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FX SFX Special Effect

Netflix Streaming Roulette: The Shape of Things to Come

The late 1970s (post-Star Wars) was a boom time for cheap science fiction movies. And 1979's Canadian-made The Shape of Things to Come is certainly no exception. Oh, it had a major pedigree (adapted(*) from the H.G. Wells novel, and starring Jack Palance), yet--

Something about the film seems a half-step slow when compared to similar films like Space Mutiny. That's right, I just compared Space Mutiny to this movie, favorably. The budget is higher for this movie, but it doesn't have quite the thrilling peccadilloes and exciting-chase-scenes-down-long-hallways-in-repurposed-Zambonis that Space Mutiny has.

The movie begins with a bit of text explaining that the Robot Wars have devastated the Earth, so humanity lives in space -- but they need the anti-radiation drug RADIC-Q2 which only the planet Delta III can provide.

In fact, here comes an unmanned supply ship now. Oh no, it's about to crash into the dome of Toronto Office Building New Washington ... on the moon!

Luckily, New Washington can be safely evacuated, in its entirety, in seven minutes. Kim Smedley (Anne-Marie Martin), the lunar equivalent of an air traffic controller, can only watch and wait.

From the wreckage of the Delta III supply ship, they recover the robot pilot, which Kim (who is a magnetic tape programming whiz) is able to reprogram (after she does the 1979 equivalent of "pulling the logs"). The robot tends to spark a bit when she inserts his tape, so she calls it Sparks.

It recites love poetry at Kim, and also demonstrates its amazing ability. It can teleport use its B.L.T. to move from one end of the room to the other. B.L.T.? Why, that's Bi-Locational Transference, of course. With mayo. On rye.

The supply ship was programmed to crash by the evil Omus (Jack Palance). He's set himself up as the dictator of Delta III, and is happy to share his wonderful high-tech inventions with the rest of humanity, but only they'll accept him as Supreme Commander.

They won't. Not even the robot brain that currently advises the Moon Council will go for it. But it also won't allow Doctor Caball (Barry Morse) to use his Starscreamstreak spaceship as a weapon. Not even to intercept any future dome-ramming explosive shipments from Delta III.

So Doctor Caball steals Starstreak, along with his son Jason (Nicholas Campbell), Kim (who turns out to be Jason's girlfriend), and Kim's earnest tag-along Sparks. They all head off to Delta III in the stolen Starstreak, to (in the classic tradition of "We Can't Just Sit Here And Do Nothing") ... do ... whatever they can when they get there.... They haven't thought that far yet.

Meanwhile, on Delta III, the ousted governor Nikki (Carol Lynley) and her staff sneak around, trying to get a message to New Washington. Or really anybody. They have a fight with Omus' reprogrammed mining robots, and conclusively demonstrate why electronics should be grounded.

Back in space, the Starstreak suffers a malfunction in its technobabble unit, and needs to set in somewhere for repairs. Well ... Doctor Caball knows a fellow on Earth who might could help them.

Jason and Kim set off find Good Ol' Charlie while Doctor Caball and Sparks stay behind to poke at the ship.

Sadly, Good Ol' Charlie has snuffed it, and Kim is being stalked by monsters which looked like people wrapped in leaf-covered trash bags. I was all salivating for the Stupidest-Looking Monster nomination ... until they turned out to actually be people wrapped in leaf-covered trash bags.

Kids, specifically. Abandoned from the time of the Robot Wars. Covered in radiation burns. They need RADIC-Q2. But the Starstreak isn't big enough to bring all of them along, so Jason promises to come back with RADIC-Q2 for all. And ponies! Well, maybe not ponies.

On Delta III, Niki and her rapidly-depleting band of people hide from Omus' robots by crouching in tall grass.

In space, the Starstreak engages its Spectrum Drive. The Spectrum Drive starts to freak out! Wut-oh! The special effects start to get intense around the ship. They go plaid.

Eventually (it's only 3.5 minutes, but it feels like longer) they go past plaid and into slow-motion, and finally drop back into normal space. "It feels like we've been through time dilation," says Sparks. You and me both, Sparks. You and me both.

They spot a cargo ship loaded with explosives headed for New Washington. Oh well. Almost out of gas. No missiles. Sucks to be New Washington. They forge on.

Omus spots them landing, and sends some robots to capture Doctor Caball. Doctor Caball used to be Omus' old teacher, see, and Omus can't resist gloating. Omus' plan is to load up a bunch of cargo ships with RADIC-Q2, and then blow up Delta III "by simulating millions of years of evolution." Then humanity will have to accept him as its ruler, or die.

Omus then kills Doctor Caball, and suborns Sparks as he puts his plan in motion ("D-3-R-7-6-5? It is me, Omus. Your creator"). And it would have worked, too, if it wasn't for those pesky kids, and that darn dog robot. Ultimately, Sparks retains its loyalty to Kim, and secretly reprograms the mining robots.

Of course, Delta III still explodes (because once Omus presses the glowing red button, evolution cannot be stopped!), eventually dooming Humanity on the Moon (Moo(n)manity?) to death by radiation. Although Jason, Kim, Nikki, and Sparks do escape with those cargo ships of RADIC-Q2. They head off to Earth, first. After all, there are a dozen or so children who need their help!

Anne-Marie Martin went on to do many things, but will always hold a special place in our hearts from her time on Sledge Hammer!.

(*) For values of "adapted" equivalent to "Has the same title and one character has the same name as somebody in the novel."

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