Thursday, 4 October 2012


The remarkably selective and inaccurate A.P.E.X. trailer

While Googling the works of Philip Roth, I was pleased to run into a film I remember from years back directed by a different Philip Roth - Philip J Roth: the 1994 A.P.E.X.

It's a time-travel story, the premise being that scientists in 2073 are sending a test probe back to 1973. Following a malfunction, one of the scientists, Nicholas Sinclair, follows the probe through to prevent it killing an innocent family, but he inadvertently contaminates the past with a virus. On his return, he finds himself in the new timeline he has created: a 2073 where humanity has been driven to near-extinction by an endless supply of the deadly robot probes sent automatically from the original timeline to erase the contamination. He finds himself an unpopular soldier-technician, his wife a surly and militarily expendable plague carrier who no longer knows him, and his new colleagues completely unaware of what they're fighting. Sinclair uses what influence he has to get a team to escort him to the ruined time laboratory in this revised timeline, where he hopes to reverse the accident. The team doesn't like it; the robots don't like it; and, increasingly, the fabric of spacetime doesn't like it.

In many ways, A.P.E.X. sucks bigtime, and it has attracted much ridicule. Why would a time probe take the form of a rocket-toting humanoid robot of scary and Baroque design? Where are these millions of robots being manufactured? Why are future soldiers always so ill-disciplined and shouty? There's a pleasantly facetious review at A.P.E.X.

And yet there's a lot I like about this film. Roth, who co-wrote the story, seems to have a genuine feel for the tropes of SF. The characterisation is unusual: Sinclair is not the gung-ho protagonist usual in this kind of post-apocalyptic rampage, but a thoughtful character whose brow-furrowing angst as an outsider to this brutal alternate world are as central to the story as the action sequences.

And it has a certain geek interest in being one of the two films to feature the single prototype of the Landmaster amphibious vehicle, with its strange 'tri-star' wheel configuration. See Damnation trolley for the other.

It's on YouTube: if you like SF, check it out.

- Ray

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