Science fiction tends to take itself a little too seriously, especially in the mainstream. Thankfully, there are several texts both in the film and literary worlds that try to counteract this. One of these was the work of the celebrated author Michael Moorcock, whose novel The Final Programme was adapted into a film in 1973 and has now been reissued by Studiocanal on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital with a new restoration.
Part of Studiocanal’s “Cult Classics” line, The Final Programme is the sole adaptation of Moorcock’s large body of work, which was the first novel in the Jerry Cornelius series, Cornelius being a master adventurer, a superhero of sorts presented as a dashing androgynous dandy as well as a genius in scientific properties. The Final Programme opens in the desolate plains of Lapland, where Cornelius (Jon Finch) has been summoned for his father’s funeral. The planet is in a very tumultuous time period, where they say the end of the world is coming.
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Because of this, it turns out that Cornelius, Sr. had been working on something big for humankind – the “final programme” of the title. Cornelius is approached by Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) and three scientists who say they need a microfilm his father had. Unfortunately, the house – and the safe with the microfilm – is under the protection of Jerry’s drug-addled brother Frank, with no love lost between them. You can imagine the rest.
Or perhaps not, as The Final Programme is a deeply strange film that continues to fascinate for the entirety of its running time, right up to its very peculiar ending. The picture manages to retain Moorcock’s dry sense of satirical humour, certainly in the case of the charming and anarchic central performance of Jon Finch as Cornelius. It has a very British TV sensibility to it; unsurprising considering director Robert Fuest worked on shows such as The Avengers, and Cornelius appears to be cut from the same cloth as Doctor Who, and perhaps in a parallel world we’d be on season 19 or whatever of Jerry Cornelius.
The film has a superb cast, with the mesmerising Runacre as the enigmatic and sexy Miss Brunner, and Fuest doesn’t skimp on fucking either; indeed, it’s a crucial element of Cornelius and Brunner’s Final Programme. There are some wonderfully odd performances, such as a nervous pinball-obsessed assassin Cornelius attempts to procure some napalm from, played by a shaky Ronald Lacey, who is widely known as the sadistic Nazi Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a hilarious cameo from Dr. Strangelove‘s Sterling Hayden as an American military commander who doesn’t seem to know who is on whose side anymore.
Fuest was also a production designer, and this stands out in the film’s visuals, with a trip through the Cornelius mansion that includes a gigantic wall-mounted chess set as a puzzle for gaining entry to a secret section, a bar set inside a pinball machine, and an ex-Nazi submarine base that provides the location for Brunner’s experiments. It feels somewhat timeless, especially the costumes, with Runacre wearing this amazing nightgown at the end with beautiful embroidery, including a big “LOVE” emblazoned on her chest like Superman. The score is weird too; slightly incongruous in places and a choice of Fuest. Moorcock wanted it to be soundtracked by Hawkwind.
Studiocanal has presented The Final Programme from a new restoration, and it certainly looks and sounds excellent. Note: we were only sent a DVD for review, not the Blu-ray. There are a few extras provided, including an interview with Runacre, a decent piece with Kim Newman on Fuest and the film, the Italian version of the opening, and trailers, one of which uses the American title of Last Days of Man on Earth. Unfortunately, we don’t get the audio commentary with Fuest and Runacre from the American release, as it would have been nice to hear the director’s thoughts.
The Final Programme is a strange and often hysterical vision of one particular future (or past) with a unique feel that deserves recognition. The disc itself is decent, although it could have had more extras. But with the film itself and the restoration, it’s certainly worth checking out as some fantastic alternative science fiction.
The Final Programme is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from Studiocanal.