were no flying cars in the future, nor did we enter a Star Trekian age of
peace. We should know, we’re living in it, or at least we soon will be. It is
an exercise in retro-futurism, imagining the year 2018 as seen from 1938. Our
point-of-view comes from Essex, an intrepid time-traveler who hopes to avert
the messy world war brewing in Europe. However, the Germans might not be a
defanged as everyone assumes during the years Essex skips over in Jamie
Greenberg’s Future ‘38, which
premiered at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.
to Essex, there was/will not be a war. Instead, we entered era of Pax Formica,
ushered in by a demonstration of our secret weapon. It is/was much like the
atom bomb, but it was fueled by Formica instead of plutonium or uranium. The
tricky thing is it takes eighty years for the Formica core to build up enough
power. The solution is obvious. Stash the super-Formica in a secure vault and
send Essex eighty years into the future to retrieve it.
arrives in the lobby of a flop-house run by Banky, a glamorous tough cookie,
who finds herself strangely attracted to Essex, in a Tracy-Hepburn kind of way.
Although she does not believe his time travel mumbo jumbo, she humors him
anyway. Thanks to the ticker-tape version of the internet, they learn the old War
Department building has been converted into the new German embassy, so
naturally they will crash their reception. However, the Germans have some ideas
about rewriting history of their own.
Future ’38 is presented as
an ostensibly rediscovered lost film, introduced by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Frankly, its retro-futurism is much more informed by contemporary attitudes
than those of the 1930s. However, some of technical mash-ups are amusing (smart
phones still placing calls through operators and the like). The look of the
picture is also terrific, thanks to the way it so perfectly approximates the look
of early Technicolor film stock.
the first half of the film feels rather precious and gimmicky, but viewers
should stick with it, because Greenberg ties everything together surprisingly
cleverly in the third act. It legitimately pays off down the stretch, after the
game co-leads win us over. Nick Westrate and Betty Gilpin have a good handle on
the dialogue’s necessary rat-a-tat-tat tempo, playing off each other quite
nicely. Gilpin is particularly charismatic, channeling her inner Rosalind
starts slow, but it steadily builds steam. One might argue it also reminds us
of the dangers of complacency when it comes to protecting our freedoms, but
that is probably a stretch. It is really just a goofy and ultimately quite
sweet film. Without question, it has more heart and substance than Space Station 76 (an obvious comp movie).
Recommended for fans of time travel films and Golden Age science fiction, Future ’38 screens again tomorrow
(1/26), during this year’s Slamdance.
Labels: Retro-Futurism, Slamdance '17, Time Travel Films