This weekend, the mecca of geekdom was the Drexel Theater in Columbus, Ohio. More than 300 people gathered for 24 hours of science fiction movies (with a few only taking in 12 hours at the first Halfathon as well). Several of the Rejects were in attendance to enjoy the good, the bad and the ugly that science fiction cinema had to offer.
The Drexel Theatre in Bexely served as the new home for the marathon, which has jumped around to five other theaters over the past thirteen years after its home-base theater the Drexel North closed in 1995. Considering the number of bad splices, warped prints and a substandard sound system, things went rather smoothly.
The only real problems with the presentation were the soundtrack levels being set too low and frequent framing problems that were usually resolved quickly (with the exception of a framing gaff that split Stranger from Venus for about five minutes after the 20th hour).
Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal was the special guest. Sci-fi fans will remember her as Helen from The Day the Earth Stood Still, a marathon favorite. The 82-year-old Neal was brought in via wheelchair and given the spotlight to answer questions from marathon host organism Bruce Bartoo, Drexel owner Jeff Frank and the rest of the audience.
Perhaps Neal would have been an awesome guest ten or twenty years ago, but her seasoned condition presented its fair share of problems. She often forgot things, including names of co-stars, productions she had been in and even why she was at this event. (In the beginning of her appearance, she mentioned she was there for charity, obviously confused with her appearance at a Drexel Theatres fundraiser the night before.)
While the audience was respectful and friendly to Neal, she was clearly past her prime as a media guest of honor. Still, the highlight of her appearance was when a fan asked what she thought of Keanu Reeves starring in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and she simply asked, “Who?”
Additional thoughts on the films follow:
Battlestar Galactica (1978) – Not exactly a cinematic treasure, this was the theatrical release of the television show’s pilot, which was nothing more than a Star Wars rip-off. The archival print shown was beautiful. Audience snarking was prevalent in the first half (which is to be expected for a somewhat goofy first film of the day), but it cooled considerably in the second half.
Sputnik Mania (2008) – A film that could also be called NASA Is Awesome, this new documentary chronicled the creation of an American space agency in the years following the Russian’s launch of Sputnik. Presented in video projection, the image and sound quality were rough but not unwatchable.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – Robert Wise’s science fiction classic has played at many marathons over the years and always is well received. However, few were prepared for the rather inappropriate relationship between Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and the young boy Bobby Benson (Billy Gray).
Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) – This brand of cinematic cheese is a snarker’s delight, and the marathon crowd was merciless to it. The fact that the crew of WASPs from the futuristic U.N. travel to Uranus (which is the seventh planet, if you didn’t know), provided fodder for every “your anus” joke known to man.
The Andromeda Strain (1971) – Robert Wise makes another directorial appearance at this year’s science fiction marathon, this time adapting Michael Crichton’s classic novel of a biological entity threatening to wipe out the planet. It was the first of the serious, somber films to lead into the long night.
Big Man Japan (2007) – This modern Japanese mockumentary mixes long takes of a superhero’s rather dull alter ego with crazy action sequences between the colossal Big Man Japan and various modern monsters. This might have been better received with an earlier showing, considering how many slow moments it had.
Lady Terminator (1989) – Easily the hit of the marathon, this is an Indonesian rip-off of the classic Schwarzenegger film. However, instead of a cyborg, we get an innocent (and totally hot) anthropologist who is possessed by a mythical eel that enters her from her naughty bits. Who could take this one seriously?
1984 (1984) – This powerful presentation of a futuristic dystopia is a phenomenal film, but probably not the best choice to be shown at 4 a.m. Those who managed to stay awake had to struggle to hear the softer moments with the low-running soundtrack. We lost a good chunk of the audience here as they gave into sleep depravation.
Pitch Black (2001) – Vin Diesel and company managed to wake some people up with this explosive action piece. The print looked great, considering so few people saw this one in the theaters.
Stranger from Venus (1954) – Patricia Neal returns to star in this horribly low-rent rehash of The Day the Earth Stood Still. This time, instead of Klaatu arriving in a wicked-cool spaceship with an awesome robot, a Venusian arrives in town to start gardening and bring a message of peace. Seriously, this only played because the guest of honor was in it, and it was really the only other science fiction movie she had done.
A Clockwork Orange (1972) – Stanley Kubrick’s classic wrapped up the 24 hours. It was shown in its full X-rated glory (which is actually pretty tame by today’s standards). This is another film that has made more than one appearance at a marathon, and it is always great to see on the big screen.