Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ODDBALL (1979)
If you, like me, thought A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court needed a robot, then you, like me, are in luck, because Disney is way ahead of you. Unidentified Flying Oddball (a.k.a. The Spaceman and King Arthur, a.k.a. A Spaceman in King Arthur’s Court) is the story of Tom Trimble (Dennis Dugan), a loopy NASA scientist who’s ordered to build a convincingly human android astronaut and he goddamn does it. When his robo-clone Hermes (Dennis Dugan) is afraid to lift off, Tom climbs into the shuttle to comfort him and a lightning bolt accidentally launches them into space. Which also sends them back in time, holy shit, King Arthur.
Did you just read how much story they crammed into the first fifteen minutes? That whole thing could have been crunched down to “astronaut crashes in lake, sees castle” and taken up sixty seconds of screentime. And yet, I’m so glad it didn’t.
“He gets a robot sidekick or I fucking walk!” – The screenwriter.
What ensues upon Trimble’s touchdown is a mishmash of science fiction-y gags and occasional faithful nods to Twain’s book (more than can be said for Black Knight), and I’d be pissed about scientific or literary accuracy if it weren’t the sort of zany shit I’m used to from madcap live action Disney flicks like The Love Bug or The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. It’s all so obviously done in the name of crazy fun that Neil deGrasse Tyson should have no doubts about backing away from Twitter.
This magnetized sword may not make sense, but on the other hand, MAGNETIZED SWORD.
The movie has some legitimately clever moments. There are a few good jabs at the lack of logical reasoning in medieval times, and Tom’s relationship with his robo-double Hermes often aims for the profundity of Greek mythology, asking what it truly means to be an individual in a world of–
HA, that astronaut has a goose! Pass the Doritos.
Dennis Dugan is the most charming goofball that ever lived. He absolutely carries the movie, as both Tom and Hermes. If they remade Unidentified Flying Oddball today, they would be fools not to cast Jack McBrayer in this role… if he could tone it down a little.
“Be right there, Mr. Donaghy!”
Sheila White plays Alisande as a bit of a ditz, but that’s only because everyone in the kingdom is a bit… uneducated. She especially brings the emotion when she has to proclaim her love for a robot with a straight face.
Aww, I’m gonna cry-laugh again.
Also fun is the lovably doofy Clarence, played by Rodney Bewes. He helps Tom out in exchange for sweet, sweet porn.
I’ve seen that face in pamphlets on the evils of masturbation.
Just like in Bing Crosby’s Connecticut Yankee, Merlin is evil for some reason. Ron Moody does a serviceable job of being all clandestine with Jim Dale’s Mordred in an effort to usurp the throne.
Oof, that haircut’s gotta go, though.
And finally, our king. He’s… well, he’s hard to remember with so many other over-the-top performances. I’ll be honest, I can barely recall his face or any of his lines. Apologies, Kenneth More, I think you just got squeezed into the background here.
Cheer up, Artie.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
The time travel is little more than an obvious globe spinning too fast outside the shuttle window.
This pale blue dot is available at Target.
The shuttle itself is fake as hell, but in fairness, they wink at this fact by clearly using the same model as a miniature during the mission conference. Also, come on, it just adds to the goofiness.
More practical effects than Gravity.
Hey, how weird is it that this is a time travel movie with split screen effects, but they’re not used for relatives or future versions of the protagonist?
Only for tender lovemaking scenes between a man and his very personalized RealDoll.
Knights with lasers.
Knights with lasers!
Oh, and the most inexcusable bad effect… just about everything in this movie that can fly? Big fat wires.
How else could a jet pack lift a suit of armor?
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Charming lead actor’s dark personal secret spoiler. Dennis Dugan, honestly, is the most lovable character actor I may have ever seen, but if he’s such a hoot, what happened to him? Well, he was apparently bit by the directing bug and helmed the production of some of the most notoriously awful comedies ever made, including (brace yourself) Beverly Hills Ninja, National Security, The Benchwarmers, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, and, no doubt aided by his own split screen experiences, Jack & Fucking Jill. I have never regretted looking up someone’s IMDb page halfway through a movie more than I did during Unidentified Flying Oddball.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
I don’t mind when dumb characters in time travel movies have no idea what’s going on, but come on, a scientist like Tom Trimble shouldn’t be saying shit like this…
“I just don’t know if you’d survive the trip.
You could age a thousand years before we even re-entered.”
This is the kind of movie you just have to appreciate for its sheer willingness to have fun. I’m not saying it’s an underrated comedy classic that you have to hunt down right this second, but if you see it in a bargain bin for a buck or happen to inexplicably catch it on TV late at night, it’s not a bad way to get a few laughs.
LATER THIS WEEK:
A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.