Maverick pop-art fantasy director Robert Fuest (The Avengers, The Abominable Dr Phibes) is let loose on Michael Moorcock’s time-tripping novel of swinging psychosexual splother, producing a muddled tale of a race to stop the blueprints for a genetically modified Superman falling into the wrong hands as the missiles drop. Jon ‘Counterstrike‘ Finch cuts a dashing cross between Jon Pertwee and Tony Bastable as unstable, black nail varnish-wearing, chocolate digestive-munching fop Jerry Cornelius, and Jenny ‘Jubilee‘ Runacre is fun as the catsuit-clad, predatory Miss Brunner, and there are top guest turns from Hugh Griffiths, Sterling Hayden, Patrick Magee, Harry Andrews and Graham Crowden. But really, as with The Avengers, forget trying to make sense of any fragments of so called “plot” that might happen to be floating about, this is all about the set-pieces.
And what set-pieces. Heaps of wrecked cars along the Thames? Check. Multicoloured poison gas clouds? Check. Underground supercomputer powered by rows of scientists’ disembodied brains? Check. Hypodermic-firing drug pistols? Check. Chic restaurant with in-house wrestling tournaments, with booze served up in little Freeze-pop packets from a tray around Sandra Dickinson’s neck? Check. Picnics with lab-coated scientists in miniature geodesic domes? Check. Fiendishly cryptic Adventure Game-style puzzles involving doors with gigantic vertical chess sets as locks? Check. Giant pinball game featuring women rolling about in those inflatable spheres James Burke used to try out on Tomorrow’s World? Check. Solarised film to indicate the apocalypse? Check. Actually quite good zero-budget visual effects done with a bit of corrugated glass by an optical lab that, when asked to repeat the trick for something else, admitted they’d forgotten how they did it? Check. Hermaphrodite ubermensch revealed as a manicured monkey doing a crap Humphrey Bogart impression? Er, check. The soundtrack? Why, jazz-Moog, of course!
So, we’re not in for a round of incisive character-led examination of the human condition or taut, finely crafted storytelling. So what’s the big deal? Well, we’d argue that a great big wobbly dollop of blancmange is great once in a while. The fact that your average multiplex these days shows nothing but blancmange is part of the problem – ‘once in a while’ is the key. Besides (and this is a matter of taste), there’s a big difference between some off-the shelf readymix packet blancmange and the sort your granny whips up out of various Macmillan-era odds and ends she’s found at the back of the pantry. Both will lay you up in bed for a fortnight, but only the latter lends itself to a good anecdote rather than a sniffy letter to Watchdog. (The fact we’re reduced to making such absurdly overstretched food metaphors is somehow appropriate to this mad film.)
Any hardcore Moorcock fans watching this film will become crosser and crosser throughout, but while it does break the cardinal rule of this sort of thing by playing up its inherent daftness at times, it’s splendid entertainment to watch this misguided film shake itself spectacularly to bits, like one of those Heath Robinson prototype flying machines. Enjoy the journey – just don’t expect to find yourself anywhere convenient when you get off.