'The Lathe of Heaven'

At last, public television has its own science-fiction cult show, a la "2001" and "Star Trek." It's titled "The Lathe of Heaven" (PBS, Wednesday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats).

Scripted by Roger Swaybill and Diane English, based upon the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Lathe" was produced and directed by David Loxton and Fred Barzyk for the Television Laboratory at WNET/NY in association with Taurud Films. It is an electronic tour de force, blending reality with fantasy, vivid visions of the future with an ultimately curious obscurity.

The plot concerns a young man in the "near future" whose dreams function as reactivated reality -- "effective dreams," they are called. They can change everything that came before them as well as what comes after them. He falls under the influence of a hypnotist/therapist who not only wants to help him control the phenomena, but who wants to steal the ability from him in order to control the world. The plot explores the horrors and what it considers the potential benefits of this power in excruciatingly vague detail -- much is left to the imagination of the viewer.

And a great deal of your potential enjoyment of the film depends upon your willingness to accept irrationality, vagueness, superficial symbolism, and calculated ambiguity as evidence of Cosmic Importance. You have to wantm to be a part of the solution.

The arrival of the "Aliens" adds further complexity to an already complex allegory. Lots of highfalutin' phrases flash across the futuristic-architecture-filled screen (What would low-budget science-fiction ever do without the outside glass-enclosed elevators of the Hyatt/Tandy hotels?).

"To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven."

Get it? I don't. But, there may be people out there in TV land who are yearning to find cosmic significance in every word.

"The Lathe of Heaven" is electronic funand-games, if one doesn't demand ultimate revelation. True, it is pretentious but isn't pretentiousness part-and-particle of the science-fiction genre?

As the Alien says to our hero when Bruce asks for permission to go to lunch: "To go is to return."


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