Friday, May 24, 2019

Beyond the Universe

Beyond the Universe
Robert Emenegger

Earth is sick, the oxygen is running out, and everything is dying. A group of scientists is tasked with creating a machine to put the old and infirm into a coma so they can be quietly dumped into space to make room for the healthy population. Rather than do this, these scientists build a laser to talk to God and beg for some help.

I have a real soft spot for the various Emenegger/Sandler SF creations of the early 1980s, heck I named the site after one of them. I find something really engaging about their mix of dark science-fiction and micro-budgets. Emenegger was (and still might be) a semi-notable figure in the 1970s and 80s UFO scene, including its tangents into ESP and such. Beyond the Universe taps into the New Age subculture that emerged out of the hippie movement along with growing interest in aliens and government conspiracies. Out of all the Emenegger/Sandler efforts, Beyond the Universe is falls furthest from SF and into some very new age ideas.

T.J.Maxx 2099
Beyond the Universe is inspired (or steals if you are feeling less generous) by a number of other films. The subject of an overcrowded and ecologically unstable Earth has all the hallmarks of Soylent Green (1973), a group of renegade scientists on the run from their own government no doubt borrows from Silent Running (1971), and it wouldn’t be new age SF if it didn’t steal the ending of 2001 (1968) in some fashion. The opening and closing narration scenes have a lot in common with The Visitor (1979). So if you can, imagine all of these films crushed together and then remade for about $1000 and you have Beyond the Universe.

The film sports cheap effects, constantly reused tiny sets, and a bus station that is supposed to be a refuge check-in on an asteroid. Those Killing at Outpost Zeta fans out there (i.e. just me) can spot all the reused props and actors. Most of the acting is exactly terrible, but I’d say it was just passable for something you might catch on late night television back in the 1980s. The analog synthesizer score is a delight which seems to hold true for most of these Emenegger/Sandler films.

"Yes it is a laser capable of talking to God, and yes it is also happy to see me."
What really sets Beyond the Universe apart from other cheaply made SF of the time, is that there is an earnestness about its subjects. The movie brings up the idea that Earth as an entity is sick with some kind of mystery cancer, a world government that is just going to throw old people into  space, and magic crystal lasers that focus thoughts to talk to God without even so much as even the mildest notion that this all might be a little silly.

All the earnestness in the universe isn’t going to make a movie automatically any good, and Beyond the Universe bears this out. There are some fascinating ideas here, but the pace is plodding. There is no visual sparkle to smooth over these plot issues, and there are only a few characters that really manage to engage the viewer. Beyond the Universe is a film with some big ideas but it fails to communicate them in a way that makes for an interesting film.

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