Saturday 8 December 2012

Tales of future past… The Final Programme (1973)

Michael Moorcock is one of the pre-eminent figures in science fantasy of the last half century. His work has been arguably as influential as Philip K Dick in this country at least and, from the underground he has crossed over to many areas of popular culture from music (Hawkwind) to Doctor Who. He was also a major influence on Brits who revolutionised comics (and everything else thereafter...),  including Alan More, Neil Gaiman and Bryan Talbot who’s Luther Arkwright paid tribute to one of Moorcock’s greatest creations, Jerry Cornelius.

Cornelius is a recurring character for Moorcock but one who grew out of sixties counter-culture, a super-intelligent master of all trades who travels through time and parallel universes with bewildering ease. The first Cornelius novel was The Final Programme published in 1969 and was followed by three others and recurring appearences in various guises for decades to come.

Trafalgar Square...
This 1973 film attempted to capture the essence of the character and metaphysical tom-foolery and, to an extent it succeeded. Jon Finch makes for a gritty Cornelius, genius-level IQ not tempering his aggression or fondness for chocolate digestive biscuits. Dressed like a younger, more misanthropic Jon Pertwee, he swaggers and staggers through the film taking all in his measured stride.

Jon Finch
He arrives at his father’s funeral in Lapland where he encounters Dr Smiles (Graham Crowden) one of a group of scientists intent on using his father’s scientific secrets to transform mankind. Unimpressed Jerry decides it’s time to burn down the family house, all of its secrets and his younger brother, the psychotic Frank (Derrick O’Connor) who is holding their sister Catherine (Sarah Douglas) captive in a drug-induced haze.

Jerry, no stranger to various narcotics resolves to rescue Catherine and to deal with Frank once and for all. He works his various contacts to obtain the necessary equipment in the form of a Phantom jet from from a mad US general Major Wrongway (Sterling Hayden in a what’s *he* doing in this film moment!).

He then meets the sleazy Shades (Ronald Lacey) in a London nightclub where he encounters old friend “Little Miss Dazzle” (the appropriately dazzling Julie Edge) and various other notables.

“Little Miss Dazzle” -  Julie Edge
Jerry is persuaded to help the scientists recover a strip of micro-film and they are now accompanied by the mysterious Miss Brunner (an ice-cool Jenny Runacre) who has reasons of her own to recover this item.

Jenny Runacre
The attack on the family home goes wrong though and Jerry ends up shooting Catherine by mistake after being drugged by Frank. Miss Brunner is too quick and strong for Frank and persuades him to give her the film, but he manages snatch it away and escape…

Jerry recuperates in a nursing home and is picked up by Miss Brunner with her new friend Jenny (Sandy Ratcliffe). They head off to another bizarre club - slime-wrestling a speciality - and are served by Sandra Dickenson (ex-wife of Dr Who 5 and now mother-in-law of Dr Who no. 11…fact fans!)

Jon Finch and Sandra Dickenson
All retire back to Jerry’s pad where Jerry learns of Miss B’s strange habit of absorbing her lovers when Jenny disappears leaving her clothes on the couch and her piano-playing ability with Brunner…

They set off in search of Frank and track him down to Turkey where he is trying to sell the microfilm to Dr Baxter (Patrick Magee) a former colleague of their father. Miss Brunner absorbs the bad Doctor whilst Jerry finally chases down and disposes of his brother.

Jon Finch, Jenny Runacre and Graham Crowden
They head off to Dr Cornelius former “summer resort” back in Lapland where they will attempt to run his Final Programme: an attempt to create a new form of humanity, an hermaphrodite that will move mankind into a new era.

Miss Brunner has decided that Jerry should be the new messiah but there is trouble from the man already ear-marked for the job. After the inevitable fight, Jerry and Bruner get set in the huge solar-powered machine for their transformation.

Whether Miss Brunner expected to emerge the dominant force in the new meld is unclear but after long psychedelic minutes the creature that emerges from the debris is very much like our Jerry, regressed in form to a caveman but with his intellect in tact. The scientists lie amongst the shattered equipment and he heads off into the new word which he describes as “tasty!”.

Whilst this is a suitably disorientating ending but one that can only really be placed in context by reading the rest of the original Cornelius Quartet? That said, The Final Programme is an entertaining film and it is great to see the character and so many counter-cultural aspects on screen… if you can’t beat them, confuse them!

This was the spirit that infused so much of the science fiction I was obsessed with in my early teens and it went well and truly mainstream over ensuing years through Moorcock himself as well as Alan Moore, Talbot, Grant Morrison and the rest who wove alternative fiction into mainstream media.

Directed at pace by Robert Fuest, who also blew his budget on those impressive locations, The Final Programme has narrative flaws and being of its time is undoubtedly still of its time… (how else could it be?). It serves as a reminder of the style and substance of the early 70s speculative fantasy and the fact that even the most fatalistic fiction had optimism at its heart.

Finch and Runacre are standouts in a strong cast that also includes Hugh Griffith and Harry Andrews.

Dusty Verdict: Well worth watching and on DVD…. Available here although it seems to have become expensively "collectable".

No comments:

Post a Comment