Sci-Fi Spectacular 2015

Movieside held its annual Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Patio Theater on April 18, 2015. (For a quick summary of the Spectacular, check my write-up of last year’s event.)

This year’s lineup was:

  • A Trip to the Moon and The Eclipse with live organ by Jay Warren
  • 20 Million Miles to Earth (Ray Harryhausen!)
  • Labyrinth (’80s awesomeness!)
  • The Fifth Element (’90s classic!)
  • The Hidden (director Jack Sholder in person!)
  • Screamers (star Jennifer Rubin in person!)
  • Alien (ultimate sci-fi horror!)
  • The Thing (John Carpenter masterpiece!)

Plus the usual assortment of short films, real trailers, and fake trailers.

And now, the movies! As usual, I apply standard star ratings to features and pro/con/mixed ratings to shorts. I’ve embedded YouTube videos of short films where I could find them.

A Trip to the Moon

Short film: A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902)

This ran at last year’s Spectacular and commented on it then. I still like it. Although I think a great alternate title should be Let’s Go Camping on the Moon in Our Powdered Wigs.

A scene from THE ECLIPSE.

Short film: The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon (Georges Méliès, 1907)

Much of a piece with A Trip to the Moon: both feature, not only anthropomorphized celestial bodies, but also old men with long, flowing beards, pointy hats and powdered wigs jumping up and down and gesticulating wildly at a telescope.

The most memorable sequence is, of course, the eclipse, which Méliès cast as an overt flirtation. I’m not sure if he meant the audience to interpret it as meaning the sun was performing anilingus on the moon, however.


20 Million Miles to Earth (Nathan Juran, 1957)

A delightful little creature-feature with stop-motion work by Ray Harryhausen. As with most Harryhausen films, the monster (properly known as the Ymir, although never referred to as such in the movie) has as much if not more personality than the human cast. He’s actually kind of cute after he first hatches, and Harryhausen and his team do a great job of communicating that the little guy is, above all, terrified.

It’s very creaky by today’s standards–check out that overcooked performance by that kid–but if you can get into its headspace, you’re in for a treat.


Short film: Lessons Learned (Toby Froud, 2014)

Toby Froud’s main claim to fame is that he played the MacGuffin in Labyrinth–that is, Sarah’s baby brother. He’s gone on to work in the special effects field as an adult. This puppet-based fantasy short (produced by Jim Henson’s daughter Heather) is his first directorial effort. It’s very good, with its design apparently chiefly influenced by The Dark Crystal (with a bit of Labyrinth thrown in for good measure). It doesn’t seem to be available for streaming on the web, though.

A scene from LABYRINTH.

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986)

I know I’m gonna get lynched for this, because Labyrinth is one of the most beloved of the ’80s young-adult fantasy/science fiction/adventure classics, but…

By and large it does not resonate with me. It’s a fairy tale and a coming-of-age story, and I’m not much into either genre. David Bowie does fine with the stilted fairy-tale dialog, but Jennifer Connelly consistently comes off like she’s reading her lines from a storybook. The constant attention Bowie’s costume draws to his package gives the film exactly the wrong kind of camp value.

As for the songs, well…look, even Bowie considered this period to be his creative nadir and the songs illustrate why.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching it, because I do, but it’s almost entirely for the creature work and design. And, yes, for the ballroom sequence. But I’m resigned to the fact that I’m never going to love it.


The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997)

There’s a class of movies that are well-regarded but are so over-stylized that I can barely watch them: Army of Darkness and the Coppola Dracula are two of them. Here’s another one.

The Fifth Element sums up why I don’t like Luc Besson’s filmmaking. It’s garish, obnoxious, and goes on at least a half-hour longer than it should. It takes too long to introduce Leeloo, and once Besson does introduce her, any scene that doesn’t involve her seems like a waste. Unfortunately, she’s sidelined for much of the final act. The production design literally gave me a headache.

Chris Tucker, then at the height of his Chris Tucker-ness, gets too much screen time considering how irrelevant his character is to the plot (the Wikipedia synopsis of the film only mentions him once, in passing, towards the end). Gary Oldman is a great actor when he’s invested in the material, but he doesn’t seem very interested here, and his performance is uneven, to say the least.

That’s not to say it’s a complete waste. The dialogue bursts with wit. Milla Jovovich turns in the best performance and proves to have some amazing comedic chops. Ian Holm does a good job as well.

Tone down the brashness and entirely remove Chris Tucker and you might have a film worth watching. On the other hand, considering the amount of cheering and laughter that came from the audience, I’m clearly in the minority, so make of that what you will.

Fake Trailer Competition

The last couple of fake trailer comps have been on the weak side, but this year’s was pretty strong. The entries were:

  • Plan B from Outer Space (Kinda Cool Productions)
  • The Invisible Curie-osity (
  • Terror House
  • At Your Service (James Fazaaro)
  • Debt

The Invisible Curie-osity won, of course, because Zoran Gvojic is a freaking genius.

Short Film Program

After that was another slate of short-shorts. I didn’t catch the names of a lot of these, so I apologize if I get anything wrong.

A scene from THE HIDDEN

The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

We skipped The Hidden and went to dinner instead. I was a bit disappointed in that, because I haven’t seen it since it was first released on VHS. If I remember correctly, it’s the first time I registered Kyle MacLachlan in anything. On the other hand, we were all really hungry, and the food at the Mexican restaurant across the street was excellent. I can always catch up with The Hidden later.

Jack Sholder was doing his Q&A at this point. I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Short film: The Underpass (David Schmidt)

David Schmidt has been another reliable supplier of short content to Movieside events, having contributed two excellent fake trailer contest entries (Screams on Planet Zero and House on Nightmare Lane) along with the excellent, non-comedic Idol Threats.

The Underpass is also quite good, involving a small “memorial” of candles and photos of lost people that sometimes appears and sometimes doesn’t. There is, of course, a spooky secret behind it. I really enjoyed this one, very creepy and atmospheric.

A scene from SCREAMERS

Screamers (Christian Duguay, 1995)

Boilerplate SF B-movie. It’s based on a Philip K. Dick story (“Second Variety”) but explores none of the themes PKD was known for, and replaces the plot with a standard post-cyberpunk corporations-at-war plot. It was directed by Christian Duguay, who also did the Scanners sequels, co-written by Dan O’Bannon–the later, embittered O’Bannon, not the young, vital O’Bannon. (Although co-star Jennifer Rubin, who introduced the movie, kept saying Duguay wrote the screenplay with star Peter Weller, so make of that what you will.) None of these are particularly strong indicators of quality.

But it’s also fun in a way that such things used to be before the Asylum and SyFy got a hold of the subgenre and made it synonymous with bullshit like Sharknado and Mega Shark vs. Washed-up Teenybopper Pop Star. Peter Weller and his crack team of people I’ve never heard of before deliver every line through clenched teeth. Weller’s actually pretty good, as is Rubin, but most of the others run the gamut from “bad” to “awful” without ever going into so-bad-I-can’t-watch-it territory.

Hardly seminal but a perfectly acceptable time-waster.

As with Jack Sholder, I didn’t pay much attention to the Jennifer Rubin Q&A.

A scene from ALIEN

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

I’ve watched this movie about two dozen times since I discovered it about thirty years ago, and every time I watch it, I’m struck by two things.

First thing: the chestburster scene will never fail to make my teeth shake in their sockets until the day I die.

Second thing: in the Alien, H.R. Giger managed to create something that is scary because of its obvious sexuality and the essential wrongness of same. It’s both phallic and vaginal, and yet not exactly hermaphrodic in the way we’d understand that.

A lot of people contributed heavily to the success of Alien: Ridley Scott, the phenomenal cast, O’Bannon and Shussett, Giler and Hill, Terry Rawlings, Chris Foss; I don’t want to underplay any of them. But I don’t think we’d remember Alien the way we do if it hadn’t been for Giger. Without him, it might have been a great film, but it wouldn’t be one of the all-time greats.

*   *   *

I started to fade a bit early–during Screamers, to be honest–and I had to force myself to stay through Alien. I’m glad I did, of course, because that’s one of my absolute favorites.

Overall I was a bit disappointed with this year’s lineup, but them’s the breaks; you can’t always like every single film you see at a movie marathon. And at any rate, Labyrinth and The Fifth Element have followings even if I’m not a fan.

At one point Rusty Nails mentioned having a horror tripe-feature in the works which hopefully means another edition of Terror in the Aisles. We haven’t had one of those since the legendary Devil in My Ride/Suspiria/Black Cat screening in November 2013. And hopefully we’ll have another Drive-In Massacre in August.

Until the next event, seeya later!

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