Sunday, February 19, 2012

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Daily, 2012.63 (15 February): Time of the Robots

Let's get straight to the Terrible Photography:

Time of the Robots director Erik Hammen and Garen Daly.

Not a whole lot to say about this movie that I didn't say in my review, and let's face it, I'm kind of surprised at how much I had to say there, considering that some of the things I'd usually include (such as acting, design, etc.) were kind of irrelevant, given how the movie is a mash-up.

I think I've got a slightly higher opinion of the movie's and Hammen's ambitions now than I did immediately after seeing it. In his Q&A, he mentioned that every character but the robots had some sort of physical transformation on-screen, but the way he talked about it, this theme sounded like something he put in there but which didn't have a particular meaning or purpose. In writing the review, I wonder if it's a sort of reflexive thing - just as the characters change over the course of the movie, he's reshaping art into something else. The robots just do what they're programmed to do, and maybe that's Hollywood, mechanically cranking out empty blockbuster after empty blockbuster...

Sure, maybe Hammen had that in mind all along... But in some ways, it seems more likely that I'm just making connections after the fact. Not that it matters; if I get that out of the movie, it doesn't much matter whether he put it in deliberately or not.

Time of the Robots

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2012 in the Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, video)

My first reaction to Erik Hammen's Time of the Robots is that it's a bit like the story of the talking dog, where the important thing is not that the dog speaks eruditely, but that it talks at all. I think that gives this project too much credit, though - yes, Hammen has mashed various public domain feature films and serials together into a new silent movie, and that's impressive, but unless the whole is better than the sum of its parts, what's the point?

As the movie opens, aliens from the Phantom Planet have visited Earth, who send Fritz Fausten (Buster Crabbe) to serve as ambassador, along with his girlfriend Marta Gerhadt (Carol Hughes). A jealous princess, though, sends Fritz home bereaved, and his replacement, Doktor Mercury (Bela Lugosi) eventually returns home with the technology to build robots. But when these robots start going haywire, and Mercury refuses to co-operate with police, Fausten must called back into action. But what has really happened to Marta?

Hammen pulls together footage from over a dozen sources, most notably Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Radar Men from the Moon, The Phantom Creeps, and Tarzan the Fearless, and relies on public domain music as well, though he composes some of his own and of course writes the new dialogue himself. This is, by and large, decent source material - few of these movies are exactly award winners, but they're entertaining serial and B-movie fare that are fun to watch on their own. And even the ones that aren't good as wholes have a few gems within them to be excavated, and a movie made up of the various good bits has something going for it.

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