Brilliantly, hilariously bad!
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 10/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Up until I saw "The Shape of Things to Come," I thought Joe D'Amato's hysterically atrocious "Troll 2" was the best "so bad it's good" film out there. Well, I still believe that, but this movie comes in a close second. I suspect if you watched both films as a double feature, your head would explode under the endless assault of numerous scenes loaded with bad dialogue, ridiculous overemoting, and impenetrable plot points murkier than a cup of black coffee. This is a film so mind meltingly horrible, so offensive to every cinematic sensibility, that only lovers of bad movies who have fortified themselves beforehand should venture into this challenging territory. And even then I am not sure you will emerge unscathed on the other side. "Hey," I'm hearing people say, "How could a film starring Jack Palance and Barry Morse--set in a future where radiation from a series of robot wars wiped out the planet earth--be so bad?" That's a good question, grasshoppers. A very good question that I asked myself before setting out on this mission. The answer, the particulars of which lie ahead, sums up as follows: It's bad because the filmmakers took their effort seriously. It's also great because the filmmakers took their effort seriously. Read on.
I have no doubt, from the detailed plot set up and seriousness of every actor involved, that "The Shape of Things to Come" was meant to be a film that would rival Lucas's "Star Wars" in the science fiction genre. Heck, the film supposedly is based on a story by H.G. Wells, a fact the title boasts about. Thank goodness Wells never saw this nightmare; he might have stopped writing. As far as I could tell, the plot goes something like this: a series of robot wars went nuclear, thus rendering the planet inhabitable. In an effort to survive this disaster, people set up a base on the moon called New Washington and began exploring the universe. The only way to restore earth is to use a drug called RadicQ2, which stymies the insidious effects of radiation. Unfortunately, the only place this substance exists is on a planet called Delta Three, where the humans set up a base manned by Governor Niki (Carol Lynley) and what looks like a staff of six. Problems emerge when Omus (Jack Palance) takes over Delta Three and attempts to force New Washington to name him Emperor of the Universe. We learn all about this after Omus sends a cargo ship helmed by a robot crashing into the moon. Luckily, the base's shield protects humanity, but now the authorities must decide how to deal with Omus.
Here's where Doctor John Caball (Barry Morse), his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell), and Kim (Eddie Benton) come into the picture. Not content to cave into Omus's demands, these three sneak away to Delta Three on Caball's supersecret craft called Starstreak. They plan to unseat Omus and restore production of RadicQ2 if they survive the perilous trek through the solar system. Along the way, the trio land on earth and run into a bunch of kids who look like rejects from "The Village of the Damned," undergo serious technical difficulties with the ship, and travel through a cheesy intergalactic storm that looks like psychedelic vomit. The film occasionally switches to the action on Delta Three as Niki and her loyal followers attempt to thwart Omus's infernal schemes. The poor governor--not only is her name 'Niki,' but she and her compatriots must also fight off an army of robots that look like modified Hoover vacuum cleaners and move about as fast as a snail with a limp. You can probably figure out how the movie ends, but that's not important. It's how much cheese we have to swallow on the way there. At least the musical score is cool.
Where do I start? How about the histrionic performances? Ultimately, the hammy acting was what I enjoyed most about this picture. The actress who played Governor Niki is so breathtakingly wooden that I kept expecting someone to learn over and check for vital signs. And Palance! Oh dear, wonderful Palance! He throws away all pretense of subtly in his truly memorable turn as the evil emperor wannabe. At the moment of his greatest defeat, Palance screams something in a tone so incredibly, hilariously over the top that I had to watch the scene three times to absorb it. But even Palance can't top the antics of Barry Morse. Omus possesses a machine that sends out dangerous pulses of energy, a machine that will incapacitate an individual, and he uses it on Morse's character in another hilarious scene. Morse hops around and shakes in such a way that I wondered if the machine was really that dangerous or if Caball just had to go potty. The machine itself resembles a spinning disco ball, and Omus wore a helmet that looked like a fish tank to protect him from these dangerous pulses. I haven't laughed this hard in ages! "The Shape of Things to Come" is really one laugh after another even though everyone plays it so straight that you just know they thought they were making something special. And they did, but not in the way they intended.
It's amazing this clunker found its way to DVD, let alone with a French language trailer, television spots, and stills as extras. I think I can safely say that this is a film that begs for a commentary track from the principals. I'd pay good money just to hear what Palance had to say about this travesty. If you're a fan of trash cinema, you can't do much better than "The Shape of Things to Come." This picture is a hilarious cult classic, a picture worthy of respect if for no other reason than that it illustrates how important "so good it's bad" films can be.
Get Down With Jack Palance
Stanley Runk | Camp North Pines | 12/24/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The onscreen written intro tells us that this film is taking place in the "Tomorrow after Tomorrow". So apparently in the next two days we'll have experienced the "Robot Wars" and have had to relocate to the moon coz Earth is too damn polluted and radioactive. The people of the moon colony come under attack by Jack Palance and his army of trashcan robots who do his dirty work. Palance hangs out on Delta 3, but he wants control of the moon as well. The wimpy moon people don't wanna take action, but 3 badazz renegades and a reprogrammed Palancebot aren't about to just roll over. So, before you can slap on your Skin Bracer, they're off to turn the tables on Jack Palance. First a quick pitstop on Earth for repairs. Meanwhile on Delta 3, about 7 people have formed a resistance against Palance's dictatorship. When they're not being fried to a frizzly frazzle by the Palancebots, they hide from these innovative, high-tech death machines by merely crouching in the grass about 2 feet away as the killers merrily march by. If these robots are the biggest threat the moon colony is facing, what's the panic all about? Palancebots are also easily dispatched by a good rap on the head with what ever is handy. Our heroes finally make it to Delta 3 after a brief detour through some wacky black hole-type thing. I don't know what the hell that scene is about, but guessing from the facial expressions it was either very painful or felt very good. Once on Delta 3, they team up with the shrinking resistance and have to face Jack Palance's Deadly Disco Dance-O-Rama! Hope they didn't forget their lucky deck coz Palance isn't gonna go down easy. Check out the shot where the crumbling ceiling bonks Jack Palance on the head! Was that intentional? Do our heroes save the day? Do you really give a @$#&? Well, all I can say is if you like bad(and I really mean BAD) sci-fi flicks, this is a must see. I don't know why, but I've always found the worst sci-fi to be 100 times more entertaining than the "good" sci-fi. And how can you not love the theme music? Can you get this song on cd anywhere? Makes a great double bill with Tango, Cash, Cash and Tango."
Jonathan Schaper | London, Ontario Canada | 06/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Jack Palance plays an insane villain who takes over a mining colony on a planet with a population of about 12 (who spend most of the film hiding from Jack in a cave). He uses his newfound power as head (and now sole) miner to crash his only interstellar ship, manned by a robot, into the headquarters of the galactic government on earth (actually, Ontario Place), thus causing so much damage that it takes the government all of 10 minutes to make repairs. Jack then demands that he be made supreme dictator on the strength of this demonstration, and apparently also because of his ability to cast cool spinning holograms of himself. The earth government is too afraid to counterattack Palance (who no longer has the means to even leave his planet), so it looks like he'll get his wish, except that several heroic types hijack an unfinished battleship in order to launch a counterattack. Once on Jack's planet, they must defeat about 20 slow, clumsy robots that look like mini-fridges with legs and which can be taken out if you hit them once over the head with a staff. Luckily for Jack, all the good guys are absolutely incompetent morons (although not as incompetent as the good miners who stand still long enough so the robots can electrocute them in battle). Oh yeah, there's one robot who turns good and gains the ability to teleport for no apparent reason and which, for comic relief purposes, falls in love with the lead female (which means it must consider itself to be either a male or a lesbian). Some poor mutant children (they look like Edgar Winter) show up to pull at your heartstrings, and there's production design straight out of Space: 1999 and Battlestar Galactica which could give you a bad case of disco fever. The movie never gets dull, but is not that as funny as my description might make it sound. It's not as good as anything from Towers' amazing Franco period, but is far better than his dismal South African period (apartheid made filming there cheap in the 1980s). The only real reason for getting this movie is out of some bizarre nostalgia for the late 1970s/early 80s or for Palance's performance which is so entertaining that you might forget that his character is only slightly more threatening than someone on life support."
"The Time Is The Tomorrow After Tomorrow."
Robert I. Hedges | 06/02/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have two words to describe "H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come": oh, brother. I felt certain when I discovered that it was made in Canada in the wake of "Star Wars" with Jack Palance as an evil overlord, that the movie had extreme cheese potential, and not only was I right I had no idea how right I was. Of all the films I would have loved to see MST3K deal with this has to top the list.
The film starts with a ponderous crawler explaining the background of the film. In a nutshell we learn that the Earth has been destroyed in the great robot wars, that man has colonized the moon, and that (for some never explained reason) the human race is wholly dependent on the supply of a miracle drug, RADIC-Q-2, which is only made on distant planet Delta Three. What could possibly go wrong? After seeing the extremely cheesy credits (they are reminiscent of the original "Battlestar Galactica" without the realism), which reveal that the film stars Jack Palance, Carol Lynley, and Barry Morse, you get no extra points for figuring out that the correct answer is, of course, Jack Palance.
The film opens in "New Washington" the home of the new lunar government, headed by "The Master Computer" whose name is Lomax. The control center reminded me of the spaceship set from "Space Mutiny" (although, again, much less realistic), but I had no idea that was the tip of the iceberg of ludicrousness. There is political intrigue afoot (in a situation that actually does mirror reality) when boneheaded Senator Smedley (John Ireland) tells brilliant scientist Dr. John Caball (Barry Morse) that the defense budget is being cut as it's unnecessary, effectively canceling the nearly complete "Starstreak" project. Within minutes of the discussion, a robot plows a spaceship into New Washington. Fortunately the control center managed to get the entire city evacuated in less than nine minutes (!) and the damage repaired in even less time.
Senator Smedley's hot progeny Kim (Anne-Marie Martin, who using good judgment, is credited as "Eddie Benton") reassembles the robot that flew the spaceship and changes his circuits around until he speaks in poetry and flowery prose (he calls her "Dark Lady of the Sonnets," which gets annoying very quickly). Since he's so adorable, she names him "Sparks." Sparks can disappear and reappear at will using "Bi-Locational Transference" or "BLT." (Really.) It turns out that Sparks was created by Omus (Jack Palance) as part of his robot corps, and in a blackmail plot sent the ship to crash into the moon. All he wants in return for the lifesaving RADIC-Q-2 is to be made supreme commander of the moon. Senator Smedley tells him that's out of the question, but has no other option. (Thanks for cutting the defense budget, Senator.) Even Lomax has no ideas about what to do. Fortunately Dr. Caball does.
Dr. Caball exposes himself to radioactive Cobalt-60 in the Starstreak reactor, but doesn't bother with the necessary RADIC-Q-2 antidote, and is doomed to a painful death. Worse, we're doomed to watch it. He, plus his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell), Kim, and Sparks steal the Starstreak to mount a wholly unauthorized attack on Omus's planet. Meanwhile, Niki (Carol Lynley, who is one of the worst actresses in all of history), the overthrown Governor of Delta Three, along with her jumpsuited and feather-haired army of about a dozen extras armed with glow sticks, invade the Citadel of Omus (through a powerplant) to plea over the radio to the Moon for help.
Unfortunately the Starstreak is a bucket of bolts, and has to stop on Earth to fix its compass. (Again: not kidding.) So they get to Earth and it's a beautiful autumn day. So here's the question: why did they leave Earth exactly? It's pretty much easier to live anywhere on Earth that anywhere on the Moon, and is way less expensive. Believe me when I tell you that this visit to Earth is amazingly boring. Nothing happens. Well they get ambushed by children dressed in nets, but other than that, nothing. The children were survivors of the great robot war and have radiation burns. After much heavyhanded pontification they elect to abandon the children, but promise to return. In a plodding movie, this is by far the slowest part.
The intrepid explorers take off again, and through the magic of special effects, fly to Delta Three via a magnetic field. Let me say this: prepare to laugh hard enough that whatever you're drinking comes out your nose. The segment of flying through the magnetic field features some of the worst effects I have ever seen anywhere (and I have seen the entire Ed Wood catalog). The very worst "Star Trek" episode is approximately one trillion times more convincing than this. Of course despite facing certain death, they're fine, and Sparks helpfully explains "I believe we have been through time dilation." (Again: oh, brother.)
Throughout the film there are loads of inappropriate musical blasts, mostly orchestral machinations when nothing of any sort is happening. That does not help with the mood or pacing of the film, but it does foreshadow a question I never thought I'd have to ask, namely, "Hey! Who turned on the giant rotating Jack Palance?" Omus greets the landing party on Delta Three with a huge holograph of himself (with suitable soundtrack accompaniment, of course) to invite Dr. Caball, his mentor, to his office. Despite warnings from the others that it could be dangerous, he goes, and is promptly killed with the sonic disco ball of doom, which induces a death seizure in a scene that is not pretty, but also not realistic. Sparks' loyalty is sorely tested, as Omus plans to hijack the Starstreak back to the Moon, while destroying Delta Three. Does Sparks show his loyalty to Omus or Kim? You have one guess. The conclusion, which appears almost stapled on, shows Jason, Kim, and Sparks taking the RADIC-Q-2 to the children of Earth, while a horrifying 1970's disco tune plays over the credits.
As bad as I expected this film to be, it was much, much worse. So bad, in fact, that I think it's worth four stars for camp value alone. It features a horrible story, terrible acting, Palance at his scenery-chewing perigee (well, perilune, I guess in this case), utterly ridiculous robots, and a dreadful score. That pretty well sums up its good points. For lovers of camp, it doesn't get any cheesier than this. Of special note are the extras, which are just plain weird. There is a very 1970's television spot for the film, a mediocre still gallery, and an absolutely bizarre movie trailer from France. The French trailer is way shorter (and therefore better) than the film itself, but has some true oddities in its subtitles. Not only does it change the romantic male hero-love interest's name from Jason to Jeffrey, but it translates a couple of lines (when they are escaping the self-destructing Delta Three) as "We have to get back to Star Trek. Everything's going to explode!" I don't even know what to make of that, but if you watch that far, I'm betting you'll laugh."