Thursday, 25 July 2013

I watched two science fiction comedies yesterday: The World’s End and Space Truckers. Well, I hope Space Truckers was meant to be a comedy.

The World's End, the third in Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Cornettos’ trilogy, doesn't quite live up to the masterpiece that is Shaun of the Dead, but nonetheless is, as expected, hilarious, clever, and absorbing throughout. A group of old school friends get back together to recreate the pub crawl of their youth, but find something very wrong with the residents of Newton Haven. Riffing on the sci-fi genre, there’s a great Bodysnatchers-esque vibe with a slew of references – I’ll have to watch it again to get the ones I inevitably missed – and a strong satirical bite about the ‘Starbucking’ of British pubs, towns, and, here, people.

What I love about the Cornetto trilogy is that Wright's films don't let the parody get in the way of the genre being parodied, nor do they let this get in the way of engaging characters. Compare The World's End with Spaceballs – Mel Brooks' film is a brilliant comedy, but not a very good science fiction film, and the characters are (deliberately) cliché. The World's End, however, excels in all these respects. As we watch Simon Pegg’s Gary King struggle to come to terms with how his friends have all grown up, it’s hard not to root for this immature hedonist, and Nick Frost plays the straight man to him particularly well. Three more great actors – Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan – make up the rest of the gang, and the way all these characters are changed by their adventure is a joy to watch.

I have to say I love the 90s music, particularly the use of Primal Scream's Loaded (which features a soundbite from Corman's The Wild Angels... references within references). It isn’t perfect: while not wanting to spoil the plot, the ending is a bit... iffy. And the set-up/payoff gag structure doesn’t work quite as neatly as in Shaun of the Dead.

But, all in all, The World's End is a remarkable film.

As is Space Truckers.

Space Truckers is a gaudily coloured attempt at sci-fi, with an Alien meets Yellow Submarine meets Big Mutha Truckers visual style. A despairing Dennis Hopper is one such trucker, ferrying square pigs and floating beer around space... but there's something very wrong with his latest cargo. While there are redeeming features – the villainous robots are surprisingly not shabby, and there’s a great bit where Dennis kills one with a microwave – the film is guilty of some of the worst scenes in all of science fiction. While Dennis is out fixing the ship, his two young crew members realise it’s suddenly and inexplicably become very hot inside and, in a scene which momentarily made me think I'd accidentally started watching softcore porn, strip to their underwear, which they remain in for the rest of the film. Words can’t describe how horribly poor this scene is. It’s as if the screenwriter realised his work was shit and so hastily added more nudity. At least, as both the man and the woman remain undressed, we can't accuse the film of sexism. And, I hear you say, at least Dennis Hopper doesn't take his trousers off too, does he? Well, yes. Yes, he does. But that’s not the worst of it…

The real star of the show is Charles Dance, as a cyborg space pirate who very nearly could have been a well-designed villain. This potential is entirely ruined in the best sex scene ever, in which he reveals that his penis needs to be cranked up with a lawnmower-style cord. No, really. With the classic line “If I had an anus, I’d probably soil myself”, it’s a role Nicolas Cage would have been ashamed to take.

Other stupid things: the way the heroine somehow successfully disguises herself as the pirate by just putting his coat and hat on, Dennis Hopper’s rather undeserved and deus ex machina love interest, the exploding suitcase, the fact that the space pirates didn’t have a parrot, the square pigs. Actually, maybe the square pigs were cool.

To be honest, I really enjoyed it.

But seriously, go see The World’s End.


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