Monday, August 17, 2015

Lifeforce Revisited

Having feature Lifeforce as a 'random movie trailer' on Friday, I subsequently had the opportunity to re-watch the entire film - the longer 'international' version - over the weekend.   Whilst I don't think I did it a disservice in the previous post, it was interesting how much of the film - in its early sequences at least - actually works reasonably well.  The initial space-set scenes, whilst they go on too long, are atmospheric and intriguing, setting up all sorts of questions - most of which are never adequately answered.  Easily the best part of the movie is the subsequent section set at the space research centre in London.  These build up a real atmosphere of impending doom, with Halley's comet ominously dominating the night sky (which, in reality, it didn't do on its 1986 visit).  Indeed, director Tobe Hooper succeeds in conjuring up a real 'late at night' feeling for this section of the film.  The subsequent awakening of the naked space girl and her attack on the security guard are well handled, as are the subsequent scenes when an autopsy is attempted on the security guard, with predictably disastrous consequences. 

Unfortunately, with the entrance of Peter Firth's Colonel Cain (from the SAS, although 'that's not for publication, kindly ignore that last remark', as he tells the assembled press as he arrives at the space centre), the film begins to go seriously off course, with his pointless search for the escape space girl and the consequent trip to a secure mental institute in Yorkshire fatally slowing down the film's pace and completely derailing its narrative drive.  This, along with a welter of flashbacks and clumsy expository scenes, compromise the movie's confusing middle section.  A series of abrupt jump cuts between scenes give the impression that whole scenes had been cut (they had) and the viewer is left suspecting that they might have been better than what was left in or, at the very least, might have clarified the increasingly confused narrative.  Lifeforce gets back on course with the apocalyptic climax, which is well staged and almost saves the film.  Add to this some shockingly poor dialogue and over-the-top performances from Firth, Frank Finlay and Patrick Stewart (the worst offender) and it is obvious that the film never stood a chance at the box office.  The most restrained performance by a mile is that of Steve Railsback.  Unfortunately, as he's nominally the leading character this leaves a vacuum at the centre of the film which other cast members try to fill by over-acting like crazy.

The visual image everyone takes away from Lifeforce of course is that of Mathilda May as the naked space girl.  Whilst I've often spent the running time of a film idly wondering what the attractive lead actress might look like unclothed, whilst re-watching Lifeforce I found myself pondering what Mathilda may might look like with clothes on.  Not that she wasn't incredibly beautiful in the film but, as I've noted elsewhere, it is remarkable how the novelty of female nudity in a film wears off when it is a constant for nearly two hours.

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