Tanks for the memory. William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States.
  • Tanks for the memory. William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States.
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The little theater that could and the best screening venue in Balboa Park — sorry, MoPA, you’ve been outclassed — and a group known only as Film Geeks SD are joining together for a month-long sci-fi series called Reel Science, aka three great nights at the movies and Weird Science.

The Digital Gym and the Natural History Museum (the Nat) will alternate hosting duties every Saturday in January. I had the pleasure of visiting the Nat’s Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater when German Currents came through town and was bowled over by the venue and its faultless presentation.

The 300-seat, stadium-style auditorium is billed as “the largest Dolby® 3D theater for a museum in California!” None of the films in this series is being presented in 3D, but we should be thankful that the museum is showing something other than stereoscopic classroom films writ large.

Altered States and Donnie Darko are always worth a look, particularly when projected on a giant…wait, do I have this right? The two films in the series that demand big screen (and sound) presentation are playing the Gym while the camp classic Flash Gordon and Weird Science — a disease one shouldn’t contract from a phone let alone a giant theatre screen — are relegated to the Nat? Say it ain’t so!

See it in Megasound, the high-impact bass-enhancement system. Available on a total of four studio releases. The Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1981.

Ken Russell’s Altered States was originally released in Megasound, a 70mm six track Dolby Stereo process. (At the time, 70mm prints offered better sound quality than was possible from 35mm.) Marketed as a “revolutionary new concept in the sensation of sound,” the high-impact bass-enhancement system, created by Warner Bros., was heard on but three other studio releases (Outland, Superman II, and Wolfen).

William Hurt stars as a Harvard Professor whose drug of choice is a sensory deprivation tank. Working from his novel, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was so offended by Russell’s interpretation that he demanded his name be removed from the picture. (The screenplay was credited to Sidney Aaron, Chayefsky’s nom de plume.) Pitched as a psychedelic head film, Megasound was one of the movie’s major selling points.

As if reveling in the natural wonder of cinema history weren’t enough, the four screenings will feature guest scientists, on hand to, according to the press release, “contextualize scientific themes explored in the movies by providing corrective commentary.” For example, geneticist Adam Haberman will discuss ‘the prospects of creating a perfect human” before screening the inhumane and horribly disfigured Weird Science.

If the Gym and theNET partner again in the future — and it’s my hope that they will — program the venues accordingly. Truth be told, it’s a bit of mute point. It’s not cheap to put on a show, and due to budgetary reasons all films will screen on Blu-ray. Help make this series a success, and there will be DCPs in the future.

The dates and times are as follows:

January 7 at the Digital Gym: Altered States, discussion at 7 p.m., screening at 7:30 p.m.

January 14 at the Nat: Weird Science, discussion at 7 p.m., screening at 7:30 p.m.

January 21 at the Digital Gym: Donnie Darko, discussion at 4 p.m., screening at 4:30 p.m.

January 28 at the Nat: Flash Gordon, discussion at 7 pm., at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for members, $11 for non-members. Visit the Digital Gym for more information.

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SalULloyd Jan. 5, 2017 @ 11 p.m.

Saw it when I was 20 or 21. I don't remember any "Megasound," but Russell's usual over-topness would be MORE than enough sound for most human beings!!!

They're going to have a post-screening discussion about WEIRD SCIENCE??? You are joking, right, Scott???


Scott Marks Jan. 6, 2017 @ 5:35 a.m.

Short of projecting before-and-after photos of Kelly Le Brock, what is there to talk about?


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