Alternative 3 (1977) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
24Jun/100

Alternative 3 (1977)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny LIKEHere's how the story goes: imagine yourself in Britain in 1977, and you follow this lowbrow and stuffy show called "Science Report." Each week it involves a few interviews with scientists, some cheesy hand-animated demonstrations, and a few proper and uptight gentlemen hosting, including host respectable Tim Brinton who'd been a newscaster in the 50's. The show is unceremoniously canceled, and the last episode, supposed to air at the beginning of April, is pushed back to June due to coverage of labor disputes.

You tune in for the last episode of the show in June, only tentatively knowing that the show is about a supposed 'brain drain' occurring in Britain as many of its best and brightest scientists have left for more lucrative positions or, in some cases, completely vanished without a trace.

As you delve into the show, though, you soon find that the normally strict and reliable investigators have stumbled upon a strange plot. They meet and interview Dr. Ann Clark who purports to leave due to the advantages that other countries offer. She drives to Heathrow Airport; however, there's no record of her flying out, and the only evidence that she was ever there is her abandoned car in the parking garage. The show's researchers find that from the four hundred names that they'd compiled for the report, nearly two dozen of them had completely disappeared without a trace.

Things get stranger. The man in charge of a space telescope is killed in a suspicious car accident, and the tape he leaves behind is nothing but static. A reporter for the show gets a call to meet with a squirmy American who seems to know something, only for the reporter to later find him drugged up and mad when he's supposed to hand over some crucial evidence. Shortly thereafter, he, too, disappears.

The drought of 1976 is brought up, with earthquakes and volcanoes acting up mysteriously as well. Dr. Carl  Gerstein is interviewed, a man who predicted global warming in the 1950's, and lays the blame on the greenhouse effect. He had predicted doom for the world, and tells the story of a conference discussing the future of the Earth was debated between politicians and scientists.

Three alternatives for saving the seemingly doomed planet were considered, and he calls the first two crazy, and the third... not so. But he refuses to elaborate.

The plots begin to intertwine. An ex-astronaut who suffered a breakdown admits he'd seen something on the moon. "We're there to keep you bums happy. To stop you from asking questions about what's really going on up there."A political scientist admits that the state of American-Soviet relations is a mystery, that there seems to be something at the highest level that's keeping the peace.

The truth finally seems to arrive when Dr. Gerstein finally explains the three alternatives to saving the human race from global warming. The first would be an impossible reduction of using resources, and the second the impossible reduction of the global population. The third would ensure that humanity would survive by gathering the world's best and brightest, and, as Gerstein puts it, "Getting the hell off [Earth] while there's still time."

The show continues, but I'm reluctant to give too much away. It ends with Brinton talking to the camera, "We put out this program tonight as a challenge to those who do know to tell us the truth...   it has been our task to present the facts as we understand them... and to await the response "

And then the credits appear:

It's all a joke, you see. We even get a "Devised by" credit as a further elbow in the ribs.

An elaborate joke by some television show on its way out, Alternative 3 works both as the perfect example of creating conspiracy fiction and pulling a prank on the general audience at home; it obeys all the rules of a scientific and investigative report, and plays upon the conventions of both to bring the audience into a narrative that's just silly enough to be believable.

It's creation, besides being the work of some bored soon-to-be-unemployed pranksters, is fascinating in how it plays on its audience's fears. The theory that the moon landings had been faked was popular at that point, and, in a humorous wink, this program suggests that rather than being faked that they were an enormous front for an even more elaborate operation.

Also revealing how the movie plays up the idea of the titular Alternative 3 being the work of a Soviet-American alliance: Britain, which spent most of the 1970's in what can be generously described as 'a funk', was dealing with the still recent collapse of their empire and the ascendancy of two new global superpowers. No longer did Britain make policy, it obeyed it, and Alternative 3 plays on the idea of a new world order that ensures the survival of the human race, though that suspiciously doesn't seem to include too many Brits.

The haunting music of Brian Eno underlies most of the film, and it's barely a short hour as it fit neatly in its time slot. The film is haunting and effective, and anyone who grew up watching old 1970's slide reels or science shows in school will instantly be familiar with the look and feel of "Science Report," making it effective still.

Alternative 3 masterfully plays with perceptions of how the world works, using familiarity and incremental deceit to lead you to a ridiculous but fantastic conclusion. For it's time and place, Alternative 3 is a capsule of a world uncertain of it's future, but, strangely, even less certain of its present.

Alternative 3 (1977)

You can watch this film at Google Video.
Directed by Christopher Miles
Written by David Ambrose
Starring Tim Brinton

Posted by Danny

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