Monday, May 05, 2008

The Chemical Wedding (Film Review) Julian Doyle & Bruce Dickinson

Mandrake Speaks 213
reviewed by Ivor Davies

Fun trailer, but bereft of the usual hype associated with the launch
of a movie, I arrived at the Apollo West End to see the Chemical
Wedding with mainly my own great expectations.

Stormtroopers from Star Wars greeted moviegoers at the doors as it
was the final night of a Sci-Fi festival and after a few beers at the
bar we all sat in the theatre and waited. Two simultaneous screenings
in adjacent theatres in the same cinema – cast and crew in Screen 4,
us common people in the one next door in Screen 5. After a personal
introduction by Bruce Dickinson (screenwriter), Julian Doyle
(director) and Simon Callow (lead actor) we all looked forward to the

The story begins with the arrival of American scientist Mathers from
Cal Tech to supervise the installation of a virtual reality simulator
suit at Cambridge University. For the very first time this state-of-
the-art piece of equipment is being hooked up to a revolutionary new
British supercomputer, the Z93, which unbeknown to anyone, has been
programmed with a virus by lab assistant Victor who has reduced the
rituals of Aleister Crowley into binary code and infected it with

The film time shifts back to when mild mannered university lecturer
Professor Haddo (Simon Callow) is willingly persuaded into the suit
by Victor for its first trial run. Haddo goes missing immediately
after his experience in the suit and turns up the following day at a
lecture theatre to give a talk on Shakespeare's "Hamlet" – except
that clearly he is no longer the man he used to be, no longer the
meek stammering lecturer he was before his VR suit experience but now
an outrageous sexually explicit speaker who urinates on his audience.
The film goes on to imply that the Z93 supercomputer virus composed
by Victor has actually caused Haddo to become the reincarnation of
Aleister Crowley and so begins a tale of the apparent depths of
depravity that a person possessed by the soul of Aleister Crowley
would sink to.

This is the crux of the problem that this film has – just what would
someone possessed by the late Aleister Crowley do all day long? "Sex
and murder" unfortunately is this film's disturbing answer and then
just how outrageous can this character become? The implication in the
trailer was that this portrayal of Crowley might be tongue-in-cheek
or humorous, but the result is far more worrying than that.

Numerous examples of exactly "just how evil could a person possessed
by Aleister Crowley be" continue in a procession of visual and
conceptual shocks ranging from relatively innocuous excrement
deposited on an office desk to the crucifixion of a prostitute. Now,
controversial a character as Crowley was, I really must ask what
Bruce Dickinson is up to here. I listened to Callow emphasise that
his portrayal of Haddo was "Playing the part of someone possessed by
Crowley… and not actually Crowley Himself" but I see this as a pre-
emptive excuse on his part for what we saw on screen and some of the
issues that we might have with it.

As for the characters: shallow, meaningless and undefined. Haddo
comes over as nothing and we don't care that he's been possessed by
Aleister Crowley (n.b. Simon Callow's performance is a delight – I
just wish the script had been up to it.), Lia the journalist is our
damsel in distress and you don't care if she's rescued or not,
Aleister Crowley is just pure evil and doesn't deserve to be
reincarnated, Victor is just a virus writing geek and got what he

Deeply offensive, blatantly sensationalist, Bruce Dickinson's script
leaves me with questions about the target audience of this film –
fans of Simon Callow (?), fans of Bruce Dickinson (heavy metal fans
who will be disappointed by the soundtrack), fans of Aleister Crowley
(please note, only those who specifically want to be thought of as
evil and twisted) or practicing occultists (who will be annoyed by
this film's cold and completely non-spiritual content).

Three words describe this film: "Straight", "To", "DVD".

The Chemical Wedding - Official Trailer (Crowley Film):