SCREEN QUEST: MIRACLE MILE

Science Fiction Theatre screened Steve De Jarnatt’s MIRACLE MILE (1988) at The Institute of Light — MON 11 SEP 2017.


“This is either the most romantic film about the apocalypse or the most apocalyptic film about romance.” Mark J. Blackman

Guest speaker writer/director Mark J. Blackman did an excellent job last night of priming the uninitiated for MIRACLE MILE’s many delights. Focusing on its curious tonal cocktail of romantic comedy and nuclear panic he avoided indulging in the kind of muscular geekery that strikes power poses whilst spewing unnecessary plot spoilers.

Obsessed with the film since it “scared the shit” out of him as a ten year old, Blackman first saw the trailer on a broken VHS tape and has been romantically involved with it ever since. For him, it is a film about “the optimism of love and what will survive when the bombs start dropping”.

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10 years in the making from script to screen, MIRACLE MILE is that peculiar oddity – a much loved script that got bogged down in development hell. Featured on the first ever Black List of Hollywood’s favourite unmade films, this was a property that “everyone wanted a piece of… but no one wanted to make”.

According to Blackman, the script’s themes of lost time and wasted opportunities eventually bled into the making of the film itself and it was finally “dumped into the world” with little fanfare and even less fortune. Coming after the crest of the 1980s apocalytic wave, MIRACLE MILE missed graduating with the class of THE TERMINATOR and eventually rode into town with campier peers like HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and STEEL DAWN.

Following release, MIRACLE MILE disappeared without trace, making it ripe for rediscovery. In a specially filmed pre-screening video, writer/director Steve De Jarnatt queried his film’s billing as science fiction – “To me, it’s like a fluffy 1980s John Hughes movie… [that] gets less fluffy as it goes along.” – which is as good a reason as any to press the (play) button.

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MIRACLE MILE opens with an animated educational film about evolution, dropping us into the La Brea Tarpits in Los Angeles where our two leads meet. Against a backdrop of Charles R. Knight’s stunning murals and imposing reproductions of wooly mammoths, here begins a goofy 1980s romance that spins rapidly through its short shelf life to the brink of armageddon.

When his alarm clock fails to go off, Harry (Anthony Edwards) misses his first proper date with Julie (Mare Winningham). Instead, he takes a misdirected call seemingly from a silo operative alerting an estranged relative to imminent nuclear onslaught. There are creeping signs of a more biblical armageddon as rats fall from trees, bugs crawl up arms and noses bleed with the stress of it all (or are they just the seedier sides of life in LA?). Holed up in the diner where Julie works along with a splendidly diverse cast of characters, Harry and co hatch an escape plan to flee the falling bombs with the aid of a nearby helicopter. Bad decisions ensue.

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There are delightful absurdities. The diner crowd fabricate an emergency evacuation list of intellectuals to save from the back of their speeding catering truck. A desperate standoff in a gas station results in an iconic immolation which triggers an apocalypse in miniature. The architecture of the Miracle Mile – a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard containing museums and the iconic May Company Building – gives the film an out of time feel. Everything is shot beautifully by director of photography Theo van de Sande (also responsible for BLADE). If this is the end of the world, it looks incredible.

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Romance is central. In addition to our leads plunging headlong into their love affair, an elderly couple touchingly reunites after 15 years of not talking to each other, determined, if needed, to end their days together. There’s also an unruffled commitment to diversity as power builder cum pilot (Brian Thompson) reaches for his slender partner, Leslie (Herbert Fair), a bargaining chip in his deal to fly to freedom.

As the clocks tick, so things become increasingly fraught. Social order starts to break down. One character buys out dramatically in a department store. The (fake?) news spreads rapidly, prompting rioting and a desperate fight back to the helipad.

The final scenes are breathtaking in their bravado and yet the ending remains elusive until it happens. Without giving anything away, De Jarnatt’s film concludes with a spectacular return to the La Brea Tarpits as if prehistory threatens to repeat itself.

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When Blackman introduced the film he asked for a show of hands from people who had already seen it. The paltry response prompted a vocal exclamation from Graham Ainsley, our Science Fiction Theatre host: “No shit?! That’s like 2 people!!”.

Ultimately, this is what film clubs are for; a place not to sit back and watch a raft of your favourite movies but to trust in those making the selections to expand your universe. We called programmers “the sommeliers of the dark” in our guide to adventurous moving pictures (RULE #8) and our brains are still buzzing from last night’s recommendation. Thanks to everyone at Science Fiction Theatre for such “a welcome blast!” (Village Voice).

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IN MOVING PICTURES

  • Full of romantic bravado, our hero enjoys his last smoke, throwing away a still-lit cigarette from his hotel balcony only to have it picked up by a bird on the way back to a nest built precariously across the building’s power lines…

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

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Featured images: MIRACLE MILE (1988).

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