NOVEMBER 9, 2011
If nothing else, writer/director Chance Shirley certainly appreciates his John Carpenter movies. The opening of Interplanetary felt a lot like Prince of Darkness’ own opening, where we’d get some movie intercut with credits (similar music too), in a sequence that felt almost like we were being dropped into a movie already in progress. Then the plot itself is a bit Thing-esque, with the jaded/tired crew in a remote station (albeit on Mars here) getting picked off by a creature. And overall, it has the same sort of low budget, laid-back sci-fi/horror/comedy blend of Carpenter’s first film Dark Star.
And like that film, you have to go along with the movie’s off-kilter sense of humor (and obvious low budget trappings), because otherwise there’s no way to enjoy the film. A bad Friday the 13th movie or something can be “saved” with frequent kills and appearances of its iconic killer, but Interplanetary – which had a surprising amount of blood, actually – is not a “body count” movie. Its goal is to make you laugh, and thus if its sense of humor doesn’t jive with yours, there’s nothing else here to enjoy for you. Fast forward until the final 10 minutes so you can see what the monster looks like (he’s wearing a spacesuit for most of the movie) and be done with it.
As for me, I admit a lot of the jokes fell flat, but there were a number I did quite like (“Windows 98… it’s an operating system from like 2003.”). The main joke of the movie is that even on Mars and even when guys attack you out of nowhere with rocket launchers, there’s still paperwork and bureaucracy to deal with, not to mention inter-office squabbling. It’s not a documentary type (though a little 50s style training video offers some of the film’s most spot on satire), but the humor is not unlike The Office’s first couple of seasons (before it just turned into an increasingly weak and generic workplace comedy – they might as well just add a laugh track at this point), or Office Space in some respects.
In fact I couldn’t help but wonder if it might have been funnier to actually shoot it like The Office, with an unseen “camera crew” documenting what we see, and having the actors talk directly to camera in confessionals. Part of my issue with the film was that I felt I didn’t really get to know any of the characters well – they’re under attack like 20 minutes in, giving us no time to understand their group dynamic. You can tell their basic job (mechanic, cook, etc) but that’s about it; the most backstory we get is that one of the girls is passing time by trying (and succeeding) to nail everyone on the base (male or female). Part of what makes this style of humor work is getting a firm grasp on the characters first – that’s why the first couple episodes of Community aren’t that funny. Once the dynamic was established and individual bonds were formed, it made their interactions and dialogue much more amusing. Here, they don’t really give them that time – I don’t even think you ever see more than three characters in one room.
But you gotta love the ambition. They clearly didn’t have much money, but damned if they didn’t put every dollar of it on-screen. Nearly every set in the film was built from scratch, and the homemade feel of the props and such actually works in the movie’s favor; it’s like they’ve gotten the bare minimum resources to work with. There’s no CG in the film either; everything is done in camera (and on 16mm, woo!), from rocket launchers firing to the monster. Their space buggy was made from a Volkswagen, and they even gave the guys those full comic book style fish-bowl helmets that you don’t often see in movies (since they reflect too much of what should not be seen in camera). And while we don’t see too many on-camera acts of violence, the resulting prosthetic work was quite impressive – I particularly liked the bloody spine stump of a guy who was ripped in half while sitting on the toilet.
Shirley and his producers provide a commentary that serves as the disc’s only extra besides a trailer reel. The others barely speak, but Shirley covers pretty much every base – how some of the actors were found, building the sets, minor issues during production, losing some of the budget, etc. I was also mildly amused by the fact that they recorded the track while watching the movie on a PS3, as Shirley warns the listeners that it’s about to start getting loud – I myself watched on my PS3 when the disc wouldn’t play in my DVD player, and cursed myself for turning on the machine 20 minutes before I started watching, which meant the obnoxious whirring* would be heard over 20 minutes more of the movie than it had to be. Just one of those nice bits of synchronicity, and also one that probably would have been edited out if they edited the track, something Shirley looks down on (which is why we get to hear him leave the room to grab a beer at another point). There are a number of gaps, however, and the movie’s audio is muted throughout, so I wish it was a more lively track.
Ultimately I think I wish that they had put their money into making a really kick-ass short version of the movie, one that could play at festivals and attract attention (read: money) to make it into a feature with more dough and resources at their disposal. The concept was great and the money was spent wisely, but with a few better actors and maybe another pass at the script, this could have been a top 10 of the year type movie for me. However, if you start watching and find yourself laughing a lot in the first ten minutes, I think you’ll be just as entertained for the 75 that follow.
What say you?
*If you don’t have a PS3 then you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Basically after 40-45 minutes the thing turns on a fan or something inside and becomes about 10x as loud, almost like hearing a vacuum cleaner in the next room. It’s part of why I haven’t fully moved over to Blu-ray yet; there are too many dialogue heavy (or just plain quiet) movies that I love that would be obnoxious to watch that way, and even though I barely use it for games I don’t have room (or inputs) for a dedicated Blu player.