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altered states

so, this weekend, in my insomnia, i watched a borrowed copy (thank you phrifuzzbuzz) of Altered States. i thought i'd blather about it.



i really enjoy ponderings on the idea of mind-altering drugs, hence why i wanted to watch this movie. i've often gone on and on about how i don't like movies with the "reality is subjective" or "someone else is shaping your reality, ha ha surprise" premise, but often i can overlook that particular predilection if themes are present that i enjoy. hence, i mostly enjoyed Altered States. of course, it had huge holes and is totally dated. some questions you ask when you finish watching this film:

1. why did dr. jessup turn into an ape, but you didn't see any "indians" turning into apes?
2. uh, what the hell was that supposed to be at the end when he touched blair brown and she apparently caught his bizarre-o unevolving disease?

i'm reading the original novel by paddy chayefsky now (out of print - i found a copy at second story books), and hoping it answers some of my questions, but thus far it's pretty faithful. chayefsky had his name pulled off the film, so i am thinking the two must diverge pretty significantly at some point. (much of the dialogue i heard in the film was lifted directly from the novel.) also, he's done a good job with describing the isolation tank experience from the point of view of the protagonist, something that probably couldn't be accomplished in the film. (you tell me how you'd film being in an isolation tank...) i can't contrast how the hallucinations are handled in the film vs. the movie, however i can say that i liked the cinematography and the way the images were presented. (actually, on second thought, the voiceover at the beginning with the image of hurt penned up in the initial, upright isolation tank is actually pretty effective. but still.)

the whole turning into the ape thing was a suspension of disbelief i was willing to make. which is a really, really big jump. enormous. however, the scenes where he was running around the streets as ape man were awful and boring and way, way too long, in my opinion. i know they were proud of their makeup effects, as well they should have been. but it went on for. fucking. ever.

note an excellent little essay on the special effects used:
http://www.terrortrap.com/mu/altered.htm

the director, ken russell, you've probably heard of. i've seen Gothic and well, i only remember one thing from that movie, and it's the suit of armor. ow. i'd be interested in seeing Lair of the White Worm and The Devils at some point, to see his other work, but i'm not gonna go TOO far out of my way. unless msteleute and my other usual movie buddies are interested. :) those of you who are nicola tesla fans will be interested to know that he's working on a film about Tesla.

notable: drew barrymore's big screen debut. i knew it when i saw the kid flash across the screen! maybe it's because her face just never seems to change.

also notable: thaao penghlis of days of our lives fame is in it looking all young! no one cares about this but me.

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Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
summer_queen
Jul. 21st, 2003 04:37 am (UTC)
I went through a HUGE Ken Russel stage in college and so tracked down Lair of the White Worm, Salome, The Devils, Whore ... and even his bit from Aria. Oh yeah, and Lisztomania, which stars Roger Daltry as Franz Liszt... Regretably, I never did find his Gustva Mahler movie.

I love Gothic (which I own), admire LotWW for the cheesy fun it is and was fascinated by the whole Albegensian historical background of The Devils (which would be very hard to find -- I saw it in my college theatre). If ever you need someone to watch Ken Russel movies with, I'd be glad to join in. Ditto if you ever go on a Peter Greenaway kick....
tommx
Jul. 21st, 2003 04:40 am (UTC)
1. i think the reason why it affected jessup the way it did was using it in conjunction with an isolation tank. until that, all it did was give him whacked out trips that would ultimately be unremembered. by taking the drug in conjunction with an isolation tank, it allowed for a more focussed state of consciousness and since he was focussed on going to the "first thought", he basically had nothing to distract him. the theory here is that physical existence is simply a state of consciousness.

2. one of the side effects of this drug (and the state of consciousness he goes into in the tank) is that it causes externalized hallucinations. by physically touching him, blair brown (who is mightily hot naked!) is drawn into the hallucination which manifests itself for her as basically being burned alive (from what i could tell from the movie). once he figured out how to come back to reality, she needed him to pull her back out of the hallucination and back into reality.

that's my 2 cents based on not having seen the movie in several years. but one of my faves.
snidegrrl
Jul. 21st, 2003 10:05 pm (UTC)
1. that is exactly the reason given in the book, which i finished today. :)

1a. i have NO IDEA why chayefsky took his name off this; it's such a literal translation of the book that my jaw is agape. the only two differences are that the woman is supposed to be blond and in the last 'trip', before he goes all primordial ooze, they have time to do a whole host of examinations on the ape.

2. also more or less what the book explained it as.
cheetahmaster
Jul. 21st, 2003 06:28 am (UTC)
Man, I thought Altered States was terrible. I mean, interesting concept deftly handled with poor writing, long, boring scenes, crappy special effects, and a very, very lame ending. Like, winner of the lame-ending award, and reigning champ until the Dungeons & Dragons movie was released.

Altered States often gets mentioned by people as a cult movie, and I have no idea why, because they're not talking about getting drunk and mocking it. Speaking of, that's the only way to make it through Lair of the White Worm, FYI.
tommx
Jul. 21st, 2003 06:47 am (UTC)
nothing is worse than the hulk. nothing!
cheetahmaster
Jul. 21st, 2003 07:48 am (UTC)
Oh my lord, I can name like twenty worse films off the top of my head. You must lead a very sheltered life. Also, you haven't seen LXG.
tommx
Jul. 21st, 2003 07:49 am (UTC)
well, the hulk was pretty darned bad. i mean i even walked out of it because i simply didn't care how it ended.

cheetahmaster
Jul. 21st, 2003 08:48 am (UTC)
Oh, it was bad. And you didn't miss the ending, either.

But there's *plenty* that's *much* worse out there.
snidegrrl
Jul. 21st, 2003 10:07 pm (UTC)
for the time, the special effects were considered groundbreaking, from just about everything i have read. the lame ending is better explained in the book, but i agree, is pretty lame and seems to amount to "only love can save us from the primordial ooze". whatever.

i think it's a great cult movie and deals with my favorite realm of cult movie topics: academics gone wild, brain chemistry, and um... well, yeah, those. see: firestarter.
cheetahmaster
Jul. 22nd, 2003 09:12 am (UTC)
for the time, the special effects were considered groundbreaking, from just about everything i have read.

Uh, this movie was 1980. Same year as The Empire Strikes Back and one year after the first Star Trek movie *and* Alien.

The only technical award it received is where it tied for a makeup award - with Scanners. Heh. (Though, again, see above. Tough competition.) (But they did beat out The Howling which is no short order.)

And again, the topics are fine, but the de-evolution thing is like G.I.Joe levels of lame. IMHO.
traceracer
Jul. 21st, 2003 07:39 am (UTC)
The only Ken Russell film I've seen is Dante's Inferno. I think I'd recommend it, but I'm a sucker for Dante Gabriel Rosetti.
snidegrrl
Jul. 21st, 2003 10:10 pm (UTC)
Huh. Sounds cool from the imdb description.
chaosrunner
Jul. 21st, 2003 10:54 am (UTC)
I actually like Altered States a lot and didn't have the same suspension of disbelief problems that a lot of people had.

Remember, the Native Americans who used the same drugs had been using them ceremonially for centuries and had certain guidelines they followed which the main character did not. Additionally, the was the added factor of the sensory deprevation tank that he was using. Finally, I saw the entire thing as a metaphor rather than something that they were trying to take as literal.

That being said, it's not a very easy movie to get into and if my father weren't such a big Ken Russel fan, I probably wouldn't have gotten into it either.

Listzomania, however, is one of the weirdest and most fun movies I've ever seen. I strongly recommend it, but only if you're not easily offended. The opening scene was worth the price of a rental, IMNOHO.
snidegrrl
Jul. 21st, 2003 10:12 pm (UTC)
I wish I could say that I thought it was ever a metaphor, but having now finished the book, I can tell it was not meant that way at all. Chayefsky really did some hard science work (using the science of the 70s) and often the book reads like one long, long listing of all the possible "wacky" science that might be behind something like this, and at the end he thanks a long list of scientists who helped him hammer out the theories.

Oh, and don't get me wrong, I really liked the movie and was riveted the whole time. :)
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