Compared to the 3D special effects of today’s blockbuster films, old science fiction movies tend to fall flat.
Strings are clearly visible on speeding spaceships, claymation dinosaurs stumble around like drunks after closing time and alien puppets are no scarier than the Muppets.
At best, these old movies are hilarious, at worst they’re downright boring.
But for Brian Fidler, they’re a source of inspiration.
“It’s like watching a train wreck,” he said.
“They’re so bad they’re good.”
The old movies had trouble hiding the fact special effects have their roots in puppetry.
Puppetry happens to be one of Fidler’s specialties.
“I got to thinking, what if I showed all that? What if the audience saw the making of the movie?”
The result is a new show, billed as the Sci-Fi Double Feature, running at the Guild theatre next week.
The two “features” are cardboard puppet shows, filmed and projected live onto the big screen to create a one-take, 1960s sci-fi B-movie.
The first feature, originally unleashed on the world a year ago during Longest Night, is called Attack of the Slime-O-Trons.
The 10-minute story is about board games, aliens and love.
Watching the show is like watching a dance on a tightrope.
Aside from the actual puppetry, Fidler needs to ready sets, characters and props throughout the show, often before they appear on screen, so that everything runs smoothly.
Meanwhile, Fidler’s collaborator Edward Westerhuis performs a choreographed dance with his camera, moving around and between the different sets and scenes.
“He’s fun to watch,” said Fidler.
“He’s this tall, gangly, grasshopper moving throughout the stage.”
Westerhuis even edits on the spot, fading in and out by shining light into the camera or using other creative techniques.
The show skirts disaster throughout, with no room for error.
One slip of the camera, one prop out of place, one audio cue missed and the show could fall apart.
This might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the creators hope it could also create some magic.
Because the audience gets to watch the process, the hope is that they’ll feel more involved.
The goofs and bloopers might end up being the most endearing part of the show.
The new show, the second part of the sci-fi double feature, will be even trickier than the first.
Last Day on Earth follows the exploits of a time-travelling scientist and his brainy dog Marty, as they try to prove the existence of a three-headed dinosaur.
This show runs 25 minutes and is prop heavy, even by Fidler’s standards.
There are shadow puppets, undersea adventures and time tunnels. The extra sets and props keep Fidler and assistant puppeteer Claire Ness more than busy.
The idea to project a puppet show remedied the longtime problem of scale that Fidler’s been battling.
Many of his puppets are small, often the size of his hand.
Projecting a live film allows Fidler to reproduce the same intimate feeling of one of his smaller shows to a larger audience.
To add film, Fidler teamed up with Westerhuis, an independent filmmaker who also dabbles in animation and puppetry.
“He knows how to tell a story with a camera. He’s a force of nature,” said Fidler.
“He’s been involved in everything, from editing the story to creating the puppets and sets”
The show is built almost entirely out of cardboard. A lot of chopsticks, shish kebab sticks, hot glue and magnets also went into the set creation.
There were a lot of trips to the Dollar Store, said Fidler.
“I don’t know what they thought I was building.”
Fidler isn’t sure if his live puppetry, video projection is a completely new art form, but says he’s not about to look.
“I’m sure it’s out there in some form. Nothing’s new, really.”
Jordy Walker composed the show’s music.
As a special feature, Erin Corbett will start the show off with a video mash-up of old science fiction films.
And, as if that wasn’t enough already, the intermission will also contain a short shadow puppet film.
The Sci-Fi Double Feature will take place at the Guild Theatre December 7 to 9 at 8 p.m. There will be a midnight show on the night of December 9 and a 1 p.m. matinee on December 10.
Tickets are available at Bent Spoon Cafe and cost $15 for adults and $8 for kids.
Free popcorn will be given to all audience members dressed in Sci-fi costumes.
Contact Chris Oke at firstname.lastname@example.org