The Last Mimzy
How many producers make decent directors? How many producers make directors, full stop? Most seem smart enough to know it isn’t their bag. Evidently, however, Bob Shaye, of A Nightmare on Elm Street and New Line founder fame (or infamy), had a hankering, and he was going to make sure he chose a really good story. Really good for him, not so good for the story.
When I first saw The Last Mimzy, I was mostly really impressed by the story, Bruce Joel Rubin’s adaptation – mainly his, but also receiving credit for Toby Emmmerich and James V Hart’s contributions, and not for Carol Skilken’s – of Henry Kuttner and CL Moore’s 1943 short story Mimsy Were the Borogroves. Rubin’s ploughed a metaphysical/spiritual furrow in Hollywood relatively successfully, so this was bread-and-butter. Hart, in spite of unwholesome credits for Hook and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – Cradle of Life, had approached that greater-universal-meaning thing with Contact, while New Line President of Production (at that time) Emmerich had written Frequency, another life-affirming time-travel tale. So Shaye was certainly drawing on a well of experience – well, a Hollywood well of experience, at any rate – suited to the subject matter.
The short story doesn’t include the challenge of a dystopian future that needs righting via vital ingredients retrieved through time travel, but it does feature children similarly augmented in abilities through contact with a box sent back in time (and likewise, another box is encountered by Alice Liddell; the verse of Jabberwocky being inspired by the box as “the way out”). The children, advancing beyond Euclidean geometry in capacities, construct an “abstract” machine that amounts to an equation in the poem; they operate it and vanish (into the future?) Wiki calls the scientist “post human”, but the authors keep his nature intentionally vague (you can split hairs between post-humanism and transhumanism, but they both relate to the artificial “enhancement” of the human; it’s unclear this is what has happened to Unthahorsten, but his behaviour doesn’t suggest one who has evolved spiritually, however much he may have done physically).
Teacher: Today, I’m going to show you a story. Let’s all tune in together. A long time ago, the soul of our planet was sick. People had become isolated and warlike. Our world was frightened. It was dying. But a great scientist was trying to save us. He had tried many times, and he knew he could only try once more. This was the last Mimzy.
The movie, in contrast, gets all Greta on us. A scientist in the future is attempting to save humanity by sending back drones/toys to retrieve a vital something that will spark the planet back into life and oneness etc. Various attempts have failed, but when siblings Noah (Chris O’Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wrynn) retrieve a mysterious box from the sea, one containing a stuffed rabbit (that would be Mimzy) whom Emma befriends, they begin exhibiting strange superhuman gifts. These include spider sense and teleportation (Noah) and controlling the spinner stones from the box (Emma). Their activities result in a power blackout that brings the FBI down upon them – shades of E.T. the Extra-terrestrial and WarGames – and it becomes an urgent matter to escape detention in order to return the failing (dying) Mimzy from whence she came.
In Tales from the Script, Rubin puts a brave face on the movie’s development process. He worked on it for eight years, and the last year in particular was especially fraught; he was taken off it, brought back on it and told to cut the script down (from 120 to 95 pages: it shows). Given such restrictions however, he found a way “within that [shooting] schedule, I could look at every scene and I could give it a little bit more tissue, a little more fat, a little more heart – whatever was required to make it richer”. He attested that it led to an understanding that “you could pare away so much and still have it work”. The process was, it seems, at Shaye’s insistence (“Cut more, cut more”), but “it finally all worked”.
Well… The paring down might have been okay, had Shaye’s certainty over how the material could work at its most compact were reflected in assuredness as a director. Revisiting the film, I was very aware of just how stagey and unfinessed it is; much of the time, it’s only Howard Shore’s stirring, inspiring score – from a Roger Waters song riff Hello (I Love You) – that lends The Last Mimzy any sense of the magical or fantastical.
The action seems to start in the wrong places, compositions are rudimentary, motivations (chiefly the parents, Timothy Hutton’s David and Joely Richardson’s Jo) are either fitful or inconsistent, and there’s a frequent sense of awkwardness and the unrehearsed to both scenes and the transitions between scenes. Whether this is simply down to the amount excised that Rubin was unable to spoon back in, or Shaye’s incontinence as a director – I was reminded of New Line’s major breadwinner Wes Craven’s lesser work on New Nightmare, in which Shaye cameoed as himself – I don’t know, but DP J Michael Muro is unable to disguise a certain threadbare quality, less in the effects or look than in the overall presentation (the movie was a then lower-mid budget $35m and failed to make it back).
The kids are fine – no one will be saying they’re great unsung child thesps – and Wryn manages to express a genuineness in her concern for Mimzy. Eco-twat Rainn Wilson is Noah’s teacher, who has visited Nepal, once dreamt the winning lotto numbers (but didn’t buy a ticket) and has a fruit-loop girlfriend in the unenviable form of Kathryn Hahn. Who is into palmistry (she attests that Emma has a very special hand). Both Wilson and – particularly – Hahn are inherently quite irritating, which does The Last Mimzy no favours.
Richardson is convincingly bewildered/protective/aghast as mom, Hutton (who seems to have escaped a #MeToo cancellation) mostly peripheral. Michael Clarke Duncan is miscast as FBI Special Agent Broadman, although this thread is also appallingly written, so he can’t take all the blame. Can Rubin honestly claim it “all worked” when it has Broadman leave the family in peace with “I don’t understand this. But I know I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do for you guys? Anything at all?” I mean, what???? Just what kind of respectably insidious government agency is that?
The Last Mimzy sort of hodgepodges New Age and scientism into a sometimes-ungainly mash. Well-meaning Larry (Wilson) and Naomi (Hahn) are on the flaky side, but they’re being presented with genuine wisdom (through dreams) and insights (into mandalas, Larry tells about Tolkas – tulku – “extraordinary children with… very special knowledge”, and Naomi confirms of Emma’s palm “I’ve never seen anything so pure”. Doubtless she’d have attested as much of the Dalai Lama, the best-known tulku, and next to Joe Biden probably the best-known current high-profile authority figure infamously engaging in inappropriate acts with minors, in this case asking a child to suck his tongue. Of course, this unfortunately ties in neatly with the movie referencing Alice Liddell, whose “Uncle” Charles doted over her so.
Larry, teaching science, talks about Watson and Crick cracking the genetic code and how, with pollution’s adverse effects, “Perfectly good DNA becomes a bunch of useless junk carried from generation to generation” (so pointing to the future world). The movie concludes like a New Age ad for United Colours of Coca-Cola, as kids in class fly away from their lecture (presumably, the vital tear sprung by Emma has not only ensured their continuance but also propelled them forward in an evolutionary leap. Unless it’s joyous transhumanism at work).
This is a move where a predatory spider tells Noah “Hello, I love you”, Emma is mortified to learn burgers are chopped-up cow, and nanotech is an inherently positive force (since Mimzy is nanotech, courtesy of a futuristic Intel logo: “We’ve dreamed about creating artificial life. It would be amazing, we’d change the world. But we are eons away from achieving anything like this”). There’s even subdued commentary on the police state, on schools with security checks (“I’m not a terrorist, okay”) and authorities desperately eager to infringe its citizens liberty under excessive laws (“You’re being held for reasons of national security under the Patriot Act”).
Teacher: It was what the scientist had hoped for. To find a soul in the past not contaminated by the pollutants that filled our bodies and minds. Our precious quality of humanity had been turned off. But in Emma’s tears was the instruction for an awakening. And it spread like wild flowers. People shed their protective suits. And over time, humanity blossomed again. Our world was saved by a child very much like you. Emma was our mother. the mother of us all.
One might be tempted to see Emma and Noah as a take on Indigo Children – that is, starseeds/walk-ins of spiritually advanced aspect (the reincarnation word isn’t mentioned here) – but one has to balance that against the highly weird reveal at the end of the movie. So, on the surface of things, the scientist’s actions are wholly benign in motivation. He gets what he needs to save humanity, and he doesn’t even create a paradox in the process (we must, in part, thank the FBI for this, by opting to ignore the case completely in the final analysis). But then we’re treated to a twist, whereby the protective suits of these future humans are the spit of Grey aliens.
So what is going on here? Is The Last Mimzy a stealth means of suggesting the Grey phenomenon is a well-intentioned one? If you’re abducted, don’t worry? In the context of the movie, we’re told “people can’t travel in time as they’ll die so they build dolls to do it”, but in practice, the idea of future humans (Greys) or ETs (Zeta Reticulan Greys) abducting humans for their own salvation – attempting to set humanity on a transhumanist path or solving their own issues with fertility and continuance – isn’t so different to the one presented here, of a dying world, of polluted minds and bodies. All it takes to help them are decent present-day humans showing a little willing and naivety. Maybe Rubin et al included that reveal in full innocence, but it feels a not-a-little sly and insidious, a New Age hoodwink. Particularly as this all ends with an Earthly paradise which, it seems, isn’t on the menu after the prospective 1,000 years of peace.
If such intent was underlying, that’s quite creepily smart on the parts of the makers of a family movie. It would have been smarter still, had Shaye understood, as studio founder – he left New Line after the Warner merger in 2008 – that he wasn’t the best guy to make the best The Last Mimzy out of this material. But ever with the hubris, right?