Patrick Read Johnson, director of Angus, Spaced Invaders, and The Genesis Code, has a new work called 5-25-77. Does that date seem familiar? If so, it is because that is the date that one little movie, Star Wars, came out. This semi-autobiographical coming of age story follows a character named Pat (John Francis Daley of Freaks and Geeks), an aspiring filmmaker in Illinois. He tries his damnedest to get family and friends to help him make the sequels to some of his favorite flicks like 2001, Jaws, and Planet of the Apes.
One will notice that this review is not accompanied by a picture of a still from the film with a “Won Cannes” or “Lost Cannes” badge. This is because the screening I attended was not of the finished film, but as a piece of work ‘in progress’. I do not think it would be fair to give a set grade to something that is not finished, but I will still offer up my thoughts on what I saw.
To best describe Pat is to call him an energetic doofus. He becomes obsessed with a girl when he spots her reading Arthur Miller’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He thinks he has finally met the girl girl of his dreams, the girl that also understands the film adaption (when it was initially released, many people wrote 2001 off as an enigma created solely to show off its special effects). He ‘falls in love with her’ like many teens do with their crushes, and eventually they date.
5-25-77 has some major issues in its current cut. It seems to try to cram in two separate stories, intermingled with one another. The opening title says something to the effect of “Most of what you’re about to see is true; the rest is truer.” Yes, all of what happened in the film may have happened to Johnson during roughly the same time, but that does not mean it all needs to be in one film. The two stories he mixes do not fit very well together. In one, he wants to be a filmmaker, he starts creating sequels to films but never finishing any. He travels to California to see an early cut of Star Wars, he tries to get everyone else to see it when it is released, et cetera. In the other portion, he falls in love with a girl, he tries to win her over with geeky charm, his friends make it hard on him by not falling through with things, (that happens in both stories, actually), he tries to keep a solid relationship with the girl he likes, et cetera. Both are coming of age stories.
They are not the same coming of age story.
I heard that the first cut of this film, which was shown at Star Wars Celebration IV on May 25, 2007, thirty years after Star Wars’ release, was nearly three and a half hours long. I have a feeling there must have been many more stories Johnson had which were missing from the cut I saw. It is probably incredibly difficult to remove portions from a film which was his childhood, but it has to be done. If it is done correctly and well, this could easily be a fantastic film.
Having said that, there are many ways in which this film succeeds. The acting all around is great, with John Francis Daley being a standout. He plays ‘goofily-adorable’ in stellar fashion. His friends explain to him that whenever he falls for a girl he does a certain thing with his head and mouth. This is brought up a few times over the course of the film, but never in excess. At one point he is wearing a space helmet, tilts his head, and everyone in the audience laughed knowing he was doing the goofy grin he does when he falls for someone. If Johnson used footage from the film but cut into two separate hour and a half features, this half would be the perfect teenaged not-quite love story. I sincerely hopes he does so, because I would LOVE to see that.
There are some perfect nods to some of the classics that inspired this, like the famous bone-to-spaceship cut in 2001 and, more obviously, several nods toward Star Wars. One of the funniest collection of scenes are the ones surrounding his sequel-creations. At the beginning of the film, he and a friend, Bill (Steve Coulter), are on the set of “Jaws 2.” Bill is confused why they are even making the film, saying as at the end of the first one the shark was dead. Patrick gave a solid response I do not quite remember back, but this amused me quite a bit saying as they have made like fifty sequels to Jaws (note: that is a hyperbole; there are not really that many sequels).
There are some dream sequences which are kinda neat. Not quite sure what their point was, but they were entertaining and kept everyone interested. I bring this up because Johnson said one of the things they are working on for the final cut is to make the effects worse. This is probably to make it feel more like the ‘70s, which I am excited to see when the final cut is finally released.
I could also mention that there are some editing errors, sound discrepancies, some odd things that need fixing, but there is no real point. The production team knows this, saying as Johnson stated that those are some of the other things they are working on. These are things I can easily ignore for now. The concerns I mentioned above? I am not sure I can. Either way, this is one to keep an eye on for the future.
This is a review for a film at the 2013 Cinetopia Film Festival in Ann Arbor Michigan, which took place between June 6 and June 9.