Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy.
With all of those elements involved, you would think the movie would at least be interesting, but that is not the case.
First off let me start by saying, with only a few exceptions, i am not a horror movie fan. I can list the handful of genre classics I think are worthwhile to give you an idea of what I think qualifies as a good horror film – The Ring, Alien and Aliens (of course), and a few others i can’t recall at the moment. Take my word, there aren’t many. What always disappoints me about horror films is the predictability of all the cliches used in the genre, and this film is no exception.
Despite having a cult following, and getting mixed reviews when it opened, this film directed by Toby Hooper is not a very good one and it was a box office bomb. Lifeforce is an example of what happens when your ambitions for a film exceed the writing, and I suspect, in this case, the budget. Relying on sensationalism and sexploitation to keep the viewer engaged, this film is a rag-tag collection of ideas that never meld into a solid story. I suspect the creators hoped that if they assembled enough stuff together in the film it might, hopefully, add up to something greater that the sum of its parts. They did not achieve that goal.
Written by Dan O’Bannon, the film is based on Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel, The Space Vampires. and features Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, and Patrick Stewart. (in a very undignified pre Jean-Luc Picard role) The production quality is questionable at best, and condemns this film firmly in the realm of “B” movies. The special effects, a combination of both practical and some sort of animation are sub-standard in their execution, and at some points laughable in their attempts to create a horrifying effect.
Lifeforce starts out well enough, we join a mission in space to observe Halley’s comet up close, and when the explorer’s shuttle, The Churchill gets close to their objective they discover an enormous mysterious ship of unknown alien design and origin. The ship is described as being 150 miles in length and 20 miles in circumference. The explorers decide to investigate and in the tradition of a well worn science fiction trope, they find something they do not understand and decide to return some samples to their ship, and eventually earth, without taking any precautions. In this case it is three naked humanoid people in clear cases in suspended animation, on a ship full of gigantic bat-like creatures. Apparently no one makes a connection between the two.
Later the shuttle Churchill is found drifting in orbit with what’s left of the crew all dead and evidence of a fire likely responsible for their deaths. The three humanoids remain undamaged. The three bodies are returned to earth. and things get complicated after that. Prior to being the subject of an autopsy, the naked female alien (Mathilda May) awakens and sucks the life out of a guard and escapes.The Lifeforce is transferred by kissing. She is truly gorgeous, and is shown walking around naked for awhile.
After the investigation commences regarding the shuttle spacecraft it is discovered that one of the astronauts, Carlsen (Railsback), has survived by use of an escape-pod that is found in Texas. He is flown to London to join the investigation, and it turns out some sort of telepathic connection has been established between him and the female alien that allows him to track her whereabouts. He joins the search for her along with a determined investigator Col Colin Caine (Firth)
The film continues to beat around the bush, in an attempt to milk the plot for all its worth, but eventually we learn the creatures on the ship are space vampires that may have been here before and are the basis for the vampire legends from the old days, The woman is apparently the queen of some sort of hive structured species, and she and the alien ship itself, which has arrived and established a geosynchronous orbit over London, are part of an alien scheme to collect the energy of humanity’s life-force (see title). The other aliens wake up too, but one is killed. As the movie continues it begins to make less and less sense, but at its core it revolves around the connection between Carlsen and the alien woman who has some sort of hypnotic control over the dismayed astronaut.
Meanwhile the situation has escalated throughout London, and people die in increasing numbers. It is announced there is a plague behind this and people go crazy, panic, riot, and all the stuff people usually do in these situations in movies like this. The life-force being taken is portrayed as animated streams of blue colored lights flying through the air. After being stabbed with a special sword, and just before he dies the remaining male alien reveals his true appearance as a giant bat-like creature like the ones seen earlier on the alien ship
The ending is as unsatisfying as the rest, as Carlsen, who has tracked down the hot alien woman to a cathedral in London takes the same special ancient sword and impales the alien woman and himself with it while they are both naked and making out in the cathedral. This apparently ends the crisis, and the alien ship is shown leaving its orbit of earth for deep space. There is no explanation if the threat has actually been ended or if the ship will return again at some point. Amazingly bad way to wrap it up.
This movie brings up the question of whether there is a need, or if it is desirable, for more science fiction movies for mature audiences that depict nudity and/or portray sexual acts, and whether it is a good thing. When is it cool and acceptable? When it is done like this without any real justification it just becomes a distraction (which is what I think they were hoping for). While i welcomed the chance to look at the very attractive Mathilda May sans apparel it just didn’t seem necessary or called for, except as a cheap, and lazy substitute for a good movie. Last week i wrote about Starship Troopers which also depicted nudity, and in that context the nudity seemed natural and not forced or used as a distraction. So, while I support the making of more “R” rated science fiction movies, I don’t support the depiction of nudity being used just as a gimmick to titillate or to distract from bad writing or some other shortcoming in a film.