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A Very Tasty World....great film, terrible DVD
on 26 August 2013
The film, for me, is a 4-5 star. The new Network region 2 DVD (2013) is, however, terrible.
'The Final Programme' is based on the first novel in Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius series (which to date comprises some 7 novels, a short story collection that has been revised twice and a novella, plus a book of stories about the central character by other hands). Jerry Cornelius (played by an extremely cool Jon Finch) is a man of many parts: a Nobel-prize winning physicist, rock musician, former Jesuit priest, swinging 60s scene-maker, assassin and agent of chaos. Depending upon the circumstances prevailing at the time, Jerry acts for either law or chaos, trying to keep society in balance. In the novel and film 'The Final Programme', Jerry is facing the end of a long dark age, in which things are going to get worse - society is collapsing - before a new age dawns and everything gets better. For a new messiah is coming...
Jerry, however, is concerned with more domestic issues. Banished from the family home years before by his father (an expert in arcane sciences) for having an unhealthy relationship with his sister Catherine, Jerry learns of his old man's death just as he is recruited by a cabal of scientists who are preparing for the dark times that will engulf the world. Prominent amongst these is Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) who is a computer programmer and arch-conservative, who is both attracted by Jerry's potential and repelled by his outsider ambivalence.
With its slight, thriller-style plot, fabulous ensemble cast of sublime British character actors(young and old), fantastic late sixties/early seventies visuals (excellent clothes and stunning set designs) courtesy of director/screenwriter Robert Fuest, who was responsible for the colour episodes of 'The Avengers' that featured Linda Thorsen, 'The Final Programme' is a treat for the eyeballs not dissimilar to 'A Clockwork Orange' or 'Logan's Run'. Unimaginative viewers will find this 'dated', but of course SF isn't just about the future, its about metaphorically mirroring and exploring the time in which it is written. So while the film is very 1970s, it still works as SF.
Michael Moorcock hates the film, which I can understand, as it does suffer from a few too many glib and flippant moments that are a little 'carry on', but speaking as a big fan of Moorcock's work (and the Cornelius novels in particular), I absolutely love the film. John Finch really looks the part, delivers his lines with the kind of off-handedness that Jerry sometimes has in the books and prefigures the New Romantic look with his wardrobe. Runacre is also excellent and an appearance by Patrick Magee is much welcome. The cinematography is just stunning and the music (by Beaver and Krause with Gerry Mulligan) is lovely, although shamefully never issued on CD or LP.
It is worth noting that while the Jerry Cornelius stories are the bedrock of British New Wave Science Fiction (the movement in the 1960s that attempted and often succeeded to mesh experimental literary techniques to genre SF) alongside the works of J G Ballard, the plot of 'The Final Programme'is fairly straightforward until the end, which in the film is not handled brilliantly, but anyone who reads the book will see where the dilemma for any film-maker would lie.'The Final Programme' is a quirky, charming, amusing cult film that most people simply won't 'get'. The rest of us - serious SF fans, devotees of counterculture, British cinema buffs - just love it.
Unfortunately, the new UK Network DVD is terrible : if you can find it, purchase the US edition released some 10 years or so ago.
The Network edition is presented full frame (4:3), which does look as if the film was shot this way, but the transfer is washed out and not that sharp - the US DVD is much more highly coloured, and, I suspect, closer to how the film actually looked in the cinema. The one thing I'd expect from Fuest is colour and the new DVD is very anaemic - I watched 'The Final Programme' the first time it was shown on TV (circa 19884/5) and recorded it onto a high grade VHS tape and it looked a lot more like the US DVD than the new UK one. Also, the US DVD has a brilliant commentary featuring Fuest and female lead Jenny Runacre.
It's a great, great shame that this UK release is so bad - this is a superb British SF film, getting its first digital release in a disappointing edition. If this disc is indeed from the original materials, I'd say the US one was from better ones. I'm really not convinced by the colours of the network disc at all. The film also works better in widescreen, even though the US edition isn't matted properly as far as I can tell.
Maybe one day we'll get a blu ray that remedies the massive disapointment of this Network release.
Stephen E Andrews, author 'The Final Programme'