In the summer of 1985, I was the type of hungry movie goer that normally would’ve flocked to something that looked like Lifeforce. I couldn’t tell you why I didn’t – I honestly don’t recall any specific reason – but I do remember asking a friend of mine who had taken a date of his to go and see it. “It really isn’t any good,” he told me, “but it does have this gal with massive boobs who pops up every now and then when the plot slows to a halt.”
Now, years later, that simple comment has stuck with me ever since. So when I saw that Scream Factory was headlining an all-new Blu-ray release that promised an all-new cut approved by director Tobe Hooper himself, I figured it’s never too late – not even after thirty-plus years of thinking about it and the promise of those massive boobs (his words, not mine, folks) – to take in this sprawling B-movie and give it a fair shake.
What could possibly go wrong, eh?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A mission to investigate the passing Halley’s Comet finds something no scientist inspected: in the heart of the phenomenon lies an alien spacecraft! Col. Tom Carlsen (played with agreeable stoicism by Steve Railsback) commands a spaceborne crew to investigate the foreign vessel, and he’s alarmed to find three human-like aliens in suspended animation. He orders the men to ferry them back to the shuttle, unknowingly setting Earth on a course to total annihilation by … you guessed it … space vampires!
Now … I say again … oh, good gravy! In spite of itself, Lifeforce is a bomb of epic proportions that, yes, deserves to be celebrated. Why? How could that possibly be? Well, the answer is never easy.
It could be that Lifeforce is one of those rare failures – it had a respected director, and the cast isn’t without talent – that inspires others to follow in its footsteps. I’ve always maintained that no one – not a director, not a screenwriter, not a studio exec or even actors – sets out with deliberate intentions to capture a disaster on film. After all, the risks to their respective careers and their employers make it an entirely implausible suggestion. Still, it somehow happens – probably more often that creatives would like to admit – and I like to think that it’s due to an all-out consuming breakdown in the creative process. I suspect that harsh cold reality is somewhere near the heart – or ‘life force’ – of Lifeforce.
For example, the disc’s longer cut (116 minutes) really doesn’t add much substance to the theatrical release (101 minutes), but there are some small character moments that help flesh out these otherwise fairly conventional creations. In the 1980s, it was no secret that theatre owners preferred films pretty close to that much-praised 90 minutes run-time – it gave them the best chance to get the biggest audience into their business day, hence the best return – so I wonder if some of the tinkering contributed to a balkanization of the plot. (Rest assured, even at 116 minutes this film makes little sense!)
But the truth is that the problems really don’t stop there.
Lifeforce’s shooting script is quite probably as anomalous as everything chocked into it – mysterious disappearances, supernatural science, boobs that defy gravity – and even a cursory glance at it reveals a score of problems. For starters, what is the story? Is this something being told from the point of view of the astronauts, or are these space vampires intended to be the main characters? Just whose story is it, and why does it belong to them? Thirty minutes into it, there still appears no central conflict – things just ‘happen,’ while, in the meantime, characters seem to come and go with greater frequency. About halfway through, the narrative finally cleans up a bit when Carlsen kinda/sorta returns from the dead (not really, but don’t bother, because he’s not the only one who kinda/sorta does); with him, he brings some answers, but he also introduces several other new questions?
What to do now but … well, introduce even more characters!
Seriously, I’ve no idea how this script with these ideas could’ve seen its way into production except as a Golan and Globus production. (Google it, kids … it’ll all make sense with some Googling.) The end result is like that car wreck – you really should drive past, though you can’t help but keep looking. That’s the best way to describe Lifeforce – a catastrophe you can’t help but watch. It’s that intoxicating.
Plus, newcomer Mathilda May really does have great posture.
Recommended entirely because it’s so bizarre to behold! Lifeforce is that rare sci-fi schlockfest that’s worth seeing entirely because it is so mind-blowingly bad. The script by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby – an adaptation of the novel “The Space Vampires” by Colin Wilson – doesn’t even really try to make sense of any of it probably because it would’ve been an entirely exhaustive affair. To its credit, Lifeforce raised far more questions that it or quite possibly any film could ever answer, so it’s best to go into this one with an open mind and an open heart … ‘cause if you leave it with any measure of affection then it has to be love!