Olivia Newton-John sings for aliens in Toomorrow
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Director: Val Guest
Tagline: “Launch out on a musical cosmic trip with the new ‘Tomorrow’”
Choice IMDB keywords: Alien, band, cult, outer space, musician, independent film
Plot: Toomorrow opens, as all pop-rock musicals should, with a cheap-looking spaceship hurtling through the cosmos while a young Olivia Newton-John croons a sugary ditty for a soundtrack that is the film’s sole reason for existing. The film and the band of the same name were conceived by pop-culture maestro Don Kirshner as part of a naked attempt to create another pre-fabricated multimedia pop phenomenon like The Monkees and The Archies, both of whom Kirshner helped shape. Those ventures helped earned him the nickname “The Man With The Golden Ear,” but neither Toomorrow the film nor Toomorrow the band fared nearly as well. The film took two years to make but played London for only a week in its initial release, and legend holds that an embarrassed Kirshner insisted the film could only be released on home video after his death.
It’s easy to see why Toomorrow filled Kirshner with shame. The film is a singularly unpalatable, incoherent juxtaposition of Monkees-style faux-countercultural musical-comedy shenanigans, sitcom idiocy, instantly dated campus political activism, and creaky science fiction from people whose understanding of the genre seemed to begin and end with a vague sense that it maybe involved spaceships and aliens or something. The plot concerns a dying, emotionless alien race that can only be saved by the music of an unknown British pop group headlined by a pre-fame Newton-John. Said band is populated by such stock types as a black drummer (Karl Chambers) who communicates solely via a doddering old white screenwriter’s approximation of contemporary jive talk (writer-director Val Guest was 59 when the film was just barely released); a scheming womanizer (Ben Thomas); and a foppish lad (Vic Cooper) whose sole defining characteristic, beyond playing a newfangled synthesizer-like instrument whose vibrations prove key to the alien race’s survival, is his devotion to his ballerina girlfriend and desire to properly celebrate her birthday.
Toomorrow is unaware of the central role its forgettable pop-rock will play in saving an emotionless alien race, so the group carries on obliviously, throwing itself into a campus sit-in and an upcoming gig at a rock festival, which the film inexplicably gives equal weight to the whole “saving an alien race through music” plot. Kirshner set out to make a music-and-spectacle-filled science-fiction rock musical, but not at the expense of scintillating subplots involving campus politics and the birthday of Cooper’s girlfriend.
In time, however, Toomorrow is beamed up into the alien spaceship and told about its messianic role. But the group can’t just rock out for a bunch of stiff alien squares. It’s gotta feel the vibe to make the magic happen, and that can only happen in front of a crowd that’s feeling the band’s groove. So the aliens beam Toomorrow back to Earth with the understanding that during the climax of the group’s performance at a festival that very night, the aliens will beam the entire band and crowd up into their spaceship so that the alchemy between Toomorrow and their fans will provide enough emotion and heart to save their race.
Upon returning to Earth, the members of Toomorrow all but forget about the fact that they were kidnapped by aliens. Why obsess about such things when there’s a sit-in, a rock show, and a girlfriend’s birthday to occupy them? That stuff’s just a little more important than alien abduction or the fate of a distant race. Nonetheless, Toomorrow ends up playing the climactic gig, at which point the group is, according to plan, beamed up into the spaceship along with an ecstatic crowd overjoyed at being able to experience the magic of Toomorrow. Or are they? What if it was all just Newton-John’s dream? A pointless, pointless dream?
Key scenes: What appears to be a bored British gentleman (veteran British character actor Roy Dotrice) gets up out of bed, yawns, checks his watch, then sleepily wanders over to his front yard, where he meanders into a beam that transports his pajama-clad self into a spaceship whose gaudy interior and exterior look like a cross between Superman’s Fortress Of Solitude and a radioactive jewelry box. Dotrice then disinterestedly takes off his pajama top before removing his head and human skin to reveal he is an alien. Dotrice gives his superior the same report he has delivered for the 3,000 years he’s been indifferently observing humanity and its peculiar customs: “There is still nothing to report. Not one original element, not one interesting deviant. Merely an abortive attempt at evolution. Venus all over again.” Me-ow! Dotrice’s dim take on homo sapiens makes him the bitchy Mr. Blackwell of intergalactic alien observers.
It turns out Dotrice is sleeping on the job, however, as his superior excitedly informs him that what Dotrice sneeringly refers to as a “backward ball of green mud” is in fact producing “curative vibrations, a new form of electronic harmony” characterized by “two long-discarded intangibles: emotion and heart” that could serve as a valuable antidote to restore the emotionless, heartless alien race. Only one group is actually producing these curative vibrations rich in long-discarded intangibles, however.
Yes, the aliens are dependent upon the bland pop stylings of Toomorrow, whose aggressively inoffensive sounds are introduced to the skeptical alien observer via a primitive proto-music video screened onboard the alien spaceship. The clips shown are singularly unpromising, but Dotrice is intrigued all the same. The aliens decide to bring the group back to the spaceship in hopes that the curative vibrations of their electronic harmony can aid the whole universe, not just the lucky inhabitants of planet Earth.
After favoring its college classmates with a “rousing” rendition of “Happiness Valley”—a song that bears a legally actionable resemblance to The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday”—Toomorrow is beamed onboard the spaceship. There, the group is offered “galactic greetings” and cleaned of “Earth germs” before the aliens drop some heavy shit on these young swingers: “Our civilization is old. But it is directed by minds of the young. Your civilization is young, but is controlled by minds that are old. So we can’t reveal our existence to your species.”
The aliens go on to explain that they produce “mathematically selected vibrations” that have lost their power and potency. They play some of these computer-created “mathematically selected vibrations” for Toomorrow, who are not fans, with Chambers grousing, “Look, man. Music’s my bag, see, I dig upbeats, downbeats, fugues, frauds, I even dig classical!” But to his discerning ears, the sounds presented “wouldn’t stimulate a drunken zombie.”
The aliens go on to explain, “Emotion and heart: That is why you are here. You manage to combine these elements with an electronic mode of expression to which we respond,” which is the emotionless alien way to convey, “I dig your crazy sound, you wild hepcats!” The aliens want Toomorrow to teach their people about their groovy new sound, and with it, love, but the fellas and lady have other plans. “It may seem strange to you, man, but I just don’t dig doing my thing in space,” Chambers tells the glowering aliens. Newton-John patiently explains that the group can’t make its “curative vibrations” in a vacuum: It needs the heart and emotion of the crowd to really help it do its thing.
To help ensure that Cooper isn’t too distracted by his girlfriend to make the big gig, the aliens have one of their race adopt the form of a buxom Earthling woman so she can “meet, charm, arouse, and, if necessary, seduce a male humanoid known as Vic Cooper.” The alien seductress attempts to wiggle her way into Cooper’s bed using tricks she gleaned from softcore pornographic films. She hurls herself at Cooper, only to have his ballerina girlfriend reappear unexpectedly, a complication that leads the always-ready Thomas to attempt to have sex with the alien seductress in Cooper’s absence. The sitcom contrivances pile high atop one another in a frenzy of hacky storytelling when one of Thomas’ other lovers, a hot-to-trot professor, then shows up and begins throwing things at Thomas in a rage upon discovering him with the alien minx.
All’s well that ends, well, however, and Toomorrow winds up making the gig and saving the alien race. As for the real Toomorrow? Well, at least Newton-John became a huge pop and film star.
Can easily be distinguished by: It’s the only film bold enough to cross-pollinate The Monkees with Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, then throw a young, psychotically smiley Olivia Newton-John and student activism into the mix.
Sign it was made in 1970: Even in the disgustingly clean and pleasant world of Toomorrow, folks are still organizing sit-ins and marching around with picket signs. A sign that the movie’s gender politics might not be as groovy as it imagines comes when Cooper informs a festival organizer, “Yes, we’re four and one of us is a girl. No, nobody’s in drag. It’s a real girl!” A girl! In a rock band! In 1970! What next? A whole band full of girls?
Timeless message: Love and emotion unite us all in a cosmic vibration of infinite togetherness, but it never hurts to employ kidnapping, coercion, and seduction to help that togetherness along.
Memorable quotes: In a representative example of the film’s horrifically strained attempts at hip contemporary dialogue, Chambers tries to reassure Cooper that his upscale girlfriend won’t mind being taken to a rock show instead of something more highbrow, quipping, “She’ll have the grooviest freak-out of the year! Five groups to turn her on and a lover boy to turn her off!”