So we come to the end of our first sci-fi franchise here at the ISCFC, and it’s a suitably odd one. Frank Zagarino’s hair is the only thing the four films have in common – his name is different in 1 and 4, and he has no name at all in parts 2 and 3; parts 1 and 2 are set in the “present day”, part 3 is set in the future, and part 4 starts 3000 years in the past.; he’s definitely an android in 1 and 3, is probably not an android in part 2 (at least through most of the film) and is an alien in part 4; and the name of the series is sort-of relevant in part 1 and then is completely meaningless for the rest of them. Following me so far? The only bit of continuity across the series is that no-one can shoot worth a damn, although that might be accidental.
But the perhaps equally weird thing about them is they’ve all been really enjoyable. Action-packed B-movies with decent casts and fairly decent budgets are a thing of the past, as I’ve sadly bemoaned in many other reviews – but we have all these to enjoy, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too upset.
This film sets us off on the wrong foot, by showing the spaceship from part 3 flying towards a planet which isn’t Earth (it’s probably Mars, which is the vicinity of that film). Then we get a completely different spaceship landing on Earth, “2960 years ago”, and multiple Frank Zagarinos decamp from it to have a friendly interaction with a tribe of people. They have two halves of the “Orion’s Key” of the film’s title, which I guess is partly so they can identify each other after millennia. It’s a bit jarring seeing Frank be a good guy, and when lightning strikes this meeting of old friends, causing Frank’s ascending ship to be damaged, I still thought it might be an android-based trap.
Present day! Husband and wife team Michael and Corinne Kavanaugh are doing some archaeology in Africa, and find half of Orion’s Key. Actually, Corinne finds it, as Michael is off at the nearest city visiting their son, who is in a coma in hospital and is sort of an annoying subplot, allowing the baddies to have leverage over them and keeping them separated for a fair chunk of time.
Anyway, Corinne informs their investor, Professor Morton, and as she’s emailing him a scan of the thing she found, Frank wakes up from his cryogenic-ish state under the Earth (his ship crashed after the lightning strike). He’s called Sirius in this one, for those of you keeping score. And that’s the main chunk of the film, as the Kavanaughs try to stay alive with Morton’s goons after them, and Sirius after Morton’s goons. They think, reasonably, that Sirius is a bad guy, and he doesn’t get a chance to actually explain himself to them til near the end of the movie.
Considering how much I enjoyed this, the script is the weak link. Morton’s guys reveal their true evil colours too easily, and the wife remains sceptical about the key for far too long, considering what she’s seen. She’s also the worst trash-talker ever – when she comes to insult Morton late in the film, she goes off on some medical insult which ends with “your heart will be labelled as human faeces”! Also, if you compare the moment when Sirius reveals himself and helps the heroes, to a film with a similar plot such as “Terminator 2”, it comes way too late. Basically, we don’t watch B-movie sci-fi action for the intense family drama, if you know what I mean? What I mean is we want to see aliens doing cool alien fighting things. Although…I can’t think of too many films where a married couple are the main protagonists and carry the dramatic load fairly evenly, so that at least is an interesting bit of writing.
Although I’m sure the opening sequence is horrifically inaccurate, this film does a pretty decent job of portraying Africa. It was filmed on location in South Africa, and it shows hospitals, internet access, and modern life on top of the tribal plot which is at the heart of the film. Well done, movie! Also, well done for predating “District 9” by over a decade and having a sci-fi movie take place in an unusual location. Seeing Sirius stalk Orion’s Key over the plain, passing by a few ostriches, is a quietly brilliant little visual moment.
I’ve enjoyed this series, and despite them not really being a series, I’d recommend them to anyone with a love for this genre. Frank Zagarino is weirdly under-used in parts 3 and 4, which is a shame as he’s the best thing about them; there’s definitely the sense of some hasty last-minute editing to a few of them to knock partially unfinished films into some sort of releasable shape. Specifically relating to part 4, the ending is perhaps inadvertently super-creepy, and the air of it being a bit tossed off extends to them being unable to spell the title of the film the same on the opening and closing credits.
Rating: thumbs up