J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tribeca ’17: The Escape (short)

Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley was never quite a household name, but he had good success with movie sales. The diverse films based on his work include The 10th Victim starring Ursula Andress, Freejack, and Disney’s Condorman. Over a decade after Sheckley’s death, Paul Franklin adds another entry to the Sheckley filmography, adapting his story “The Store of the Worlds” as the short film The Escape (trailer here), which screens as part of the Shorts: Your Heart’s Desire program at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Kellan is a dodgy back-alley scientist who has a tempting offer for miserable, life-tossed souls like Lambert. For a fee, he can temporarily transport them to one of the infinite alternate realities, where they can experience the life they truly crave. In addition to the high financial cost, the process also takes ten years off a customer’s life, so Lambert will have to think about it.

We subsequently learn Lambert is a white-collar family man, with a slightly bossy wife, a teen daughter, and a young son. He is under stress both at home and his downsizing office, but his pompous boss genuinely seems to like him. However, his desire for escape will make perfect sense in light of the big climatic reveal.

Unlike the campy 10th Victim and cartoony Condorman, The Escape is actually a sentimental sf fable, more in the spirit of Twilight Zone episodes like “A Stop at Willoughby” and “Kick the Can,” but it does have the occasion for some grand spectacle down the stretch. Indeed, The Escape is likely to attract attention, because it is the directorial debut of Franklin, who supervised special effects on several Christopher Nolan films, including the Dark Knight trilogy. Fans should not be disappointed, but they might be slightly surprised by his sensitive character-driven approach.

He also assembles a pretty impressive cast for a short, including an appropriately gaunt looking Julian Sands as Lambert, who really delivers the existential angst when the time comes. Olivia Williams plays off the mopey Lambert rather nicely as his forceful but loving wife, while Art Malik (from Jewel in the Crown and dozens of other British shows) anchors it all with authority as Kellan.

Experienced genre viewers might guess the big twist, but Franklin execution packs a powerful punch. It is quality production that just feels like it will come around again during award season, particularly since he has that Nolan connection. Regardless, it is worth seeing just as a smart science fiction film in its own right. Highly recommended, The Escape screens again tonight (4/24), Wednesday (4/26), and Saturday (4/29), during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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