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Beyond the Black Rainbow
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by Jay Seaver

"Something different - an homage to SEVENTIES sci-fi."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Depending on what sort of film fan you are, you may find yourself vaguely giddy - or confused - as this movie opens. After all, while it's not uncommon to see the grindhouse and horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s revisited with lots of admiration and affection, the distinctive science fiction of that era gets very little love. "Beyond the Black Rainbow" is a dead-on recreation of that sort of film, and while it's very cool to revisit that aesthetic, there's a reason you don't see many like this nowadays.

In a sterile underground base, there lives a silent girl named Elena (Eva Allan). She encounters very few other human beings - mainly Margo (Rondel Reynoldson), her caretaker, and Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), a scientist who occasionally summons her to a room for experiments meant to measure her emotional response. This has been going on for some time, but things are about to get even stranger, as the visionary behind this project, Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands), is dying, and Nyle is growing more detached from his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry) and humanity in general.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is very much an attempt to recreate a specific time; look at what dates, fashions, and equipment show up on-screen, and the movie is set firmly in the early to mid-1980s. That's about when movies like this finished dying out, as Star Wars became the model for big-budget sci-fi rather than the austere descendants of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 and George Lucas's THX-1138. Writer/director Panos Cosmatos and production designer Bob Bottieri capture the look of this sort of movie perfectly, with walls that glow purple, large monochrome rooms, and a great deal of communication done through dehumanizing video screens. The soundtrack is dead-on as well, all synthesizers that seem less like music than an ominous mechanical pulse.

As it turns out, "dehumanizing" and "mechanical" are often fit words to describe this picture. The characters are frequently almost inhuman abstractions, with most being cruel and Elena the product of a warped upbringing. Cosmatos has a few grand-scale ideas, but it can be awfully difficult to access them via Nyle and Elena; Michael Rogers and Eva Allan aren't meant to create warm, likable characters, so often come off as flat. The frequent result is long stretches in the film where the story creeps forward and the audience must really struggle to find a connection. This is also a frequent property of the movies that inspired Beyond the Black Rainbow, and there's a bit of an argument to be made that sci-fi cinema has swung too far from presenting brain-melting concepts toward easy relatability, but those movies were seldom this cold.

To a certain extent, it makes up for being cold by being weird. Though vast underground complexes are where the movie lives, it's got some seriously trippy sequences, and when things start to seriously happen in the last act, it can be a real treat. Cosmatos throws inhuman powers, mutants, and robotic "sentionauts" at the audience, and does so with sleek polish; as much as some parts of the movie may drag, an equal amount is very cool indeed, and when a character finally full-on embraces inhumanity, things become a lot of fun.

At least, fun if you enjoy that flavor of science fiction film; they can very much be an acquired taste. But at the very least, this is a serious change of pace from the jokey 50s sci-fi pastiches that so many filmmakers have done, and (despite the roughness) a more honest and sincere tribute.

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originally posted: 08/10/11 03:33:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 34th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2012 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2012 series, click here.

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  DVD: 11-Sep-2012


  DVD: 11-Sep-2012

Directed by
  Panos Cosmatos

Written by
  Panos Cosmatos

  Michael Rogers
  Eva Allan
  Scott Hylands
  Marilyn Norry

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