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  Threshold The Most Canadian Science Fiction Movie Ever Made
Year: 1981
Director: Richard Pearce
Stars: Donald Sutherland, John Marley, Sharon Acker, Mare Winningham, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Lerner, Julie Armstrong, Jun Asahina, Steve Ballantine, Ralph Benmergui, Richard Blackburn, Lally Cadeau, Eric Clavering, James Douglas, Nancy Downey
Genre: Drama, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dr Thomas Vrain (Donald Sutherland) is a heart surgeon who is pushing against the limits of what is possible in the field of saving people's lives, and although he receives plenty of adulation for his achievements, he still feels he could do better. Today he has attended a celebration at his hospital, with past patients lined up to pay tribute to the efficiency he applies in every operation, but the practice of donating hearts to his cause for transplant can only take him so far, and he knows there should be a better solution that does not involve a waiting time that could see the patients dying before they have a chance to receive the donation. This is why he is intrigued by this new innovation: could an artificial, mechanical heart really work?

Well, yes, it could, because Threshold was a rare example of science fiction getting its predictions absolutely, one hundred percent correct. That was largely thanks to them having an expert in the burgeoning field of artificial hearts consulting on the movie, so everything we saw here, in particular the actual surgery which was presented with clever technical effects to make it convincing that we were seeing the actors playing the patients undergoing the operations. Indeed, Sutherland's doctor was based on a real surgeon who was keen to pioneer the use of artificial hearts, and the example of the machine we saw in the film was more or less the same model as the one that would be used in real life. So you see, it was all very careful about its information.

However, what did not succeed quite so well was its drama, as while there was some interest to be gained in seeing sci-fi that was accurate for a change, it did come across under Richard Pearce's clinical direction as a TV movie "disease of the week" item, the disease in question being heart defects. Michael Lerner and Mare Winningham played the main two recipients of the new hearts, Lerner as the middle aged man who receives a real, flesh and blood one but does not last too long when the procedure fails shortly after to highlight the issues that it has, and Winningham as the girl who gets the mechanical device in place of her defective heart, with all the tension that could bring about in someone who is getting a leap forward in technology that has not been tried on a living human before (though it seems to work with animals, as we see).

Certainly the centrepiece of Winningham's Carol Severance having the groundbreaking operation was filmed with a reverence that balanced with the highly focused attention to detail, including a surprising bit of full frontal nudity from the actress as she was prepared for the table. All representing that authenticity, though they could have easily skipped that part and made it a more family friendly release, since nobody swears elsewhere in the movie, and obviously there is no sex or violence. Yet the pulse, ironically, of the audience fails to quicken because it was as if this was written and directed by scientists rather than creative talents; when Jeff Goldblum as a designer livens things up a little in his inimitable fashion, you wonder if there will be a conflict to offer some interest outside of the academic, but it doesn't happen. This left Threshold as the Ryvita of science fiction movies, undoubtedly good for you but very, very dry, and difficult to be genuinely enthusiastic about aside from the aforementioned predictive novelty which was merely detailing what was already known to be around the corner anyway. Music by Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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