Thursday, July 09, 2009

Movies: In space, no one can hear you suck.

I'm going to propose a hypothesis about Dracula movies. For any Dracula movie that contains a year in the title, the movie's quality is inversely proportional to the absolute value of difference between 1897 (the publication of Dracula) and the year in the title.

To test this hypothesis, we can look at the relative values of Hammer Studio's Dracula 1958, Alan Gibson's Dracula A.D. 1972 (a.k.a. Dracula Chases the Mini Girls, where "mini girls" means girls in short skirts and not, sadly, midget women) and Patrick Lussier's Dracula 2000. The hypothesis correctly predicts that the best of the lot is the stylish and inventive 1958 flick, which some feel represents the high point of Hammer's creative output. The once-trendy cheesiness of 1972 makes it at least fun to watch, giving it second place in our trio. The dour, clumsy, and stylistically inert 2000 performs the worst of all three test subjects.

I bring this up to provide a firm scientific context for my review of Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness, the low-budget sci-fi/horror/actioner that takes the Dracula mythos and projects it 1,000 thousand years into the future, into a universe of intergalactic space travel, androids, and Coolio.

That's right. Coolio.

This context is important because, as I discuss the film, you might be tempted to think, "What an amazingly wacky flick, I should take pains to experience it for myself!" But don't be fooled. Remember the Dracula Title Year Hypothesis. It's science. You can't argue with it.

The film opens with Udo "anything for a buck" Kier as captain Varna of the spacefaring cargo ship the Demeter. In the first in series of video log entry interruptions that act as a running exposition, Varna explains that his cargo ship is on a return run from the planet Transylvania in the Carpathian system. He also complains of some sort illness has struck the crew.

Cut to 50 years later, and the intrepid crew of the salvage ship Mother (despite all the clamor George Clinton made over the Mother ship in the day, I must say that it's a little disappointing when you actually see it) it on their way to make a quick buck of the floating hulk of the Demeter. The salvage crew is led by Captain Abraham Van Helsing, played by Casper "the friendly ghost of a career" Van Dien. His crew includes the by-the-book second in command and love interest Aurora Ash, played by Baywatch alum Erika Eleniak. There's also the pot-addled 187, played by Coolio, natch. Tiny Lister provides the muscle in the form of the brutish Humvee, who never explains why his nickname means any more to his 31st century comrades than the nickname "Lectica" would mean to us. The brains of the operation is the wheelchair-bound brainiac Arthur Holmwood, whose allusive name is wasted because there's no Lucy Westernra analog. Nor it is explained why, after a century of tech development, the wheelchair apparently remains the best option for people who have lost the use of their legs. Finally, the crew is completed by the inept navigator-intern Mina Murry. Like Arthur's name, it is another wasted allusion.

The crew of Mother reaches the Demeter and, after scanning the ship and finding no signs of life, sends in Humvee and Mina to recon. After a false jump scare, the two test the oxygen in the ship using the traditional method of the sci-fi space explorer: they pop of their breathers and see whether or not exposure to toxic fumes or lack of oxygen kills them. Since they don't die, the ship is declared safe and the rest of the crew boards. Holmwood gets most of the Demeter's systems online while the rest of the team searches the ship. They find a small collection of coffins, the sole cargo of the ship, all filled with sand. They also stumble across the desiccated remains of Varda (what happened to the rest of the crew mentioned so many times by Varda in the video logs is unclear). The corpse of Varda is still clutching a crucifix, which baffles the salvage experts because religion was apparently outlawed decades ago. Whether or not this ban has anything to do with all the Soviet iconography around the ship – Did Soviet Communism experience a second wind and finally crush the West? And, if so, why then are these salvage guys so keen on the market value of the ships they find? – is never explained.

As pleasing as it might have been to watch Casper Van Dien and Tiny Lister debate the merits and shortfalls post-Soviet universal secularism in a universe that clearly allows for the existence of the supernatural, the salvage crew doesn't have time to ponder these abstractions. Almost as soon as the Demeter comes online, Mother "inexplicably" (read, Dracula) decouples and launches off into space. Trapped on the Demeter, the crew starts getting picked off by Dracula. Coolio goes first. Drac turns him into a spastic vampire and orders him to destroy the rest of the team. He attacks his former coworkers several times, eventually turning Mina into another bloodsucker.

During these hit and run attacks, Dracula corners Aurora and makes as if he's going to bite her. However, we find out that he never goes through with it because she turns out that she's an android narc sent by the galaxy police or whatever to keep an eye on Van Helsing's crew of disreputable scallywags. Instead of killing her, she claims Drac spilled his guts to her. He said that Transylvania was a planet of vampires, but Drac's now the last of his kind, the sole survivor from the now dead planet. He wants to get to Earth to get some grub.

Finally, in a fight scene that includes an unnecessarily extensive monologue in which twitchy vampire-Coolio describes masturbating to visions of the second-in-command, Coolio is dispatched by a pool queue through the heart. Sending him to . . .

Now fully convinced that their problems are vampirical in nature, the remaining team members do what anybody would: They google "vampires" to figure out what to do. At this point the viewer learns that the vampire stalking the Demeter is, in fact, the Dracula of Stoker's book fame (traveling under the alias Orlock). Further, we learn that Van Helsing is the great-great-great-and-so-on grandson of Stoker's original vampire hunter. Holmwood freaks out at this notion and suggests that what is really happening is little more than a revenge plot. Drac has waited more than a millennium to end the Van Helsings. Curiously, either his research is insufficient or he simply finds it a coincidence that his name and Mina's also appear in the original story, because those links don't bother him at all.

At this point, viewers can construct a backstory on their own and it goes something like this. Dracula was real. He came to England in the late 1800s and fought Van Helsing and the many suitors of Lucy. He was somehow not actually killed at the end of the conflict. He stayed out of the limelight for a few centuries, apparently having a low intensity conflict with the Van Helsing family. Whenever long distance space travel became feasible, he hopped on a ship went to a distant planet in another galaxy to set up, for some reason, an all-vampire world. Which, in retrospect, was a bad idea. Without something to feed on, the new Transylvania became a dead world. But, Drac couldn't just ditch the dead planet. Instead he waited until the year 3000, when the family he was fighting on Earth would come to him in far space. That way he could combine his vengeance with his move.

The salvage teams google search reveals that sunlight and stakes through the heart are the two ways to kill a vampire. At this point Officer Robot announces that there is no sunlight in the dark of space – an unfortunate mistake since ever freaking visible star is, in fact, a sun and, without atmospheric effects to disperse it, the light they give would be the very definition of direct sunlight – so they'll have to aim the ship at a double sun system and hope they can keep Drac and Vampire Mina of their backs until they get there.

The crew gets proactive and they find Mina sleeping in a coffin. They stake her, but have a harder time with Drac, who manages to vampate Holmwood and Van Helsing. Humvee manage to dispatch the newly minted bloodsuckers, but the worst they can do to Drac is lob of one of his arms when he gets it stuck in one of the ships massive steel doors. Trapped on the ship with a wounded, but still deadly Drac, Humvee and Aurora realize that they cannot prevent the Demeter from crashing into the sun.

Aurora announces that, prior to being upgraded to a cop bot, she was a pleasure droid. She suggests that they spend their last few hours have sex. Humvee picks up Aurora, throws her over his should like a sack of potatoes, and goes off to look for somewhere to have sex.

Their ship hits the sun and everybody dies.

The end.

I actually applaud the makers of this flick for its bizarro ending and their willingness to dispatch their Van Helsing character. Unfortunately, this little treats aren't enough to save the rest of the flick. Visually dull, crippled by a script that is neither scary nor funny, and carried by a cast that seems slightly embarrassed to be there, Dracula 3000 is strongest evidence yet for Dracula Title Year Hypothesis.


Screamin' Dave said...

That far-off sound you hear is me golf-clapping your inspired use of youtube clips.

Sasquatchan said...

For a doooomed movie, it at least seems more well put together than solaris..

I wonder if it is any more a rehash than say event horizon, or alien.. A missing ship, rescue/salvage guys find it, some bogart/machina/macguffen adds suspense while everyone is killed..

CRwM said...

Senor Sass,

The rehashed plot doesn't really kill the flick. The drab visuals, horrible acting, clunky plotting, and clumsy sense of humor all do much more to kill the flick than the lack of original plotting. A familiar plot well-done can still deliver the goods for the viewer, but that's not the case here.

Vardulon said...

Great review - I'm glad you pointed out my favorite thing in the movie: Contrary to their statements, it's always DAY in space.

You didn't mention my second favorite thing in the movie, though - the tracking shot right at the end that moves through the corridors of the Demeter, while tilting just up enough that you can see the corridors don't have tops, and the warehouse where the whole thing was shot is plainly visible.

wiec? said...

i want to thank you for sharing not one but two of Coolio's vids. i remember him being pretty popular awhile back. now i see why.

he's horrible.

and why is he all up in Michele P's face?

Ms Harker said...

Sounds like a pile of muck! You really only had to type 'Coolio' and 'Pleasure Droid' and I would have understood... However I love your Dracula + year + title hypothesis! Very compelling.

CRwM said...

Thank Ms Harker.

Though some have pointed out a problem with the equation. If the theory is correct, and the axiom that you cannot divide by a zero is true, then it must be impossible to create a film called "Dracula 1897."