Friday, February 9

The Lathe of Heaven.

The Lathe of Heaven.

Probably the most famous sci-fi movie you couldn't watch for over 20 years.

(The book is by Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (born October 21, 1929), an American author. She has written novels, poetry, children's books and essays, and is best known for her science fiction, fantasy novels and short stories.)

I saw this on Chicago’s channel 11 (public television), in 1980. And from the number of times it was aired, I was obviously lucky to have caught it. (I finally bought the VHS on ebay a year or so ago).

Dreaming that could change reality. Or change the world. Main character, Bruce Davidson - you see him in movies now-a-days as the person you would love to hate. Here he has a sympathetic role.

Also while reading reviews, I noticed two other movies I own and like were mentioned as similiar movies: Run Lola Run and The Butterfly Effect. I had never connected them, but they all deal with changing what's already happened.

For two decades, it has been the Holy Grail for almost an entire generation of science fiction fans. Named among the top 100 greatest works of science fiction by Entertainment Weekly magazine, its return to the public eye has been long anticipated, helped in part by the devoted efforts of its fans, who lobbied for its re-release in public pleas, grassroots Internet campaigns, and tireless letter-writing crusades. And though it did not bask in the same level of mainstream popularity that George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise experienced, it has made an indelible mark in the annals of science fiction filmmaking nonetheless.

It was back in 1980 that "The Lathe of Heaven", a modestly budgeted made-for-television movie based on the best-selling novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, made its first and only appearance on North American public television. Though it was never seen again, "The Lathe of Heaven" developed a cult following, even among those who never had a chance to see it when it was initially aired.

For the past twenty years, the only means to view this sci-fi masterpiece was via poor-quality bootlegged videotapes, often sold at outrageous prices at sci-fi conventions or on eBay. However, this all changed in June of this year, with the long-awaited rebroadcast of "The Lathe of Heaven" by public broadcasting television stations across North America, and the promise of the film's availability (digitally remastered no less) on VHS and DVD by the fall.

The 1980 adaptation—generally faithful to the novel—was produced by the public television station WNET, directed by David Loxton and Fred Barzyk. It starred Bruce Davison, Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery. Due to rights issues surrounding the use of a clip from the Beatles tune "With A Little Help From My Friends" (the song is integral to one of the novel's plot points), it was never re-aired after the network's rights to rebroadcast the program expired in 1988.

It would be another twelve years before it was released to home video in 2000 (in fact, the home video release is remastered from a tape someone recorded from the original broadcast; PBS, thinking the rights issues would dog the production forever, did not save a copy of the production in their archives). The rights issue was solved by replacing the original Beatles tune with a cover version of the same song.

The novel is set in Portland, Oregon. The 'real world' had been destroyed in a nuclear war and George Orr has dreamed it back into existence as he lay dying in the ruins. This places him in the first of many realities we encounter in the book, where he is a draftsman and has long been abusing sleep deprivation drugs to prevent himself from dreaming.

It is set approximately 30 years in the future, relative to when the book was first published, and overpopulation, famine, malnutrition, global warming, urban blight, and massive wars in the MIDDLE EAST are a commonplace. (ALL FIT THE PRESENT UNFORTUNATELY)

Orr is forced to undergo "voluntary" psychiatric care for his drug abuse, under threat of being placed in an asylum.

He begins attending therapy sessions with an ambitious psychiatrist and sleep researcher named William Haber, who discovers Orr's power to dream "effectively" and seeks to use it to change the world. His experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine nicknamed the Augmentor enhance Orr's abilities and produce a series of increasingly intolerable alternate worlds, based on an assortment of utopian (and dystopian) premises familiar from other science fiction works:

When Haber directs George to dream a world without racism, the skin of everyone on the planet becomes a uniform light gray.

An attempt to solve the problem of overpopulation proves disastrous when George dreams a devastating plague which wipes out 75% of humanity.

George attempts to dream into existence "peace on Earth" - resulting in an alien invasion of the Moon which unites all the nations of Earth against the threat.

Each effective dream gives Haber more wealth and status, until late in the book where he is effectively ruler of the world. Orr's economic status also improves, but he is unhappy with Haber's meddling and just wants to let things be. He becomes increasingly frightened by Haber's lust for power. He seeks out a lawyer to represent him against Haber, and while he falls in love with her and even marries her in one reality, this effort is unsuccessful in getting him out of therapy.

Eventually, Haber becomes frustrated with Orr's resistance and decides to take on effective dreaming himself. Haber's first effective dream represents a significant break with the realities created by Orr, and threatens to destroy the Earth completely. He is stopped by Orr through pure force of will. Reality is saved, but distorted, and Haber's mind is left broken.

"The Lathe of Heaven" debuted some twenty years ago, and remained one of the best-kept secrets in the history of science fiction filmmaking-- that is, until recently. Despite its low-budget roots, "The Lathe of Heaven" holds up remarkably well, and is still as intriguing and thought provoking as it was back in 1980. It is one of the few great works of science fiction that will stand the test of time.


Deb said...

i must confess, i don't know of this. possibly because i shy away from sci-fi, but the way you've described this makes me definitely want to check it out. time to broaden my horizons.

great review/post.

Toccata said...

Have you ever read the very short story, "Ultimate Construction" by CC Shackleton? I'll send you a copy. I want to say something but not unless I know you have read it.

So, when can we expect to see the next installment in the 15 second video series? Hint, hint!

busterp said...

Thanks Deb. I love everything in any movie genre's. Not alot of sci-fi but some I appreciate for their forward thinking sometimes. Sci-fi isn't my first choice either.

toccata. Don't know the book but a copy an enthusiastic yes. Just don't tell me more until I read it. And for the 15 second movies, more to come. Last week was Superbowl and too cold. I was going to take a clip of the road I drive to work (on Sunday) but it was closed off. We had whiteouts on it and the result of the wind was soil blown over the top of the snow. Everything was brown. Could have been interesting. Sorry note, it was closed off because of accidents. Four people died over two days. I attribute to bad driving but still...Sometimes it's better to stay at home. I'll see if I can come up with something before I get behind.