If the incredibly pretentious boast of this film’s title were true, it would be a tragic bit of misfortune to give such a miserable closure to the genre that brought us “Forbidden Planet,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Close Encounters,” and “Blade Runner.” Fortunately we have – if nothing else, and for good or ill – James Cameron’s “Avatar” ahead of us, ensuring that “Proxima” is not the end of the line for sci-fi. And that is a relief, because as science fiction films go, “Proxima” is both ambitious and miserable, but much more of the latter than the former.
This Spanish production is more lo-fi than sci-fi, and was clearly shot by a group of devoted amateurs who wanted to throw everything they love about the genre into one film. We have space travel, secret societies, invisible armor, galactic empires, conspiracy nuts, and metaphysical cosmic voyages. Only “Buckaroo Bonzai” shoehorns more cross-genre mayhem into one film, but do not get me wrong: “Proxima” will never, ever find the devoted cult audience that “Buckaroo” has maintained. The producers also fill this film with far too many homages to their own favorite movies. Using “Star Wars” as just one example: we have a character in a Sith Park t-shirt, two characters debating “Star Wars” versus “Star Trek” (wasn’t that debate already stale in 1985?), one character named Lucas, and another who whistles John Williams’ “Imperial March.” I’ll refrain from listing the “Trek” homages.
The main character is a sci-fi-obsessed boy-man named Tony (Oriol Aubets), who owns a store that rents rare video. Business is failing, his girlfriend is leaving, yadda yadda. At a science fiction convention, a famous author gives a retirement speech, claiming that all sci-fi is now obsolete because a real-life ancient galactic empire has been discovered (uh-oh). The empire is infinitely more advanced than we are. Tony gets mixed up in a secret society who wants to make contact with this advanced race. He eventually goes on a “2001”-style space trip and/or head trip, landing on another planet full of fellow Earth expatriates who don’t do much other than wander aimlessly around in a desert valley. If nothing else, the desert scenes that were filmed in the Corta Atalaya mines look kind of cool. All of the alien Earthlings find a way home, except for Tony, who prefers to remain alone on the desolate rock.
The whole story is a mess, full of too many convoluted sci-fi cliches piled on top of each other, none of which work together or make any sense (the film is also free of any performers possessed of three percent of the charisma that Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, or Christopher Lloyd each have in the pinkie fingers; these actors are what made “Buckaroo” a fun, energetic, and memorable mess instead of, well, just a mess). The first hour of “Proxima” contains about ten minutes of real story or character information. Most of the hour could have been cut. Slow films can be good (Tarkovsky, anyone?), but in the case of “Proxima” an editor was sorely needed. Director Carlos Atanes needs to have added one more homage to George Lucas, that legendary bit of direction repeatedly given to the stars of “Star Wars”: “faster, more intense.”
The second hour features a genuinely pretty girl (completely naked for no reason at all – Tobe Hooper’s “Lifeforce,” anyone…?), some awful special effects, and most of what passes for a story. This is all bogged down with senseless psychobabble that is supposed to pass for intense philosophical revelations about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. (Yes, we can count Douglas Adams in-jokes too).
Ultimately, “Proxima” is what happens when some science fiction geeks get ahold of a camera and make a wish-fulfillment fantasy about geeks whose geeky dreams come true. There is a charm to that concept, in theory, but it isn’t to be found in “Proxima.”