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Book, The (2010)
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by Jay Seaver

"At least it's the interesting kind of terrible."
2 stars

As remarkably inept as "The Book" is, I was still willing to give it a recommendation of the "guilty pleasure" variety, almost entirely for its commitment to its retro-bizarre style. A man can only take so much, though, and writer/director/everything Richard Weiss eventually pushed his movie from funky kitsch to frustrating inanity. And yet,it's still kind of fascinating in its awfulness, a terrible movie that's more fun to talk about than many masterpieces.

200 years ago, in 2284, a book was written with the assistance of alien creatures from "inner space" that was unlike any other: Once someone started reading it, they could not stop until it was finished, and the words would purge all negative emotions from the reader - and, some would argue, free will. Tonight, as the eight planets align, a clandestine group meets underneath a utopian city to pass along the true story of The Book - how science-fiction author Alex Paris (Stan Weston), his wife Cleo (Marlene Ryan), and daughter Julie (Pamela Wycliffe) had a strange and horrifying encounter with these allegedly peaceful aliens.

The first thing a person notices about this movie is just how garish the production is - it's cheap-looking, the colors are blinding, the fashion is weird, every ordinary thing has been hand-made or modified in a strange fashion to appear futuristic, with nonsensical names and slang dropped into every line that makes the most straightforward conversations sound bizarre. And it is glorious! Say what you will about societies where a person's caste can be quickly deduced from how large and ornate their hat is, but the device gets the point across quickly. A lot of the design is just batty - if not for a gratuitous morphing effect toward the end, I would suspect that The Book was a lost relic of the 1970s, because why else would Alex write using a "futuristic" typewriter whose keys are unmarked blinking lights? It makes no sense, but a colorful future that has evolved in random ways is just fun to look at, and if Weiss was going for a 70s-sci-fi pastiche, he hit the bulls-eye.

Unfortunately, nearly every other aspect of the filmmaking is awful, and not charmingly so. The acting is pretty terrible across the board, although the cast may deserve a bit of leniency, as the words Weiss gives them to say, even when not completely made-up, are often utterly banal. Not only that, but the man seems to do everything he can to avoid just capturing a performance, especially in the year-2284 scenes. He shoots from behind or other odd angles, and there is apparently no scene that cannot be improved with some sort of overdub. Historical montages have snippets of conversation, aliens communicate telepathically, and human characters run a constant inner monologue even during conversation or when what they're doing needs no narration. Heck, after a while, I began to notice that dialogue scenes are often shot so that speakers are turned away or off-screen. Getting past how that's just weird, it's also bad technique: Instead of giving the disembodied voice a specific function, he's making the audience guess what it's used for at any given time.

That's not the only way the film is a mess. The script is terribly flabby, opening with an animated monologue on The Book's history. Then, after spending a fair amount of time with year-2484 characters of utterly no import, another character delivers a very similar monologue, leading into a flashback which, logically, would present the same information again, except that the "twenty-second century" scenes (yes, 2284 is stated to be the twenty-second century as opposed to the twenty-third, although there's an in-story reason for that if you're feeling generous) are about something different. That's even worse than it sounds, because when we return to 2484 for the denouement, the point Weiss is trying to make is not just wrong-headed and supported by distasteful imagery, but it's not supported by the dreary flashback he's just subjected the audience to: It's not The Book we should worry about, it's memory-sucking body-snatching aliens!

And I suspect that, Weiss doesn't want to be misinterpreted. The movie contains enough oblique and obvious references to Scientology that it seems likely to be the product of Weiss having someone close succumb to the cult's lure, and his rage is all over the place rather than focused. Then again, he may be having a very successful laugh at the audience's expense - it is almost impossible to know whether this is a legitimate terrible seventies-style movie or a flawless and subtly satirical imitation of one.

I tend to think it's for real, if only because it feels like a movie made by someone with more passion than talent and more inspiration than skill. Imitations are hollow, and while "The Book" may stink in every other way, it doesn't seem to have that problem.

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originally posted: 02/16/12 15:07:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Richard Weiss

Written by
  Richard Weiss

  Stan Weston
  Marlene Ryan
  Pamela Wycliffe
  Dennis Duggan

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