“In the light universe, I have been darkness. Perhaps in the dark zone I will be light.” - Kai
I am a science fiction nut. Hard core. Geektastic even (hence the name of this blog)! I am willing to watch anything in this genre no matter how shitty it may look due to my intense love for it. I truly adore “science fiction” over “sci-fi”, but I don’t discriminate all that much since we usually get more of the latter than the former nowadays (Looper and Prometheus being the recent formers). But what I really look for in my science fiction is when a completely new approach is taken and something unique is the result. This is why I cannot express how much I hold a treasure like Lexx so dear to my heart.
Lexx started out as a series of four 2-hour made-for-cable movies by a joint Canadian/German filmmaking venture. It was also very ambitious due to the fact that over 60% of all the visuals were to be computer generated images. This was in 1997 mind you, a full two years before Star Wars- Episode I: The Phantom Menace would revolutionize the way films were made in this manner, so that alone was pretty impressive at the time. I never had the chance to see these movies when they first aired, but when they were released on DVD I checked them out and have cherished (most of) them ever since. These four movies now serve as the first season of the show’s four season run once The Sci-Fi Channel picked up the rights to produce a weekly series. Since I recently revisited the original films I will be reviewing each feature individually.
The first film, titled I Worship His Shadow, introduces the main players and the odd universe they inhabit. Stanley H. Tweedle (Brian Downey) is a security guard on The Cluster, the central planet in the League of 20,000 Planets, where His Divine Shadow, a nearly immortal tyrant, rules all with an iron fist. When the trial of the revolutionary leader Thoden (Barry Bostwick) goes horribly awry Stanley inadvertently becomes the commander of the Lexx, His Divine Shadow’s most powerful starship, during a jailbreak. He teams up with a love slave, Zev Bellringer (Eva Habermann), the undead assassin Kai (Michael McManus) and the disembodied robot head 790 (Jeffrey Hirschfield) to escape The Cluster into The Dark Zone, an alternate universe of chaos, and away from His Divine Shadow’s influence forever.
Yeah, it’s a lot to take in and this premiere film is chock full of non-stop exposition and backstory of all the central characters and the setting. The people behind the series, Paul Donovan, (the late) Lex Gigeroff and Jeffrey Hirschfield, really put a lot of effort into fully realizing this surreal universe and the series benefits greatly from it. Everything feels lived in, thought out and practical in the strangest way possible. Everything is also extremely oversexualized. There’s a lot of nudity from both genders, everything is designed with either a phallic or vaginal look and some characters are always horny without a care for what gender they bang, one being a necropheliac. For some it’s overwhelming (I know a few people who I’ve tried to show this series to that couldn’t get into it for these reasons) and for others it’s just the kick in the pants the genre needed to move into fresh new territory.
The story is just batshit insane. It takes a little while to get used to all the craziness being thrown at you, but once you get into the groove of things it becomes a total blast. There are some of the most creative and atypical ideas on display here that I have ever seen. From the insect ship designs to the dark and inhumane governing of the general populace, it’s all different and a welcome change-up.
Sure the idea of a living spaceship isn’t new (Farscape and Star Trek did it numerous times), but the fact that it’s a giant spacefaring insect that needs to stay fed to work properly is a masterstroke. The Lexx is even a character itself and talks to the crew on occasion (voiced by Tom Gallant).
The protein bank idea is gruesome, but inventive as well. This universe’s version of small claims court finds the defendant strapped to a slab and tried by a virtual judge. When found guilty, and everyone always is, the defendant is cut to pieces in order to feed the Lexx.
A staple of popular entertainment is the villain, and we all know that a cool villain is always key to this genre. His Divine Shadow unfortunately is not very threatening, deity or not. It’s a dude (Lex Gigeroff) in a hooded robe and a deep voice (provided by Walter Borden) who talks a lot of shit, is obsessed with insects and not much else. If he didn’t have a giant world ending armada and a stable of undead assassins he would not be much of a menace. The one interesting thing about the character is that he is able to transfer his consciousness into a new body once his current one becomes too worn down, and the brain of the previous host is removed and kept alive for reference purposes. These brains are called His Divine Predecessors and are stored on the Lexx.
The characters are interesting and are severely emotionally damaged. Each has issues of their own to deal with, and while they are all tragic stories they are also extremely entertaining once they combine forces and become a bizarre family unit. Each actor brings something unique to their part and breathes life into their off-the-wall character. Brian Downey goes for a sort of sleazy sad-sack angle for Stanley, and given that he’s the main character this was a bold choice. There are times where he is completely unlikable and others where you can’t help but root for the poor guy who just can’t seem to catch a break. Eva Habermann, while not being a native English speaker (she’s German), manages to make Zev sexy as hell even though she seems overly preoccupied with getting it on with a corpse. She’s not the greatest actress in the world, but she’s easy on the eyes and her character is fun. Michael McManus plays the undead Kai with a Vulcan-like stoicism and a dry wit. He’s the voice of reason within the crew, who are all very impulsive and reckless. Once he realizes he is the one prophesized to eliminate His Divine Shadow and regains all his erased memories he begins to develop a caring personality which is mildly fascinating. We only get to see Jeffrey Hirschfield’s mouth on 790’s faceplate screen, but his voice is one made for comedy. He is the comic relief character who constantly spouts dirty limericks to profess his undying love for Zev and he gets all the best lines (Zev – “What kind of robot are you?”, 790 – “I’m a robot who wants to live in your underpants.”). There’s also the secondary character of Giggerota the Wicked played brilliantly by Ellen Dubin. She is probably my favorite character in this first feature (she returns in the second as well) due to her completely over-the-top performance as the lusty busty cannibal stowaway aboard the Lexx. Her costume is pretty rad too. Barry Bostwick hams it up something fierce as Thoden. His screen time is severely limited and thankfully so; the less time I had to watch him running around in golden plum smugglers the better.
I must also commend Marty Simon’s score. It’s some weird electronic techno orchestral fusion that has a unique sound that perfectly compliments the on-screen action. I actually own the soundtrack for these films and the following series. Good stuff!
Not all is super awesome in Lexx land however. The visuals are severely dated by today’s standards. Virtually all the CGI looks like a first generation Playstation game and the greenscreen work is atrocious. It does grow on you and gives the film a certain low budget charm. Don’t forget, at the time this was made this was groundbreaking stuff. All the sets are pretty sparse and cheap, especially the bridge of the Lexx which looks like a lot of cloth stretched over rebar frames.
The pacing is erratic in the extreme. There are sections where the plot is racing along and the next it is as slow as a snail with nothing of note happening at all and is just series of useless repetitive visuals that do nothing to advance the story. Some better editing would have been welcome.
The direction is also all over the place. I’m sure that the project was overwhelming for Paul Donovan, I know I would have been, but it’s as if he only has two ways of directing his actors: chew the scenery until there is nothing left or to pretend they’re sleepwalking. I will admit that it does eventually mix into a nice balance, but for this premiere feature it can be a little overwhelming.
And lastly… there is some moldy ass cheese floating through the script. I am talking cornball city. Some of the dialogue is wretched (“My life means nothing in the great equation. Beauty such as yours must live on.”), events are dumb beyond belief (Thoden has a robotic dragonfly bomb hidden up his nose) and villains are eliminated so easily it made me wonder why it took centuries for anyone to attempt it sooner.
Sure these things are some major issues, but the creativity and brass balls on display here override the negatives in my book. This is a daring and altogether brave new venture for the world of science fiction. It is filled with interesting ideas, perverse pleasures and everything in between. In 1997 and even today there was and still is nothing quite like it. I am a lifelong fan and I recommend that everyone watch this premiere telefilm at least once.