Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Film Treatment: Above Ground

Film Treatment: “Above Ground”
Act I 
    Setting: Forest
          A man wakes up in a forest with no memory of how he got there or who he is.  He is wearing a boiler suit with a random number on the sleeve.  As it starts to rain, he walks around to find shelter and comes across a cave.  He goes inside to wait for the rain to die down so he can go looking for help.  He falls asleep and is soon awoken when a group of people wearing all black grab him, put a bag over his head, and throw him in a vehicle.
          The vehicle stops, someone removes the bag and he finds himself standing in a presumably underground building that’s made of concrete.  The same group of people that took him now drag him further into the compound while speaking a language he doesn’t understand.  They drag him into a small room and sit him in a chair next to a woman wearing restraints.  Soon, the door opens and a man in a black suit and tie walks in.  He tells the amnesiac man that his name is David, and that he has caused a lot of trouble.  The man in the suit gives David an injection in his neck and raises a gun to his head.  Before he executes him, David has a flashback and remembers everything.
Act 2   
  Setting: Compound
          David wakes up in his small apartment, showers, and reports to work in the underground compound’s police office.  He receives his duties for the day, which consist of  monitoring people’s thoughts via a neural implant everyone is forced to get when they turn ten years old.  In this compound, which is more of an underground village of sorts, a man who calls himself the President presides over everybody else.  Having only one main entrance,  people are forced to stay within the compound, and are told that the above world is toxic and hostile.  They are forced to work long hours and punished for minor infractions. The president makes everyone receive the implant as a form of control and manipulation.  People like David monitor their thoughts and memories, and report anybody thinking about escaping, rebelling, or not working.
     This day, David is going through the thoughts of a young woman named Anna when he comes upon a memory of a homemade escape hatch that leads to above ground.  Nobody has every successfully made it outside the compound, and based on the compound’s strict laws, this woman would surely be executed.  Despite having a position of some power, David hated living in the compound.  He makes a deal with Anna that if she takes him to her escape tunnel, he won’t report anything.  She agrees and takes him to her apartment where she had dug through the roof up to ground level.
     As he begins to hop up to the tunnel, Anna pulls out a gun and tells him that she was a plant by the president to lure him into a trap.  Because there actually is a tunnel, David knew this was a lie and demanded the truth.  She reluctantly agreed and told David how her memories had been discovered by a different monitor some weeks earlier.  She had made a similar deal with that monitor and took him to the tunnel, but he changed his mind at the last minute and tried to arrest her.  She killed him and managed to get the body above ground so nobody would find it.
     Now that David and Anna established trust, they make their way up to the surface where David refuses directions to the nearest town in case a monitor finds memories of the woman giving David the instructions.  Instead, he tells her to let all the regular people of the compound know about the tunnel so they too can escape. She returns underground to fulfill David’s wish.
Act 3
          Setting: Rural Town
                The tunnel emerged into a field in the middle of nowhere.  David sets off in search of a town or someplace to stay.  After a couple miles he finds a road running alongside a stream, which he follows to a small town.  He found the biggest building, which happened to be the inn, and entered.  He approaches the bar while receiving suspicious looks from all the patrons in the lobby area.  The innkeeper asks David where he came from and why he is dressed like he is.  David, who forgot he was still wearing his compound work attire, complete with number ID on the sleeve, told him it was a costume and asked for a free room.  The innkeeper quickly showed him to a room upstairs.
               David is awoken from his sleep by a man wearing all black who is telling him that he has to leave right now.  David says he isn’t leaving without an explanation, as it is night and he doesn’t know where he is.  The man says that this town is part of the compound, and that everyone knows that he is responsible for all the recent escapes.  Confused, David asks more questions.  The man says there are more compounds out there like David’s that are all run by different presidents, but report to a central government.  He also says that the town they are in is a sort of supply outpost and monitoring station for the compounds in the area.  They have learned that David’s compound had a large number of residents escape recently, and arrested Anna to searched her memories.  There is now a manhunt for David.
               The man, who reveals himself to be a friendly guard who helped the people escape, hands David a pill that will deactivate the neural implant and wipe his memory to protect him from monitors.  David leaves the town and heads for the mountains in the distance.  Once he is far enough away for there to be no noise or light, he takes the pill and goes to sleep next to a tree.
Act 4
         Act one replays itself as David, having no memories because of the pill, wanders around looking for shelter.  He is eventually picked up by guards and taken back to the compound.   He’s led to the room, given the injection by the strange man, has a rush of memories flood into his head, and finally comes to with a gun in his face.’
           David recognizes the man as the president and the woman as Anna.  The president explains that because of David, the majority of the compound escaped through the tunnel after him.  As a precaution, he had the remaining people rounded up and placed under the watch of armed guards.  He explains that when David took the pill to deactivate the implant, it caused a small shortage that was picked up by the monitors, which led them to David’s location.

             The president then offers David a deal.  He says that if David helps him round up and capture all the escapees, everyone will live and David will only be imprisoned for the rest of his life.  If he refuses, the president says he will kill everyone who didn’t escape, including Anna, and let David walk free.  The president tells David that he has ten minutes to make a decision and walks out.  David and Anna exchange glances and the film cuts to black.

Things To Come

Things to Come takes place over a hundred years and shows the effect of rapidly advancing technology, both good and bad.  In the city of Everytown, John Cabal is at home with his family on Christmas when a bombing raid takes place.  The city is destroyed and the movie advances through time to the middle of a world war.  Cabal, now a pilot, shoots down an enemy in his plane and lands to confront him.  They are interrupted by poison gas, and Cabal leaves soon after when the enemy pilot shoots himself.  The movie advances again to after the war, saying that the world has entered another dark age.  In the ruins of a city destroyed by war and sickness, a warlord known as Chief reigns over a small population that is struggling to rebuild their planes and war capabilities.  One day, Cabal lands in a plane and tells Chief of a far away civilization that exists without the concept or war.  Chief has Cabal imprisoned when he tries to get them to abandon their violent way of life.  A pilot from the city takes Cabal's plane and goes to tell his people of his capture.  Later, Cabals people, Wings over the world, drop knockout gas on the city and rescue Cabal, killing Chief in the progress.  The movie again advances, this time to a futuristic, utopian city.  The citizens of the new Everytown begin to riot, stating their disinterest in progressing further as a society and their intent to stop a rocket launch.  Cabal's grandson, the leader of the city, allows his daughter and another guy to go up in the rocket early to avoid it being destroyed by the mob.
     Despite strange dialogue delivery by the actors, the movie had an interesting and ambitious concept.   War and conflict are at the center of the plot, but rather than focusing on the action and politics of the war itself, it chooses to comment on the fast progression of then modern society.The closing monologue simplifies the main message of the movie: human beings should never stop in it's pursuit of progress.  This movie was made in 1934, a time when the world was progressing at a faster pace than almost any other time.  The capability of flight was pretty much brand new, warfare was getting more destructive and gruesome, and world leaders and their politics are getting more complicated.  It would be only natural to be somewhat scared of human progress in this time, especially after world war I and the technological innovations that were used for killing instead of good.  The angry mob at the end obviously represents people's fears with rapidly advancing technology and the ever more complicated world.  However, as Cabal said in the end, "All the universe, or nothingness."


Like some of the more recent films we've watched so far, Moon is equally as much about sci-fi topics like space as well as relationships and psychology.  Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, wakes up on a base on the moon where is works for a company that harvests the sun's energy.  While out in a rover, he has a hallucination and crashes, only to pass out soon after.  He wakes up in the base to Gerty, an AI who tells him what happened and that he should remain inside until a rescue crew arrives.  Sam convinces Gerty to let him outside where he goes to the crash site and finds an older looking version of himself in the rover.  The older Sam recovers back at the base and the two talk about which one is the clone and which one is the real Sam.  Gerty reveals to them that they are both clones of the original Sam.  They begin looking for a way to communicate with earth and their wife because live communications are blocked.  They find satellite jammers on the outskirts of the base and conclude that they are part of some sort of messed up plan by the Lunar Industries company.  Older Sam finds a large tunnel under the base that is filled with many dead and nonliving Sam clones, and realize that if the Eliza rescue finds them together, they will both be killed and a new clone will take their place.  Older Sam, who is slowly dying as his three year contract is almost up, tells younger Sam to take a rocket back to Earth before Eliza shows up.  He returns older Sam to the crash site to be found by Eliza and programs a harvester vehicle to crash into the communications jammer, this allowing live communication.  He gets in the rocket and flies toward earth, and as the credits roll we hear news reports talking about cloning controversy, implying Sam made it safely and brought knowledge of the clones to the public.
     One thing that made this movie so good was the acting by Sam Rockwell.  You would assume that because the movie is about clones, both Sams would have the same personality and way of behaving.  Younger Sam and Older Sam are completely different, pretty much in every way except looks.  This is surely in part caused by the fact that older Sam is slowly dying and losing his mind.  Because of that, he has a more childish attitude, especially when he is being helped out of the rocket.  They have the same motivations, but because one Sam has been on the moon for three years longer than the other, his personality has changed accordingly.  Some aspects of this film relating to Sam's mental state seem like they were influenced by Silent Running and other films like that.  Sam has plants that he takes care of and talks to, and has long conversations with the neighborhood robot.  More so however, is the moment when we see the character change emotionally.  In Silent Running, Freeman has his change while preventing the forests from being destroyed, killing his coworker in the process.  Sam has his change when he talks to his daughter and finds out the truth about himself and his family.  From that point, both characters have a breakdown and become increasingly selfless.  Freeman sacrifices himself for the forest, while older Sam accepts his death so younger Sam can make it to earth.  Overall, moon is an incredible film that deserves a spot on the best sci-fi films ever list.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Primer is a very intense and confusing movie that would be best understood after multiple viewings.  The movie is about a group of friends who make some sort of computer parts in their garage as a side project from their day jobs.  Aaron and Abe decide to start a new project and keep the other two guys out of the loop.  They build a special box filled with argon and some machine parts in an effort to make materials lighter.  Instead, they discover that whatever they put inside the box ages twenty two hours in a matter of minutes.  Basically, they accidentally discovered time travel.  Abe later reveals to Aaron that he built a larger box, got inside, and sent himself forward in time.  He proved it by having Aaron look at Abe's future self through binoculars while standing next to the real Abe.  They then make a plan to go into the future, find out what stocks will go up, go back to the day before and buy shares of the stock to make easy money.  After this, the plot got really complicated and I had to consult wikipedia to make sure I knew what was happening.  After Abe's girlfriend's dad gets sick all of a sudden, Abe decides that the box is too dangerous to exist, and builds a failsafe box to go back in time and prevent any box from being built at all.  He uses the failsafe, goes back a few days, passes out, and learns that Aaron found his failsafe box and is using it as well.  Eventually, they get into a feud which leads to Aaron leaving his family and going to France, and Abe still trying to prevent the entire situation from ever happening.
          Time travel movies are usually more complicated than other sci-fi based on time travel being physically really hard to comprehend.  Primer goes the extra mile and doesn't hold the audience's hand at all through the movie, leaving the viewers to decipher the twists and  turns of the story themselves.  Add in the normal conversation dialogue, which is loaded with big math and science terms, and you find yourself still trying to figure out what happened ten minutes ago.  It is frustrating because it is so confusing, but in a way it is also refreshing not to have the plot spelled out for everyone.  Also, the way in which they discovered time travel makes this movie more realistic than most others.  They discovered it completely by accident, which is most likely how real time travel could be discovered.  Also, the aesthetics of the box and it's rules are more realistic.  They can only go a short amount of time into the future, and are possibly harming themselves in the process.  It was a nice change from the usual mad scientist in his basement, building a time machine to save his dead lady cliche.  Although the guys don't make many major moral decisions when it comes to time travel, the choices they make towards the end definitely make them look like  bad people.  Aaron abandoned his wife and kid and went to France, and Abe swore to never see him again.  That is, assuming that was the real Aaron and real Abe.  I really don't know.

Atomic Cafe

The Atomic Cafe is a documentary about the start of the Atomic age beginning after world war two.  The movie features many film reels of nuclear weapons tests, propaganda, interviews, and detailed footage of their physical and mental impact on people and cities.  The film has a unique brand of humor considering it's basically all about death.  While certainly not downplaying the destructive capability of nuclear weapons, it does spend a lot of time mocking the propaganda and preventative measures used by civilians during that time.  One scene will show a cartoon used to show kids how to hide under their desks in the event of an attack, and then the next scene will show a prop village being completely leveled by a nuke test.  It seems like the documentary meant to show how misinformed many people were in the early days of the nuclear age.  No scene is more in favor of this than the footage of one test where dozens of troops were told to charge into the blast zone right after a test.  They were told the radiation was not that big of an issue, but many of them died as a direct result of that radiation years later.  Other scenes showed US commanders convincing natives of South Pacific islands to relocate to a new island so they can test nukes on that one.  They assumed that the natives would be happy to move since they are a nomadic people.  The film does show how the nuclear weapons helped win world war two and save thousands of lives, but the majority of it is meant to show people that nuclear weapons are a threat to the world and not at all a step in the right direction for humanity.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a unique film of its era because, despite the nods to communism and the soviets, there are no nuclear weapons to be found.  Miles Bennell is picked up by police for acting crazy, and tells his story in the form of a flashback.  Miles, who is a doctor, had been hearing people talk about having their family and friends somehow replaced by an identical looking impostor.  He calls it hysteria until his friend finds one of these impostors in the process of transforming into him.  Now a believer, Bennell tries to warn Kauffman, a psychologist.  Before Kauffman can see it, the impostor disappears, which leads to Kauffman to think that Bennell is become hysterical too.  Bennell and his friend Becky hide out at his apartment as they learn that most people in the town have been replaced and drained of their humanity.  Later, after seeing more of the pods being sent to neighboring towns, Kauffman and Jack, who have been replaced, tell Bennell the aliens' plan to make like more simple by getting rid of emotions.  Becky later falls asleep and is replaced, causing Bennell to take off running to a nearby town to warn them of the impostors.  This is when he is arrested and when the first scene takes place.
     In this film, the aliens destroy humanity not by killing them or destroying their cities, but by getting rid their emotions.  Many other cold war era sci-fi films show the end of the world by communism via nuclear weapons and their subsequent radiation.  This film goes a completely different direction by suggesting that communism wins when everyone conforms to that ideology.  Although the people involved in making the movie denied any purposeful references to the Soviets or communism, there are clear signs of it, intentional or not.  The impostors are implied to be more efficient in whatever it is they do, probably as a result of not being bogged down by silly emotions.  They are all the same person inside, but different outside, which is how they fool Bennell and co.  Because of the unique threat posed in this movie, it holds up better today because there isn't as much competition.  There are so many nuclear apocalypse movies, games, tv shows and such, but not a lot about the world ending by this kind of internal threat.

The Thing From Another World

The Thing is a classic sci-fi movie about killer aliens and brains vs brawn.  An air force team led by Hendry is sent to Alaska to investigate a strange anomaly in the ice.  The meet up with some scientists at a base and set off to find the disturbance.  They eventually find an intact spaceship buried in the ice, and while attempting to recover it, accidentally destroy it.  However, they recover a frozen alien body from the craft and return it to the base.  One of the scientists, Carington, suggests that they thaw the alien out and research it.  Hendry would rather follow his orders and keep it frozen.  During the night, a guard accidentally puts a heated blanket on the alien and it thaws out and escapes.   The alien kills some people, and the scientists cover up evidence of an attack by the alien.  He takes some blood and body parts from the alien back to a lab to do an experiment, all without Hendry's knowledge.  Hendry and company attempt to kill the alien in multiple ways, but all of them fail.  Eventually, someone has the idea of electrocuting it.  They all rig wires and electricity to the hallway floor, and after restarting the generators, lure the alien out to the hallway.  Carrington, still thinking that he deserves to study the alien, attempts to communicate with it but is thrown away.  The alien steps on the floor and is promptly electrocuted.  Hendry reports back to his the camp reporter warns the listeners to "watch the skies."
     The Thing employs all the sci-fi tropes that would soon become commonplace in the genre.  Aliens, spaceships, a not-so-bad guy secretly working for the other side, and the mcguyver solution to the big problem.  The acting and dialogue is surprisingly good in this film, given its age and effects capabilities.  The way the alien was defeated was totally believable, contrary to movies like Them! where the military explores the entire underground Los Angeles in a matter of hours to find the ants.  The simplicity of electrocuting the alien was much more enjoyable than if it was to die another way, like from a flame thrower or some other mcguyver device.  The Thing also has a subplot of military power versus science and reason.  In this case, the military are the level headed, reasonable ones.  In other movies, the military is made out to look like the bad guys, choosing bombs and guns over a more humane or less destructive solution.  Here, however, Carington's plan is ill thought out and dangerous to not just the camp, but the rest of the world.  Hendry's solution is the only realistic one if he wanted to contain the situation and prevent any more deaths.  Although this conflict isn't as blatant as say The Day the Earth Stood Still, it does highlight a theme that would be used by many more sci-fi films in the future.