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Nightfall (1988)
  • Director:
    Paul Mayersberg
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Isaac Asimov,Paul Mayersberg
  • Cast:
    David Birney,Sarah Douglas,Alexis Kanner
  • Time:
    1h 23min
  • Year:
Far across the cosmos from our world lies a planet bathed in perpetual daylight. Soon nightfall will come and bring with it tremendous destruction. Science struggles against superstition in this dramatic portrayal of Isaac Asimov's award winning short story.
Cast overview, first billed only:
David Birney David Birney - Aton
Sarah Douglas Sarah Douglas - Roa
Alexis Kanner Alexis Kanner - Sor
Andra Millian Andra Millian - Ana
Starr Andreeff Starr Andreeff - Bet
Chuck Hayward Chuck Hayward - Kin (as Charles Hayward)
Jonathan Emerson Jonathan Emerson - Architect
Susie Lindeman Susie Lindeman - Boffin
Russell Wiggins Russell Wiggins - Zol
Larry Hankin Larry Hankin - Desert King
Ronald R. Burns Ronald R. Burns - Aton's Man
Bernard J. Garsen Bernard J. Garsen - Aton's Man
Dan Wells Dan Wells - Architect's Assistant
Bradley Reid Bradley Reid - Trader
Stephen D. Nathenson Stephen D. Nathenson - City Dweller

Nightfall (1988)

Isaac Asimov was never consulted in the making of the film based on his short story, and completely disowned the finished film when it was released.

Nightfall was the short story which helped establish Isaac Asimov's reputation when it was published in 1941. Julie Corman became aware of it in 1979 when she read a review of an Asimov anthology in the New York Times. She was attracted by a story "about people who have recognizable moral dilemmas," and bought the screen rights. Roger Corman announced in 1980 he would make the film with a reported $6 million budget, co producing with a German company.

When Isaac Asimov turned down the chance to adapt the story himself, Julie Corman approached Paul Mayersberg, then best known for writing The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). He passed so she tried a number of different writers. In July 1987 Corman eventually went back to Mayersberg after seeing his directorial debut, Captive (1986). Mayersberg agreed to write the script if he could direct. Corman agreed. Mayersberg wrote the script in five weeks in London and the film was shot over an eight week period in October 1987.

Before approaching Paul Mayersberg to write the script, several other writers had developed various scripts which didn't work out. "The problem was getting a script that had the essence of Nightfall and also had good, involving characters," said Julie Corman. "Some of the scripts that we developed were excellent on the science-fiction elements, but they weren't very visual. In other versions, the characters were incredibly good but Asimov's philosophical war of words had been played down. Along the way. we encountered the usual money problems, so the project was put on the back burner."

In an interview about Nightfall (1988), writer and director Paul Mayersberg said "I'm of the belief that, in general, film is not a very good medium for science fiction, it's visual, and therefore not very imaginative. Movies don't work well when it comes to picturing large landscapes, and so forth; film can only show you what exists, that which we can already see with our eyes, If you want to imagine a city in space, you have to build a model- and frankly, it looks like a model."

The only characters retained from the story were Aton, astronomer and leader of the city, and Sor, leader of the Believers (called the Cultists in the original short story). Paul Mayersberg created the female character of Roa, who was once married to Aton but left him to become one of Sor's disciples. Maybersberg said the two men stood for "the relationship between science and religion as a means of explaining the world. As for the Day of Judgment, do you believe the religious view or do you subscribe to the scientific view that it's nothing more than an eclipse and is a part of the movement in the universe?", he also said "Instead of hardware and lasers, I used strings and elastic bands and crystal swords, whatever the people who lived on the planet could find that might exist or, in the case of something like a kite, could build. I wanted to omit the present totally, and work on merging the past and future."

The amount of suns was reduced from six in the short story to three in the movie.

The film was shot in an organic architectural development in Arizona called Arcosanti. Scenes were also shot in Cosanti, just outside Scottsdale, and in the Tonto National Forest. Some Arcosanti residents appeared as extras.

The film rained for three out of the five weeks of shooting.

"Nightfall was, for me, about a slate of mind, not about a sequence of events," Paul Mayersberg later said about the film. "I tried to present that in terms of the characters' lives and the way in which the film is constructed, which is not so much in dialogue as image. I intended the film to be about ways one can approach a life crisis. What do you do? Do you go mad, do you become rational, cowardly, throw reason to the winds? Do you try to figure it out, do you suddenly become religious? This is a story where there's a sort of nervous breakdown in the society where these people live, and how they cope with it."

Julie Corman later said it was one project of hers she wished she could remake with a bigger budget. "On a low budget, it was kind of hard to create that world," she said.

Everything about this film is bad: a pathetic adaptation, a boring screenplay, absurd sets, a soundtrack that is worse than my dog's barking and acting that can only be described as perpetrated.

There is not one single redeeming quality in it, and it is completely useless except maybe as a textbook example of how NOT to make a movie.

Bad as it is on its own, it is all the more painful if you are familiar with Isaac Asimov's classic short story, on which this absurdity is allegedly based - even though any similarity... no, there are no similarities.

If IMDb allowed negative scores this film would deserve one. A chimpanzee with a home video camera could (and would) have made a better film than this on the first try. Just skip this junk.
The claim that this movie is Isaac Asimov's story "Nightfall" is an absolute lie. Asimov's descendents should sue the producers and director for slander for demeaning the Good Doctor's reputation. If you ever see this movie in a rental store back slowly away. It is a waste of video tape.

Unfortunately, I paid good money to see this piece of c**p in a theater. As I left, the ticket guy asked why everyone leaving that movie seemed to be angry. I told him it was because they had wasted money on the worst movie ever made. It was scheduled for a one-week run. After 5 days they quit showing the movie and left the theater empty. Actually, watching a dark empty screen would be an improvement over this wreched junk. I can't think of enough bad words to describe it. (Well, I can, but when I used them in a review IMDb rejected it.)
Somewhere . . . somehow . . . one of the finest short SF stories ever to be penned was brutally transmorgrified into a mishmosh of New Age symbolism heavily overlaid with bad acting. Asimov's original story was a well crafted tale of slowly consuming fear over a natural event. Mayersberg's film version by rights should have been a major genre event. Instead we find veteran character actors such as Sarah Douglas and Alexis Kanner (who should've known better) trying to shore up one of the worst David Birney performances ever filmed. Only two things can be recommended about this film: an interesting poster, and the fact that it was filmed in and around Paolo Soleri's "Arcosanti" architectural project out in Arizona.
And my summary line sums up this movie. This is easily one of the worst adaptations I have ever heard of.

What was so hard about trying to actually stick with Asimov's classic story? Did they think it would be boring? What they created is not simply boring, it's virtually incoherent as well.

In the world of science fiction, the long night has, metaphorically, always been with us. This film is a Black Hole that extinguishes the light of the original tale, sucks it in and imprisons it.
One might guess that this movie gets so many bad reviews because Asimov fans felt it wasn't entirely true to the original story. But it's more than that, it's just bad. True, it was a complete sodomization of the wonderful Asimov story. And it seems likely that only Asimov fans ever saw it. However, likely as that may be, allow me to warn you that this is hands-down one of the worst movies ever. The only thing keeping it off the bottom 100 list is that there probably weren't 625 people who are dumb enough to have seen it and masochistic enough to want to relive the experience by looking it up here. The casting was atrocious. The acting was terrible. The story was appallingly bad. The lighting was so dark you couldn't tell who was speaking. If you want to compare my opinions with those of real people, I actually liked 'Howard the Duck' and 'Transylvania 6-5000'. This is lightyears worse than those. This is not even "so-bad-it's-funny"-bad, like 'Plan 9', this is just plain superlatively bad, with no redeeming features.
I actually paid money to see this in its mercifully brief theatrical release in 1988. The (tiny) audience had fun ad libbing dialogue that was much better than that provided the hapless actors. The film is bad in so many ways that it is difficult to pick out the worst element. Was it the art direction? The acting? The dialogue? The cinematography? The costumes? The plot? The editing? The music? In the end I think the worst thing is that it will probably insure that no decent film will ever be made of Asimov's "Nightfall".

The good doctor wrote that he had never seen the movie, and that he had nothing to do with it. This probably added a couple of years to Asimov's life.

I can only say that the other reviewers here at IMDb have been far too generous. This film is worse than you can imagine.
As a poor student I was searching the video store's budget rentals for something to see. I was beside myself with joy when I found a film version of an Asimov classic. The 25p (40 cents) I spent on the rental is the worst investment I've ever made. Nothing happened in the film. Nothing at all. Then it got dark and the titles rolled. I'll never get those 90 minutes back.

Do not watch this film, unless you are some mad masochist.
Having read the classic sci-fi story by Asimov, I was, of course, expecting something better. In this case, seeing two wheelchair-bound spasmatics fighting each other with brooms and a bucket of manure would qualify as "better". This film was even worse than "A Boy and His Dog", another sci-fi semi-classic rendered horribly on film.

After being told about this film, Asimov reportedly told everyone he could that he had nothing to do with making the film, and to avoid it at all costs. He's probably rolling over in his grave right now just thinking about it.

The filmmakers attempted to portray a primitive society on the brink of technology, but what it looks like instead is that they simply raided the wardrobe closet of a low-budget renaissance festival. All the sets are little more than tents erected in the middle of a desert. Their astronomical "sounding" instruments are seashells and string glued to pieces of wood. (Yes, seashells - I wish I were making this up, but I'm not.)

My only regret is that I actually stayed to see the end of the film, in the hopes that the film might redeem itself with a climactic ending. Nope.

Take my word for it, if you don't like the first five minutes of it (and you won't), stop right there.
Oh, the humanity!

There must've been a budget for this, but it must've been used for advertising! The sets are boring, akin to filming in someone's backyard with no attention to detail. The acting? Well, it's just not really. Continuity of story? Must've taken a vacation that day. Were the filmmakers ambitious? Maybe, but it was a heartless attempt to tell a story with film.

It's not Asimov's fault, rather these film-makers lacked vision.

The other reviews here I can truly say are valid, since I sat through this turkey in the theater, hoping desperately for it to get better. I mean, it had to didn't it? Alas, it never did...

Skip it, go watch the Georgio Moroder version of Metropolis again instead... Or read Issac's story, either way you'll be happier, trust me.
If you did not know the story line is about a planet surrounded by suns and knows no darkness but every couple thousand years an eclipse occurs and pure anarchy breaks out but this movie turns the story into a New Age Northern California Greek play set in the Arizona desert with people running around doing performance art.

David Birney is in this as a leader/astrologer or something that is never quite explained. Sarah Douglas is his former wife who left him for a religion or the religion's leader. Believe me you won't care. But it is nice to see her as something other than a villainess and this the only good I can say for the 'movie.' There are terrible sets, if you can call them that, terrible acting, editing, writing, and music that might have seemed advant- garde for 1979 but is just noise now

The most hilarious scene in the movie is the assassination attempt on Birney, it is something straight out of Ed Wood with the brute assassin foiled by the glare of some quartz or crystal that Birney picks up or it might be the performance art piece that the desert people put on or the performance art that the daughter does after killing someone or Douglas getting her eyes taken out by pet crows or...

If you are expecting a movie based on the Asimov story forget it but if you are a Northern Californian New Ager wondering what might have been then you might like this movie. Not Really.
This... thing... was the most awful 89 minutes of my life... and I'm spinal injured... and I was married for five years to a woman with four spoiled daughters. I seriously don't know why I didn't walk out after the first ten minutes.

The amount of money they spent on this movie (NOT "film") is roughly the amount I have in the mayonnaise jar by my bed. And it's not full yet. Don't know what I was expecting from a movie whose Big Name Star was David Birney. Bet he wishes he'd gone golfing that weekend.

Thank goodness for IMDb, now I know the name of the people responsible and I can ask for my $6.50 back. I'll never see that 89 minutes again though.
This film has great value as establishing a clear example of what a very bad piece of cinema looks like.

I had the misfortune of seeing this film in its brief theatrical release. I had talked my wife into seeing it by emphasizing the Asimov source material,and that the director, Paul Mayersberg, had done "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," and "The Man Who Fell to Earth." I cannot explain what happened to Mayersberg between the time he made these films and the time he made "Nightfall," other than to say that whatever it was, it wasn't good. That he was given the chance to make other films subsequent to this stinker argues strongly against the prevalent stereotype of Hollywood being heartless. Clearly, pity must have played a role in providing him with an additional opportunity.

My impressions: the locations appear to have been Topanga Canyon (although the IMDB lists Arcosante, Arizona), and the costumes (wigs and all) look like they came right out of the Ten Commandments' propman's trunk--probably the first time they'd seen the light of day since gracing Mr. Heston & company's loins.

If Isaac Asimov's surviving kin have any respect for him, they should seek to have his name removed from the credits; whatever the legal cost might be to achieve this, it would be worth it.
If you go to this film hoping to see a well-crafted cinematic adaptation of Isaac Asimov's short story "Nightfall", you're in for a BIG disappointment. The lowest-common denominator of the short story's plot are present (the suns that give the people's planet perpetual daylight are going out, and everyone's afraid of the impending darkness), but everything else seems to have been concocted in the mind of a New Age True Believer taking hallucinogens.

For instance, the people track the paths of the suns beyond the local horizon with "sonar", using a hand-held device that looks like a deerskin victrola. The doom-and-darkness cult that Asimov made only passing references to in his story is the central player in this movie, going to the point of getting their eyeballs chewed out of their sockets by ravens. In the story, the civilization was almost identical to 1930s Chicago without the light bulbs; in the movie, everybody lives in tents and grass huts. The book's scientific explanation of the impending darkness is notoriously absent in the film, perhaps because they weren't expecting their audience to have more functioning brain cells than the filmmakers did.

Asimov's short story would have made an excellent one-hour episode of _The Outer Limits_ if said episode had been made true to the original. The movie is neither true to the original nor well-done in its own right.
Over 12 years later and I still want my money back! Truly the worst movie I've ever seen and I've seen quite a few bad ones (worse than even Bobby Deerfield - and if you saw that stinker then you should really be afraid). It is not even camp bad. It's just plain bad. Awful. Terrible.

Anyone connected with making this movie (and I don't include Asimov because it has nothing to do with his work) should be forced to undergo Burgessian reconditioning.

Don't waste your money. Don't waste your time. Life is too short to spend one second even considering watching this junk. Be warned - you will regret even taking the time to look up the information about this movie.
Spoiler Warning

There is a scene in this movie in which a woman intentionally has her eyes pecked out by birds. Do not let a child see this movie.

The WORST movie I have ever seen. Absolutely the worst. Minus 10. Please do yourself a favor and don't rent it. Read the original story and leave it at that. It is a short story and is NOT movie material. The story by Asimov is well worth reading. I cannot think of anything redeeming to say about this film. I took my kids who were 9 and 12 to see it because I had loved the story and was very excited about taking them. Now, 17 years later, they tell me they were scarred for life by seeing it an they have yet to forgive me. I can't say I blame them.

Avoid it.

It would not be a loss to anyone if every print of this flick were burned.
Someone else who reviewed this film said it best; I'm not sure which is worse, this or the 2000 slop-artist remake.

Even so, I'll say that if I had to pick between the two I'd choose this one, if for no other reason because of its striving for artistic excellence. Note I did say "striving." That's important because the film never achieves it.

Part of the problem with filming science fiction is that one must know what the science fiction story is about before translating it to a visual medium. Like so many mathematically challanged folks the visual artists are unable to calculate that which made the story intrigueing to people in the first place. This comes as no shock as this is the whole reason they went into film in the first place; avoid the math classes, and get an easy A. And it shows.

Science fiction can be allegorical, a simple adventure story, a parable, or some combination thereof. The core story tells of a society that didn't know about the concept of "night." The reason; their planet's solar system had several suns, and it was only rarely that their planet's orbit would expose them to a time frame without sunlight. The story involves the political and social ramifications of the scenario upon the populace.

Both films fail to capture this. And for my money the first is the better of the two, even though it meanders here and there in terms of story and direction. Even so it's well shot and attempts to explore the characters of the film. Again it's important to note the term "attempt." This is largely because the director and screenplay artist didn't have a firm grasp of the world they were trying to present. Largely because they are not the creators of Asimov's work, and therefore were unable to emulate the original author's intent. It could also be that Asimov may have been just dead wrong in his assumptions on his characters.

This film is more avante-garde in its approach, and has a kind of ethereal quality to it. This is rather pleasant, but the film isn't held together very well, and so wanders to and fro with no firm cohesion to compell the audience.

Hence the bad reviews.

Myself, I do kind of like it, but admit to its condescending and incomprehensible execution. Again the blame lies to both director and screenplay artist, whose own sense of purpose for the film created an interesting experiment in cinema, but ultimately only managed to create something reflective of their own lack of understanding of Asmiov's story (among other things).
I must have done something very bad in a previous life to deserve to watch this. Very very bad. If you took plot points between this movie and the book, there would be approximately 0.5% similarity.

make no mistake - this is not one of the fun bad movies, it is just plain bad bad bad bad bad.

Two sex scenes with a fine lookin' woman and they ruined them - b*****ds.

Whatever it was I did, I am sorry. So sorry.
There may be worse films, but I've never seen them. When I saw this movie in the theater the ticket seller actually warned me that a lot of people didn't like it and that I could have my money back if I left in the first 15 minutes.

Unfortunately I watched the whole thing, thinking to myself that it just *had* to get better. It didn't.

The only way that I'd watch this movie again is if my other choice was bamboo under the finger nails.
My wife and I stumbled upon this movie one weekend in 1988 thinking it would be a Sci-Fi thriller. The newspaper ad had a graphic making it look like there would be spaceships in battle, etc. Little did we know that it was the worst movie we had ever seen. I mean, the WORST... the worst acting, sets, screenplay, directing, film editing, music... everything. In fact, this movie is so BAD that people were walking out of the theater. I think it played the next week, but the theaters yanked it out before the next weekend. I've found a copy on VHS and love fooling my friends that it's a 'great epic'. Someone should start a new 'cult phenomenon' like 'Rocky Horror' for this one.
"Nightfall" is truly the worst movie I have ever seen. I didn't actually walk out on this one, but only because I had rented this on video and therefore wasn't in a theater from which I could walk out of. "Police Academy 5" wins the honors of the only movie I have ever walked out of - a movie I only bought a ticket for because the other ones I wanted to see were already sold out. "Nightfall" made me truly appreciate the invention of the "fast forward" button on the remote control.

I saw it sitting on the shelf of the video rental shop, and having read the book by Isaac Asimov a few years ago, thought it might be an interesting flick to rent. The book was pretty good .... I figured a movie based on the book oughta' be decent.

DOH!!! Wrong ... think again.

This movie was in every way, shape, and form a complete waste of time and money by me as the viewer, and whoever it was that in any way contributed to the production of this pathetic film. To be more specific:

  • The movie had almost nothing to do with the book. The book spent a lot of time having in depth discussions of the cultural impact of the darkness upon a society with ever-present sunlight. The movie focused on cheesy melodramatic lines by actors who wanted to look like Fabio, but looked more like the kind of people who hang around outside of the studio of the "Today" show every morning with a sweet potato pie which they drove in their Ford LTD station wagon from Alabama in hopes of giving it (the sweet potato pie, not the station wagon) to the guy doing the weather.

  • The acting was horrible - It is no exaggeration to say I've seen better and more convincing acting in an elementary school play.

  • The gratuitous sex scene was completely unnecessary and lousy - and something that wasn't even in the book. If you're going to have a lousy movie, then at least throw in a decent sex scene that everyone will remember and talk about, to help offset the terrible acting and plot - you know, kind of like any movie with Sharon Stone.

  • The sets were terrible - "Clerks" was made for a fraction of the cost and made better use of the convenience store "set" on which it was filmed. This movie looked like someone got their artistic set design inspiration from a combination of The Flintstones and that "Star Trek" episode where Kirk is running around the desert hills of southern California trying to kill the guy in the cheap lizard suit.

  • Costumes looked like something from Toga Day during high school. I mean, even Julie Andrews was able to make the curtains look somewhat like clothes. I've seen better costume direction in most episodes of "Scooby Doo".

I could go on and on and on about how bad this movie is, but as I sit here typing this review, I realize that just spending time talking about this movie is adding to the total amount of time in my life which I've wasted as a result of renting this movie. Be afraid ... be very afraid. If you see this movie sitting on the shelf at your local video store, rent it only if you're trying to scare off a boyfriend/girlfriend you've been trying to break up with. After forcing your significant other to sit through this movie, you can heap praise upon this pathetic attempt at film making thereby frightening away your potential mate by convincing him/her that you're almost, but not quite entirely, a complete and total waste of time - just like this movie is.
I watched this film with a bunch of friends, and we intentionally rented a bad film just so could laugh at it. But this one was so bad, and so unfunny, and so mind-numbingly boring that we decided to watch it in fast forward. It was much more fun this way. And we could stop to watch the interesting bits like people having their eyes eaten out by ravens. Utterly unlike Asimov's story. Complete crap. It's too long, even on fast-forward.
What on earth makes screen writers think they can improve on a classic?

This film has one thing in common with the Good Doctor's story - the title.

Read the short story -- or, if you really want to be depressed, Harlan Ellison did a script treatment that was published - the film could have been a contender....with a real script
Nightfall is pretty much accepted by the Science Fiction as the best short work of SF ever. Surely therefore it ought to be possible to make a halfway decent film out of it. This certainly isn't it. Although some plot elements are the same, nothing else is. The original story has almost a stock disaster-movie style build up in a society very similar to 20th century America. You'd never have guessed this from seeing the movie. I don't know why such drastic changes were made, but the original style would have made for a far better movie script. This story is crying out for a decent version by a director who has some feel for SF - preferably of the extended version of Asimov's original story co-written with Robert Silverberg.
The temptation to quote the comic shop guy on 'The Simpsons' and leave my entire review at "Worst movie ever" is tremendous, but there *have* been worse movies than this inept and insulting version of one of the masterworks of science fiction.

Not very many, though.

I can only assume that Mayersberg came up with this version based on no more than a one-line plot summary of Isaac Asimov's classic short story. It's inconceivable that he actually *read* it, given what he put on film.

The resemblance to Asimov's original 'Nightfall' is limited, and strictly, to the fact that this culture hasn't experienced a sunset. Other than that, he has taken off on a tangent that, had Asimov written it himself, would have immediately been ripped from the typewriter and consigned to the trashbin.

My experience with this film was even worse, being the great Asimov fan that I am. Had the tape I watched not been a rental, I would have taken it out into the street and run over it several times, ground what remained into a powder, and burned it before it could hurt anyone else. Alas, I had to return it to the video store, there to sit quietly and innocently on the shelf, awaiting its chance to cruelly crush the hopes of a subsequent SF fan.

This movie should only be rented if you're holding an MST3K night and want something suitable for riffing. Otherwise, save yourself the money. It ain't worth it.
Save your money and your time. This was a pathetic, putrid, waste. Asimov's original short story is a classic of the storyteller's art.

What happens when a world bathed in sunshine experiences darkness for the first time in a thousand years?

Leave it to Hollywood to take a good story and turn it to meaningless drivel. To say this was a disappointment is a cosmic understatement.