70MM Film Festival Fever

2001_70mm_frame

I am a streaming camera. So instead of the new STAR TREK (which I will see later this week) I went to a double feature of THE ROAD WARRIOR and LIFEFORCE at the beautiful Egyptian Theatre for the American Cinemateque’s “Bigger Than Life” 70mm Festival, a chance to see some great films in their proper ginormous aspect ratio. THE ROAD WARRIOR rarely screens in 70mm, so it was a must see and I haven’t in a theater since the 80’s. I did go opening weekend in the magical Summer O’ 1982. My brother and sister opted for POLTERGEIST in the theater next door, but I wanted to viddy this cool lookin’ apocalyptic action movie. I was familiar road_warrior_c_70mm_adwith MAD MAX from the supercool ads and Danny Peary’s CULT MOVIES, but had not seen it. I was geek enough to know the film was called MAD MAX 2 everywhere else in the world. And it was totally awesome of course, tho I could hear the screams from the audience next door. Imagine a movie weekend where your choice is THE ROAD WARRIOR or POLTERGEIST. Strangely, I never saw POLTERGEIST in the theater but I did see THE ROAD WARRIOR two more times.

Along with ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and BLADE RUNNER, George Miller’s film defined the pop punk look of the neon 1980’s, but Miller’s empathy and vision makes even these outlandishly dressed characters seem like an organic outgrowth of their dystopian culture. And the car chases are still fuckin’ badass. IMHO that motorcyclist flipping through the air is still the greatest stunt in the history of film. Alexander Coleman has a more in-depth and brilliant analysis here. The print had muted color but looked spectacular in 70mm splendor. Afterwards, we agreed it was an almost perfect film, with not a wasted moment (my only groaner is the tent flying off to reveal the copulating couple. Such an Aussie shot!). And if ever a movie made a star, it’s Mel Gibson in this, despite the fact he has about a minute of dialogue.

I was excited about seeing the next film in rare 70mm-6 Track glory, Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE from 1985, since it’s a not-terribly guilty pleasure that delivers about four or five genres in one bugfuck crazy big budget spectacle based on Colin Wilson’s more vaguely titled novel, THE SPACE VAMPIRES. After POLTERGEIST, Hooper got a plum three-picture deal with 80’s producer kingpins Golan/Globus and they gave him 25 million bank to shoot Dan O’Bannon and Dan Jakoby’s screenplay (which I would love to read). I didn’t see LIFEFORCE in the theater (as others did not too) but I was always fascinated by the photos in CINEFANTASTIQUE and FANGORIA magazine of shriveled vampiric zombies and the lovely perpetually naked Mathilda May.

1743LIFEFORCE was part of the 80’s sci-fi wave, which was not terribly successful as a whole genre despite the massive hits like E.T.; BACK TO THE FUTURE and the STAR WARS sequels. Films like BRAINSTORM (1983), EXPLORERS (1985) and MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985) never connected with audiences though a few become cult favorites. LIFEFORCE is a mixed bag of tricks, so you’re never quite sure where the plot is going. Basically, it’s about a space shuttle crew venturing into Halley’s Comet, where they find a massive ship inhabited by giant dead bats and a giant honeycomb filled with naked human bodies in glass chambers — and this only the first five minutes of the film. The rest of the story is about…space vampires. John Dykstra did the nifty special effects and there is some unique production design. The film plays out like ALIEN meets DOCTOR WHO meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with a patina of the Quatermass films. It’s alternately droll, gothic, scary, ominous and ridiculous.

Sixteen minutes were cut from the US release (reinstated on the DVD) so the film never develops a connected narrative, but who cares when you have Mathilda May walking nude through withering army troops. Tobe Hooper is a master of dread and there are plenty of those moments here. The film overdoses on the archetypal 80’s “blue lightning” opticals, but the sci-fi gothic vibe is palatable, a perfect Saturday night creature feature. After the film that my compadres loved, I spotted Tobe Hooper exiting the theater and would have chatted as I’ve met him a few times before (a cool humble cat) but I didn’t want to run after the guy. I just wanted to thank him for Mathilda May in 70mm.

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6 Responses to “70MM Film Festival Fever”

  1. Ah, I typed “Star Trek” into your search engine, hoping to read your opinion on the Abrams picture, but that led me to this, which was a truly terrific read, Christian. Great work. And thanks for the link plug~!

    The Road Warrior never gets old. It’s definitely a desert island film for me.

    Lifeforce… Interestingly, I’m going through Tobe Hooper at the moment (watched Eaten Alive for the first time a few evenings ago) and this is on my hit list. I cannot wait to see this!

  2. christian Says:

    I thought STAR TREK was fun summer popcorn fare but bad Trek, and I’m no trekkie, trekker, whateva.

    You’ll be dazzled by LIFEFORCE, especially since you get the extra minutes on DVD.

  3. BTW, the TCM Film Festival that starts this week will have a 70mm print for their showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Douglas Trumbull will be in attendance for the Q&A. I’m working that morning, but since it’s early on a Friday, the walk-up tickets should be available (pass members get preference). It’s at THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE, too. Thought you’d like to know, Christian.

  4. christian Says:

    AAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHH

    must. go. thanks.

  5. The AFI Silver last night (and tonight) showed a 70mm print of LIFEFORCE – and the sound is an utter knockout – not real bass heavy, but the treble and the loudness level are near assaultive. Considering this is a 35mm/70mm blowup the image seemed a bit on the hazy side, but the soundmix brought an intensity that really made this screening such a wild ride.

    • christian Says:

      Awesome. The film does have a great sound. It’s a goofy perfect sci-fi horror action hybrid film that will grow in estimation over the years.

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