The Celluloid Europudding
There are some things Europeans do better than anyone else on Earth; wheat beers, chocolate, shrugging, pogroms. Still, there are some skills that elude us, that simply escape our grasp despite our efforts to get a grip. One of these is undoubtedly Science Fiction movies. No trouble with writing it, in fact Europe can trace its SF back to (Greek speaking Syrian) Lucian of Samosata in 160 AD, it’s just the pesky on-screen variety that leaves us flummoxed. There are notable exceptions, of course; Fritz Lang (Dr Mabuse, Metropolis), Tarkovsky… but from the 1940s on the US has left us trailing in its wake.
Of course not all of it is our fault. For a start, SF is expensive to do. It tends to need lots of special effects, graphics, costumes, elaborate sets… and then Hollywood has set the bar incredibly high in terms of its production values and sheer pizazz. Avatar wouldn’t be funded by European banks. It takes Hollywood money to make those kind of films. Despite the drawbacks, some hardy souls have given it a go. There is a certain charm to these films. I have identified a number of sub-categories of this cheap and cheerful world of celluloid fun. I am not including Eastern Europe or Russia here (which I don’t know much about apart from Solaris) or the UK and Ireland.
Category 1: The Blatant Rip Off.
If you can’t afford to do your own special effects, steal them from other films. OK, so it’s not legal and will confine your oeuvre to your home market (if that), but you might shift enough units before Inspector Plod feels your collar for copyright infringements to make a few Lira. This is certainly the background to the classic rip-off movie, TURKISH STAR WARS, that steals all its effects from said Hollywood blockbuster (Thanks Garak, for introducing me to this).
Category 2: Quarry On.
The old Dr Who trick of having your action set in an open-cast mine can give you cheap authentic-looking settings for other planets and after-the-bomb scenarios. THE NEW BARBARIANS is a particularly ridiculous Italian variant of this. Post-apocalyptic humans race around in souped-up futuristic milk floats dripping with useless weaponry. The film is unintentionally hilarious and includes the funniest male-rape scene ever filmed.
Category 3: Europudding.
True Europudding is born from international cooperation. More than one country will fund it, there will be lots of red tape and quangos involved. Generally it will result in stolid, middle-brow product designed to satisfy all parties and offend no sensibilities. Usually it is confined to costume dramas and literary adaptations, very rarely, SF gets a look in. In this case, a German-led consortia did a reasonable job of adapting Poul Anderson’s novel THE HIGH CRUSADE. The English language version has cat-aliens with camp Scottish accents. Not bad at all!
Category 4: Gross-Out Cyberpunk.
Near-future gore-fests are another staple of the continent that gave us Noir. Plenty of examples here. NIKITA (the original French version), DOBERMANN etc. The most charming of all, however, is the Spanish ACCION MUTANTE. The film deals with the exploit of a terrorist cell who fight for the rights of the ugly, disabled and deformed. They target beautiful celebrities, plastic surgeons, cosmetics manufacturers, gyms and health foods. The satire is biting, the film sags in places (and is not a little misogynistic), but the first half hour, especially the shooting-up of a society wedding, is certainly worth seeing.
Category 5: Let The Right One In.
Obviously you might just give up and let Hollywood and their money into your film. If you make sure you attract some Hollywood talent, you should be OK. I suppose that’s how Roger Vadim got the funding for BARBARELLA, by getting his missus to be in it.
Category 6: Time Travel.
Sneaky one this. Just get some time travellers to turn up in the present and bingo! No expensive sets! LES VISITEURS goes one stage further and has the time-travellers arrive from the past. Kerching! Great comedy of manners about medieval knights let loose on contemporary France. Mind you, they travelled to the future using magic, so perhaps it ain’t SF at all…
Category 7: Hammer Maison d’Horreur
Yup, take the model of Hammer (cheapo horror, scantily clad girls) and fill your boots. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is a classic of the genre. This Europudding (Italian/Spanish co-production) gives an idea of how difficult it is for porn studios to diversify.
Category 8: Decent Special Effects!
At Last! Will Ellwood directed me to this Finnish team of SF film-makers. They began with their err… homage? To Trekkiedom, STAR WRECK and are currently producing the Nazis-on-the-moon epic IRON SKY. Production values are amazing, the film looks awesome. A release is imminent.
Category the Last: Virtual Reality.
Future tech so sophisticated that computer sims look like real life. Again, no expensive sets. Head and shoulders above the rest of the genre was Alejandro Amenabar’s ABRE LOS OJOS (open your eyes). Thankfully Tom Cruise remade it as Vanilla Sky so the original will make no money. No more SF from Spain, then.
Well, I’m off to watch my latest prize, its a Turkish superhero picture featuring Captain America, Spiderman and Mexican Wrestler El Santo in a crime-fighting extravaganza that’s laced with 70s erotica. The name of this masterpiece is 3 DEU ADAM. Smoke me a bratwurst, I’ll be back for breakfast…
Posted on January 27, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged Accion Mutante, Barbarella, European Sci Fi, Iron Sky, Les Visiteurs, The High Crusade, The New Barbarians, Turkish Star Wars. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.