Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



Robert Altman made two films starring Paul Newman, and neither was a commercial or critical success. This was the weakest of the two. It’s his only real science fiction film (I don’t count the horrible Countdown or the fantasy {{Brewster McCloud). It is in some undefined place, maybe Earth, maybe not, but an ice age has descended and the few survivors are huddled in a massive structure, dying out. No more babies are being born. Everyone is consumed with the playing of the game Quintet, for which actual rules were written. (The crew actually played it during breaks!) Usually it’s just a board game, but some people are now playing it for keeps, to the death. Newman is an outsider who arrives only to have his female companion killed by a bomb by one of the players. He sets out to find the killers. It all just struck me as very silly, a story more suited to Roger Corman than Robert Altman.

This is a case where the look of the film, the setting, is much more interesting than the plot. It was filmed in Montreal, at the site of the derelict and decaying remains of the Man and His World pavilion. Oddly, I can’t find a good picture of the exterior, and none at all of the interior. It’s a case of criminal neglect by the city fathers. Some of them were spectacular, and should have been preserved. The only one remaining is the US Pavilion, a giant geodesic dome that has been converted into the Montreal Biosphere, an environmental museum.

It was an arduous shoot. They didn’t want to use plastic ice, so they filmed in the winter at temperatures as low as minus 40 (F. and C.). Film froze in the cameras. Paint froze. Everything froze. Every day the crew sprayed the sets with water, which froze into cascades of icicles. It was treacherous, too. Ice covered all the stairways, and you took your life in your hands when you went down one. It results in a wonderful thing to look at. Too bad there wasn’t a better story to go with it.