As The Earth Turned

First-time director Bill Taylor turns in an epic sci-fi feature on a shoe-string budget

One only has to look to the success of recent events such as W5's Heroes and Legends convention in Belfast to see that Northern Ireland is fast becoming a haven for burgeoning science fiction talent.

The latest artist to emerge from this blossoming scene is Bangor-based film director, Bill Taylor. Shot over two and a half years on a bootlace budget, his first feature length film is entitled As The Earth Turned.

Before the debut screening at Belfast's Black Box, the audience are treated to the premiere screening of short film Looking For Al, from fellow Northern Irish director, Christopher Heath.

At just 15 minutes, this comedy short follows a group of young film fans as they travel from Belfast to Dublin in hope of tracking down and meeting legendary method actor, Al Pacino (who is in town for a screening of his Oscar Wilde based docu-drama, Wilde Salomé).

This light-hearted romp might not feature the finest camera work ever, and technical limitations render the audio extremely unclear in places. Its heart, however, is certainly in the right place, and there are plenty of laughs to be had.

I couldn't possibly reveal whether or not the intrepid adventurers get to meet the man responsible for roles such as Tony Montano and Michael Corleone, but he does at least appear in the film. Not a bad accolade for a first production.

As The Earth Turned director Bill Taylor works full-time as a web developer. Before the screening he reveals that he poured two years of his life into the production, which was completed in his spare time on virtually no budget.

It is staggering to see just how much Taylor has managed to accomplish with so little money and fairly basic equipment. The story revolves around protagonist Don Farrell (actor Damian McDonald) who is not just having a bad day, but a bad life.

A likeable everyman stuck in a dead-end job, Farrell wakes up after a night on the drink with a strange tattoo. At first he suspects it is part of an inebriated prank courtesy of his mop-haired, booze-hound accomplice Duffy (played excellently by Michael Smyth).

Soon, however, strange things start happening, and it becomes clear that the tattoo's origin is altogether more unusual. The next hour and a half is a classic sci fi action rollercoaster, with Farrell evolving from a nobody to the saviour of all humanity from an intergalactic evil force. 

As The Earth Turned wears its influences on its sleeves. There are many veiled (and not so veiled) references to films such as Terminator, Lethal Weapon, Pulp Fiction and in particular Star Wars.

While these homages are lots of fun (a cheer erupts from the audience at the appearance of an amazingly rendered hologram, not dissimilar to Princess Leia's message to Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars), the film is at its best when being original.

Taylor expertly manages to blend the worlds of mundane suburbia with interplanetary disaster. It evokes the feeling of classic Twilight Zone and Doctor Who episodes as well as Alex Cox's cult classic Repo Man, with a refreshingly unique Northern Irish slant.

Ambitious special effects contrast excellently with darkly humorous shots of the depressing chicken processing factory in which Farrell works. And while there is no mention of the Troubles, a religious subtext is present if you go looking for it, and the Belfast banter is consistently funny.

Taylor's technical and directorial chops are similarly impressive. He pushes his miniscule budget to breaking point with ambitious action scenes, aided with special effects added in post production (a job which took nearly a year in itself).

Constructing such an epic project on little more than sheer determination is reminiscent of Comber's acclaimed horror gurus the Spence Brothers. They have always been firm believers that film-makers do their best work with no money – forced to rely on imagination to come up with the goods.

All cast members turn in stellar performances, but Robert Render's pitch perfect portrayal of the trench-coated resistance leader stands out. As does Denese McCready, who plays no fewer than three roles. The tale of a working class hero stepping up to the plate is a well worn one, but Taylor's clear gift for storytelling ensures that his take on it doesn't slip too deeply into the realm of cliché.

A unique film from an extremely promising new director, As The Earth Turned is a testament to just what can be achieved with little more than imagination, determination and a large helping of blood, sweat and tears. It may not have been the easiest ride getting there but, as the tagline of the film states, nothing worthwhile is ever simple. 

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