Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 22, 2011

Movie Mayhem: SF36 Edition

SF36I had a blast at the Boston Science Fiction Movie Festival ‘Thon. I managed to stay awake for close to 22 of the 24 hours of the ‘Thon, and saw a great mix of sci-fi movies. The company was excellent – both old and new friends, and fellow marathoners. Coffee flowed freely into my ‘Thon mug, and a steady diet of Munchies and popcorn and Skittles kept me sustained throughout. The Somerville Theater was an excellent venue, and its staff and the organizers of the ‘Thon were awesome. Many thanks to all of them. I have heard that around 500 people attended the ‘Thon, but it never seemed crazy or unorganized (in a mass of people sense – the audience was certainly crazy!) and there was never a line for the ladies bathroom (not true of the mens room, sorry boys!) I’m pretty determined to go to SF37, and can see myself becoming a yearly attendee. Yup, it was that awesome.

And now, the movies:

The ‘Thon kicked off in the perfect way for me by showing Star Trek (Dir. J. J. Abrams. Writ. Roberto Orci and Alex Zurtzman. Stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin. USA, 2009.) I have seen it many times, but never watched it on the big screen. So fantastic. All those lens flairs were twice as brilliant, and I even picked out some never before seen ones! (Sorry, that’s only funny if you’ve watched the ‘making of’ stuff on the DVD…) Having watched this multiple times with only CP, it was great to watch it with a larger audience and find that there are other people who giggle at odd moments. That was of course one of the great things about the ‘Thon – sharing the experience with so many other people.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the SeaDir. Stuart Paton. Based on the novel by Jules Verne, as well as Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. Stars Allen Holubar. USA, 1916.
This was a privilege to watch and one of the reasons why events like the ‘Thon are so worth going to. While this version of TTLUS is available on DVD, it was amazing to watch it on the big screen. The ultra-rare, 35mm print was in really good shape, and there was live music provided by Jeff Rapsis. The movie itself is kind of incomprehensible at times, and Capt. Nemo is played by a fellow in black face! There were rather long sections of underwater scenes that were shot in a specially rigged tank in the Bahamas, which were kind of cool, but black and white underwater photography gets boring in large doses… Festival organizer Garen Daly got up on stage after the film and pointed out an important fact though, which is that for its time, this 1916 film was for its audience like Avatar was for us – cutting edge, with incredible special effects (not that I’ve seen Avatar, actually, but so they tell me!) A proper understanding of this film definitely enhances the viewing experience, and I did enjoy it overall. I was impressed with Jeff Rapsis’ score, and found this blog post of his about it quite interesting. I concur with the Philip Glass feel of the underwater music!

metropiaMetropiaDir. Tarik Saleh. Writ. Stieg Larrson, Fredrik Edin, Martin Hultman, and Tarik Saleh. Stars Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis. Sweden, 2009.
I’ve had this on my Netflix list for awhile, but I was glad I hadn’t watched it yet – it was great to see it on the big screen. It’s an odd movie – animated in a distinctive style unlike anything I had seen before. It is set in 2024, in a smoggy, financially failing Europe where people scuttle, rat like, from the extensive underground metro to their tattered homes. There is an average Joe (well, Roger) who starts hearing voices and gets swept up into a conspiracy, led on by a mysterious and beautiful woman. Somewhat hard to follow, with incredibly slow pacing, it was nevertheless quite interesting and technically intriguing.

Battlestar GalacticaDir. Richard Colla. Writ. Glen Larson. Stars Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Herbert Jefferson Jr., and Jane Seymour. USA, 1978.
I mentioned in my last post that I had seen only two the films that were going to be screened at SF36, and aside from Star Trek, this was the other one. I found it on VHS at a library book sale when I was a teen and for some reason I grabbed it. It is the feature film version of the TV pilot that launched the 1978 show and inspired the more recent TV version. We watched it in Boston via its last remaining 35mm print. Aside from being excessively loud, it was fun to see.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The MovieDir. Jim Mallon. Writ. Joel Hodgson and Michael J. Nelson. Stars Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, and Jim Mallon. USA, 1996.
I was happy to have such a large audience to watch this with, since in the past I have groaned and squirmed through the small amounts of the TV show that I’ve been able to tolerate. The appreciative audience I had with me definitely improved the experience, and I laughed all the way through the tale of spaceship-imprisoned Mike and his nutty robots, forced by the evil Dr. Clayton to watch the worst cinema possible in hopes of driving them mad. The terrible cinema featured was This Island Earth, a mid-1950s affair ripe with interplanetary warfare, earnest scientists, weird aliens, and a confusing plotline – and plenty of irreverent jabber from Mike and his robots too (which competed against the SF36 audience back-talking!)

Interspersed between the feature length films were an aluminum hat contest (which the nine year-old in the killer bunny outfit won,) an alien mating cry challenge (eeeewww, awkward!!) a trivia contest, and some short films – Superior Firepower (2010, Canada – an odd video game saga, which I was completely ‘eh’ about), Second Unit (2011, Canada – not sci-fi, but the last known cameo of Forrest J. Ackerman), and F**K Me, Ray Bradbury (2010, USA – which was…hilarious. Watch it here, but…er…be prepared. The title says it all!)

the hostThe HostDir. Joon-ho Bong. Writ. Joon-ho Bong, Wan-jun Ha, and Chul-hyun Baek. Stars Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Doone Bae, and Ah-sung Ko. South Korea, 2006.
Over ten and a half hours into the ‘Thon, and I was nowhere near falling asleep. This movie was an enormous shot of adrenaline, practically like having an IV drip stabbed into my arm. From the shadowy (and toxic) waters of the Han River a slithering monster fish thing comes splashing to shore, spreading havoc, terror, death, and possibly disease. A bumbling but earnest father and his equally dysfunctional family put aside their differences when his daughter is carried away, and join forces to save her. What follows is one of the most comically tragic quests I’ve ever seen. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking, while also being a lively satire. There were moments that made me jump several inches out of my chair, and ones that induced “Ack, gross!!”, and even a few “I can’t watch this!” spots. I liked this one quite a bit.

The Quiet EarthDir. Geoff Murphy. Writ. Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence, and Sam Pillsbury. Based on the novel by Craig Harrison. Stars Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, and Pete Smith. New Zealand, 1985.
The audience that I hung out with for 1440 minutes was the type that shushed their way through this movie – squawking seagulls got shushed, ringing telephones got shushed, the very limited cast got shushed, etc. It was funny, but…you had to be there. The film itself was pretty good, and the amazing thing is that Bruno Lawrence was able to carry the film for the entire first half, as he discovered that he was possibly the only survivor of a government project gone remarkably wrong. He awakes one morning to a world entirely devoid of people. They have vanished, leaving cars abandoned in the middle of roads and warm blankets humped up over empty places in beds. Fearing that his own scientific work may have been part of the disaster, he goes through stages of frantic enthusiasm for his sudden freedom, and utter madness that leaves him wandering around in a woman’s slip believing that he is God. He eventually finds a few other survivors, and they attempt to cope with their situation and get along. A quiet (shush!) and interesting film.

monstersMonstersWrit. & Dir. Gareth Edwards. Stars Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. UK, 2010.
This was my favorite film of SF36. Several years after NASA accidentally lost alien samples to the jungles of Mexico, an American journalist grudgingly agrees to escort his boss’s daughter to the U.S. border through the ‘infected zone’ – a fenced, walled, and rigidly patrolled area where the alien contamination has bred dangerous monsters. Difficult travel and the all too likely threat of being killed by these monsters makes a tenacious bond form quickly between the two. Not the most original story as it appears on paper, but the improvised filming locations throughout Mexico and Central America that Edwards and his crew used are breathtaking, and the natural delivery of the dialog lends an almost documentary feel to it. McNairy and Able pull off simple but striking performances. The alien creatures are scary and brutally dangerous, yet there are moments of strange beauty, and a sense of wonder infuses the story with something that makes it so much more than just a monster movie. I highly recommend this.

VideodromeWrit. & Dir. David Cronenberg. Stars James Woods and Deborah Harry. Canada, 1983.
I purposely chose to nap through this movie, which began at the late/early hour of 4:25 a.m. I watched over half of it before I actually fell asleep though, and woke intermittently throughout the second half so I still feel like I got a good sense of the film. It was totally bizarre and extremely icky. A spooky imagining of the reality TV craze (circa 1980s), it follows the adventures of a cable TV programmer who hunts down ‘real’ sex, torture, and murder for his viewers – only to find that the low budget, pirated show called Videodrome that has him hooked also seems to have genetically-altering consequences. The pornographic qualities of the film and the fleshy gory stuff were equally gross. Yikes. I don’t feel compelled to seek out anything else from Cronenberg, ever.

Lady TerminatorDir. H. Tjut Djalil. Writ. Karr Kruinowz. Stars Barbara Anne Constable, Christopher J. Hart, and Claudia Angelique Rademaker. Indonesia, 1989.
I actually planned to sleep during Videodrone so that I would be more awake for this movie, but that didn’t really work out. I dozed throughout it, more as a way to cope with the sheer insanity of the movie than anything else. Although it had comic moments, especially when it mimicked scenes from The Terminator, overall it was utterly bad. In addition to its lady terminator plot, there was an ancient evil queen, an anthropology student, ridiculous nudity, yucky sex, spraying blood, and the most horrific electronic music. It was excruciatingly loud, but even so I managed to retreat into sleep in order to get away from it. Phew. It’s saving grace was that it was pretty short!

The Last Woman on EarthDir. Roger Corman. Writ. Robert Towne. Stars Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and Robert Towne. USA, 1960.
Having gotten my naps in, by 7:30 a.m. – hour 19 or so of the ‘Thon – I was ready for more. This movie was remarkably soothing after the trauma of Lady Terminator. Unsubtly, it began with a rooster fight in Puerto Rico, and then continued to the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust which left two men squabbling over what could be the last living woman in the world. Actually a rather decent movie.

mothraMothraDir. Ishiro Honda. Writ. Shinichi Sekizawa, Shinichiro Nakamura, and Yoshie Hotta. Based on the novel by Takehiko Fukunaga. Stars Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Jerry Ito, Emi Ito, and Yumi Ito. Japan, 1961.
This was another treat – a rare subtitled print of the original Japanese cut. Not that I knew the difference, as this was also my introduction to Mothra and its like. I liked the model sets, with all their toy cars and tanks, etc., and the monster that was an articulated model and not a guy in a suit – again, cutting edge stuff for its time. The plot is nutty: after two tiny, beautiful, fairy-like girls are found on a mysterious island, a greedy nightclub owner steals them. The island’s tribe of natives, who revere the girls, wake Mothra – a giant and hugely powerful caterpillar who later transforms into an immense moth – and send her to rescue the girls. Havoc ensues as Mothra destroys everything in her wake (without malice, in my opinion – she’s just way too big to navigate city streets without knocking buildings over!) I will probably watch more of Honda’s films that feature Mothra, when the mood strikes.

ZonadDir. John Carney. Writ. John Carney and Kieran Carney. Stars Simon Delaney. Ireland, 2009.
The last film of the ‘Thon was a chipper little one – stupidly funny, and we all had just enough brain cells left to find it extra hilarious. An ‘alien’ named Zonad appears in a small Irish hamlet, where he quickly wins over the population with his red leather suit and tales of space travel, and proceeds to happily take advantage of free food and lodging and his popularity with the local school girls. Part parody, it is a story about fitting in, making friends, telling the truth, helping others, and enjoying life. Quite delightful, especially after 23+ hours of movie watching, minimal sleep, and copious amounts of coffee!

And that was SF36. As the stamp on my hand says (still – it won’t wash off!), it was ‘Outta This World!’ I recommend the experience. I’m going again next year – now, who’s with me? 🙂


  1. wow! that sounds like it what a crazy fun experience… will have to check a few of these out. i am with you on cronenberg: we had to watch eXistenZ for Pop Culture–bleh; and while Eastern Promises and History of Violence were really well done, they were a one watch deal.

    great post, thanks for sharing!

    • Oh, ack! I totally didn’t connect Cronenberg with History of Violence! I’ve seen that. Didn’t particularly care for it, although like you say it was well done. Actually, Videodrone was pretty well done too – I just don’t care for Cronenberg’s version of the world.

      ‘Crazy fun’ is the perfect way to describe SF36. 🙂

  2. It sounds like you had a blast! So much fun. And a good mix – although these could all be called “sci-fi,” they certainly don’t all sound like they were cut from the same die.

    • Yes, I really appreciated the fact that there was a good mix of stories. It was really a well organized, well thought out event.

  3. This sounds so amazing. And what a choice of movies. I’d love to see The Host and also Metropia and certainly wouldn’t mind Zonad and also some of the older ones. Really sounds like a great mix.

    • I think you would like The Host, and the others you mentioned. Have you seen Monsters? If not, definitely check it out.

  4. […] to communicate” shared her experience of the Boston Science Fiction Movie Festival ‘Thon  here. They showed a good mix of films for 24 hours straight  and she writes a bit about each; her […]

  5. […] up on new releases and watching the breakfast and coffee-length Wallace and Gromit movies. After SF36 it took me a few days to have any interest in watching movies, but I finished out the month with a […]

  6. […] movies you should go watch right NOW – my review of it is buried amid my other SF36 reviews here). Super 8 will without a doubt join it’s big brother, J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek, on my […]

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