Friday, January 20, 2017

I Watch Films: The Final Programme


18th February 3102 BC. In the afternoon.

Imagine a trippy British drama, sci-fi/spy-fi, from the late 60s-early 70s, a bit of The Prisoner, a little of The Avengers. Now imagine the feature film version; bigger budget (helicopters!) although clearly still restricted, a longer but not actually more coherent story, some extremely groovy costumes. Then make it more adult in the drugs-sex-violence-nudity sense (it's still childish in many ways, and frighteningly adult in it's demands that you keep up with the tone and story shifts). Finally make it about 70-80% more bonkers than you thought it was.

We're now somewhere in the filmic region where The Final Programme sits.

The Third World War has been going on for years, but no one noticed because they're watching the bloody commercials.

The film opens at the funeral of Alexander Cornelius in Lapland. A scientist who worked for him asks his son Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch), dressed in full new romantic style, about a microfilm, probably in the family home back in England. Jerry intends to destroy the house and his brother Frank after rescuing his sister Catherine. He travels through a groovy-apocalyptic London (with the iconic view of piles of cars in Trafalgar Square) buying an F4 Phantom Jet and napalm (neither appear on screen).

He meets up with a trio of scientists, the mysterious Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre in a variety of unlikely outfits), and the equally mysterious Dimitri, who is left behind on their expedition to the house. The house is, obviously, a maze full of weird traps and defences. Jerry gets into a needle-gun fight with Frank (leather jacket, T-shirt, early beatles hair), is drugged by him and accidently kills Catherine. Frank then tricks the others and escapes with the microfilm.

After a brief interlude involving Jerry drinking industrial waste from a French wine district and Miss Brunner firstly introducing and secondly absorbing into herself an assistant, they fly to Turkey to track down Frank. He tries to sell the microfilm to Dr Baxter, but Jerry chases and finally kills him while Miss Brunner absorbs Baxter.

They return to Lapland where the nature of the final programme is explained in it's full grotesque technobabble glory; it involves brains in tanks, a computer with the entire knowledge of mankind, a room that has been absorbing uninterrupted sunlight for six weeks, and combining Miss Brunner with another person; it was going to be Dimitri but the microfilm reveals that it's Jerry. Miss Brunner tries and fails to kill Dimitri so he and Jerry fight; injured Jerry goes into the sun chamber with Miss Brunner and there is a crazy sequence that ends with them becoming the ultimate human.

I have it on very good authority the world is coming to an end so I thought I'd go home and watch it on television.

This is based on the novel The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock, in fact the only film made of  of his fiction. I haven't actually read it, although I've read some other Jerry Cornelius stories and I'm not going to make a comparison (which is probably a good thing). The film is not a satire, although it does satirise certain elements of the time, and some are still relevant. It comes out and says that the apocalypse is going on, and most of the time things are genuinely weird, strange and/or horrific yet there's a banal edge to it. People still go out to crazy-future pinball arenas or restaurants; Jerry's flat is full of empty bottles and his fridge is full of biscuits. It's this that grounds the film, while highlighting the more incongruous elements. Jerry lives partly in our world turned up to eleven and only partly in a freaky sci-fi universe.

People have drawn parallels between the story in The Final Programme and the Elric stories (which I am familiar with). This may have been diluted in the film; there's a hint of it with a violent incestuous love-triangle, and with Miss Brunner taking the role of the vampire sword Stormbringer, absorbing people's souls. On the other hand Moorcock has returned to these ideas several times in his enormous output so shoving them into his groovy-apocalypse is hardly surprising.

Now I hate long goodbyes, so piss off!

Watch This: For a slice of stylised slightly-crazy 70s British sci-fi that challenges you to keep up as it skips lightly over a set of silly, thoughtful and/or just flat out bizarre ideas
Don't Watch This: If you want a film that makes sense, or doesn't show it's age and a restricted budget.
Final Thought: It's a tasty world.

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