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Sci-Fi Spectacular

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Presented by the Music Box and Movieside Film Festival, this 15-hour marathon of sci-fi movies begins at noon on Saturday, May 5, in the Music Box's main theater, 3733 N. Southport. Tickets for the whole marathon are $16, and ticket holders may leave and reenter the theater. Showtimes are approximate; for more information call 773-871-6604 or visit musicboxtheatre.com.

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RMetropolis Fritz Lang's 1927 silent epic about class struggle in a city of the 21st century still has a lot of popular currency, but it's never been a critics' favorite. This 124-minute version is the longest since the German premiere, and the unobtrusive use of intertitles to fill in the blanks makes it more coherent. The restoration clarifies the relationships among the hero (Gustav Frohlich); his late mother, who died giving birth to him; his father, the ruler of Metropolis (Alfred Abel); and the father's bitter romantic rival (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), an inventor who creates a robot in the mother's image. Later the robot is upgraded to impersonate the hero's heartthrob (Brigitte Helm), a radical preacher who helps organize the city's exploited workers. The film looks fabulous, and Gottfried Huppertz's original score is another worthy addition. (JR) a 12:10 PM.

Short works A Trip to the Moon (1902) is Georges Melies's classic silent short about astromers who journey to the moon, landing their rocket square in its eye. Haredevil Hare (1948), a Warner Brothers cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, features Bugs Bunny and the screen debut of Marvin the Martian. (JJ) a 2:15 PM.

RForbidden Planet An engaging 1956 science fiction gloss of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with a ship full of American astronauts landing on a mysterious planet where Walter Pidgeon and his miniskirted daughter, Anne Francis, guard the remains of a lost civilization. Even as the SF cliches fall fast and heavy, this is great to look at, thanks to the sumptuous MGM sets and the fine animation and matte work by Walt Disney Studios. Fred Wilcox directed. 98 min. (DK)

a 2:30 PM.

Live music Performances by Hotlips Messiah and Plasma Drive. a 4:10 PM.

RSerenity TV powerhouse Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) makes a rousing feature-directing debut, exploiting the cult status of his short-lived series Firefly to continue it on the big screen. The tongue-in-cheek sci-fi western reunites the show's cast in a story that pits its band of rebels roving space on the Serenity against the might of the ruling interplanetary Alliance and the fearsome Reaver cannibals. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) is the sinister operative dispatched to retrieve the ship's psychic passenger, who as played by Summer Glau kickboxes better than Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi combined. Cinematographer Jack Green (Unforgiven) gives the low-budget production a handsome gloss. PG-13, 119 min. (AG) a 4:30 PM.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Like most of Robert Wise's work, this slickly constructed 1951 science fiction film settles squarely in the middle of its genre, better than some and worse than others, though Michael Rennie was born to play the sleekly tailored visitor from another planet who carries a warning message to earth. The picture is smooth and atmospheric, but it nowhere finds the knife-edge of its famous contemporary, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe (who was doomed to play the same part for the next decade). The evocative score is by Bernard Herrmann. 92 min. (DK) Foster Hirsch, professor of film at City University of New York's Brooklyn College, will introduce the screening, which will be preceded by the Warner Brothers cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24th and 1/2 Century (1953) and followed by an onstage interview with Neal. a 6:30 PM.

Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB A rare screening of George Lucas's student short (1967, 15 min.) about a dystopian future, which he later developed into his feature debut, THX 1138 (1971).

a 9:15 PM.

Mad Max George Miller's 1980 Australian film suggests Richard Lester and Roger Corman collaborating on a remake of Walking Tall. Max (Mel Gibson), a highway patrolman in a desolate future, is roused to action when a highly stylized motorcycle gang attacks his wife and child. The film's imagery is wild and its editing pace frenetic, though unlike its better-known sequel The Road Warrior it takes some time out for character development, giving the violent action a semblance of motivation. Miller's work has been compared to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, but where the Leone films are about amorality, the Mad Max movies are purely and simply amoral--some of the most determinedly formalist filmmaking this side of Michael Snow. With Joanne Samuel. R, 93 min. (DK) a 9:30 PM.

RLa Jettee One of the best of all SF films is this haunting, apocalyptic 27-minute French short by the great Chris Marker (1962) about a man sent into the future--a story that is told almost exclusively in still frames. In French and German with subtitles. (JR) Short works by local artists precede the screening. a 11:10 PM.

RThe Terminator James Cameron's resourceful low-budget thriller (1984) recalls the canny exploitation work of the old New World Pictures. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an automated hit man of the future sent back to present-day Los Angeles to eliminate the future mother (Linda Hamilton) of a rebel leader; her only hope is a bashful guerrilla fighter (Michael Biehn) who has followed Schwarzenegger back through time. Cameron's direction of the ensuing chase owes a lot to George Miller and John Carpenter (not to mention Chuck Jones), yet the characterization of the violence has something agonizingly original about it: Schwarzenegger is presented as a lumbering slab of dumb, destructive strength--the image is more geological than human--and Cameron plays his crushing weightiness against the strangely light, almost graceful violence of the gunplay directed against him. The results have the air of a demented ballet. R, 108 min. (DK) a 11:45 PM.

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RStarship Troopers Four friends just out of high school join the military: Denise Richards wants to pilot enormous spaceships, Casper Van Dien wants to be near her, Dina Meyer wants to be near him, and Neil Patrick Harris wants to pit his brainpower against that of giant enemy insects--if they have brains. The plot of this 1997 feature may sound like silly, conventional science fiction and soap-opera romance, but director Paul Verhoeven blends the conflicting elements of intentional camp and perverse sincerity into a single tone--and he doesn't resort to simple irony. Instead he revels in the contradictions and defies us to see fascist ideology in a story that allows us to identify with warmongering characters. Ed Neumeier's screenplay was based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein. R, 129 min. (LA) a 1:35 AM. ¯

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Day the Earth Stood Still.

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