At Cinemas: The niche of nichts: the perils of making a Danish sci-fi

Murder on the Orient Express, Justice League and Palme D’Or winner The Square among the new releases

Too much liberation can be a bad thing. Just ask the Danish film industry. If you thought the script for the Jesus porno – which the Danish Film Institute agreed to finance in 1973 before caving into public pressure – was bad, you should google Gayniggers from Outer Space, a 1992 Danish short film so cringe-worthy it’s rumoured its director Morten Lindberg changed his name to Master Fatman to distance himself. Yeah, that bloke!

A crack force of gay black soldiers from the planet Anus – ArminAss, Captain Dick, D Ildo, Sergeant Shaved Balls and Schwul (ingeniously named after the German word for gay) – liberate the men of Earth from female oppression. Who said Denmark didn’t do sci-fi!

Truly monstrous efforts
Well, they do, but mostly very badly. Take Thomas Vinterberg’s confused 2003 romantic drama It’s All About Love (32 on Metacritic), a film set in 2021 that made little sense to anyone involved in it. After Festen, the likes of Joaquin Pheonix and Sean Penn were queuing up to work with the Dane. But little did they know that it would take five years to reach the screen, during which time Vinterberg tried to palm it off to Ingmar Bergman to finish.

And then there’s the 1962 movie Reptilicus in which a 90-foot monster, found frozen in the Arctic Circle, wreaks havoc in Copenhagen. Its score of 3.6 on IMDB is well deserved, as at times it is little more than a shameless travelogue, as characters tour the city exclaiming: “Look, the Little Mermaid, how lovely – it is a beautiful city.” Arguably the film’s best moment comes in the end credits when the narrator’s line “It’s a good thing that there’s no more like him” is swiftly followed by “Produced and Directed by Sidney Pink”.

Room for optimism
That’s not to say all Danish sci-fi films are bad. Cyberworld dystopia Skyggen (Webmaster, 1998) has its moments thanks to a creepy turn by Lars Bom, as does Manden der tænkte ting (The Man Who Thought Life), a 1969 Cannes Palme D’Or nominee with a plot that keeps viewers guessing. There’s Lars von Trier’s beautifully apocalyptic Melancholia (2011) of course. And most lauded of all, Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars, 1918) is considered a pioneer of the space opera subgenre.

So it’s difficult to know what to expect from Qeda (released on November 16; Not Released Worldwide), a time travel yarn set in 2095 in which Copenhagen has evolved into Venice. Not a bad trade-off, you might think – the Danes are the Italians of the north, after all – but gondoliers make a poor substitute for cargo bikes, prompting one scientist to send his clone, and then himself, back to 2017 to avert an impending ecological disaster.

The Gore continues
Al Gore’s on the same page in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power (Nov 16; 68 on Metacritic), but he doesn’t need time travel to end up in 2017, although he’d probably appreciate a chance to revisit November 2000 when a certain state used all its available sunshine to bring the sun down on his whole campaign.

It’s been eleven years since his environmentalism was showcased in the thought-provoking An Inconvenient Truth (produced by Larry David’s former wife Laurie no less), a film that provoked one of cinematic history’s greatest ever two-word reviews.

Rivalling “Shit sandwich” from This is Spinal Tap, the then-US president George W Bush said “Doubt it”, to which Gore said he was alarmed Bush could express “personal doubt that [climate change] is true”. However, it later transpired that W was expressing the likelihood of whether he would ever see it.

Perhaps more worrying is that a survey conducted in 47 mainly Western countries revealed that the documentary had changed the minds of 66 percent of those who had seen the film – suggesting when you take the naysayers into account that only a minority believed in climate change before watching it. This was in 2007! No wonder we’re in such a mess.

Misty like Christie
Equally haphazard is Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus (Nov 23; 46), which should have remained a honorary member of the Don Quixote club of unfilmable books. Despite the casting of the likeable Roger Allam (even more cantankerous than Peter Capaldi, his co-star in The Thick of It) in the main role, it never really feels like it is a complete work, more a mash-up, claims Empire magazine, between PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie called ‘Peter’s Friends Go Mad At Brideshead’.

Faring only marginally better is genuine Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express (Nov 23; 54) starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot – a film whose tone more brings to mind the ITV series of Marple, than David Suchet’s Poirot (which took on the tale in 2010). Like with the 1974 version, it has a star-studded cast, but even Agatha would have trouble concocting a scenario in which it matches that film’s inexplicable six Oscar nominations.

Squirming in your seat
Elsewhere, Justice League (Nov 16; NRW) is ‘The Avengers’ but for DC Comics not Marvel. Yawn! Wonder Woman, Batman, a cyborg, a werewolf and an Ironman impersonator take on implausibly big globules of gristle to save the world, without the tiniest element of anything satirical going on.

The release of Daddy’s Home 2 (Nov 23; NRW) suggests the public liked the 2015 original more than the critics. Adopted and bio dads Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg invite their respective fathers, John Lithgow and Mel Gibson, to spend Christmas with them – like with Bad Moms 2, presumably the festification of this turd was the only way to eke out further mileage.  Peaking after his career-defining turn as Winston Churchill in The Crown, Lithgow had his pick of any film in Hollywood. He chose this.

Perhaps Lithgow could learn something about steady career trajectories from Dominic West (The Affair) who lends the mostly Swedish production of The Square (Nov 23; 71), the 2017 Palme D’Or winner, some international clout. Directed by Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) and set in the world of contemporary art, the ideals on display in the gallery are a poor match for the narcissism of the curator (Danish actor Claes Bang), and the result is an uproarious comedy that will make you squirm in your seat.

Probably not as much as Gayniggers from Outer Space, but it comes a close second.