1/31/08

CT002 Doomsday Machine

(1972, SciFi, color)

Rating: ***1/2

You’re ruining the apocalypse for everyone!

In a nutshell:

A co-ed space exploration mission is stranded after China destroys the Earth.

Summary:

For all the adornment this title got, they should have just called it 'Title'.A Chinese woman sneaks into a top-secret Chinese facility using only a stray cat and her wits. After strangling an unfortunate researcher with her own braid and using a guard’s corpse to prop open an elevator, she meets a co-conspirator. He ushers her into a secret underground room that houses a large gumball machine in a cage. She takes pictures and leaves by way of the air ducts.

Later she shows these pictures to several heavily mustached men in a high school classroom that apparently doubles as the Oval Office. Meanwhile, the seven-man crew of an exploration vessel bound for Venus prepares to launch, but at the last minute, three of them are replaced by shapely female astronauts. The reason for this becomes clear when, a few hours after takeoff, the aforementioned Chinese gumball machine destroys the Earth.

By this time six of the crew members have already paired off as follows: The noble blond couple, including the square-jawed captain and the petite ship’s doctor; the quirky brunette couple, including the wisecracking communications expert and the matronly Russian aeronaut; and the emotionally unstable couple, including the psychotic rapist navigator and his fragile, weepy arm candy. Everyone takes the Earth’s destruction in stride except, obviously, for the emotionally unstable couple.

Zoinks!The crew’s seventh member is someone I’ll call Elderly Expert, even though I have no idea what he’s supposed to be an expert of; everyone just seems to defer to him most of the time. He determines that the background radiation following them from the Earth’s destruction will sterilize everyone on board by the time they make it to Venus, rendering their new mission of repopulation futile. He makes calculations to get them there in two months instead of four, but by that time their fuel will not be sufficient to land everyone safely. They’ll have to jettison all non-essential equipment and personnel, meaning that only three people will land with just a handful of supplies. Elderly Expert begins the calculations to determine who will live and who will die.

Suddenly they’re about to arrive, so I assume two months must have passed. Elderly Expert determines that he will survive to procreate with the two younger women while everyone else gets to suffocate to death in space. Psychotic Rapist decides he doesn’t like this plan, and voices his displeasure by attempting to rape Fragile Arm Candy in the airlock. And, wouldn’t you know it, all the jostling, screaming and space bodice-ripping hits the switch, sucking them both to their deaths. While this is occurring, Elderly Expert sees how much Square-Jawed Captain loves his doctor sweetheart and rejects all his careful calculations, telling the captain to go in his place.

Square-Jawed Captain sees that Rapist and Arm-Candy have taken themselves out of the equation and declares that since they’re rejecting part of Expert’s calculations, they might as well reject them all and try to land without throwing anyone else overboard. They make the attempt, but one of the rockets won’t fire. Wisecracking Communications Expert and his Russian Aeronaut girlfriend go out in space suits to fix it, but the ship leaves them behind when it sheds that part of the rocket. They see nearby derelict space vessel from an earlier Russian exploration attempt and propel themselves towards it.

This is where the original film ran out of money. The rest of the movie chronicles Wisecracker and Russian Lady’s efforts to jack the Russian craft to Venus. Except now they’re wearing different spacesuits on a different kind of set filmed with a different quality of film stock. Yes, wholly different actors perform their voiceovers. After ten full minutes of fiddling with knobs, the collective consciousness of Venus pipes up to say that they saw what humans did to their own planet and now the Earthlings aren’t welcome. The all-powerful Venusians teleport the film’s last surviving couple to a distant universe. I like to think they were deposited within easy reach of a life-sustaining planet where they can procreate in peace, but film refuses to specify.

Thoughts:

They float in the airlock because gravity is apparently caused by air.So, they’re going closer to the sun than any space mission has ever gone before and their spaceship doesn’t keep out radiation? The fact that the sterilizing radiation in question is supposedly caused by the Earth’s destruction, and will be constant over a four-month period presupposes one of two assumptions on the part of the “filmmakers”: a) that the empty void where the Earth used to be is now generating radioactivity out of nothing in direct opposition to all known laws of physics, or b) that radiation moves so slowly as to keep pace with them instead of just briefly irradiating their ship while rushing past them into space.

Also, I don’t get why they keep making such a big deal about the weight of the ship as it affects fuel consumption. For one thing, they’re in space. They don’t weigh anything. For another, they’re in space. There’s no friction and therefore no reason to keep burning fuel. Just get to the velocity you want and coast.

I know, I know, it’s movie science. It’s not real and isn’t meant to be. I get that. It just bothers me. The “filmmakers” have put the last seven humans in the entire universe cramped together on a single spaceship. I can think of at least a dozen potentially plot-driving conflicts from that description alone, but no, Doomsday Machine needs bogus pseudo-technical babble to keep things rolling. At least until they run out of money and shelve it for five years until someone else gets the bright idea to splice in footage from another film to give it a new non-ending, a technique it apparently co-opted from the distributors of Monster A-Go-Go.

The new humvee has brights so powerful, they can be seen from space.Once again the host segment material happens in silhouette, but they only stop the movie twice—when Trace has something important to say but Joel keeps interrupting him to count down the seconds until the movie starts again, and when Mary Jo wants to know who they would jettison into space if only three of them could survive to the end of the movie. (The first has a great moment when J. Elvis tells Joel that his counting down joke is lame. Joel admits this, but replies “I’m pretty much committed to it at this point”. In the second, Frank revokes Mary Jo’s special survival privileges for refusing to bear children.) Other good sections include the introduction, where black silhouettes discuss the reason they riff films in front of a white screen (not sure what that reason is, but Trace’s refusal to use replacement robots is particularly funny) and the part where J. Elvis wanders off screen, sending in a much smaller replacement in a helmet (no need to stop the film for this one as it’s pretty much just circling the drain at this point). It seems like they included almost as much interstitial material as last time, but they kept it more focused on the film and stopped it less, so it works better overall.

The riffing goes well too. When someone asks Fragile Arm Candy if she knows what makes the ship tick, Mary Jo replies “Ticknology!” As they lay back in their seats for takeoff, J. Elvis says, “I’m not saying they’re there to breed, but their chairs have stirrups.” When Psychotic Rapist tells Arm Candy to “relax and enjoy it” Joel says, “I’ll take ‘Things a Rapist Might Say’ for 500, Alex.” When she rejects him, Trace adds, “There’s no Earth for you to be the last man on anymore.” Finally, when Wisecracker and Russian Aeronaut climb onto the Russian probe, Frank calls it “the Deus Ex Machina.” If we solely judge the film, it’s only slightly better than the one they used in their last outing. Fortunately, tweaks to the format and solid, focused mockery raise this one well above the source material for funny viewing. The last section tests my patience —you know, when the movie wallows interminably in unrelated footage—but by that time I’ve already laughed enough to make my time spent with it worthwhile.