Monday 6 October 2008

The Sci-Fi Boys (2006)

Documentaries are often hit and miss affairs, especially when they don't have a particular focus. Usually they fail and there are a few reasons for it. The chief one is because the viewer, who's watching because he's interested in the subject matter and knows something about it, either gets bored because it's all too basic or upset because the filmmaker gets something wrong: a fact here, a fact there, or an emphasis in the wrong place. Here's one where I know plenty because this is my thing: I'm a fan of classic horror, science fiction and fantasy, whether in books, films or anything else.

I was honestly expecting to not be surprised at all, to see nothing that I hadn't seen before and to be able to nitpick all over the place. I'm very happy to say that I was wrong: this one is done very right and it contains tons of stuff that I'd never seen. Most of it is what in a different era would have been called rare footage: clips from the amateur movies of many people who went on to become something far more than just a amateur: people like Peter Jackson, Donald F Glut, Rick Baker, John Landis, even Paul Davids, who made this documentary. In fact that's probably the key: the man making the documentary is one of the people he's making the film about.

And what people! The real focus here is on enthusiasm and the people who populate the story are as enthusiastic today as 40, 60 or 80 year old professionals as they were as 10 year olds making their own amateur movies. The people here are major people: directors who have made some of the highest rated films of all time (such as The Shawshank Redemption or The Lord of the Rings), people who have won multiple Oscars (effects maestro Rick Baker with six or director Steven Spielberg with a measly three), some of the greatest names of all time in their respective fields (writer Ray Bradbury, producer Roger Corman, animator Ray Harryhausen, reviewer Leonard Maltin, collector Bob Burns) and they all have one thing in common: the light in their eyes. These folks are having the time of their lives remembering Famous Monsters of Filmland, showing off a fully restored Robby the Robot or showing their 50 year old amateur footage.

Davids begins with the first and biggest fan of them all, Forrest J Ackerman, who takes up a decent amount of the film, in archive footage, modern day interviews or being talked about by other people. He also spends serious time on Ray Harryhausen, again in archive footage, in current interviews and in conversation. We get some amazing footage from the event to place Harryhausen's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The fans are in evidence an they're serious fans, but they're people like Forry Ackerman, Frank Darabont, Ray Bradbury. You know you're someone when you have people like that as fans.

I'm a fan too, in my own insignificant way and the success of this film can be demonstrated by the light in my eyes. There's some serious magic here, not least the amazing footage of Paul Davids and 86 year old Forry Ackerman visiting George Pal's grave on the anniversary of his death. They take along one of the original Martian war machines and reread Forry's original eulogy given a few decades earlier at his funeral. And I'm not going to nitpick. Definitely a winner: something that would work for people who know nothing about this stuff and for the geeks among us too.

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