When looking for a movie (especially a genre B-movie), I tend to read the descriptions. Last night, the description for one such B-movie, Beyond White Space (no, it’s not a movie about a page layout person) read as follows:
When a deep space fishing vessel is robbed by a gang of pirates, the Captain makes a daring decision to go after a rare and nearly extinct species. His obsession propels them further into space as the crew spins toward mutiny and betrayal. Sounds halfway interesting, right? Well, that précis isn’t terribly accurate.
Here’s what I discovered about this “sci-fi” epic. (I use the term “sci-fi” in movie contexts to express the idea that a movie that purports to be science fiction is, in fact, something less than that. It could be because of bad science, it could be because of bad writing, it could be because of bad acting or bad actors. It could even be because it’s science fantasy—something that couldn’t really ever happen, including “magic”—instead of science fiction, which is something that could plausibly happen, in my mind.)
The movie has a spoken prologue that starts “It is said that those who venture into White Space are cleansed of all impurities in mind and body. No disease, no suffering. Absolute clarity. But the key to White Space is its celestial guardian, Tien Lung.” The screen shows a Chinese dragon-like space beast twisting and turning in outer space. This was my first clue that it’s “sci-fi” instead of science fiction: a giant Chinese dragon in outer space that swims in vacuum as if it were in water? ‘Tain’t gonna happen, Jethro.
So from that moment on, I was on my guard for more B-movie nonsense.
Not only can these “dragons” swim around in space, they can open a “white hole” into “White Space” (see above) where everything becomes hunky-dory. They are being hunted by people in “fishing vessels” armed with giant harpoons, because they continually drop “ambergris,” which is worth a lot of money. There are big space bugs on a bunch of asteroids, which feed on the ambergris; these “clickers” are not only edible, they are the main targets of most fishing vessels, because they, too are worth money to the Ambercorp corporation, which is “committed to bring you precious, parasite-free food from deep space.” (The holographic spokesman even says “Space—the final frontier for food.”) We find out later that the ambergris is crawling with parasites (that look like something Agent Smith put into Neo in The Matrix); these parasites can get into your body and drive you crazy, eventually killing you. (So right away we have two homages to TV and movies.)
There’s a short clip of a fishing vessel (like Figure 2); two men are trying to harpoon Tien Lung, but get its mate; Tien Lung then destroys their ship by opening White Space right in the middle of it, blowing it up. The captain of that ship was named Bentley (Richard Hill). Then there’s a 24-year gap. A man is being followed by a woman on a flying motorcycle; he’s in a Chinese restaurant, where he’s meeting an Asian man, Ahab (Ron Yuan) who says that if he can bring in Tien Lung, he will be paid “five seasons’ worth of hauls.” The Asian man he’s talking to suddenly says “Why are you setting us up? You’re being followed by I.C.E.” (Interstellar Conservation and Enforcement, the police of civilization.) Ahab has the other man seized from behind, and grabs a parasite out of a water glass with his chopsticks, extending it toward the first man, who knocks the chopsticks and the parasite to the floor and a fight ensues. During the fight, the parasite crawls into Ahab’s nostrils, and the other man (a Caucasian) runs out of the restaurant, with a star map on paper that shows all the systems where Tien Lung has been seen. (It’s on paper because “any electronic device can be tracked.”)
We find out that the Caucasian man is Richard Bentley (Holt McCallany), captain of the Essex, a fishing vessel. His crew includes pilot Ragsland (Tiffany Brouwer); cook Batali (Kodi Kitchen—I swear I’m not making that up); mechanic Stubniski, called “Stubbs” (Dave Sheridan); Bentley’s younger brother Owen (James Devoti); older hand Hawthorne (Mike Genovese); second mate Harpo (Jocko Sims); and they are joined by official Lynn Navarro (Zulay Henao), their “MFF escort” (mining and fishing), who we later find out is an I.C.E. undercover agent. The crew is an odd lot: Stubbs is a cliché, dirty, smelly, lazy, and unshaven, but a genius with the engines, etc.; Batali has only one frying pan, and she warns all and sundry not to touch it. She’s partnered with Harpo, and later tells him she’s 3 months pregnant (using a decidedly 20th-century pregnancy test); Hawthorne used to be with Bentley’s father, but has now been with Bentley for years. The pilot, Ragsland, has been secretly having it off with Harpo in a storage locker; Hawthorne is addicted to the bottle, and Navarro hopes that she can get into White Space, which she believes will cure her cancer; she has only four months to live. The ship and crew are riddled with conflicts waiting to happen.
Ostensibly, they’re going to the outer systems to fish for clickers, but Bentley has his own agenda—he wants to kill Tien Lung for killing his dad, and as a side note, get five seasons’ worth of haul from Ahab. Even his younger brother doesn’t know about this side gig. When they make a big haul, they are attacked by pirates (called “Boomers”), who take not only their haul of clickers, but also their food and anything else they can find.
They’re left with no money, no clickers, no food; according to Bentley if they go to where Tien Lung was last sighted, they could get some ambergris or more clickers, even though that’s on the edge of known space.
And the movie develops from there—I won’t give any more spoilers on the off chance that you will want to watch it.
Somewhere along the line, you will probably have realized that this is a thinly disguised takeoff (or maybe ripoff) of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick, or The Whale. The name Ahab, though you don’t learn it till later, is a direct tip-off. Yeah… where does ambergris come from? Whales, specifically sperm whales. Since the space dragons are not vulnerable to energy weapons, they have to be hunted with harpoons, just like in Moby-Dick. And so on; I’ll let you pick up on the other clues.
The actors, some of whom, like McCallany and Yuan, look vaguely familiar; we’ve seen them in other movies, as extras or minor characters. Interestingly enough, today’s (Friday’s) newspaper has a movie review for the new Jason Statham movie, Wrath of Men, that features McCallany, so maybe he’s moving up in the movie world. The writing isn’t stellar, but as long as you realize it’s science fantasy, not science fiction, it falls into place (more or less). The acting is at least competent. The science sucks little green rocks—from the main McGuffin, Tien Lung—to the gravity aboard ship, which is never mentioned; to the way the space beings and the ships are able to maneuver in space totally unrealistically.
The best thing about this is the sets and the SFX. Well done, indeed; the ship looks used and gritty, and the armoured suits they use in space could have come straight from Starship Troopers.
I won’t say it was a great movie, but it was at least watchable if you ignore the science and the cliche’s. I wasn’t terribly fond of the ending, but at least they didn’t over-explain it; they left it as an exercise for the viewer. I won’t tell you what the ending was, however.
I’d appreciate a comment on this column. You can comment here, or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments, positive or negative, are welcome, but I might not agree with your view. I like dialogs. My opinion expressed here is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or any other columnists. See you next time!
Steve! Thanks so much for the laughs! We agree on the definition of sci-fi … I was immediately reminded of a truly stupid episode of my beloved Star Trek (TOS) where they meet Abraham Lincoln floating in space.
Steve–If I remember correctly, Lincoln was helping Kirk and Spock (along with some past Vulcan hero) to fight Klingons in an epic battle curated by some aliens to decide the future of the Federation. But yes, both SF and “sci fi” can be really silly!