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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Atomic Man

This British movie is on the periphery of sci-fi. It is predominately a crime drama in which the typically cocky and irreverent journalist annoys almost everyone while proving his hunch to be true. The sci-fi twist is that a nuclear scientist, found shot and floating in the Thames, finds himself 7.5 seconds in the future. While he is the title character, he's more of a MacGuffin than an active character. Who is he? Who wants him dead, and why? The annoying reporter becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. Another small thing that keeps Atomic Man (AM) marginally within the sci-fi orbit are a couple of the stars. Faith Domergue plays the reporter's girlfriend. She starred as Ruth in This Island Earth ('55). Joseph Tomelty plays one of the police inspectors. He was the professor in Devil Girl From Mars ('54).

Quick Plot Synopsis The movie opens with a man running through the night. He is shot and falls into a river. Later, the police fish him out, alive but unconscious. A reporter named Delaney thinks he recognizes him as an American nuclear physicist named Raynor. The doctors remove the bullet, but during the operation, his heart stops (for 7.5 seconds). Afterward, he regains consciousness, but babbles nonsense phrases. Turns out that it can't be Raynor, as a Dr. Raynor is still at the nuclear lab in London. Minor inconsistencies keep Delaney undaunted. It turns out that a corporation which mines and markets tungsten wanted to get rid of Raynor and blow up the lab. The scientists were on the verge of synthesizing tungsten. The corporation created a double for Raynor via plastic surgery, in order to create a nuclear overload in the lab's reactor. The real Raynor escaped before he could be disposed of, but when he "died" for 7.5 seconds, it put his mind 7.5 seconds in the future. The corporate operatives continue to try and kill the real Raynor, and blow up the lab. All of this unravels due to Delaney's persistence. The overload of plutonium is found in time. All is safe for a sappy psuedo-romantic ending. The End.

Why is this movie fun? The gimmick, a man whose mind is 7.5 seconds in the future, is intriguing enough to shore up an otherwise pedestrian crime drama. The scene in which they figure out that his meaningless blather is actually him answering the questions before they were asked, is rather clever. You can also get a glimpse of the naive early notion in which radiation has a magical quality to it. It could do almost anything.

Cold War Angle There is a modest amount of tension from the dangers of atomic energy, but nothing of commies or nuclear war. The villain is a corporation trying to maintain its monopoly.

Notes Philosophy Fiction: Phi-fi? -- The scientific rationale offered for why Raynor was 7.5 seconds in the future was weak, but here's how it goes: When Raynor's heart stopped, time stopped for his body. His mind, energized by prolonged exposure to radiation, continued to live. When his heart resumed beating, his body resumed in "normal" time. Since his mind continued "in time" for those 7.5 seconds, having his body resume "time", then pushed his mind into the future. All this hinges on the presumption that "time" is tied to life. When life ceases, time (for that person) stops. This draws from existentialist philosophy more than it does science. Time is the experience of consciousness. Perhaps there is a Phi-fi sub-genre?

Drugs & Time -- Raynor's mind is 7.5 seconds ahead of his body. To make the two synch up, the doctors give Raynor an overdose of "paramine" (sp?) to almost stop his brain function. Despite admissions that they (the doctors) really have no clue what they're doing, it works. Raynor's mind and body are back in synch again.

Evil Corp. -- The villain in Atomic Man is a shadowy corporation which has a monopoly on a rare element: tungsten. They seek to eliminate a potential threat to their monopoly with mobster-like methods. The secondary hero in the tale is Raynor, who was trying to use science to synthesize that monopolized element. This follows the populist conspiracy theories that greedy companies are denying mankind advances. We saw this earlier in The Man in the White Suit ('51) -- albeit in more humorous form.

Bottom line? Atomic Man is primarily a crime drama mystery story. Who shot the mystery man and why? At that level, it has little appeal to sci-fi buffs. The gimmick is unique, though. So, more zealous fans of 50s B sci-fi may enjoy it. Better, though, if you can borrow the DVD from the library, rather than buy it. One watching is enough.

2 comments:

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John Drake said...

Howdy,

Whether it is called The Atomic Man or Time Slip, it is a fine film.
The plot line is pretty good, as is the acting.
Faith Domergue is her usual lovely self - she can also act.
The bad guys, especially Mr. Tungsten, are really nasty.
It is well worth seeing.
The Brits can make superb science fiction.
John