The Final Programme (1973)

Director: Robert Fuest

I only discovered tonight that Robert Fuest was actually a set designer before he took up directing, and suddenly the two Dr Phibes films made more sense… And I also found it made inadvertent sense to follow Heavy Metal with this, still the only film anyone’s made of a Michael Moorcock novel, because on checking the latter’s IMDB credits, I found him listed as a songwriter for the other films (BOC’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”). Also because, well, it’s about as perplexing as Heavy Metal too… Actually, it’s a fascinating lesson in marketing when you compare the two trailers; I’ve obviously seen the American one included in the Drive-In Delirium many times (that “Cosmic Carnage” section is one of my favourites), which makes it look like some… I don’t know, psychedelic comedy about the end of the world, or something like that. (The American release title—The Last Days of Man on Earth—kind of adds to that.) However, the British trailer on the British DVD posits it more as some sort of spy action thriller, which is actually more what it’s really like, though the apocalypse element does kind of play into things too… basically you could view it as a Bond film (star Jon Finch actually got offered that part before it went to Roger Moore), only fucked; the plot involves some sort of experiment started by Jerry Cornelius’ father before his untimely death, and Jerry has to find some microfilm that will bring it to its proper completion. The only problem is going to be getting it back from his drug-addled psycho brother without getting killed… Apparently Moorcock took three years to find a publisher for his novel (which I’ve not read) because every other publisher he approached said it was too weird; I can imagine the film’s producers having similar conniptions (apparently it started its release life as the top half of a double bill before quickly getting pushed to the bottom). To be sure, it’s a pretty relentless exercise in style over substance, perhaps a little too in love with its own up-front 70s hipness, but it’s strangely compelling for all that. Style over substance needn’t be a bad thing when it’s done this well…

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