Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Science Project

   I feel sorry for people who never experienced this movie as a kid. There's a very small fan base for this movie, and the people who like it- love it. Born a decade on either side of this small window of time, and you're in the wrong demographic. Too young, and the movie is a string of pop culture references so dated it might as well be as dry as a high school history class. If you're too old, the movie is nothing more than one of many off-brand attempts to cash in on the success of Back to the Future. Even back in the 80's it was a second tier teen sci-fi/comedy, trying hard to be on par with the likes of Weird Science and again... Back to the Future. So why in the hell do I love it so much?

   It feels like a forgotten and dusty 10 cent sci-fi paperback from the 70's come to life. Inter-dimensional time/space warps? A blazing fast GTO? A trio of teenage friends against a dangerous alien object? It's great. Ultimately it suffers from having a complex concept at it's core. The movie doesn't revolve around a car that's also a time machine, and it's also not as simple as a couple of teenagers using crazy technology to make the babe of their dreams. A teen finding the engine to an alien spacecraft in a military junk yard, and trying to pass it off as his science project is a neat idea for a story, but it lacks that slick inner-synergy that made the other aforementioned movies cultural classics. You can find a dozen different model kits or remote controlled cars of the time machine from Back to the Future- but who was going to market the gizmo from this movie? How?

   The characters are funny and engaging filtered through the lens of nostalgia and my own childhood experience with the movie, but cynics at the time probably felt they were a bit cliche. Over time and with repeat viewings I've found a surprising amount of comedic nuance in a movie that seems, at first glance, about as obvious and as subtle as a spit take. John Stockwell and Fisher Stevens have a great dynamic as the movie's lead buddy duo, even the supporting cast is pretty stellar- featuring the late and great Dennis Hopper in one of my favorite roles of his: the hippy relic high school science teacher, Bob Roberts. When the teens bring the alien gizmo to Bob, he's ecstatic- feeling the universe at his finger tips. The girl chimes in skeptically, asking, "Bob, this isn't like the time you told us we could smoke banana peels, is it?!"

   That line gets big laughs from my family whenever we watch it. The movie has generated a slew of in-jokes in my family, and the movie itself is an easy house favorite. I used to feel that it deserved the level of fame that say, Weird Science got, as a cult classic- because as is, almost nobody knows about this movie. Weird Science has 59,516 votes on IMDb, whereas My Science Project has a paltry 3,982. But really, nobody's surprised when someone else has seen Weird Science or Teen Wolf. If you manage to find someone else that's seen My Science Project (and invariably, they love the movie) you have an instant bond with that person. This has literally happened to me like four or five times. If the movie was any more or any less popular, it'd be an irrelevant slice of cult fave nonsense. Not the special little semi-obscure gem it is right now.

   I've heard some people say it's slow, others say it's derivative, but these are people who're treated to the wide range of things the internet has to offer. If you've seen My Science Project, you've seen all the others. I happened to see it before any of that. My first exposure to this movie was on VHS in the late 90's. My dad remembered about the movie one day, and he took me along with him as he checked every Blockbuster and Hollywood Video in town for it. We had to drive 45 minutes out of town to get to a place that had it. I'll never forget that. So before I ever saw Teen Wolf, or Weird Science, or Time Bandits or Buckaroo Banzai... I saw My Science Project. I saw the alien space engine. I saw Roman gladiators, Cleopatra, Dinosaurs, Vietcong soldiers, and post-apocalyptic mutants... all in the same movie. Because hey, it's a time/space warp- remember? Cool, but not marketable.

   I think it's a shame it never got a sequel though. It has great potential to go on in the form of a comic book or a series of novels. Hell, even a real movie sequel had a lot of potential to explore back in the day. But for now? It's just that one movie. Dated, silly, derivative... but special, and funny, and very creative. I love everything about this movie. Love it. But I get why it's not a classic and why more people don't know about it. It wasn't a trendsetter, it didn't have any big names behind it- save for Hopper. It just is... what it is. A quaint and fun little sci-fi comedy. I know every line, I know every scene in detail. And it's my movie to share with close friends and family. It'll be that way as long as I have any say in it.

Also, here's the full length movie. So. Enjoy that.

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