For a while it looked as if my nephew, Curt, and I would not be making the 3rd Annual Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. Sometimes real life gets in the way of plans that would constitute fun without the slightest notion of deadlines or responsibilities, and this appeared to be one of those years despite probably the best schedule yet for the marathon 15 hour film festival. But just one week before Curt called and gave the go ahead and the tickets were ordered. Life was still good.
As has become our ritual every May and October we had a delicious meal at a bar across from the theater (I have breakfast but Curt goes with lunch as he is on a clock that is normally one hour ahead). We then walked to the theater where we only had about six people in front of us and we bided our time playing verbal movie games and trying to ignore a rather stiff and cool wind blowing uncompromisingly steady for the duration of our wait in line.
When it was time to go in we got our customary wristbands thus allowing us to come and go as we please and we headed to what would be our seats for almost a day. To our dismay our end seats were taken so we took the seats in the middle which is located right in the middle of the theater that has a nice walkway in front of us where a row of seats once stood. There’s nothing like leg room. As we placed our coats in our seats a gentleman who was behind us coming in grumpily reminded us that, in his opinion, we had the best seats in the house as he moved to get his own. There was no argument from the peanut gallery on that one.
As usual our host for the events was Mr. Rusty Nails, a young man who obviously puts a lot into each festival he hosts. The lobby was filled with vendors selling everything from t-shirts to books to buttons to posters to autographed pictures to DVD’s. One table was giving away free items that I never really got close enough to look at and another was raffling off some very impressive items including a DVD Box Set of the films of John Waters, autographed by the man himself. Two items I had my eye on were a DVD of the original Hellraiser autographed by its writer and director, Clive Barker, and the other being an original and un-opened sub from the television show Voyage to The Bottom of the Sea. For a buck per ticket I took my chances ten times but came up empty at the end of the night. Making matters worse was that the same guy won both items I was hoping to win.
As has been the case each year Rusty picked out a schedule of films that was better then the year before and while it has become evident that Curt and I can stay awake for the whole she-bang it has gotten quite important to see what the schedule of films is. This year was my favorite of the three Sci-Fi spectaculars.
My only two complaints for the day, and they are relatively small ones, were that the festival fell behind from the very first movie and Rusty only gave quick intermissions between a few of the films instead of the customary fifteen-thirty minutes as he tried to catch up and never really did. My other complaint, a larger one, but one that neither Rusty nor the Music Box can really control is the seeming immaturity of the audience attending this festival. For some reason, and this happens at the 24 hour Horror Fest as well, a majority of the audience will cackle with delight and glee at every line in a movie that can be used in a double meaning and interpreted as something sexual when, in most cases, it was obviously written and performed with the most innocent of ideas. But that doesn’t seem to stop the crowd and it tends to get old after a while but it never disrupts the movie to a point of distraction.
Here is a look at the 3rd Annual Music Box Sci-Fi Spectacular or: How we spent 15 hours trying to dodge Martians, monkeys, monoliths and monsters. For the first time the classic movie trailer feature was kept to a minimum as I can only remember there being a few shown and also we were treated to a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon before the start of the first feature. And here is the movie schedule in the order of presentation and some thoughts on each.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) A solid B movie from the era of B movies comes this tale of a man exposed to a mysterious mist that slowly begins to shrink to a point where he has to live in a dollhouse and becomes a play thing to the family cat. The film featured some obvious visual effects but included two terrific shots that resulted in applause from the audience. This is not a great film but it is certainly better then a majority of those made in the 1950’s.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) George Pal’s classic version of the H.G. Wells novel holds up remarkably well after all these years with some still quite impressive special effects. The story tells of Martians coming to Earth and beginning the destruction of the planet. Shot in beautiful Technicolor that only enhances the visuals, the film reminds us that Steven Spielberg’s remake with Tom Cruise may have better effects but is inferior as a film.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968) Despite Charlton Heston being just about my least favorite leading man I have always found this film to be quite entertaining though after having seen it more then a few times even the twist ending, considered shocking in its day, seems rather sedate. This is the film Curt and I chose to skip much of to go next door for sandwiches and beer. We stayed long enough for the crash and came back for the final 30 minutes and to Curt it still seemed torturous in how much we saw. I disagree but what fun is it to agree on everything?
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) Despite it being my third time seeing this on the big screen, including once at this very theater in its original 70MM presentation (this was in 35MM), 2001 was still the highlight of the festival. For some reason the big screen brings out its brilliance more effectively then television does and I was absolutely riveted to the screen. This is and will always be one of the great motion picture experiences in my lifetime.
After the movie the audience was treated to a Q&A session with actor Gary Lockwood, who played the doomed astronaut Frank Poole. Originally star Keir Dullea (Dave Bowman) was supposed to attend but he got a last minute play in Ireland so Lockwood, still good friends with Dullea, stepped in. For 45 minutes Lockwood treated the crowd to stories about Elvis (with whom he made two movies together), Tuesday Weld (whom he lived with for a year), Stanley Kubrick (Lockwood called him, “smarter then any 10 people combined”) and the making of the film. Oddly enough our moderator Rusty decided to do the interview in a box resembling HAL 9000 from the movie. It was a bit annoying at first but Lockwood cheerfully played along. Lockwood’s most interesting story culminated with him revealing that it was he who came up with the idea of HAL reading the astronauts lips and knowing they were plotting against it. Lockwood was humble about his achievement calling it, “the one good idea I ever came up with.” Lockwood also revealed that when acting roles dried up he switched to architecture, which he majored in college. He then told us he had built the homes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Retired from the business, Lockwood, 72, enjoys meeting the film fans at shows like this but don’t expect to run into him on the street and know who he is. Today he is fully gray, wears glasses and weighs 250 pounds.
THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984) John Sayles’ quirky character study tells of an alien from another planet who comes to Earth and takes on the features of an African-American and takes up residence in Harlem. Soon his one true talent of fixing video games simply by touching them lands him a job and a place to live while not aware that he is being hunted down by inter-galactic bounty hunters (played with relish by director Sayles and Sayles regular David Strathairn). Not for everyone’s tastes (as evidenced by Curt’s enormous dislike for the film though I must add this was his first John Sayles film) as the film is slow and talky but is typical of Sayles’ biggest achievements in film – telling stories with real characters that have something to say. The film isn’t quite as great as I remember it but still very enjoyable.
ALIENS (1986) James Cameron sealed his fate as a top director with this exciting sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic. Rusty was able to secure a brand new 35MM print and it looked spectacular with virtually no scratches throughout the print. To watch it now it almost shocks me how much it bothered me the first time I saw it but it’s still a tense, superbly crafted horror film and one not to be missed on the big screen.
THE FLY (1986) The other big summer of 86 horror hit with Aliens was David Cronenberg’s terrific remake of the Vincent Price original. Jeff Goldblum should have merited more Oscar consideration for his role as the doomed scientist, Seth Brundle, about to become Brundle-fly. Much like Aliens another brand new 35MM print was secured for the festival and it looked sensational. The film’s visual effects still hold up well and Howard Shore’s beautiful musical score still shakes and then soothes you.
And then we exited into the night discussing some deferring opinions and agreeing it would be awfully boring if we agreed on everything.
So now we look ahead to October for the 5th annual 24-hour Music Box Massacre and hope the line-up is a good one so there won’t be any doubt about our attendance. Hopefully I will see you then with another write up.