Provocative science fiction presents a huge challenge to commercial cinema in that the conceptual abstractions which are often at the center of the story are a bafflement to filmmakers, who must reconfigure what are often obtuse descriptions expressed in internal monologues instead of temporal manifestations which might be easily reproduced through art direction and special effects. Metaphysical constructs are hardly the food of physical production values, and Hollywood wisdom asserts that any SF story worth its weight in fifteen year old ticket buyers is easily transmutable into a shoot-em-up western in outer space.
Imagine then the horror that must have befallen the producers of Tobe Hooper’s “Lifeforce”, when it turns out their purchased property, Colin Wilson’s novel “The Space Vampires” did not concede to the Grand Guignol teasings of its misleadingly trashy title and rather than an action packed roller coaster ride, was in actuality a rather pedantic exploration into to the origins of newly discovered extraterrestrial forms who may or may not have prefigured in, if not the very origins of Man, then certainly may have had a transmogrifying effect of the species. Hollywood’s typical employment of chimerical renderings usually limits alien life to be represented by either humanoids in prosthetic applications or by tentacled, slime dripping monsters (a concept which completely undermines the physical design of their spaceships) rather than as completely abstruse to our terrestrial conceptions, nor as any but subject to our rules of corporeal evolution (The only major films to meet the challenge of this conundrum were “Forbidden Planet” which hinted at the uncommon physiognomy of the Krell but wisely left their actual appearance to the imagination, and “2001: A Space Odyssey” which outside of a geometrical representation (assuming mathematics as the universal constant), remained an ethereal abstraction; heavily suggesting a non-corporeal existence, though whether mortal or deity was left to the same imagination. The generically entitled film “Lifeforce”shares the humanoid manifestations of the novel, though discards the incorporeal origins of the celestial travelers in exchange for simplistic bat-like creatures whose cosmic compatriots preside over an irrational, chaotic hybrid of SF and horror, which accounts for an abundance of illogical expository dialogue, empty action sequences, desperately busy special effects, gratuitous, curvaceous nudity and hysterical overacting, but not a whit of narrative coherence.
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