The Online Magazine
of Motion Picture
and Television
Music Appreciation
Film Score Monthly Subscribe Now!
film score daily 

Mail Bag takes on Lifeforce


An Aisle Seat Entry By Andy Dursin

News on two eagerly awaited DVDs came down last week, whetting the appetites of Laserphiles from coast to coast.

First up, Buena Vista announced that PEARL HARBOR would not only bow on DVD on December 4th with a whole slew of extras, but also in a new, "re-thought" R-RATED Director's Cut in mid-January! This latter edition will include an Intermission break, some five minutes of gore that had to be cut to retain the movie's PG-13 theatrical rating, and various other changes throughout that director Michael Bay claims will focus more on the friendship between the male leads, and less on the love story (USA Today said this new cut would be aimed specifically "at male viewers"). Sounds like the latter might be the way to go -- both packages will include supplements, but more will be included in the three-disc "Vista Series" edition due in January.

More exciting news came with an announcement from Widescreen Review concerning the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE DVD. Due out on November 6, this two-disc set from Paramount will feature the new, 136-minute "Director's Cut," complete with new special effects and other enhancements. (The running time is four minutes longer than the original theatrical edition, and eight minutes shorter than the expanded version that still runs on TV). The disc will also include a potentially exciting collection of extras, including all of the scenes now deleted/altered from earlier versions of the film (supposedly five from the '79 version and 11 from the TV cut), trailers and TV spots, three retrospective documentaries, and a full commentary track including Robert Wise and Jerry Goldsmith. If the supplements hold firm, this sounds like a must to me!

And while Universal has yet to confirm an official date for LEGEND, Ridley Scott provides us with a whiff of what's to come in this week's HANNIBAL double-disc set from MGM. In his liner notes, Scott mentions "Director's Cuts," and how BLADE RUNNER and (yes!) LEGEND have both been improved with extra footage. See, it IS coming -- just hang in there, everyone!

Memories of LIFEFORCE

Reaction came in fast and furious concerning my look back at LIFEFORCE a couple of weeks ago. Here's a sampling of other readers who were equally nostalgic about this '80s cult classic.

From Steve Stromberg:
Hi Andy,

This is one of your best articles. Seems as if you had as much fun writing it as you did seeing Lifeforce. When Lifeforce was first released is was back in my movie reviewer days for The British Observer (Bay Area newsmagazine for Brits in the area) and I could not believe my eyes or ears. It was so wonderfully good/bad that I could only say to our readers, "Go, you'll have fun in some way. I don't know what way, but go." That was it.

From Greg Bryant:

Thanks for confirming my opinion of Lifeforce as one of the great guilty pleasures. It was also great to read of some of the production history that went on behind the scenes.

It's still a toss-up for me who gives the great performance of the film: Steve Railsback, always an overacter, who for too long slid along on his performance as Charles Manson from Helter Skelter, once again totally overdoing his part; OR Peter Firth, who plays his part with such earnest gravity that you think at any moment he's going to sink through the floor.

My memory of this film is that it lasted in the nearby theater for exactly one week, thus robbing me of the opportunity to see it for over a year until it arrived upon video. Of course, my wait was worth it. Yes, it's great to see London in flames; the big chase through the streets by Peter Firth battling vampires the entire way; all the British actors playing their roles so straight, while both Frank Finlay and Steve Railsback literally bounce off the walls.

Henry Mancini's score was notable in a Star Wars/Williams sort of vein, and John Dykstra's special effects were great.

Thanks for giving this "classic" some overdue attention.

From Luis Miguel Ramos:
Well, Andy. My sincere congratulations for such an insight on one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Lifeforce is perhaps dumb in many areas, but it has some good things, especially Henry Mancini's score.

I agree with you that this movie contains stupid dialogues and lousy performances in general. In my opinion, Steve Railsback is terrible as Tom Carlsen because he overperforms all the time, yelling, growling, and shaking all the people in his path. But I consider Frank Finlay's performance as Professor Hans Fallada the best in the movie. Too bad about Patrick Stewart's fate in that helicopter, and it's definitely one of the funniest things in the film.

The climax is outrageous. I mean all those Londoners becoming zombies; that looks like a second-hand horror pic. However, the final showdown between Railsback and gorgeous Mathilda May is, personally, the highlight of the film, giving Henry Mancini something glorious to conclude the movie, followed by the even more spectacular "Lifeforce Theme."

I'd also like to remark the fact that Lifeforce is my favorite Henry Mancini score over The Pink Panther. Some people would hate me for saying this, but that's the way I feel. And we're talking about the music for one bad movie I have learned to love. Thank you very much, Andy.

From John O'Malley:
The Summer of 1985 brings a smile to my face as well. I was 14 at the time.

The movies I saw in the theater that summer: Rambo First Blood II, Back To The Future, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Back To School, The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Real Genius. I didn't get a chance to see Lifeforce in the theater (R rated films were few and far between for me to see in the theater at that point) I don't think it was in the theater all that long either.

But a year later..thanks to home video, I first saw it and the two other cult horror films of 1985... Day Of The Dead and Dan O'Bannon's Return Of The Living Dead. My friends and I had a thing for those crazy zombie films. lol A lot of laughs were had by all.

I think it was a year ago or so that TNT had aired Lifeforce, and I watched, not having seen it in a number of years. The film certainly has it's problems, but I still found it as entertaining as you did. The story is every bit daffy as you recall. I was surprised at how well the special effects still look today. The score by Henry Mancini is really good as well. (The dramatic end titles is all but a classic to me) Looking back it's kinda hard to fathom that the movie was actually made with such a big budget (for its time) without a big- time actor in the lead part and having a R rating. PG-13 would have assured a bigger audience (kids) It's definately an expensive and adult 1950's "B" Sci Fi movie come to life.

I also enjoyed your take on Tim Burton's version of Planet Of The Apes, I myself thoroughly enjoyed it as well and could appreciate what it was and what it wasn't compared to the original classic. I personally had no problem with the daft and ironic twist at the end of the film. Obviously a sequel is to come in the future...or is it the past?!

Tim Burton has sworn there's going to be no sequel to PLANET OF THE APES, complaining that it was a nightmare to deal with 20th Century Fox. This could be for real, or just a ploy for more money, since it's obvious that there's going to be a sequel with or -- if his mind doesn't change -- without his participation. I mean, the movie was MADE with a sequel in mind, wasn't it? (If not, I may have to change my stance on the ending).

From Jeremy Moniz:
Hello Andy,

Nice article on Lifeforce and I totally agree with you, though you should have written something about Mathilda May, the space vampiress herself, as she has become a very well respected actress... in France! She won the equivalent to the Oscar a few years ago. Though in Lifeforce her talents were not really put to the test... "Come, Carlson, be with me!!!"

From Arndt Holzmeier:
Dead on, Andy!

Lifeforce is one of the greatest bad movies ever made. Right amongst The Lost Continent and Quatermass and the Pit (more than just an inspiration for Lifeforce), Casino Royale, Tremors, Army of Darkness, I could go on. "Bad" meaning that something went terribly wrong in making those that prevented them to become acknowledged mainstream classics (i.e. greenlighting them). They all vastly differ in their respective levels of production values, acting or writing (Tremors has an outstanding but underrated script and good acting, AoD has fine fx, Casino Royale has Bacharach and Sellers, etc.).

Watching those you never stop asking yourself "how could this film ever happen?" but you are happy they did. They all are *immensely* entertaining. As opposed to Bruckheimer crap, which seems to have it all - big budgets, bad acting, no scripts - but never accomplishes anything outside of nausea and boredom. Those are bad bad movies as opposed to above great bad movies. Pity that few seem to get it. Great that you take the time to point it out!

From Roman Deppe:
Hi Andy,

Great special about LIFEFORCE. I considered many times to buy this DVDas I remember this movie pretty well... hm, okay, mostly for itsfabulous special effects. Actually, i haven't seen it in years and when I was young I didn't see that much silliness in it as I probably will nowadays. So, yeah, I finally ordered it and am looking forward to seethe burning London with the cool laserbeams in great picture quality and also to get some good laughs. One of the things I remember though fromit is, that Steve Railsback is constantly explaining what's going on,because otherwise nobody would understand it - always hilarious, when that's happening in a movie.

I also wonder whether the DVD-version is longer than the European cut(it's not been released on DVD here). Some sources say, that in Europethe movie was released in its original cut, so that it would be the sameas the new longer cut on DVD, but on the other hand, I remember Michael Kamen's music at least in one scene in it and also his name in the credits. That was one thing I didn't understand in your comments, as you said, that his music was electronic. I am damn sure that he also contributed some big orchestral stuff, as in the scene when Mathilda May comes a one of the big bats in a dream sequence to Railsback that's exactly a cue from DIE HARD 2. I doubt that this was from Mancini... well, but who knows? Maybe the European cut has a lot more changes than the originlcut and the short US-cut... maybe things like in LEGEND happened. I'll see and let you know.

Roman, as far as we know, the "International" version Cannon released in certain parts of the world outside of the U.S. IS the version on DVD, and certainly Michael Kamen's involvement was relegated solely to the American version that Tri-Star released here.

Curiously, though, you may well be right that the U.S. version DID run in other parts of the world. I have a friend in England who says the longer cut of the movie ran for a "roadshow" engagement for a week or so in metropolitan London, but when LIFEFORCE opened throughout the rest of the UK, it was in the shorter 102-minute U.S. cut.

A.I., one last time


From Jeff Heise:

Dear Andy:

While I feel that Spielberg's AI is a problematic film (in much the same way EMPIRE OF THE SUN was), I feel that it is a much more successful film than you give it credit for. For me, this is one of the few films I've seen in the last few months that actually gives you something to think about, rather than just zip in the eyeballs and out the back of your mind. A summer film that is about something, hmmm...

There are some problems with the film-the parents are poorly drawn (she abandons him in the woods rather than returning him to be destroyed-I will give her credit for that), the opening scene would have been better off as a crawl at the beginning, the "ice-age" section could have been lopped off entirely and I would not have missed it (although I do love that final shot) and Hurt is his usual phlegmatic self.

But there is one thing about this film that many people have missed: Kubrick always seemed to prefer the non-human characters in his films. When you think about it, the aliens and Hal in 2001 were much more interesting (the death of Hal was more painful than Poole's), the environments surrounding his characters in films like BARRY LYNDON and THE SHINING have more personality, and the most vital characters in DR. STRANGELOVE are the title character-who is now part machine and the "Doomsday Device," which will now have the ultimate say over life and death on Earth. Whether you feel that this just supports an argument that Kubrick's films were cold and unfeeling is up to you, but AI is not that way, at least to me.

The film is really saying that in many ways, we are turning into unfeeling beings. Machines that are capable of feeling something (the need to survive, to love, to want love in return) are more likable and more sympathetic than the organic lifeforms that created them. Look at it this way-imagine humans in God's place and the "meccas" in human's place with them wondering if they have been abandoned, why terrible things happen to them and is there really some form of heaven when all is over here, and you might have a better understanding of the ideas behind this film. One of the essential themes in Kubrick's works is man feeling like he is incapable of controlling his own destiny and fate, possibly because there might not be a God in the first place, or the God that is there just does not care. To see where the film rests in the Spielberg world, look at the "Flesh Fair" as Germany under Hitler, and go from there.

In this film, this boy is created to love, to give love-AT THE RISK OF MAYBE NOT RECEIVING ANY LOVE IN RETURN. This idea is one we all live with, the giving of unconditional love in the hopes of getting it back (the "cast ye bread upon the waters" mantra) and how a great deal of the time we come up empty handed. As for the third act, perhaps the aliens are meant to be some form of messenger or "angel," if you wish, that try to explain just why things are the way they are and how things work. The idea of cloning the mother to bring her back to David, even for just one day, can be seen as a microcosm of the lifespan of a human being hoping for just a perfect, happy life with no sadness and nothing but love. It also points out the problem of immortality-which many of us have wished for at some point in our lives without realizing the ramifications-and why it may not be a good thing, after all. I really felt sorry for the teddy bear at the end, and I wish that David had scooped him up in arms to sleep with him so that none of them would be alone at the end.

I will see this film again, and look forward to the DVD, so I can look at certain passages again to gain more out of it. When I saw the film I admired it rather than liked it, but the film is growing on me, and I believe in the end it will rank with Spielberg's other masterpieces: CE3K, E. T., SCHINDLER'S LIST, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

Thank you, Andy, for providing one of the more eloquent review columns on the web. I may not always agree, but you always give food for thought.

Jeff, thank you for your comments. We've all discussed and ranted off about A.I. to no end, so there's little point in rehashing the older arguments.

One thing I suspected that turned out to be correct was that the movie bombed in the U.S., not even reaching $80 million for a film people were anticipating that would be a "blockbuster." On the other hand, the movie has (predictably) played well in Japan, where EYES WIDE SHUT also found more acceptance than it did on these shores.

It'll be interesting to see if A.I. will be viewed ultimately as one of Spielberg's finest achievements, or a movie completely over-analyzed by its proponents as being far more thought-provoking than it actually is.

NEXT TIME: The Aisle Seat's end of the summer DVD bash, with reviews from HANNIBAL to MGM's new demented De Palma discs. Email all comments to and we'll catch you next time!

Past Film Score Daily Articles

Film Score Monthly Home Page
© 1997-2018 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.