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Thursday, February 17, 2011

MILLENNIUM CRISIS -- DVD review by porfle

As Ted Raimi states in one of the DVD's bonus featurettes, you don't see that many low-budget independent sci-fi flicks that are much more than talking heads in rooms, yakking a lot of dialogue at each other. The makers of MILLENNIUM CRISIS (2007) have attempted to sidestep this problem by filling their shot-on-video space opera with plenty of really cheap-looking special effects and hoping we'll like the story enough to play along and really, really suspend our disbelief.

Fortunately, they did a pretty good job of this. The effects shots range from tolerable all the way down to the level of Monty Python-style animation, but I have to give them an A for effort. If you use your imagination, you might get into the cheapo atmosphere after awhile. The sets are minimal--some are even, well, subliminal--but much is done with a little sleight-of-hand and lots of weird lighting effects, with the help of a good ambient musical score by Aaron Paul Low which adds to the dreamlike quality of certain scenes. And yes, the story is interesting enough to have kept all of this from making me switch to hibernation mode.

I had trouble following some of it, but the main gist I got was that in the distant future, the warring Terrans and Andromedeans are enjoying a fragile period of truce. But a race of space vampires known as the Kluduthu are scheming to get everybody at each other's throats again so that they can enslave the survivors and feed off them. Which, I think we can all agree, isn't very nice.

A woman named Aurora (Clare Stevenson), who doesn't know where she came from or exactly what race she belongs to, is kidnapped by Kluduthu leader Harkness (a quietly effective Ato Essandoh of BLOOD DIAMOND) and his android cohort Lucretia (Olja Hrustic, who played one of the "Werewolf Women of the S.S." in GRINDHOUSE) because they suspect her to be the last of a species of aliens known as Bloodmasks, who can mimic the physical characteristics of any other species they come in contact with. Harkness and Lucretia plan to use Aurora to infiltrate a peace conference between the Terrans and Andromedeans and assassinate an important ambassador, thus sparking interplanetary war.

Clare Stevenson is a capable actress who makes Aurora a very likable character. She's a bit like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through one mind-boggling situation after another as she tries to find out who and what she is while doing her best to avoid being used as a secret weapon by the bad guys.

One particularly fun sequence aboard a space freighter has Aurora accidentally awakening some sentient androids, which then automatically awakens a Nosferatu-Class Neuronecromotron (really just an ugly bald guy who scowls and growls a lot) who is programmed to kill anything that moves in order to prevent any of the androids from escaping. I like the way the actors play these wide-eyed, innocent androids, and how Lucretia, the ancient android who's been around the galaxy a few times, sardonically informs them of the fruitlessness of their gosh-a-rootie plan to run away and live in freedom.

Ted Raimi appears in a few sequences as a flaky archeologist named Professor Keene, who gets mixed up in the whole thing and helps Aurora. Ted is probably the most experienced actor in the cast, but he gets barely enough screen time to justify giving him pole position on the DVD cover.

Lindsey Roberts (HUSTLE & FLOW) plays a Kluduthu assassin named Fiona, and if you like coldblooded warrior women she'll probably float your boat. There's a cool swordfight between her and Andromedean agent Murnau (Daryl Boling), in which Fiona just happens to accidentally be topless (oops!) for some reason. It's shot in what comes closest to being an actual honest-to-gosh set, is well-lit and nicely-choreographed, and makes this look a bit more like a real movie for a couple of minutes.

The best part of the movie for me is the Lucretia character. Olja Hrustic is a looker who plays the ages-old android with a cool, cynical detachment and air of mystery and superiority over everyone else. Lucretia's most startling feature is a long, metallic tentacle that springs from I-don't-know-where and can either mess you up, suck your life force, or just screw around with you. That, in addition to a cool chain-mail headdress and tight green bodysuit, helps to make Lucretia one of the most enjoyable visual aspects of the film.

On the negative side, the harsh lighting gets to be irritating from time to time, as does a frequent tendency of the editors to connect a sequence's shots together with an unnecessary white flashing light effect. There's a lot of imagination at work, though, in many of the futuristic elements of the different environments. And some of the images director/co-scripter Andrew Bellware has come up with are rather stunning--there's a reclining shot of Lucretia at about the halfway point that I swear I'd kill to have framed on the wall of my livingroom. Shortly before that, there's another shot of Aurora in repose inside her small living cubicle that would accompany it nicely.

The DVD from Shock-O-Rama cinema is in widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Bonus features include a director/producer commentary, interviews with Raimi and other castmembers, a visual FX documentary, and a Shock-O-Rama trailer vault.

It's all unmistakably cheap but hardly amateurish. There's a lot of talent evident here, making the best of severely limited resources in imaginative ways, which I will always find just as much fun to watch in its own way as most of the big-budget razzle-dazzle stuff. With an intriguing sci-fi story, a good cast playing interesting characters, and some resourceful talent behind the camera, MILLENNIUM CRISIS manages to rise above its barely-existent budget to become somewhat more than the sum of its parts.

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