If you’re a young filmmaker working on a zero budget who wants to make a genre movie, the best way to go is the horror movie, preferably the so-called slasher flick: you don’t need fancy costumes or fancy settings, just some money for the gore effects. Sci-fi on the other hand is more difficult as you need to recreate alien planets, futuristic costumes and alien creatures on a threadbare budget and try not to look ridiculous in the process . . .

So it is surprising that there are still quite a few zero-budget film-makers out there taking a stab at the science fiction genre. With huge advances in PC technology (remember Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow began life as a short created on a Mac by one guy!) computer-generated special effects are much cheaper nowadays and you don’t have to resort to dangling silver-painted frisbees from fishing rods to recreate spaceships anymore.

In this article we look at some of these low-budget (and we do mean low) sci-fi efforts doing the rounds. Most of them are too ambitious for their own limited budgets, and the acting by non-professionals is rotten, but you’ve got to admire these film-makers for their sheer tenacity and inventiveness though . . .

A Black & White movie about an obsessive loner sitting alone in his room mulling on the mysteries of time and space itself? So far, so very Pi. Except THE 4TH DIMENSION;, best of the bunch here, prefers to go into a completely different direction than director Darren Aronofsky’s celebrated debut. Jack (Louis Morabito in a great performance) fixes stuff at an antique shop. When a mysterious woman gives him a broken antique clock to fix, he comes across what appears to be Albert Einstein’s journal on his still unsolved Unified Field Theory hidden inside the clock. Jack becomes obsessive about analyzing time and theorizing about its connection to his own supernatural experiences, his surreal dreams, and his perception of himself.

To give away more plot details would be spoiling it. The 4th Dimension seems to be more inspired by Kafka than anything else with its expressive Black & White photography (in fact the photography is simply gorgeous and the film’s biggest asset) and moody synth score by Aphex Twin. An “art” movie (and we say that with the best of possible intentions) that is well worth checking out. Unfortunately The 4th Dimension has yet to find a DVD distributor, but the film is doing the film festival rounds right now. Look out for it.

Runner up is ABLE EDWARDS (Heretic Pictures). In the 23rd century an incurable virus has wiped out about 96% of humanity. The remaining four percent now lives in enormous space station cities orbiting the Earth, waiting for a cure for the disease one day so that they repopulate the planet again.

One of the huge corporations still in existence is EC, the Edwards Corporation. This multinational began life as a movie studio founded by a cartoonist named Able Edward, which created animated movies for children before moving onto creating huge theme parks (sound familiar?) during the first half of the twentieth century. Since then the company has expanded into other fields and now only produce androids which serve as house servants.

However, the market for android house servants has stagnated (just how many do you need?) and the corporation has seen a steady decline in its profits. Some new ideas and concepts are needed but what? So one bright spark gets the idea of creating a flesh and blood clone of Able Edwards, who died back in 1960, to lead the company into a new and hopefully more profitable direction.

See Edwards’ cryogenically frozen body is still preserved back on earth, and while his still preserved body cannot be successfully revived a few cells can still be used to clone him. Only problem is that the clone won’t be “hatched” fully grown they’ll have to wait twenty-five years for the clone to grow to adulthood before taking over the reins of the company. But hey, at least no-one can blame the Edwards Corporation of not planning and thinking ahead, right?

Thus begins Able Edwards an independently made sci-fi drama whose main claim to fame is that it is “executive produced” by Steven Soderbergh (Solaris, Ocean’s 11 and sex, lies & videotape). Oh, and the film was shot entirely against green screen backgrounds supposedly before the DVD jacket proclaims big budget contenders Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Immortel (ad vitam).

However that shouldn’t be Able Edwards’ claim to a spot in filmic history. In fact it should be that Able Edwards is one of the most interesting and original science fiction films made in quite a while. It is the sort of non-mainstream entertainment that the Independent film scene in America should be producing when it comes to sci-fi, but sadly isn’t. (The recent Flatland is also a welcome recent exception to the recent trend of disappointing low budget indie SF fare.)

Think Citizen Kane retold, but based on the future history of Walt Disney’s clone instead of William Randolph Hearst, and you’ll more or less have an idea of what to expect of Able Edwards. (One suspects that if this had been a novel instead of a movie that they wouldn’t have even bothered changing the lead character’s name to Able Edwards at all.) Shot in sometimes grainy and stunning Black & White photography, you might think that Able Edwards is a “one gimmick” flick, but the project never bores throughout its 80 minutes running time as the story takes several unexpected detours along the way.

While it isn’t quite always as emotionally involving probably because of the faux retro filmic style, Able Edwards is a wholly original creation. The low budget computer-generated effects may not be that good and the fake backgrounds painfully obvious at times, Able Edwards manages to breeze on by on the sheer novelty and invention of it all.

Hard sci-fi fans and more adventurous viewers will find plenty here to appreciate. Recommended.

In part two of this article: "American vice-president Dick Cheney is a shape-shifting blood-drinking Satanist reptilian alien! Fact!"




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