You know your space adventure film is in serious trouble when its most entertaining moment comes when the guy who played the dad on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air equates happiness with fresh octopus. And as kooky as that may sound, that's exactly what happens in Nightflyers, an intergalactic riddle wrapped in a lifeless enigma about a primordial force that threatens to shorten the lives of a group of space travelers. The group's visual documentarian/cook is a man with some serious doubts regarding the mission he's signed up for. That is, until he smells the fresh octopus waiting for him in the ship's kitchen. After the fresh octopus has been sufficiently smelled, you'll notice that his demeanour goes from that of a cranky man whose nasal cavity is totally devoid of the smell of fresh octopus to that of a less cranky man whose olfactory organ is replete with the odor usually associated with fresh octopus in a matter of seconds. Holy shit, man, this flick must be the epitome of lame if you have been reduced to talking about fresh octopus. I mean, talk about your tangents from hell. Oh, and I know I just said it, and I'm about to say it again, but if you use the phrase "fresh octopus" one more time, I'm gonna punch you in the fucking face. Duly noted, my irrational friend. But you don't think I'm gonna let a little thing like fresh octopus slow me down? I don't think so. Unlike director Robert Collector, who, for some strange reason, is credited as T.C. Blake, I'm not afraid of this film, which is based on a novella by George R.R. Martin. Just let me check my memory banks, as there just might be something of note to salvage from the experience that is the act of watching this film; weirder things have happened. Yikes! I think I got something.
If there's one thing every women on earth, no matter their age, their race, their sexual orientation, or their marital status, has in common, it's that they all fantasize about having the power to beam a suave, tolerably awkward Englishman into their bedroom or sitting room at the touch of a button. In the 21st century, people will still smoke, say the word "fuck," and use pencils, but advances in holographic technology have reached a point where women have gained the ability to conjure up Englishmen with long, dark hair whenever they please. Okay, it's not that simple. However, in the mind of Miranda (Catherine Mary Stewart), the project coordinator of a deep space mission to find an alien lifeform, it might as well be.
We're suddenly ushered into the vast emptiness of outer space, where meet Miranda, a woman whose head is no doubt filled with thoughts of handsome Englishmen who care about her feelings (unlike those football-watching, North American neanderthals who never seem to be around when your armpits need a good licking), who is riding on a space-train. Where is she going? Duh, she's going to the Avalon Spacesport. With her on the space-train are the rest of the team who have been assembled on the cheap by Dr. D'Brannin (John Standing), a scientist whose spent the last twelve years trying make contact with an alien species called the "Volcrum," at least that's what I think they were called. Anyway, the other members of the team include: Audrey (Lisa Blount), a linguistics expert who, surprisingly, doesn't seen all that interested in being swept off her feet by a debonair Englishmen; Keelor (Glenn Withrow from Pass the Ammo), a recently unglued biologist; Darryl (James Avery) the mission's visual documentarian, and, from what I've heard, one helluva cook; and Lily (Hélène Udy), a cryptologist who works well with computers.
Meeting them at their destination are a couple of empaths, Jon Windermen (Michael Des Barres) and Eliza (Annabel Brooks), who have been brought along in case the aliens lack the means to communicate verbally. The former, besides loving white wine and shoulder padded trenchcoats, is what we in the empath game like to call: a class ten telepath. Which means, he can read the thoughts rattling around in just about anyone's mind. I wonder if Miranda, who also has telepathic abilities, albeit, somewhat limited compared to Windermen, is worried that he might find out that she's got a thing for guys who look like they would have no trouble whatsoever filling in as a member of Spandau Ballet if one of them, oh, let's say, Tony Hadley, happened to suddenly contract osmotic diarrhea after licking a couple of partially played with toy blocks at an unlicensed daycare in Swindon.
I'd just like to say–you know, before they get on board the ship, that the music score by Doug Timm was an excellent slab of synthified goodness if I ever heard one. It's definitely the best thing a guy named Doug has been associated with since the mighty Doug & the Slugs unleashed "Makin' It Work" onto a sluggish populace way back in '82. When I first heard Doug's synthesizer music over the opening credits, I thought that it had a cool Blade Runner vibe about it. These thoughts percolated even more when Miranda gets her eyes scanned at the departure gate, as the contraption they used on her reminded me of the one Dekker uses on Sean Young in the vicinity of an artificial owl.
Okay, enough with the Blade Runner references, let's get these people on board the ship already. Waiting for them in the spacesport is the Nightflyer, a large deep space freighter, which Dr. D'Brannin has chartered to take them out into the far reaches of space. Sporting a network of grandiose passageways, the team make their way to a spacious lounge, a tomb-like monstrosity that causes them to utter sounds like, "ooh," and to say words like, "wow," as they drink in its majesty. The team's visual documnetarian, as I've already pointed out, is quite impressed by the fact the ship's kitchen has fresh octopus. However, as the rest of the team are busy making themselves at home, you'll notice that Miranda is the only one who is not carrying on about the lofty nature of their new digs. Why is this? Is it because she senses something is amiss? Who knows.
After taking off (during which, the team are treated to a planetarium-style light show), they finally meet the ship's captain. Well, they sort of meet him. It would seem that Royd (Michael Praed) has decided to greet his passengers through a holographic projection. As Keelor, Darryl, and Lily are bemoaning the fact they were welcomed aboard by a hologram (a major social faux pas in their eyes), Royd can't seem to take his flickering eyes off Miranda, her blue, sleeveless dress shimmering in the lounge's mustardy glow. And who can blame him, always standing in a manner that reminded me of the work of famed illustrator Patrick Nagel, Miranda exudes a stylish grace. The fixation actually goes both ways, as Miranda seems to be enchanted by the dark-haired hologram. While they were making goo-goo eyes with one another, it was obvious that Miranda was thinking to herself: I'm so glad I decided to wear this particular shade of lipstick today, because Royd totally looks like the kind of guy who digs chicks who wear pale pink lipstick in outer space.
If I was a woman living in the 1980s...actually, scratch that. If I was a woman living during any period of time (era specific hairstyles and fashion trends be damned), I would walk into the nearest hair salon, plant my ample behind into one of the available chairs, cross my legs in a manner that conveyed to the staff that I mean business, and demand that they give me the "Catherine Mary Stewart in Nightflyers" look. Sticking with the whole female consumer theme, I want Miranda's clothes as well, especially that blue shirt she wears in the lounge when the kitchen blows up. Wait a minute, the kitchen blows up?!? Tell me more. Um, excuse me? I was talking about Miranda's shirt. Like, oh my god. How rude. At any rate, where was I? Oh yeah, of course, the shirt. Dotted with these little black symbols, I thought the blue shirt did a terrific job of framing C.M.S.'s face. The only criticism I had with the way Roger Taylor looks heavenward in the music video for Duran Duran's "Planet Earth" is that he isn't wearing a shirt like the one Miranda wears in Nightflyers. Think about it. His adam's apple could have looked even more new romantic had it been paired with a blue shirt.
Donning a white dress shirt with a matching pair of white boots, Miranda decides to get some work done in an isolated stairwell. She may be hidden from the prying eyes of her fellow team members, but she can't escape Royd, who can pretty much transmit himself to any part of the ship he wants. Impressed by her self-assurance, Royd opens up to Miranda (he admires her outgoing attitude). Sure, he doesn't tell her how he manages to keep his hair so silky smooth in outer space, but he does tell her that he was raised by the ship's computer. Spending his entire life on board the giant freighter, the hemmed in Royd wishes to leave, but his mother (who downloaded her soul into the ship's computer before she died) refuses to let him. And it's this mother-son tug of war that causes the majority of the drama in Nightflyers, as his desire to live a more human existence (enjoy a game of tennis, smear his pet beaver with marmalade, go record shopping, etc.) clashes with her decidedly misanthropic outlook.
The ship's computer, lacking the physical means to generate substantive change, uses Jon Winderman's telepathic brain as a conduit to stir up trouble. On top of exploiting his mental abilities, it also made sense for the computer to use him since he was the only one who felt the "malignant presence" of Royd's dead mother. As he is slowly taken over by the demonic motherboard, you'll notice that Michael Des Barres' performance goes from being mildly campy ("the ship is alive!") to extremely campy (check out the scream face he employs when he comes face-to-face with Royd's mother in a dream). I'm afraid the same can't be said for the rest of the cast, who basically, like the Nightflyer itself, drift aimlessly through the proceedings in a joyless haze. Only Glenn Withrow appears to be putting forth any effort as Keelor, a character who seems to be channeling Hudson from Aliens. Personal fave, Hélène Udy (Pinball Summer and Pin) utters a few lines here and there while staring at a computer screen, but her contribution is negligible. (Quirky fun fact: Nightflyers and her guest appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are the only instances, at least to my knowledge, where Miss Udy is credited as "Hélène." In most cases, she's listed as plain old Helene.)
If you're a fan of Catherine Mary Stewart, especially when she looks up, you'll definitely want to check out Nightflyers, as it's the best film in its class when it comes to showcasing the pride of Edmonton, Alberta gazing in an upwardly direction. Granted, some people will say Night of the Comet is the preeminent film in the rarely talked about "which film features Catherine Mary Stewart looking up more sweepstakes," some might even chime in by saying The Last Starfighter is the look up king. But the sane amongst us will no doubt agree that Nightflyers has got it going on in terms of Miss Stewart looking toward the sky.
On top of looking fabulous while looking up, Catherine Mary Stewart is a walking, talking style icon as Miranda, a role model for fashion-forward women the world over. Since I've already made it abundantly clear that I want to be her, let's give some love to costume designer Brad R. Loman and hair stylist Kay Cole for creating the plethora of exhilarating ensembles and hairstyles Miranda wears throughout this movie. Of course, they weren't exhilarating in the same way the hair and the clothes were in, oh, let's say, Liquid Sky (when in doubt, reference Liquid Sky), but they're no less chic.
A talkie version of Alien, Nightyflyers, a film that could have easily been called "Motherboard 2: The Possession," is a moderately interesting glob of sci-fi/horror (the film is surprisingly gory in places) that is repeatedly weighed down by its clunky script. Nevertheless, director Robert Collector, who according to IMDb: "left the production before the film's editing was completed, and requested that his name not appear in the credits" does have a flair for filming dramatic scenes in hallways and around bulkheads (the scene where the faces of Miranda and Jon Windermen are bathed in blue light while everything else was bathed in red was pretty cool). Recommended to fans of Catherine Mary Stewart and Vangelis, as for everyone else, stick with the Alien movies.
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