NIGHTFLYERS. 1987. Catherine Mary Stewart, Michael Praed, John Standing, Lisa Blount, Michael Des Barres. Based on the novella by George R. R. Martin; director: Robert Collector.

   Nightflyers is a science-fiction movie that starts out well, but then before you know it, it’s turned to sci-fi (pronounced skiffy). Where have you heard that before? Read on.


   It begins sometime in the next century, with a crew of scientists and adventurers with less than creditable credentials on an organized hunt through space for a race of aliens said to be far more advanced and intelligent than mankind.

   One problem. The trail they’re following may be created by only random radio noise. The creatures may be nothing more than figments of mythological fiction; the stuff legends are made of. The lure of the unknown may lead nowhere.

   The crux of the story is the ship they’ve chartered, though. It holds far more in store for them than any mysterious race of never-before-seen aliens. There is no crew, and the captain appears to them only in the form of a three-dimensional hologram. More, it soon becomes clear that the ship itself is intelligent, nor is it — or should that be he? or, perhaps, she? — is particularly interested in having them aboard.

   The captain himself is strongly attracted to Miranda (Catherine Mary Stewart), the project’s good-looking co-ordinator who narrates the tale, and he may wish to leave as well, but if so, it would hardly be with the ship’s good wishes.

   Except for perhaps the movie Blade Runner, the settings in Nightflyers are more authentically 21st century in appearance than any other movie I’ve ever seen.

   Unfortunately, the story doesn’t come close to matching it. It ends up, as I’m sure you may have guessed, in a bloody battle with the malevolent computer that is running the starship — complete with decapitations, stabbings and noisy explosions in space. The usual stuff.

   And none of it means. anything, even to the survivors. (And I suppose you can count me among them.)

   The science fiction that I’ve read by George R. R. Martin — I haven’t read this particular one — has been adventure fiction in part, but it’s always had some intelligent thought behind it. The second half of this movie hasn’t any at all. (Or what there is, if I’m not giving too much away, is of the artificial variety only.)

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (revised).

[UPDATE] 01-18-09. After reading this review, I think I’d like to see the movie again. That line I wrote about the settings intrigues me. Could the staging of a small-budget movie like this have impressed me that much?

   I could do without the horror film this movie turns into, though, and so … what are the chances I’ll start tracking down a copy? Realistically? I haven’t seen this movie in over 17 years, but unless someone comes up with a good reason that will tell me why I should, I probably won’t, not for a while longer yet.