Friday, October 18, 2013

British Z-grade science fiction

I've recommended some British made science fiction films from the 1960s before. Five Million Years to Earth isn't terrible, although it's implausible. They Came From Beyond Space, which earned a brief mention, is terrible, but is so bad it's hilarious. And then there's Spaceflight IC-1, which is airing tomorrow at 6:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel, with several more airings the rest of October. This one actually has a more reasonable premise, but the execution is amazingly bad.

The basic idea is that at some point in the not too distant future, Earth is going to face problems with nathure that are ultimately going to doom life as we know it here, so humanity is going to have to find another planet suitable for living. Well, actually, that planet has been found, but the distances of interstellar space are such that it's going to take 25 years to get there. So some manned rockets have been sent to the planet, dubbed "Earth-2". The ships are manned by a skeleton crew which looks to be about a captain and four married couples, and a child or two. There's also one disembodied head running a computer, and a bunch of people in suspended animation.

Now, of course, you know that the 25-year voyage isn't going to be a piece of cake, and that's where a movie like this would have the potential to get interesting. At the time the real action of the movie begins, such as it is, the crew is a year into the voyage, and have just received their orders for Year Two. Why this stuff wouldn't have been planned before liftoff, so that the people taking the jounrey could go into it with eyes fully open is a logical question, but then we wouldn't necessarily have a movie. Anyhow, the orders are apparently going to cause a problem. But there are some other, more pressing problems. The ship's doctor, Dr. Thomas (John Cairney, part of a cast of no-names) and his wife Helen (Linda Marlowe) are at odds whether to have a child, and over the course of her illness, which is ultimately going to kill her if she doesn't get back to earth. (Or, I may be conflating two couples here. Both of these are conflicts, but it's tough to keep track of what's going on with whom.) Oh, and the captain has, over the course, of the year, proved himself to be a martinet. To be fair to Captain Ralston (Bill Williams), a ship in space is even a more unforgiving environment than a ship at sea.

The good doctor leads a mutiny, but it fails when one of the kinda neutral officers lets the captain out of his cabin confinement, and the captain physically assaults the doctor to regain control of his ship. The penalty for mutiny is death, but there's only the one doctor on board, so the captain can't sacrifice him. Or can he? There's another doctor in suspended animation, and the active doctor is ordered to re-animate that one, at which point the execution can be carried out. Of course, the re-animation procedure is risky and not fully tested, something you'd think they'd all have figured out before liftoff....

There is actually material with potential in Spaceflight IC-1, but the execution is terrible. Much of the action is never really explained well enough to dispel the viewer's confusion. The ship is both incongruously spartan and spacious: the exterior establishing shots are beyond low-budget, while the interiors are much too spacious. Worst of all might be the direction, which looks as though it would have fit in with those stagy early-1930s talkies, with the exception that there are more close-ups here. This only compounds the movie's other problems. Ultimately, the movie isn't very good, and in a rather boring way to boot. The only thing in its favor is that it ends mercifully quickly.

As far as I know, Spaceflight IC-1 has not received a DVD release.

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