Jerry Cornelius and the Final Programme
More of an idea than an actual character, Jerry Cornelius was created by the fantasy novelist Michael Moorcock as the star of numerous short stories and novels. The novels have a kind of dream-like logic and often jump from one instance to the next, creating a very unique reading experience. In many ways it was one of the most successful experiments to combine the feel of pop music with the material of sci-fi. Each story involved our ‘hero’ Jerry Cornelius acting as an agent of chaos, causing untold amount of destruction while having illicit sexual encounters and munching on sweets. In short, Jerry Cornelius was a teenage boy’s dream.
In 1973, director Robert Fuest of the Vincent Price films The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again, worked on a film adaptation of a Jerry Cornelius novel, the Final Programme. Utilizing his brilliant sense of color and design, the film appears to be a long lost cousin of Doctor Who and the Avengers after a long night of drinking absinthe and eating birthday cake. It’s like he made it just for me and I’m touched.
The plot of the film involves the rakish dandy Jerry Cornelius getting wrapped up into raiding his homestead after the death of his father to wrest something called the final programme from the clutches of his insane brother Frank… with Jerry’s beautiful sister caught in the middle. Jerry’s family is more than a little disfunctional. The programme developed by the departed senior Cornelius proposes to contain the design for the perfect self-replicating human being, bypassing numerous stages of genetic development. As humanity is depicted as being on its last legs, this could be the only hope for society… not that Jerry really cares. After a failed attempt to overcome the house’s defenses and brother Frank’s cunning, Jerry Cornelius pairs up with the shady Ms. Brunner in her search for more information. People have a habit of disappearing in Ms. Brunner’s company which hints of something sinister at work, but Jerry is still determined to bed her.
The movie culminates in the retrieval of the programme and Jerry is tricked into being a part of a grand experiment to create the perfect being, which involves Jerry Cornelius and Ms. Brunner being melded together into one being. This is the chief difference between the book and movie and apparently the sole bone of contention that Moorcock has with the film. In the book, the perfect being is a vampish hermaphrodite yet in the movie the being is a hunch-backed Neanderthal who makes Humphrey Bogart references. Personally I think the film ending is hilarious whether you know of the novel’s finale or not.
The character of Jerry Cornelius has popped up in many other works, sometimes with the author’s consent other times not so much. The character Gideon Stargrave in Grant Morrison’s Invisibles for Vertigo is viewed by Moorcock as nearly a rip-off with little of his own individuality (which I think was the point). The Image Comics series by X-Men writer Matt Fraction with Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon shares many ideas and intents but is obviously an homage rather than a steal of the idea. Even the character of TV’s Jason King has certain Jerry Cornelius-like characteristics. A dandy, gun-happy, sexually omnivorous super assassin is apparently too good an idea to not use.
Feust’s Final Programme isn’t a perfect movie, but it attempts and mainly achieves the task of adapting a fictional adventure story into a movie while retaining the feel of the original and keeping a plot in place for the movie audience. It also has such a unique visual sense, something you’d expect from the eye-poppingly gorgeous work he delivered on both Dr. Phibes flicks. A bizarre and decidedly British sci-fi movie, I heartily recommend the Final Programme as essential viewing with a tall glass of Chimay and a sugar puff sandwich.