Screenplay : David Seltzer
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1979
Stars : Robert Foxworth (Dr. Robert Verne), Talia Shire (Maggie Verne), Armand Assante (John Hawks), Richard A. Dysart (Isley), Victoria Racimo (Ramona Hawks), George Clutesi (M' Rai), Tom McFadden (Pilot)
John Frankenheimer's Prophecy is a dim-witted creature-feature that takes itself far too seriously. If it hadn't been so insistent that it's "about something," it probably could have gotten away with its less-than-stellar make-up effects, cardboard characters, and grand feats of illogic. But, because it presses over and over again its deep-felt urge to unmask the environmentally destructive doings of evil big business, usually to the detriment of the movie's pace and pleasure, it puts itself in an inescapable corner once it devolves into sub-B-level clumsy-monster-chasing-stupid-people histrionics.
Prophecy was part of a string of horror movies in the 1970s and early '80s in which monsters were spawned from environmental pollution and human tampering with nature, from the various killer reptiles in Frogs, to the human monstrosities in C.H.U.D. (1984), to the silly carnivorous rabbits of Night of the Lepus (1972). Little more than a slight updating of the Cold War-era atomic fears that drove the generation of all sorts of frightening fiends throughout the 1950s and '60s, these ecologically created monstrosities functioned as an easy allegorical representation of what happens "when you mess with nature."
In this case, it is a large paper mill on the banks of a northern Maine river that is responsible for secretly dumping methyl mercury into the environment, giving rise to mutated animals that range from giant salmon that swallow ducks whole, to the movie's feature monstrosity, an oversized mutated bear that looks like it has been partially turned inside-out.
The heroes in Prophecy are of the dullest sort: a bleeding-heart public health official/doctor named Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) and his cello-playing wife, Maggie (Talia Shire). Robert is so insistent that the world has been ruined by human self-destructiveness (starving children, poverty, pollution) that he doesn't even want Maggie to have a child, lest they bring another life into this awful world. What he doesn't know, though, is that Maggie is already pregnant, and when she eats some mercury-tainted salmon and later finds out about its mutagenic properties, the movie begins to develop an effective Rosemary's Baby-style sense of pregnancy paranoia that is, alas, eventually forgotten and left completely unresolved in the end.
For reasons that are never made sufficiently clear, Robert is asked to travel to Maine as an environmental inspector (even though he has no training in this area) to help broker a deal between the paper mill, represented by sleazy capitalist Isley (Richard A. Dysart), and the local Native American tribe, represented by the stone-faced protesting leader John Hawks (Armand Assante, looking decidedly un-Native American). Once Robert stumbles on the pollution problem, the slow-moving story finally grinds to a dead (and blessed) halt so that the last quarter of the movie can focus solely on Robert, Maggie, and several others as they are endlessly chased by the mutant bear.
This does account for some of the movie's guilty pleasures, as Frankenheimer finally seems to accede to the fact that he is making a monster movie, not a grand statement on environmental awareness (it is not surprising that, in his auteurist ranking of movie directors, Andrew Sarris put Frankenheimer in the "Strained Seriousness" category). Unfortunately, these scenes ultimately don't work as Frankenheimer is saddled with a man in a shabby, uncreative mutant bear costume that is more snicker-inducing than horrifying. In fact, the movie's scariest and most effective moment is when the protagonists have hidden themselves in an underground tunnel, and Frankenheimer gives us a series of close-ups of their terrified faces as they (and we) listen to the grisly sounds of the bear killing the hapless victims aboveground who could not escape. It's a creative and unconventional way to generate fear, but I suspect it works mainly because the bad bear costume isn't there to distract us from the scary idea of a mutated animal ripping people limb from limb.
The screenplay by David Seltzer (The Omen) is obviously well-intended, but it constantly works against the movie's best interests in terms of entertainment. Far too long at 102 minutes, some judicious editing and less narrative emphasis on the environmental theme would have brought the movie down to a lean and workable length. Additional editing also would have given the filmmakers the chance to eliminate some of the more illogical moments, such as the scene in which the protagonists are being chased by the mutant bear and Maggie continues to clutch a baby mutant bear they have found even though it is clear that this is the big bear's offspring (and hence a major reason for it to continue chasing them), not to mention the fact that the baby keeps biting into her neck. In a low-budget B-flick, such idiocy would be part of the movie's incompetent charm; in an A-level studio movie with grand pretensions that was directed by the man who helmed The Manchurian Candidate (1962), it just draws attention to how far below its own expectations Prophecy falls.
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 surround|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||January 8, 2002|
|Prophecy has been given a new anamorphic transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio that looks quite good, especially over the previously available murky video copies. Of course, in some ways this a detriment, as the clean, artifact-free image, with sharp detail and fine clarity, only makes those rubbery mutant-bear effects look, well, even more rubbery. Many of the scenes take place at night, and the transfer does a serviceable job of maintaining shadow detail, even if the blacks gray out near the edges and look a slightly grainy at times.|
|The soundtrack is presented in two-channel stereo and is effective at times. The imaging effects are sometimes a bit gimmicky, as sounds don't always move smoothly from one channel to the other across the front soundstage. However, the sound mix creates good atmosphere in the forest scenes, and the bear's roars have a decent amount of kick to them.|
|No supplements are included.|
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick