The beginning of May brings with it six days of sci-fi films and panels at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, 2009 marking the eighth year of the festival. With a bunch of tickets bought in advance a few friends and I spend the best part of the bank holiday weekend watching new, classic and obscure sci-fi films whilst munching on popcorn.
The first film we plan to see is Eraser Children, the film festival happy to host its world premiere. Sadly, the screening is cancelled —the first cancellation in the festival's eight years—owing even more sadly to the effective destruction of the print. With it being the print of the world premiere one imagines that there weren't any other copies floating around and hopes it is nothing more than a temporary set-back for the film-makers.
With a couple of hours to kill before the next film and no alternative plans worked out we are happy to head in to the cinema anyway and see a film not on the festival's billing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Telling the story of where Wolverine comes from, his time spent in the military and being picked for special forces work, to getting his adamantium skeleton and claws, the film is an adrenalin-packed collection of spectacular action scenes and exciting fights strung together with the finest wisps of plot that look like they will snap under the pressure of any examination. It is an entertaining film, as long as there are no expectations of depth or coherency.
Returning to the film festival we amble over to our next scheduled screening to see The City of Lost Children, with Marc Caro introducing the screening. The appearance of the co-director was unfortunately beset by poor microphone placement, making everyone strain to hear what was being said, and the questions being asked by a podcaster who was either criminally unprepared or a poor interviewer. It is lucky that Caro was charismatic enough to elaborate on the questions and effectively guide the introduction himself. As for the film, it is the first time I have seen it, so I am pulled in to a dark world where children are being kidnapped to provide dreams for a clone who has no ability to do so for himself. The film is peculiar but quirky, with fabulous visuals and some dark humour.
We return the next day of the festival to see The Mother of Invention. Following Vincent Dooly as he strives to win the coveted young inventor of the year award in the last year he is eligible to compete the film takes a mock documentary approach as we are shown Dooly's incompetence at inventing and integrating in to everyday life. Despite being laughable there is a certain tragedy to the man that makes him a sympathetic character even in his most embarrassing moments, particularly when pitted against his arrogant and bland inventor nemesis. The Mother of Invention is a wonderfully funny comedy and although an occasional scene away from inventing can make it seem a little unfocussed it can be forgiven for allowing us a look in to more facets of Dooly's life and mind. A questions and answers session follows the film where we are presented with an informative and amusing recollection of anecdotes from the film's production by the cast and crew, who were present for the screening. It is interesting to hear about a couple of the inventions that were left out of the film, how they were nearly arrested with their main character dressed as a space cowboy, and baffling how they are still looking for a distribution deal. Hopefully The Mother of Invention will get a deservedly wider distribution than film festivals soon.
The Clone Returns Home is a Japanese film exploring the ideas of human cloning and its effects on memory and the soul. When an accident in space claims the life of an astronaut a clone of him is created. The procedure goes a little awry and the clone escapes the medical laboratory and starts a long journey back to his childhood home. A second clone is created and sent after the first. What happens then, and indeed before that point, is largely impenetrable, but it is compelling enough to try to decipher. At least, it is for most people, as a few actually walked out of the screening of this film. The programme draws a similarity to Solaris, which seems apt if only because of the extended scene lengths with little occurring. The Clone Returns Home is beautifully shot and is probably interesting, but I need someone to explain it to me.
With time pressing on a couple of the party head home leaving two of us to remain for an all-nighter. I was lucky enough to bag some tickets in the draw for the Star Trek All-nighter, with Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, Voyage Home, and Undiscovered Country played back-to-back from midnight until the early hours. It is perhaps the only draw I have participated in where I felt that I had both won and simultaneously lost in equal measures, but I am quite looking forward to at least a couple of the films on show. Wrath of Khan is still an excellent film, full of character conflict and excellent performances and still looks impressive enough for futuristic space drama. Both Search for Spock and Voyage Home create a seamless continuity across the sequels and offer a reasonable amount of entertainment once the ludicrous initial plot is glossed over. Search for Spock leads us to believe that Spock's body should have been returned to Vulcan, as it is the Vulcan way, but I am left wondering why present Vulcan crew member Lt. Saavik didn't consider mentioning this at all to anyone before or during the funeral aboard the Enterprise, whereas Voyage Home involves a bevy of absurd contrivances to get the crew of the Enterprise wandering around present-day San Francisco for some fairly shallow humour.
Both the third and fourth Star Trek films feel more like extended episodes, which is quite disappointing after the excellent second feature film, and when combined with the awful fifth film makes me wonder how the sixth was made. But, of course, the sixth film was made after the success of the Next Generation series to reconcile the changes in the time line between the new and old series and to create an opportunity for feature films starring the new cast. With Nicholas Meyer, director of Wrath of Khan, at the helm again the story and performances shine. There is plenty of animosity between the Federation and Klingon Empire and a real sense of hostility present amongst the diplomatic parties, leading to the betrayal and subsequent detective story intermingled with the incarceration and escape of Kirk. Undiscovered Country is another great film with a suitably climactic ending. I am glad I slept through the more boring parts of III and IV so that I could enjoy VI in all its glory.
Ending this year's film festival is a double-bill of 20th Century Boys parts one and two, a Japanese film about a book of prophecies some children wrote with innocent motives that was later subverted by members of the group to become terrorist aims by making the prophecies true, framing the original author as the terrorist leader whilst grabbing power for themselves. The second film is set fifteen years from the end of the first and shows how the cult started in the first has grown to be the sinister political power controlling Japan, with a second book of prophecies revealed to show a masterplan to further the destruction of mankind whilst turning the leader in to a deity. The structure of the first film can become a little confusing as time jumps from the future to the present and back to the past for a fuller narrative that involves the children writing the book of prophecies and seeing it being acted out years later, but intrigue and suspense is suitably built-up along with a real sense of paranoia concerning the cult and its actions. A third part to 20th Century Boys is being released later this year, which promises the cult trying to bring about the coming of the apocalypse and will definitely be worth looking out for at Sci Fi London's Oktoberfest.
It has been another good year for Sci Fi London with a vibrant atmosphere again and some great films that I perhaps would not have got to experience otherwise.