The Uranus Experiment Review
First of all, I'd better make it clear exactly what's being reviewed, since there also appears to be an 18-certificate version of The Uranus Experiment on the British market. I haven't seen this, but knowing a fair bit about what's permissible within the plain vanilla 18 category I can't say it's something I'm particularly cut up about, though I'm sure the film has been extensively. This DVD is the full unexpurgated version from Private's own label, and is widely available from various European sources, if not (yet) legitimately in the UK - and is a vast improvement on Sheptonhurst's contemptible UK version of Private's The Pyramid, in that it not only delivers the expected hardcore goods with a reasonable degree of technical competence (in both film and DVD terms), but it also offers plenty of additional features.
But what of the film? Well, it's a sophisticated Cold War satire in which a gaggle of Americans and Russians plan a joint space mission that's infiltrated by the KGB (this is a dead giveaway of the film's satirical intentions, since it was made in 1997, many years after the KGB's demise) which plans to carry out the experiment of the title, which turns out to be an investigation of the effect of zero gravity on sperm production, the unwitting subjects being the American astronauts. For some reason, this has to be performed within the orbit of the planet Uranus, which seems a rather long way to go just for the sake of a smutty pun and a ludicrous marketing gimmick, so I'm sure there are important scientific reasons behind it.
For obvious reasons, a great many tests on sperm production have to be carried out before the team is blasted into space, which are scrupulously recorded by white-coated researchers, both under controlled lab conditions and elsewhere, for instance sneaking into an astronaut's flat in the middle of the night and giving him a nocturnal blow job, the result of which is collected in a small plastic sachet and neatly filed away.
I did get a little confused, though, as to why this scene then turned into a three-way lesbian session notable for the absence of sperm production, but maybe that's because I was too busy wondering why none of these "lesbian" scenes in both this and other porno films ever seems to feature shaven heads and strap-on dildoes to concentrate on subtle plot points.
Anyway, once the team are in orbit and zero gravity kicks in (and according to the production featurette this was genuine unsimulated zero gravity, created in very similar fashion to that in Apollo 13), they have to surmount rather more challenges both in terms of getting off with each other and ensuring that the film delivers what it promises (while being watched by the entire US and Russian political establishment and presumably worldwide TV audiences in the process - there are more than a few shades of Big Brother here, though with the important difference that the people under observation are getting up to exactly what the tabloids have been hoping the Big Brother contestants will get up to).
Technically, the film is above average for its genre - the early lesbian sex scene in particular is lit very atmospherically indeed by a lighting crew that clearly knew what it was doing. The special effects, though, manage to be simultaneously impressive and tacky, the novelty of seeing CGI effects in a porno film quickly wearing off when you realise that almost anyone with a basic 3D package could probably have knocked off something similar. But then again, The Uranus Experiment is hardly in competition with the likes of Star Wars, to which George Lucas has unaccountably omitted to add a zero-gravity ejaculation (maybe the next special edition will remedy this).
Ah yes, the film's great marketing gimmick. Well, in a genre notorious for repetition and lack of imagination I'll certainly give it full marks for originality, even if the final result is a bit of an anticlimax in every sense of the term. Not only does it occur halfway through, but you can barely see anything when it does (and I have my suspicions as to how genuine it was - compared with the other zero-gravity sequences this particular shot looks more like it was filmed upside-down in slow motion!), and then it's back down to Earth for more intensive creation of beasts with two, three and ultimately six backs, the latter being a six-breasted three-horned creature that was wondrous to behold, even if the scene in question reminded me more of the ending of Brian Yuzna's Society than anything vaguely erotic.
But as porno films go, The Uranus Experiment certainly delivers the goods - there's not a great deal of point complaining about unconvincing plotting, dreadful acting and appalling dubbing (there are five spoken language options and not one seems to fit the lip movements, which I'd guess were originally Hungarian given the Budapest locations and the names on the credits) when its target audience couldn't care less.
What they want to see is 80% of the running time taken up with close-ups of genital organs in various states of tumescence and lubrication, and I'm happy to confirm (or warn, depending on your point of view) that there's more than enough of that kind of thing on offer here, with just about every conceivable combination of male and female body parts on offer except of course all-male sex scenes (mainstream porn's ultimate taboo) - and the 136-minute running time ensures you won't feel short-changed. And it's nice to come across a genuinely original plot, even if it doesn't go much further than repeating the basic premise over and over again.
Technically, this DVD is so much better than Sheptonhurst's The Pyramid that it's easy to overrate it - a more critical eye reveals that it's a competent transfer from a 4:3 video source (hardly any porno films are shot on film these days), and while it's not going to give Criterion's team any sleepless nights it certainly reveals enough fine detail to satisfy its natural audience. Artefacts are kept to a minimum and there are no other obvious blemishes.
The sound is hampered more than somewhat by being obviously dubbed throughout (whichever language you select), though a surprising amount of care has been taken with atmospheric realism, and it's also in stereo, though precisely what format I was unable to work out. But it's a definite cut above many other genre entries.
There are eight chapter stops, though since there are eight principal sex scenes, that's exactly what most people would require. The effect of looking at the chapter menu with its simultaneous full-motion video clips is not unlike a somewhat more complex hardcore version of Mike Figgis' experimental feature Timecode, which I'm sure someone will be attempting in the not too distant future.
The extras are pretty basic compared with, say, one of Vivid's DVD blowouts, but at least some effort has been made. The most interesting - at least for someone who has never seen a porno film being shot outside Boogie Nights - was the ten-minute production featurette, though there's not a great deal in terms of unifying structure - it alternates on-set footage with banal interviews with its stars ("Do you have a boyfriend?", "What's your favourite position?") and slightly more striking images such as a shower sequence with one of the actresses washing presumably special-effects-related blue paint off her body.
The trailer for The Uranus Experiment is also included, along with three other trailers, for Xtreme, Operation Sex Siege and Tatiana, which are respectively an arty fantasy, a porno Die Hard and a costume romp.
There are also notes for the cast, with brief biographical details that focus more on which Private magazines they're featured in than anything else, five pages of production notes (which amusingly confuse the word 'pretentious' with the word 'ambitious') and a selection of fifteen mostly hardcore stills from the film.
All in all, not a bad package - unlike the UK versions of The Pyramid or Deep Throat you certainly won't feel ripped off - but given the current uncertain legal situation vis-à-vis importing DVDs like this through Customs, a certain amount of caution is still recommended.