LIST CANDIDATE: PROXIMA (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Atanes

FEATURING: Oriol Aubets, Anthony Blake, Manuel Solás, Abel Folk

PLOT: Just as his life seems to be falling apart, aimless sci-fi nerd Tony (Aubets) becomes

accidentally entangled with a doomsday cult, a time-traveling conspiracy, and new method of interstellar transportation. Or does he?

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Atanes is explicitly trafficking in weird material here, and PROXIMA certainly has its fair share of strange imagery and plot twists, but its elaborate scenario often feels culled from classics like Videodrome and The Matrix. Originality aside, though, its abundance of imagination and ambiguity might be enough to scrape onto the List.

COMMENTS: Attached to anything else, the tagline “The Last Science Fiction Movie” might sound hubristic.  But it’s absolutely appropriate to PROXIMA, an apocalyptic love letter to sci-fi and its fans.  Atanes puts his obsession with the genre front and center, and the film is dotted with casual references to Blade Runner, Star Wars, and Jean-Luc Picard.  Perhaps the most telling such reference is “Felix Cadecq,” the name of the Kilgore Trout-like author (Solàs) whose revelations set Tony’s adventure in motion—and a Spanish homonym for “Philip K. Dick,” whose pet themes form the backbone of PROXIMA‘s mind-bending world.

But Atanes, as liberally as he may borrow from the sci-fi canon, never settles for pure pastiche.  The opening scenes, for example, are refreshingly slice-of-life, patiently building up to the main plot with subtle hints of weirdness.  We see Tony preparing to close his failing video store, playing Halo as his girlfriend dumps him, and visiting a convention with his best friend Lucas (get it?), balancing sympathy with brual honesty in its depiction of his slacker lifestyle.  But everything changes after Tony and Lucas attend a panel featuring the eccentric old Cadecq, who vows never to write again.  Instead, he hawks his new CD “Journey to Proxima,” which he claims will guide its listeners into contact with extraterrestrial life.

From this point on, the film is a series of left turns, with detours into amnesia, astral projection, alien technology, and false imprisonment.  By the time Tony’s drifting through space in what looks like a magical refrigerator, it’s unclear exactly how each twist is related, beyond a loose sense that something epic is going on.  At times, the movie comes across like the breathless sci-fi equivalent of North by Northwest.  Alas, Tony’s sojourns into space also reveal PROXIMA‘s greatest weakness: its budget is tragically outstripped by its imagination, and its special effects are universally cheap and shoddy.

That said, it’s impressive how far Atanes goes with so little money, and PROXIMA ends with a string of stunning, otherworldly visions mixing its meager effects with real-world landscapes.  Furthermore, at no point is PROXIMA entirely beholden to its effects budget: unlike many Philip K. Dick adaptations, it stays away from action-oriented set-pieces, sticking to a more introspective, cerebral realm.  It’s less about the adventure itself, and more about the egotism of imagining oneself at the center of a vast, interplanetary saga.  As Cadecq says early in the film, “We are the protagonists now!”  But as Tony must learn, bridging the gulf between sci-fi and real life isn’t all it”s cracked up to be.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Proxima is a very Philip K. Dick-ian film with its abrupt conceptual twists and shifting revelations about what is real.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Review (DVD)

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