In the late '70s, it was fashionable to predict that, by the year 2000, humans would be populating the moon. Man had first set foot there late in the previous decade, and surely in another 20 years or so, special space suits and biodomes could get us there on at least a semi-permanent basis. Of course, it didn't happen, and won't anytime soon, but that doesn't detract from The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula Le Guin's novel that public television chose as its first made-for-TV movie in 1979. It's set, well, now...only the people in The Lathe of Heaven's Year 2000 wear camouflaged space suits and live in drab, minimalist surroundings that look like department-store furniture setups.
George Orr and the turtle-aliens are so happy together.
To create a space-age landscape while keeping within the $250,000 budget, co-producers and directors David Loxton and Fred Barzyk chose the most futuristic setting they could--Dallas-Fort Worth. Though set in Portland, Oregon, the city street scenes were filmed in the Fort Worth Water Gardens and at the Tandy Center. Dallas City Hall and Reunion Towers serve as offices for dream specialist Dr. Haber (played by Kevin Conway), who uses his Augmentor machine to control George Orr (Bruce Davison), whose dreams affect reality and alter the past, present, and future of the world. But Orr's subconscious is really in control, taking Haber's suggestions and spitting out realities that, as they are just dreams, are connected to emotions and images in Orr that he doesn't even know about. When Haber suggests he create world peace, Orr dreams that an alien invasion of Earth's moon colonies unites all countries in fighting the attackers rather than one another. When Haber tries to end racism, Orr dreams that all people have gray skin.
WNET New York produced the film in 1980 for public television. Then it shelved the film and let the rights expire. Via the Internet, fans of The Lathe of Heaven organized and demanded that WNET show the film. It became the most requested program in PBS' history. After years of protest, WNET has rereleased the film for PBS stations to show during their summer pledge drives, adding a conversation between Bill Moyers and Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven with the interview will be released on video and DVD in the fall.
Even if Le Guin's predictions were wrong, the film is still pretty cool--although it turns laughable toward the end. The special effects during the alien attack look like graphics stolen from an Atari game. The creatures resemble mechanical sea turtles and Americanize themselves as soon as they land. Maybe the future isn't so scary after all.