Happy Armistice Day!
As you’ll probably notice, “The Saturday Afternoon B-Movie Crapfest” is now simply the “B-Movie Crapfest.” This is because producing seven days worth of material, plus current show reviews has frankly burned me out. So I’m doing this feature when possible, and it’ll run on weekdays now. Just so you’ll know.
This movie made a huge impact on me when I was twelve. I saw it several times in the theaters, conning all my local adult relatives in to taking me at one point or another. I also attempted to con Kim Dipple into going with me, since I had a massive crush on her at the time, but no dice. She also wasn’t interested in going to see Xanadu with me (That was probably for the best), so my first date would have to wait for Christine Holden and “Flash Gordon” in 1980.
I didn’t get any face.
But as sad as that is, this movie held up better than I’d expected it to. It’s not great by any means, but it’s got a nice look and feel to it, some neat music, and it’s got a sort of timeless sixties feel to it, which was more than a decade out of date when it was made, but is no less timeless for its anachronism.* I’d been holding off watching it for a while for fear it would be utterly embarrassing, but it was a pleasant, occasionally moody almost-gothic doddle.
In one of his later reviews, Philip K. Dick referred to this movie as “Crap,” though he hadn’t seen it, and was going by reputation. Certainly he wasn’t wrong - I mean, hell, I’m covering it in “B-Movie Crapfest” for Pete’s sake, the title isn’t at all inapt - but it’s interesting that this movie actually touches - clumsily - on some of his own themes. Frankly, what this flick needed to make it a kickass cult film as opposed to a ‘what were they thinking?’ Disney oddity is Phil. If you kept exactly this same story, but had someone like him doing a final pass on it, it would’ve been brilliant.
PLAY BY PLAY
First we get this gorgeous, moody, funereal theme music by John Barry
After which we find the USS Palomino, a scientific scoutship heading back to earth in the year 2130. They’ve been out there 547 days, and are anxious to get home. The crew consists of Captain Dan Holland, Lt. Charlie Pizer, Dr. Kate McRae, Dr. Charles Durant, Harry Booth, a grizzled old reporter that you just know has a bottle of bourbon stashed somewhere, and V.I.N.C.E.N.T, the obligatory cute robot.
En rout they find a huge black hole, in all it’s really super-cool Technicolor glory. They’re about to simply move on when they discover a ship near the hole. It’s huge, and it’s not moving, which is seemingly impossible. They quickly identify it as the USS Cygnus, an American starship that went missing, presumed lost, twenty years earlier. They go in for a closer look, but run into trouble with the increasing gravity and take some damage. They reluctantly dock with the Cygnus, which suddenly comes alive while they were passing.
To their surprise they find the ship abandoned aside from some robots. Two kinds: stormtrooperish/Cylonish robots, and some gothic mirror faced (read: cheap) ones. Eventually they come to the massive control room, where they meet professor Hans Reinhardt, commander of the expedition. The Cygnus was ordered home twenty years prior, but never showed. Kate’s father was on the ship, conveniently enough for the plot. Reinhardt’s right-hand monster is a floating killbot named “Maximillian.”
Reinhardt tells them they took damage when making a pass by this black hole, and couldn’t leave, nor could they contact earth, nor receive messages. Reinhardt sent the crew back to earth in the lifeboats. He doesn’t even bother to feign emotion when he hears they never made it. He explains that he’s built an army of robots to fix and man the ship, and they’ve been doing antigravity research, with the intent of going into the black hole, through it, and coming out the other side into whatever awaits. Dr. Durrant is pretty excited by this, Booth - who casually knew Reinhardt years ago - is amused by it, everyone else regards it as crazy talk.
Holland et al decide to fix the ship and get out of there since something clearly isn’t right. Reinhardt accepts this, and even asks Durrant to take his notes back home just in case he doesn’t survive this