Adaptation Grade: D-
ROWAN: It’s as if she’s not human.
There are some books that are just inexplicably out of print, and this is one of them. For Anna and the Infinite Power to be unavailable to a new generation of readers is a travesty; it would be like time traveling to thirty years from now only to discover that The Hunger Games is no longer available. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
While I have long been a lover of this story, however, what I did not manage to do was track down the 1983 movie based on Mildred Ames’s groundbreaking, forward-thinking 1981 novel. I knew little about it, actually, except that it is considered something of a cult favorite amongst HBO viewers of a certain age. But I recently discovered that Anna to the Infinite Power was finally released on DVD for the first time back in 2011, and was therefore eager to give it a try. Too eager, as it turns out.
What a boring movie.
Oh, it’s not that the themes are not still there, and not still marvelous. Our eponymous Anna (Martha Byrne) is still a precocious child genius with a driven scientist mother (Dina Merrill), and a by turns obnoxious and helpful older brother (Mark Patton). She still encounters the infuriating yet softening influence of teacher Michaela Dupont (Donna Mitchell), still discovers that she has a doppelgänger — also named Anna — and still learns that she is not her parent’s natural child but one of several clones of a brilliant, yet flawed, physicist who, at the time of her death, had been on the brink of a staggering breakthrough. Young Anna’s gradual development into a pleasant young girl remains intact, and in fact the majority of the film — except for the ending, which I will get to in a second — remains substantively (if not exactly) faithful to its source material.
About any of this, I have no complaints.
But as for the way the movie is filmed… oh, yes, complaints aplenty.
Now, it is true that this movie was made in 1983, was an independent production filmed with the corresponding small budget and is naturally inflicted with the direful sense of fashion that prevailed in that most trying of stylistic decades. But… still. For reference, some other movies released in 1983 include Mr. Mom, Valley Girl and the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John reteam that was Two of a Kind, and each of those fares way better now than Anna to the Infinite Power. Hell, even Australian “classic” BMX Bandits (starring a very frizzy-haired Nicole Kidman; track it down if you dare) has better stood the test of time, and I would never have even thought that possible.
How anyone managed to make the compelling story of cloned genius Anna so deathly dull I will never know.
Kudos must be given on three fronts, however. First, there is the superlative acting of Martha Byrne; she is Anna, and could not possibly be bettered in the role. Second, a major plot point surrounding the composing and playing of a song named “Reverie” is handled delightfully, with a truly haunting and utterly exquisite piece of music — composed for the film by Paul Baillargeon — given unto us (and, now, my iPod). And third is in the ending… hoo boy, that ending. Clever, clever, clever.
If I ever had one complaint about the novel it is in its truly downer conclusion, where we are given to understand that all is truly lost, the bad guys have won and our Anna, so close to freedom, has had it all ripped away. True, this non-Happily Ever After was something of a revelation in YA fiction at the time (and, indeed, since), but despite its undoubted coolness factor, it was still highly, heart-breakingly annoying. The movie cleverly dances around this by giving us one thing the novel didn’t: hope. Merely by cutting things off a little early, and leaving Anna’s future open and ambiguous. Normally, I would probably despise such an ending, but considering what I know to be the alternative, I am enormously impressed by this judicious piece of editing.
Those three mitigating factors aside (and a fourth, I guess, being the largely authentic rendition of the story already mentioned), Anna to the Infinite Power is nevertheless a movie I cannot recommend at all. For a truly clever exploration of human cloning and its potential costs and benefits, by all means track down the original novel, if you can. But as for the overexposed, badly framed and utterly charmless movie: give it a miss.
But do listen to “Reverie”. It really is quite lovely.
Science Fiction | PG | 101 minutes
Based on the book by Mildred Ames
Written by Robert Wiemer | Directed by Robert Wiemer
Starring Martha Byrne, Dina Merrill, Donna Mitchell, Mark Patton