This is an insanely great little film. Why in the world haven’t I heard of this one before?
Somehow it manages to combine the Y2K “virus,” Frankenstein level mad science, brain downloads, and the digital end of the world (in the year 2000) with…
Eight bit videogames?
It’s also a bit hard to sum up. Victor Vice, A young inventor with a long history of failure behind him has come up with a brilliant (he thinks) idea for a brain machine that would allow you to plug someone’s brain into a computer and allow them to interact with the real world.
It doesn’t look like anyone is going to take the slightest interest in his project until Pastor Reinhardt, a former wrestler who was paralyzed in the ring and has since become an enormously successful televangelist, decides to bankroll him.
So, with the coming of the year 2000 and the Y2K problem looming, Victor finally gets his project underway. The only problem is that he’s stuck with Reinhardt’s personal assistant, Frances Fritz, who thinks that Reinhardt should never have trusted an obvious loser like Victor and is there to make sure he doesn’t mess up.
Only there’s a lot more involved than any of them realize, and the experiment turns out quite differently from what anyone expected.
Oh, and the world ends.
I’ve got to say it again.
Where to begin?…
It feels as if the director, Jonathan Anthony, threw everything he could think of into the pot and stirred vigorously.
Then decided it wasn’t crazy enough and tossed in a few more things.
The setting, in the year 1999, just before the turn of the Millenia, is perhaps more hinted at than shown, with Victor using some hilariously outdated computers, which have obviously been linked together with lots of stray bits and pieces of technology and whatever cables they had on hand, to create a virtual world for Reinhardt’s brain to inhabit. The TV ads, the talking heads on the news, the politicians, and the celebrities lurking in the background are all even more absurd than the real ones ever were.
Which is saying a lot.
But those are hardly the only absurdities.
Victor dreams of winning an exclusive science contest and becoming the most important man in the whole world when everyone learns of his discovery and buries him in endless adulation. He constantly strikes dramatic poses, with his coat flying around him in the most dramatic possible way and is determined to win the absurdly small contest prize because, for the last five years, they’ve been sending him the paperwork for a first-time applicant.
Every single time.
Reinhardt’s original goals seem simple enough, a desire to escape his damaged body, and he tells Victor that someone who has failed as many times as he has is due for a win.
However, he’s clearly not ready for what is waiting for him in the brain machine, even if he is willing to do what it takes to survive.
Jonathan Anthony gives us some classic horror moments with the bloody brain Victor has to plug into the machine, which is when we suddenly switch to the world Reinhardt sees.
But there is even more going on once we reach that level as Reinhardt comes face to face with his greatest enemy, and has to fight a series of epic, videogame-style battles against him, as if they were both stuck in the old arcade version of Mortal Kombat.
And, before the movie is done, the consequences of Victor’s invention spill out into the real world, where they prevent one disaster, only to cause another one which is even worse…
It’s really hard to convey the flavor of Midnight Science because it is so far removed from any film I’ve ever seen. It indulges in the sort of retro-chronological futurism you can see in Ed Kirk’s Hoplite 2000 and Future Soldier (2023), and adds a lot of satiric faux television and commercials like the original Robocop. It has a remarkably small number of players — with just two (Victor and Frances) on screen most of the time. Except when it is just Reinhardt and his secret adversary.
Nor does the plot move smoothly from one inevitable event to the next, but changes directions without warning, going off on one unexpected tangent or another. I do love how an arcade video game gets worked into the story, with, later on, certain sequences turning into a very sophisticated eight-bit computer game.
While the effects are not practical they look like something you’d have expected to see in a film made in the late Nineties, while what we see on TV looks equally dated.
Christopher Michael Anthony — whose name sounds suspiciously like he’s the director’s brother — has a tough role in Victor (and one other character), who is at times annoying, at times pathetic, at times arrogant or silly — and yet, beneath it all, sympathetic.
Even if the worst in him wins out.
Reinhardt also goes through a series of major changes, particularly once he ends up in the machine and we get to see more of what drives him. He’s played by “L. Encino Velodrome,” a name I find inherently suspicious as I doubt anyone would name their son after a bicycle racing track. It’s probably Jonathan Anthony, but I haven’t been able to confirm that.
I also quite like Shirley Kwon as Frances. Her character is far more constant, but she spends so much of the film playing off Victor on her own that she has to carry a large part of the weight of the film — and does it quite well.
Look, Midnight Science is a low-budget, off the grid, Independent Science Fiction comedy. It makes a lot of eccentric choices, and doesn’t fit neatly into any established pattern. And it comes to a very sudden and abrupt end with a “To be continued” (which I’m not sure I believe) even though it is a near perfect ending for the film. I know that all this means that a lot of you out there won’t be able to handle it. It is a strange and decidedly sui generis sort of film, one no major studio is likely to back.
But ignore all that and take a chance on it. It deserves to be far better known — and it deserves to be watched.
And, you never know, maybe they’ll fix the Y2K bug in time…
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