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November 7, 2003

Ah, Betaville.

Last night I fell asleep watching a movie, a very special movie called “Betaville.” Now, I’ve seen lots of movies referred to as “The World’s Strangest,” or even “The World’s Worst.” But these categories are really too small to contain a phenomenon like Betaville. Betaville is a strange film, yes, and Betaville is kind of bad. But, in fact, it’s more confounding than anything else. It defies description, analysis, logic; it is simply a mysterious force of the universe, and it is neither your job nor mine to make any sense of it.

Several months ago I did manage to watch it all the way through, so I’ll briefly try to summarize the plot:

At some point in the future, all the children of the world’s leaders attend a summer camp, possibly located somewhere near Saskatchewan, I’m not sure; at any rate, this summer camp is called, of course, “Betaville.” The son of the President of Canada teams up with his “big brother,” a hunkish dude who is in love with the daughter of the President of the United States, to find buried pirate treasure. Then, surprise! Aliens invade and take over the Earth, accompanied by robotic floating objects that follow people around and look like little eyeballs, apples, and umbrellas. Really! After this point in the story I get confused, and I don’t quite know what happens; there’s some action with a girl driving an army tank, and the hunkish dude and the daughter of the President of the United States make out some and later, I think, get married. Judge Reinhold is in it (poor Judge Reinhold), and so are Lou Rawls and Tim Kazurinsky. I think the movie’s a kind of dumping ground for desperate, washed-up 1980’s actors. It’s kind of sad, really.

I know that I make Betaville sound like one of those “it’s so bad it’s good” schlock productions from the 1950’s that one watches for laughs, but it isn’t; it enters such a new realm of incoherence that it is kind of mesmerizing (although not enough, apparently, to keep me from nodding off), and certainly unpredictable. One can enjoy the incompetence of a “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for only so long before it gets tedious, but for some reason I can just keep coming back to Betaville for more, and I don’t know why. Is it like some kind of forgotten dream? Is it a vision of the afterlife? What does it mean?

One of its strangest features is that its producers apparently couldn’t decide who its target audience was supposed to be: the central characters are a ten-year-old boy and a grating little girl named “Zora,” but there’s also lots of making out and boozing among the older teenage kids, and also lots of painfully unfunny hijinks between the older, washed-up 1980’s actors, too. So is it a kid’s movie? A teenage romance? An enigmatic puzzle? I just don’t know.

You probably can’t get Betaville in video stores; I don’t think it made it that far. I got my precious copy because its producers sent it to the post-production house I used to work at (they bought a bunch of stock footage from us), and the other editors hated it so much they decided to throw it away—so I grabbed it, and thank God I did. You might be able to get a copy straight from the production company, Popcorn Cinema. I found this website:


Take a look. I dare you.


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