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Next Stop, Dystopia

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Alex Bailey

Take Us to Your Loss Leader: Zsa Zsa Gabor commands a corps of otherworldly beauties in the Carl Sagan­approved epic "Queen of Outer Space."

A sci-fi retrospective casts a jaundiced eye on the future

By Richard von Busack

THE GRAY NINETIES, as a prescient friend used to call our decade back in 1979, have been everything a science-fiction fan could ask: alienating and full of horrific loud music, random violence and malignant technology. Visionary science fiction--say, the elaborate near-future ambiance of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World--is a rarity. Most production designers don't have to expend any energy in designing the future; they know everything will look like a nightclub, an airport or a mall. Strangely, the films that forecast our modern dystopias still draw a cult audience, enough, in fact, to justify a retrospective at the Towne Theater, presented by the science-fiction show Prime Audio Soup (Tuesday nights on KSJS-FM).

Do the fans come out of sheer nostalgia? A new print of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Nov. 8­10) should be rewatched just to remember how it felt to see it on LSD, rather than to catch any hidden nuances from a lead actor remembered from Noel Coward's legendary barb, "Keir Dullea, Gone Tomorrow." Alien and Aliens (Nov. 27­28) remind us that Sigourney Weaver once had hair. The director's cut of Blade Runner (Nov. 15­17) is a must-see, free of the annoying mock-Bogart narration that ironed out all of the ambiguity of the story; and Ray Harryhausen's beautiful stop-motion animation is always a fresh marvel in Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (billed with The Day the Earth Stood Still, Nov. 13­14).

The camp Queen of Outer Space (with Forbidden Planet, Nov. 22­24) features monarch of Venus Zsa Zsa Gabor holding captive a breeding stock of Earthlings; the picture has been reissued in 35mm print, the better to be hooted at by a new generation. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Nov. 20­21) remains a sincere favorite--an eccentric treasure apparently untouched by the studio brass. Its highlight was a series of hallucinations, including colossal statuary dripping blood, and fields of upside-down crucified guys in ape suits: this was all we knew and all we needed to know of Luis Buñuel back in Seminole, Okla. Its sequel, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Nov. 20­21), was jinxed from the beginning by having to follow Beneath the Planet of the Apes' best-of-all-possible-cinematic endings: The world blows up and everybody dies.

Sci-Fi Film Festival, Nov. 8­10, 12­17, 20­24, 27­28 at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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