Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lathe of Heaven Film Review

Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.
Back in September of this year, I put together a post for My Picks for The Greatest... Sci-Fi Film Edition. In it, I placed a little PBS film high up on that loftiest of lists for this genre. There it drew the attention of my NoCal blogging compadre, Rachel (from Scientist Gone Wordy). So, per her suggestion for our next 'parallel post', The Lathe of Heaven novel and film, by fantasy/sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin, will have our mutual focus for this the November edition of our little book/film series. As usual, the wordy one will examine the text of the 1972 Locus SF Award novel winner, while I get to go back and relive my 1980 youth by reviewing that now famous broadcast of Thirteen/WNET's adaptation of the sci-fi classic. Rachel's book review can be found here:

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.


  1. It's mindblowing to think that programming from the late 70s could so easily be lost, as this film nearly was.

    I've not seen this one, but as is your way, you are very persuasive and I think I need to see if Netflix has it.

  2. Netflix does have it, that's how I saw it! :)

  3. Most excellent review! I have a few 'burning questions' but will have to swing back by when I have a little more computer time to ask them. More later...

  4. Guest? Odd! I hate it when my cookies time out. Well, that was me. :)

  5. Rachel's correct about Netflix carrying the film. It's well worth a viewing, Naomi. Thanks.

  6. I'm eager to hear them ;) .

  7. I figured it was you, Rachel. Thanks.

  8. I so completely agree with how well this movie stands up considering its age. And you make such an excellent point regarding the need for imagination. As you probably know I love it when authors/artists/film makers leave something for me to do so getting to bring your own experience to the film is one of its best qualities. On that note...

    I think there is a villian but I think the villian depends on the viewer. There are three angles to take, I think. 1. Haber's with the egomaniac's tendency to Big Plans. 2. George's with the follower's tendency to value human experiences and the authenticity of organic moments. 3. The "narrator's" with the ominscient and slightly judging worldview. Depending on what type of viewer you are, and how you feel, you will lean towards one of these angles and so create your villian. For example, if George's go-along attitude drives you nuts you might lean more towards Haber and support the idea of trying to get the greatest good (even if you don't necessarily like the way Haber does it). I thought this aspect of the story was pretty subtle in the book and very obvious in the movie. Or maybe since I read the book first the movie seemed less subtle since the idea was already in my mind. Anyway, I really liked it. Again, it means we get to use our imagination and overlay our own experiences onto the story.

    What did you think of the characterization? Naturally I'm comparing to the book (it's hard not to when both are in the mind) and I thought Haber was much more subtlely done in the book but much more obviously villianous in the movie. Lelache lost a bit due to length I'm sure. Who she was and what that meant to George was much more enjoyable in the book for me.

    Those aliens totally cracked me up! When I was reading the decription I was like, hunh? But then the movie really got them spot on. George's mind must be an odd place. :)

    I found Haber to be pretty abusive psychologically, did you? What did you think of what he was trying to do?

    The backcopy of my book (or something I read) made a mention of how perfectly described was the doctor/patient relationship for those in therapy. Any thoughts on that? I feel like the period in which the book came out was really a rejuvenating time for psychoanalysis so maybe this was playing into that...

    Do you think a movie like this could be made now? What production body do you think would get closest? (I can't remember the last sci-fi film that I saw where the story Came First... maybe Gattaca?)

  9. You bring up some excellent points, Rachel:
    - same here in regard to when artists incorporate the readers/viewers' imagination in their work
    - Le Guin herself (in the DVD's earlier interview) spoke about the lack of a real (or classically defined) villain in the novel. When I first saw the PBS broadcast, Haber was the obvious bad guy for me. I kept that thought for 20 years since I missed the few PBS replays of it. When it came out in 2000 on disc, my replays of the film have caused me to drift away from that. Now I see only humankind represented there in Orr, Haber, and Lelache. But, I certainly can envision the three angles (interpretations) you lay out. I'm beginning to believe the change in my view relates to me being 30 years older. Still, 'ya gotta love the fact that The Lathe of Heaven is open to multiple interpretations
    - I still love Davison, Conway, and Avery in their roles in the film. But, I can see your issue with Haber's character. Though, do find I want more to know more about Lelache (but that could be related to the fact that I find Avery one beautiful woman). The inter-racial romance was also handled manner-of-factly for the time (1980) and was very forward-thinking for the period (even more so for a 1971 novel). I've promised myself to read Le Guin's book, now, for what you've mentioned about the characters and their differences in the works
    - I've always like how the aliens looked in the film. They could be frightening and/or benign (something Orr effectively interpreted  ;) )
    - a psychiatrist being psychologically abusive? Nah... Of course, I'm kidding. I've found through the years that the medical profession (most of the time) can have a patrician mentality toward their patients. It's one of the threads in the work that rings true to me (but, that's open to interpretation, isn't it?) 
    - this decade saw a new production of this work (done by A&E Network), but I've not seen it. Everything I've heard about it, including Le Guin's dismissal of it by calling it "misguided and uninteresting", tells me it lacks the subtlety and intellect of the novel. Want to watch it and compare notes?
    - Gattaca is one great film. The re-release of Lathe of Heaven could only have hoped to have been received as well

    Great comment, as usual, Rachel. Thanks.

  10. I thought the actress for Lelache to be quite wonderful too. I wish she had been used more. From the book I found her to be poised, perceptive and contained. This is a hard character to do on film, or rather a hard type of character to GET TO KNOW on film which I think makes her feel under-used.

    The newer one is with James Caan, right? Yeah, let's watch it! I won't be able to for a week or so but, if nothing else, we can give it the MST3k treatment. :)

  11. Well, I don't want to read too far my friend as I haven't see the film, but I will keep it in mind and, just as I intend to revisit your review of Remember Me someday, I will keep this in the old memory banks because I'm sure it's a thoughtful one as always.  Cheers L13. SFF

  12. Agreed about Heather Lelache.

    Regarding the remake, if you'd like, we could have an AIM text chat about the film (after we've both have seen it). That way we could save the conversation and post the results, if you're interested.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  13. When you finally get a chance to take them in, I'd love to hear your thoughts about either, SFF. Many thanks, my friend.