One name on a cast list that always makes us click is Peter Cushing; the perennially ancient leading man of many British horror films, and notably the Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. His final film was 1986’s Biggles, an attempt to build an Indiana Jones-style franchise from WE Johns’ classic character. Such efforts had gone on for decades before Back to The Future came out, and sent the team behind Biggles scuttling off in quite the wrong direction. Thus, somehow, Biggles (Neil Dickson) isn’t the main character in his own film; Alex Hyde White plays a catering salesman who is sent back in time to join forces with the WWI flying hero and stop the German army developing a deadly machine that kills using sound. Biggles; The Movie is something of a mess, never marrying the 1980’s story with the First Would War action. But director John Hough really knew how to stage action, and the helicopter vs biplane scenarios are physically impressive. Worth seeing if only to answer the trivia question of which film features Cushing and Freddie Mercury; Another One Bites the Dust features here alongside a truly hideous score by Yes’s Jon Anderson. Dickson later reprised the role of Biggles, not for a sequel, but in Jack Bond’s musical It Couldn’t Happen Here for the Pet Shop Boys.
Time travel is once again the subject of this brainy slice of sci-fi, no less than expected from the partnership of writer and star Brit Marling and writer/director Zal Batmanglij. Journalists are intrigued by news of a woman claiming to be a time traveller, and attempt to infiltrate the cult around Maggie (Marling), who lives in an LA basement, eats only food grown there, and claims to have returned from the future where a civil war has resulted in catastrophe. Fans of The OA, and they are many and devoted, will want to check out all of Marling’s cinematic offerings, which add up to more than just dry runs. Whether Maggie is a real time traveller, or a witch, or a manipulative cult leader is up for grabs here, and there’s an edge to the proceedings that typifies Marling’s kooky but always smart take on the sci-fi genre.
The ‘dirty space’ imagined by George Lucas gave way to the ‘dirty future’ of James Cameron when The Terminator moved the cause of big-screen sci-fi up several notches in 1984. Freely borrowing from the ideas of Harlan Ellison, Cameron envisaged a horrific post-nuclear future with men and machines at war; sent back to the present day are the Terminator itself (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), with the future of saviour John Connor hanging in the balance. With John Connor yet to be born, attention focuses on Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is ill equipped for the carnage that ensues. Making full use of the neon-lit LA of 1984, Cameron’s film is a relentless juggernaut of invention, a construction over al abyss of illogicality that makes something physical and fresh from sci-fi clichés.
A notably entry in the minor sub-genre of time travelling romance, Somewhere in Time is written by Richard Matheson and displays his usual respect for genre tropes. Christopher Reeve is writer Richard who becomes fascinated with a picture in an old hotel; he travels back in time via self-hypnosis to romance Elise (Jane Seymour) in 1912, and set in motion an impossible romance. Somewhere between Chris Marker’s sublime La Jetee and The Time Traveller’s Wife, Jeannot Szwarzc’s film in an unashamed weepie, well played and with a sumptuous John Barry score. William H Macy makes his debut here.