almost playing like a calliope every time swords are drawn.

While the idea of the pirate captain being the protagonist and the governor the villain is a common trope of pirate movies, here it is taken to ridiculous extremes. The film is meant to be rollicking fun but the pirates are completely Disneyfied – they never attack any ships, they attack the port only because one of their number is about to be executed, they steal booty that’s already previously been stolen (confiscated), and so on. Ned the captain even gives his opponent another sword when the opponent is disarmed.

The Governor is so evil that he cheerfully kills one of his sparring partners for scratching him with a sword and plays with ship models in the bath. He says at one point, “I serve one master. His name is darkness!” They even go so far as to have him be a pedophile – I suspect he may also hate puppies. Beau Bridges plays his second-in-command, an officer who makes a number of blunders named Major Folly (*groan*).

People Watch: Horror favorite Sid Haig plays a bald pirate and Anjelica Huston has a small part.