Reviewed by Roger M. Wilcox
Rating: 9 Beans
he full title of this film, as it appears on the video cassette cover, is _Isaac Asimov's Nightfall_.
Don't you believe it. This film has as little to do with Asimov's short story "Nightfall" as _Armageddon_ does with the Book of Revelation.
Isaac Asimov's original short story was based on a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about how men would marvel if the stars only came out once in a thousand years. It's set on a planet remarkably like Earth (right down to the gum-chewing girl reporters and Coney Island), except that it was actually located near the center of the galaxy in some wildly complicated orbit around six (!) suns of varying brightness and color. The inhabitants had evolved in a world of perpetual daylight and thus were instinctively afraid of the dark. The perpetual daylight also meant that no one had ever invented the hand torch, despite having progressed to the technological level of the roller-coaster. Apparently, though, every two thousand years there are sparse records of great disasters and darkness covering the land. A little doom-and-darkness cult springs up because it's been nearly 2000 years since the last Time of Disasters; they pose no threat but they do get people worried that there might be something to those old myths. The scientists of the world eventually deduce that an otherwise invisible planet causes an eclipse of one of their suns every 500 years or so, and that if that sun happens to be the only one above the horizon at the time the world will be thrown into terrifying (to them) darkness. I won't spoil the ending for you TOO badly, but suffice it to say, Emerson was wrong.
The movie starts off with the bare-essential premise of the story intact -- that a planet in perpetual daylight is about to experience darkness for the first time in recorded history -- but everything else in the film seems to have been channelled by the producers/directors from aliens in the Age of Aquarius while on LSD.
The 1930s Chicago skyline of the book is gone. Instead, everybody lives in tents or grass huts in the forest. They have names like "Aton", "Sar", and "The Desert King". The number of suns gets reduced from six to three, because three of anything sounds a lot more mythological than six. Instead of an eclipse, the suns mysteriously vanish when they're down past the horizon. How do they know the suns have vanished? They're tracking their positions with "sonar". I am not kidding here. They have a "sonar" gizmo that looks like a victrola made out of deer skins. And it tracks the positions of their suns. I'm surprised nobody carried crystals around with them to ward off evil spirits, too.
The doom-and-darkness cult, which played a tiny role in the short story as one of many Signs of Impending Gloom, now dominates the script. Their members are the Embodyment of Evil, embracing darkness as salvation rather than terror. The short story's point about the people being instinctively afraid of the dark seems to have been dropped in favor of a Battle between the Forces of Light and Darkness. (Groan.) To show everybody that the cultists are the bad guys, they show one of their initiates volunteering to have her eyes pecked out by ravens. (I still can't figure out how they managed to make live eyeballs appetizing for ravens.)
Naturally, our heroes Must Stop the Darkness, so when the last sun sets and night finally falls, the leader of the Heroic New-Age Gobbledygook people has a big swordfight with the leader of the Evil New-Age Gobbledygook people. Several people get stabbed. Cheap synthesizer music heightens the drama by completely failing to match the mood that's supposedly being shown on-screen. Then the Harmonic Convergence happens and all the Geminis and Capricorns live in peace and good-vibes with their Tarot cards forever after. Or the UFOs come down and impregnate Bigfoot with Elvis's love-child. Or something. It was awfully hard to tell which slice of new-age bullshit was going on from one moment to the next, particularly near the end.
I've always thought that Asimov's short story "Nightfall" would make an excellent one-hour episode of _The Outer Limits_ -- IF the producers of said episode stayed true to the story. Sadly, some producer with about $19.95 to spend decided to make a movie out of it instead. The Internet Movie Database reports another movie called _Nightfall_ that's slated for release in 2000. If it's based on the Asimov story, let's hope the scriptwriters at least read the short story before production starts. The creators of the 1988 _Nightfall_ movie don't seem to have done so.
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