See, if there were more of that, then maybe this really would be the second best science fiction movie ever made.
Anyway, the idea's that a gaggle of astronauts were snatched by aliens a while back, but instead of suffering through the whole anal probing routine or whatever, they were spirited away to some sort of otherworldly utopian paradise. Some of 'em even score superpowers as part of the deal. 'Course, they inevitably divide into warring factions and start splitting the planet down the middle, so the aliens dump the eight of them on Earth to settle their differences. There are a few rules they have to follow -- if they harm any of the locals, they lose their return ticket to Altair IV or whatever the name of that planet is -- but otherwise...? Free-for-all.
What does all that really mean, though...? Eight actors running around some sleepy, Starbucksless suburban town for a hundred minutes and change straight.
I hafta admit that I was pretty fascinated with The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made as it was first being chucked my way. It wasn't listed on the IMDb, I couldn't dig up any reviews or articles about the flick, and even making the rounds on Google didn't turn up anything. The only proof I could find that The Second Best Science Fiction Movie... even existed was that a copy was being dropped in the mail my way. Between the title, its quippy "scarier than Wall-E!" tagline, and the oversized chomp-chomp-nom-nom head on the opening menu, I really did think I was staring a gen-you-wine cult classic dead in the eyes.
It's just that...nothing really happens. Reams and reams of exposition are heaped out over the first few minutes, and from there, and it just seems like one interchangeable scene after another of a guy in a wetsuit dashing across some schlub's front lawn. Unlike really brilliant microbudget stuff like Rob Schrab's Robot Bastard that manage to be indescribably ambitious and imaginative even without all that much cash in the kitty, The Second Best Science Fiction Movie... is just a bunch of guys running around aimlessly. That's just about all that happens in the first fifteen or twenty minutes: the Earth-tethered astronauts darting around asking where the Wilson School or something is, and I swear on a stack of something that this opening stretch feels like it drags on for at least a half-hour. By the time I was kneedeep in the second act, I'd kind of forgotten most of the setup anyway.
The smart money says you could've guessed this from the title alone, but The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. That sense of humor seems kinda stapled on after the fact, though, mostly playing in little vignettes that don't really have anything to do with anything, like one of the exiled astronauts reading a cheesecake Fabio romance novel on a curb. Another scene has an astronaut with cold cream slathered all over his face, wearing a beret, and scarfing down a Frypod at Burger King. Why? Who knows? Who cares? Like pretty much everything else in the movie, it's just kind of...there. It's just strange for the sake of being strange, never managing to score much of a laugh in the process. You can tell when the movie's supposed to be funny, though, thanks to the whimsical-exclamation-point keyboard score which tosses on Smokey and the Bandit-flavored synth-banjo and goofy fart-sounding Casio brass.
The science fiction elements are all pretty lightweight. Yeah, you have a shapeshifter on the bill along with teleportation, glowing green eyes, and a doc saddled with a freakishly oversized head, but it still all boils down to a bunch of guys running around suburbia. What passes for action is rooted around standard issue knives and guns, and even when I guess the movie's trying to be serious, it never manages to get the blood pumping. Even musings about responsibility and death -- like when some random guy busts into a shoebox-size convenience store with a rifle and demands a million dollar lottery ticket for whatever reason -- fall flat.
Ack. I mean, my father was a microbudget horror director for a few years there, so I really do respect everything that goes into getting a flick like this off the ground. It's just that The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made is stuck with an aimlessly meandering story, way too much repetition, a clunky sense of humor, and long, long stretches of nothing. Even when there are brief glimmers of inspiration, they're chucked out the driver's side window twenty seconds later to make room for another shot of a guy in a wetsuit running in front of a half-dead lawn for the eight quadrillionth time. It does have an earnest, likeable cast, so there's that, but this kind of plays like a few friends goofing around with a movie camera and shooting whatever they dreamed up in spurts over the course of however many months/years/whatever. I'm sure it was a blast to make, but for someone completely on the outside to try to watch...? Nah. Skip It.
The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made kind of breezes through every hiccup in the book: the 35mm photography is extremely soft, the DVD is riddled with edge haloes, some patterns distort whenever the camera pans around, colors are dull and lifeless... Aside from tracking errors and stuff, it's kinda like my fuzzy memories of watching movies on VHS, really. Yeah, so this isn't something you'll grab off the shelf to show off your glossy, gleaming, overpriced home theater rig.
The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made is full-frame and fits on a single-layer DVD with plenty of room to spare.
Okay, pretend you're watching some random home video on YouTube and crank the volume on those tinny, anemic speakers built into your laptop as high as it'll go. That's pretty much what The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made sounds like on DVD: harsh, screechy, overly sibilant, and lacking any real range at all. It seems like you'd kind of have to go out of your way to make a DVD sound this awful.
Oh, and there aren't any alternate soundtracks or subtitles if you were keeping your fingers crossed or anything.
Um...nothing, really: just a trailer. Since the flick's writer/director/producer/twenty-six-other-slashes is putting this DVD out himself, I'd kind of have expected him to heap on a bunch of extras, but no dice.
The opening menu is animated, but annoyingly, you have to wait a few seconds for that chomping head to stop chewing to be able to watch the movie. It comes packaged in a fullsize keep case, and the disc is kind of a bitch to get off that deathgrip hub.
The Final Word
Hey, I think it's awesome that David Epstein was able to get a bunch of his friends together and make an honest-to-Gord feature-length flick. Even on a homebrew, microbudget scale like this, that really is a pretty colossal achievement. It's just that...I mean, if you weren't on either side of the camera in The Second Best Science Fiction Movie Ever Made and aren't friends with/related to anyone whose name is rattled off in the credits, its glacial pace, clunky sense of humor, and...well, everything else about it make this DVD kind of impossible to recommend. Sorry. Skip It.