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.

Silent Running

Silent Running is probably one of few sci-fi films to promote environmentalism, despite not having a single scene take place on earth.  In a fleet of spaceships belong to American Airlines, Freeman and his colleagues are supposed to be taking care of a bunch of trees and foliage, the last of it's kind since earth has apparently become devoid of plant life.  Freeman as a deep connection with the trees.  He plants, spends time in the forest, and eats the fresh fruit while everyone else eats pre made slop.  He says that he still does this to avoid become like everyone else, the main problem back on earth.  He says that everyone has lost their uniqueness, and he is doing what he can to preserve his.  At one point, they are ordered to abandon the forests and return home.  Freeman is outraged, and after killing one crew member, convinces everyone he cut the forests loose, even though he they are still attached and under his supervision.  Now, with everyone gone, he is floating alone in space, with only the forest and two robots to keep him company.  He gives the robots names, Huey and Duey, in an effort to silence his loneliness and boredom.  He plays cards with the robots, teaches them to plant, and talks with them often.  Eventually, he is discovered by the other humans after floating around space for what seems like a long time.  Knowing he would return to earth, become assimilated among the cookie cutter people and see the destruction of the last trees ever, he orders the robot to care for the forests and then kills himself.
     The movie doesn't offer any solution for earthly problems, or wow anybody with special effects.  Instead, the movie is both a possible outcome for the future of earth, and a look into the mind of someone obsessed with the environment.  It's clear that this movie was made by people who are at least minor treehuggers.  The fact that freeman would both kill and die to save the trees doesn't present any alternate opinions.  It's hard to believe that this film was intended to spark a debate about environmentalism or convince people to be more 'green.'  For one, all the really obvious product placements take away from any sincere message, and also by having Freeman kill the other crewmember trying to get rid of the forests, the movie makes environmentalists look bad if anything.  Also worth mentioning is the rapidly deteriorating mental state of Freeman as the movie goes on.  He seems a little crazy in the beginning, probably a product of a long travel.  However, as the movie progresses, so does his craziness.  Giving the robots names so they'll take the place of humans would suggest that he's losing his mind, especially when be plays games and has conversations with them.  Similarly to Dark Star, Silent Running's subplot is the internal time bomb of the main characters psyche.  This movie did have some funny bits, but the monologue delivery of Freeman and his unbelievable motivations make this a bit of a chore to watch.

Dark Star

Dark Star is a movie about the boredom and funny tribulations associated with long term space travel.  The crew of the ship, four guys that look like they belong at woodstock, are on a mission to destroy planets that aren't stable for human life.  Along the way they have to deal with boredom, annoying mascots, and worse of all, each other.  Each character has a different way of dealing with boredom.  One guy made an organ out of bottles and other trash.  Another character makes video diaries of himself talking about home and how annoyed he is with the other guys.  One source of entertainment on the ship is the beach ball mascot.  During one scene, Pinback tries to feed it, but ends up chasing it around the ship after it runs away, resulting in a drawn out and awkward moment.  Most of the dialogue in the movie is some kind of argument or one character making fun of another.  The whole plot of having to destroy planets is just a background idea until the end.  One of the missiles used to blow up planets, which also talks, refuses to launch and gets in an argument with the crew and the ship's computer.  After a deep philosophical conversation about the nature of life, the missile blows itself up, killing the crew in the weirdest ways possible.
     After watching this movie, it felt like it was either made by a two different directors, or had a long break in between shooting the first and second half.  The majority of the movie seems like it was intended to be a serious movie, excluding some aspects like the guys' beards and the beach ball thing.  The story and try hard acting seemed like a movie that was aiming to take it self seriously.  The last third or so of the movie might as well be from a different film altogether.   The serious tone was abandoned for a funny, dumb humor approach.  Instead of trying to have deep conversations, the characters started smart talking robots and space surfing.  It was unexpected, but it worked because it was genuinely funny.  The surfing bit was especially ridiculous since the film was so obviously a hippie, stoner movie.  No movie that wasn't made in the seventies would try to be a serious science fiction film, but still let the characters have big, dirty beards.  Also, the whole scene with the beach ball chase seemed like Pinback was tripping on acid or something.  All seriousness and lack thereof aside, the film looked surprisingly good despite having such a low budget.  Some of it was obviously cheap, such as the outside of the ship, space suits, and lack of many rooms or scene locations.  What space they did film in looked rather convincing, considering the budget and the time when it was made.  The parts that did look really bad and low budget only helped the film and it's humorous approach to the genre.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

La Jette

La Jetee is as nontraditional as science fiction films get.  The entire twenty eight minute story is almost entirely told through still images.  The plot centers around a man who was taken prisoner after a war that required survivors the live underground.  Prisoners were subject to experiments in time travel, and when the protagonist is picked as a test, he is told to find help from the past or the future.  The man has a vivid memory of his childhood of a man being shot on a jetty, which is a sign that he is capable of going back in time..  Eventually, the experiment works and he travels to a prewar time and meets a woman whom he falls in love with.  After a number of trials, his handlers instead send him to the future to find a way to help their current situation.  The man gets a power unit from the future people and returns to his time.  After his return, he learns that he will be executed, so in a last ditch effort he contacts the future people and asks to be sent back in time permanently so he can be with the woman.  He ends up back in time at the Jetty where he spots his lady friend.  As he runs to her, one of the scientists who has followed him back in time shoots him.  His last realization is that the memory from his childhood was of his own death on the jetty.
     The most striking aspect of the film is that it is made up of almost all still images.  There is a narrator, but he doesn't speak much and only explains the general plot.  This leaves the viewer up to decipher the images and piece the story together themselves.  One scene in particular stands out in that it features a tiny bit of movement.  As the lady lies in bed, she looks like just another photograph until she opens her eyes.  It almost makes you do a double take since everything before was only pictures.  Also, the narration is very non intrusive.  His voice isn't too loud or accented, and he doesn't speak too frequently or infrequently.  It gives the viewer just enough time to figure out what is happening without getting bored or letting his mind wander.  The overall tone of the film is mystery and wonder, just like the man's childhood memory.  Time travel movies usually have some sort of twist, but when it's revealed that the man's memory was of his own death, heads were scratched.  It makes you wonder if, given the technology, if that would even be possible and what kind of crazy paradox that would create.  That's where this movie is really intriguing.  It has a clear beginning and ending, but still leaves it open to contemplation.

Total Recall

Total Recall aimed not so much to challenge people's idea of memory and humanity, but rather entertain the possibilities of future technology involving memories.  Quaid, played by Arnold, is a construction worker who visits a place called  Rekall to have memories implanted in his head.  These memories are like a vacation that you never took, but remember like you did.  After it seems like the machine fails, Quaid wakes up and believes to be a secret agent from Mars, which was the memory pack he wanted implanted.  Immediately after, he returns home and is attacked by his wife, who then explains that he is not who he thinks he is.  He runs away, gets handed a briefcase from a stranger, and hides in a building to evade the attackers.  He watches a video recording of himself explaining that he really is a secret agent from Mars and that he has to return to finish a mission.  He goes to mars and, after a fight with a bunch of dead guys, finds a women named Melina, who's name was in the briefcase earlier.  Quaid ends up in the middle of a sort of civil war, in which he learns the big bad guy Cohaagen is preventing a source of clean air from being turned on for all of Mars.  After a fight and some more plot twists, Quaid kills Cohaagen and reactivates the oxygen machine, making it possible for the suffocating people in the slums to survive.
     Contrary to Bladerunner, people in Total Recall can decide for themselves to have memories implanted.  If this were in a real life futuristic society, situations like Quaid's in which the recipient didn't know who he was would probably be pretty rare, unless the person was a memory addict or something.  These memories aren't something as profound as an entire childhood or years of someones life.  They are only vacations, a privilege for the (probably) upper class.  Based on the ridiculous amount of violence in this movie, the over the top acting, and the fact that the implanted memories are of trivial things, it's safe to say that this movie was more interested in the 'what ifs' of future technology rather than starting any kind of serious discussion.  Even parts of the movie that could have had some sort of political or environmental message, like the slums and lack of oxygen, are overshadowed by the 80's action movie cliches.  That's all this movie is, a fun and absurd action movie with some decent ideas that are never fully explored or realized.


The question of whether or not memories and emotions make a human a human is central in Bladerunner.  The main character, Deckard, is tasked with destroying four replicants, which are basically robots that have implanted memories and a short lifespan.  Some replicants escaped their home/work turf and traveled to futuristic Los Angeles to try to permanently extend their lifespan.  Deckard first goes to Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation, who has the most knowledge of the kind of replicant Deckard is hunting.  While there, he meets Rachel, a replicant who believes she is a human.  She and Deckard become acquaintances, and she tries to tell him that she really is human based off memories of specific photographs of what she thinks is a childhood.  Deckard offers up a quick explanation, but is nevertheless intrigued.  Meanwhile, two of the replicants, Roy and Pris, end up in the home of a man who is friends with Tyrell.  Roy convinces him to take him to Tyrell, who he eventually kills when he is denied a lifespan extension.  Deckard tracks them to the house, and them promptly kills Pris before Roy returns home.  They fight and run up to the rooftop, and when Deckard is dangling from the edge of the roof, Roy saves him before his life runs out.  The final scene is of Deckard leaving his house with Rachel and, after seeing an origami unicorn on the ground, experiences a flashback of a dream.  It is implied that there is a possibility that Deckard is actually a replicant.
     Bladerunner is like a old western movie set in a futuristic setting.  The sheriff, Deckard, is out hunting some lawbreaking bandits, the replicants.  However, instead of having clear cut good vs evil themes, Bladerunner is more ambiguous.  The movie is about memories, and what role they play in making some human.  Rachel is definitely a replicant, as she said so herself, but she looks, talks, acts, and thinks like a normal person.  She tells stories of her past life, and whether or not that actually happened, anyone but Deckard and Tyrell would likely believe that she is a human.  Because of this, most people would probably think that, for all intents and purposes, she is human.  The film definitely emphasized the more emotional aspects of robot/human debate, contrary to Total Recall which was all action and dead people.  The intent of Bladerunner seemed to be to make the audience question the definition of humanity, and what are the most important characteristics of people.  Clearly, the movie says that memories and personality are more human than looks or strength, and it makes a convincing argument.

Ender's Game

A recurring theme in Ender's Game is the morality of and psychological effects in using violence.  Right off the bat, Ender is getting in a fight he clearly didn't want to be in.  His explanation for this fight would be the main motivation for the commanders picking him as the main student.  He wanted to not only win, but win in a brutal fashion so as to prevent any future fights.  The audience gets the sense that Ender is a warmonger, a reckless and violent kid who just happens to be a strategic genius.  This idea that Ender is a ruthless killing machine persists until the first school when he accidently kills another kid who was bullying him, similar to the one in the beginning.  This is when Ender begins  to question his stance on violence.  He tries to leave the school but is talked out of it by his sister.  In a way, Ender's armor cracks and we see that he isn' so much a crazy warmonger, but rather just a smart kid thrust into a leadership position faster than he can realize what's happening.  It is here where the audience begins to see Ender's tendency to shy away from real world violence, a big difference from the games he played in the ipad looking things earlier.  Later, when he is at commander school, he begins to regain his confidence and vows to finish his training, but his emotional high doesn't last long.  The 'simulation' he is training on is actually controlling real ships and real people.  It isn't until Harrison Ford tells the truth that Ender actually did kill a bunch of aliens that his true personality comes out and he feels guilty and ashamed.  At first, he feels guilty for sacrificing all of the people in order to protect toe super laser, as most of the people in the fleet probably died as a result.  Once that initial shock wears off, he recalls his past communication with the alien queen and instantly feels angry.  Although his mindset earlier in the movie was kill or be killed, his views shifted once he was tricked into winning a war for good.  This is when the movie kicks into anti-war mode.  Ender gives a speech about how what they did to him was wrong, and that he should have been able to communicate with the aliens before any shooting started.  Because he believed that he had some sort of link between the queen, he thought he could have talked to her and negotiated a peace.  This is the main message of the film in his speech: war shouldn't be the first choice of action.  According to Ender, peaceful resolution should always be favored before violence.  In an effort to atone for his actions, he vows to protect the last eggs of the queen and try to preserve the species that he was tricked into destroying.  Even though the moral of the film might be a bit obvious and in your face, it still shows how responsibility and trust can be easily manipulated by people in power to fulfill their agenda.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Having seen Trekkies just afterward, Fanboys went from being just another mediocre comedy with a silly plot to a mediocre comedy with an almost believable plot.  The story is about four friends who travel cross country to break into Skywalker Ranch and watch the new Star Wars movie before it comes out.  The only reason they go is because one of them has cancer and they want to have a memorable trip for him, so off they went.  Of course, they only reason they went is because they are massive Star Wars fanatics, and they couldn't wait for the movie to open normally.  Even though this movie is a work of fiction, people who are super fans of things like Star Wars of Star Trek would totally do something like this, especially if they had nothing to lose.  If nothing else, this movie was made in favor of those super fans.  There was never a scene where you get the impression that the movie was making fun of or looking down on those people.  Even the Star Trek people that chased everyone around the casino seemed completely normal after seeing Trekkies.  Also, because Fanboys isn't really a science fiction movie like the rest we've seen, it was able to avoid the common cliches that many other films have.  However, it embraces the tropes common in other genres of movies.  There's the predictable ending, predictable character death, obligatory bad guys showing up at the perfect time, and annoying older brothers.  Despite the predicable plot, the movie could have done a decent job of respecting the real super fans out there if it wasn't for the terrible humor and jokes.  Whoever wrote the dialogue was either trying way to hard to get a laugh, or had no idea what actually made people laugh.  This movie could have been so much better if it was shot like a mockumentary rather than a straight up comedy, because the comedy part doesn't work.  The cringe worthy humor does nothing to relate to actual super fans and their passions.

Starship Troopers

Starship troopers is a funny take on the militaristic tendencies of modern civilizations, specifically the United States.  A race of giant alien bugs hurled an asteroid at earth and destroyed Brazil in the process.  This causes the military of earth, who apparently are all white and speak english, to retaliate in the most violent and over the top way possible.  As one character says in an implied recruitment ad, "The only good bug is a dead bug."  This mindset is shared by all the soldiers as they fill the alien with a ridiculous amount of bullets.  What is interesting about the movie is that, despite taking place in the future and having spaceships with (probably) giant cannons, the foot soldiers have the tactics and strategies of revolutionary and civil war eras.  They don't take cover and aim, but instead run straight at the enemy, shoot recklessly, and then retreat.  This makes it hard to feel bad when one, or dozens, of them are impaled by the aliens.  Even though the characters have stories and emotions, their complete incompetence contributes to the viewer's lack of sympathy.  Also, based on the aliens ugly, spider like figure, and the fact that they kill by impaling people with their legs, the audience is clearly not supposed to feel bad for them.  In one scene, the group of marines are holed up in a base being overrun by hordes of aliens in what is a scenario similar to the Alamo.  This, and numerous scenes from the training camp part, enforces the notion that these soldiers are expendable.  This is something that has been discussed frequently in the last few decades, with people beginning to question the reason for and value of going to war.  Many people believe that our soldiers are expendable in the eyes of the people in power who stand to profit from wars.  This idea is central in Starship Troopers, as unquenchable bloodlust is favored over discipline and strategy.  Although the soldier's run and gun tactics might just be a way to amp up the absurdity of the movie, it at least unintentionally makes the statement that throwing people into a war without a clear strategy or reason is not a good thing.


Perhaps no other cold war era sci-fi film is as nonthreatening as Them!  Because of nuclear bomb tests, ants have grown to massive size and threaten to destroy the world, kind of.  Although the characters speak of unimaginable terror and destruction, all the ants do is tear down some wooden walls and hide in a hole for the rest of the movie.  The team of characters, led by a scientist and his scientist daughter, plan to kill all the ants in their nest before they can multiply and spread out, but they fail.  Later, the military is called to Los Angeles as giant ants were spotted going into the sewers.  Eventually the military kills all the ants in the sewer, and then wonder how many others are out in the world as a result of other nuke tests.  This film is closely related to the Japanese Gojira movie.  Nuclear tests have created mutated animals that want to destroy civilization.  The only difference is that in Them! there are a lot of ants.  The effects of radiation from the bombs is more evident as there are many ants irradiated.  In Gojira, there is only one giant monster.  The audience might make the assumption that the lizard that mutated into Gojira was unique enough to begin with, otherwise there would be a lot of Gojiras.  They make up for this by having Gojira completely demolish the city.  The opposite is true in Them.  There are so many ants, but they do so little damage to anything.  This might be interpreted as pointing to the destructive capability of nuclear weapons without explicitly showing their actual destructive power.  Whatever the case, have a large number of ants definitely gives the sense that nuclear weapons are a worldwide problem, and not just a singular, local issue.

Another Earth

It wouldn't be a stretch for some people, myself included, to say that Another Earth is not really a true sci-fi film.  Although there is the idea that 'aliens' exist, the movie is more of a drama than it is a science fiction.  The story is about a young girl who kills a man's family in a car accident while looking up at the sky at another earth that mysteriously appeared.  After a stay in jail, she struggles with guilt and tries to decide whether or not to apologize to the man, who has become an alcoholic.  The sci-fi aspect of this film, the second earth and moon, is only a backdrop to the main story.  Eventually, Rhoda tells John that the car crash was her fault, and to try to make it up to him, gives him her ticket to the other earth that she won in a contest.  The movie explains that there is a possibility that peoples' clones on the other earth may have not led the exact same life as their other.  Rhoda thinks that John's family might still be alive on the other earth, so he gives him the chance to find out.  At the end on the movie, Rhoda returns home to find her clone from the other earth standing in her driveway.  This would mean that her other also won the ticket, but didn't give it away.  It is open to interpretation whether or not this means that Rhoda II never had the crash to begin with, or did and just kept the ticket for herself.  While calling this a sci-fi film would technically be correct because there are aliens and alien worlds, this is more a story about guilt and forgiveness that just happens to involve the other earth.
    Having seen the Hunger Games prior to this film, there are many differences between the two female main characters.  Obviously, Rhoda is no warrior or hero type as Katniss is, and neither is she very concerned with protecting her own loved ones.  Katniss was thrown into her situation against her will, while Rhoda's car crash was entirely her fault and avoidable.  Probably the only noticeable similarity between them is that both characters exhibit guilt, but for different reasons.  Katniss feels guilt for having to kill people for sport, while Rhoda is guilty for killing people on accident.  Their own kind of guilt is what makes them choose their actions later in the films.  The main similarity between the two is that they're both emotionally driven and emotionally flawed.  Rhoda tries to apologize to John when she first meets him, but backs out when she sees the state he's living in.  Katniss has a bond with Peeta, but almost compromises the plan to survive to avoid being separated from him.  Rhoda shows in the end that she is a strong character, and not a kind of coward as she has been acting like.  By giving up her ticket and chance to start a new life, she behaves selflessly and gives someone else an ounce of hope, just like Katniss had.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games franchise is well regarded for having both a strong female lead character, and a gripping portrayal of a futuristic authoritarian society.  The movie starts with Katniss out hunting rabbits to feed her family, as she had in the previous movie.  This opening scene sets up her personality and motivations for the rest of the film.  She is not so much interested in fame or popularity, but rather protecting or looking after her loved ones.  This would be shown again many times throughout the movie, however mostly involving Peeta and not her family.  One thing that about Katniss that is unusual for a female main character was her willingness to sacrifice herself to protect Peeta.  Usually in action movies, females have a sort of supporting role in which they are rescued by the male hero or act as a love interest and motivation for the hero.  Katniss explicitly says that she would rather die than have Peeta die, which is a kind of statement usually heard from strong male characters.  Couple that with her physical prowess with bows and she ends look being more of a hero and less of a female hero.  However, she is not without flaws as she exhibits some cliche characteristics usually associated with female characters.  For one, she is emotionally weak when it comes to survival.  Towards the end of the film when she is tasked with taking the copper wire to the beach, she gets upset when Peeta is told to stay at the tree.  Clearly she is trying to protect both of them, but her emotions got in the way and could have caused the plan to completely backfire if she would have gotten her way after all.  Also, when she is making her unplanned speeches to the crowds, her emotions end up almost inciting a riot.  Instead of just reading the preplanned speech that she was told would prevent her family from being hurt, she ad libs a speech about her dead friend from the last movie, and freaks out when the predictable outcome occurs.
     The movie's fictional world plays an important role, not only in establishing the overall plot, but also in representing aspects of the real world.  As noted in one of the reviews, the inspiration for writing the trilogy came from the author seeing both reality shows and Iraq war coverage on TV at the same time.  One was fake reality, and the other was actually happening.  This translated into her writing in the form of the 'games' and the twelve districts.  The games were a way to, in a sense, hide the living conditions of the people, or at least make them scared and intimidated enough to not do anything about it.  The games, for some people at the top of the social latter, are essentially their real reality, since they have no interaction with the impoverished people of the districts.  Another thing pointed out in the review was the opinion that the movie was made to make us people feel better about living in bad conditions.  This is wrong for two reasons.  For one, it's just a movie.  Seeing a fictional story about a revolution and martyrdom probably make someone forget about their own terrible life in the long run.  For the duration of the film, sure, but if right after they go home to a bad neighborhood or to an abusive home, trying to replay the scene where people get executed for starting a riot probably won't help much.  The second reason is that it's just obvious that the movie wasn't designed for this reason.  First and foremost, it is entertainment.  The more subtle meanings and themes seem to be more of a commentary on the brainwashing effect of reality television and voyeurism.  The move was more of a social criticism than a safe place for the imagination.  Even though this reviewer's point was far fetched, the movie was still fun and loaded with messages about the value of today's entertainment and culture.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


     Trekkies is a documentary that seems to be confused with what it's message is.  On one hand, the film shows the intense passion and love that people have for the Star Trek franchise and the lengths they go to make it a part of their lives, and on the other hand, it perhaps unintentionally mocks and shames them for their choices.  The film takes a look at the various Star Trek conventions held around the country and the people who visit them, both fans and actors.  Although the actors are the main reason why the superfans exist, the film focus most on fans of all ages.  This is one of the better aspects of the documentary.  One person interviewed throughout is a thirteen or fourteen year old kid who has custom made costumes and a giant collection of toys and such.  Other people are middle aged or older, like a lady who got known for wearing a Star Trek costume to jury duty.  The director did a good job showing that Star Trek influences people of all ages and generations.  Obviously the teenage kid wasn't alive or able to remember watching the original series, but the newer shows had enough of an impact on him to make him become obsessed with the show, past and present.  One small section of the movie was about fan fiction, similar to what was discussed in the reading.  The text was correct in that most of the fan fiction shown in the movie was written by women.  There was no reason given for this, but one could guess that women might make more of an emotional connection with the characters and have more interest in exploring their stories, or creating new ones.  Most people interviewed or showed in the film were made to look like people who just really like the show and like interacting with the fans.  Some learned klingon in their free time, or organized meetings with other fans.  However they made the show a part of their life, for most of them that's all it was: a hobby.  For some of the people however, the film makes them look foolish or obsessed to a point of unhealthiness.
     During one scene, an auction for a piece or rubber worn on the head of an alien was taking place.  Looking at what was for sale, a non star trek fan would see the headpiece and think it might be worth a hundred or so dollars to a collector.  Someone in a full klingon outfit ended up paying almost two thousand for it.  When interviewed, he said there was no way he was leaving the building without it, no matter the price.  Although we don't know if he is extremely wealthy, I can't imagine most middle class people would spend that kind of money on a tiny piece of rubber that went on someone's head for a brief period of time.  Sure he's a star trek fanatic, but the way he was hell bent on getting the rubber mo matter how much he might have to pay implies he might have some issues.  This guy was far from the most crazy in the film.  One scene that was particularly strange was when a group of people dressed as klingons were talking about volunteering at kids hospitals.  Assuming they wear the costumes while there, which is again implied, they must make the kids extremely uncomfortable if they don't know anything about star trek.  They surely have good intentions and hearts, but scaring sick kids isn't a very good idea.  Even though there were some unusual characters in the documentary, the majority of it was positively shot and a good way to show how sci-fi can change people's lives.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Of all the nuclear apocalypse movies of the cold war era, The Day the Earth Stood Still stands out as being about saving earth rather than destroying it.  Rather than taking a pessimistic view of what could happen as a result of nuclear weapons like so many other films, this one is more optimistic with the future of the world.  Although it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the future of humans are concerned, the plan laid out by Klaatu has some resemblances to communism and other oppressive governments.  He basically says that if the earth gives up fighting each other and threatening the survival of the planet, humans will join some sort of alien community that is constantly watched over by robots like Gort.  However, the robots are more of a threatening presence than peacekeepers of guardians.  The slightest act of moving violence into space would mean the destruction of earth, no warnings or individual punishment.  While it makes sense that this harsh supervision might be the only way to make sure planets aren't blowing each other up constantly, the threat of annihilation as the 'happy ending' seems very similar to people's fear of the Soviets.  Relating to this, one ironic thing about the plot is that the only way to save the planet is to threaten to destroy it.  During his speech at the end, Klaatu tells the scientist people that unless they stop with the nuclear weapons and wars, everyone will die.  The only way to end violence is to threaten with violence as far as Klaatu is concerned.  Maybe he thinks that, because humans are already so accustomed to war and killing, this message is the only one that they would pay any attention to.  While the ending of the film is satisfying since Klaatu isn't completely dead yet, it is also not very happy since there is still a strong possibility that the earth will be destroyed.  In addition to the cold war connections, the film is also a look back at how people socialized in the fifties, something that other sci-fi films in this era lacked.  From Helen letting her young son run around with a stranger that just moved into their house, to her one sided relationship with Tom, the social norms of this time period are shown in detail throughout the film.  However, this movie is unique in that one of the main protagonists is a female, and a rather strong one too.  When Tom refuses to listen to her and decides to get rich, she doesn't back down and go into housewife mode, and instead tells him off and moves on.  Later, she escorts Klaatu to his ship and says the secret code to Gort, effectively saving multiple lives.  Many sci-fi films around this time feature male lead characters, with the females having some sort of support roles.  Helen is, in a way, responsible for saving the world.  By getting Klaatu to his ship, she made it possible for him to deliver his message and warn of the impending alien holocaust.  Helen's heroism and Klaatu's timely message are the main reasons this film stands out among the countless cold war inspired movies of the era.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes is more than just an entertaining science fiction movie.  Released in 1968, a volatile time in America, the film provided a look into the future of the country if it continued then current trends.  More than any other theme, the movie comments on the state of racism in the US.  Other than the obvious monkey connection, it shows segregation and poor treatment of the natives in a similar fashion to events from the civil rights movement.  Some little things, like spraying Taylor and the others with a hose, are direct references to the country's racism.  The general plot lines tie in better with the theme, as shown in the trial scene.  Taylor was brought to trial for no reason, and was told by the judges that his opinions were not valid and he had no rights, as the apes were the master race.  Even though Taylor is speaking the truth, he is treated like a lesser human being, both verbally and physically.  Clearly, Taylor's treatment was a reference to the conditions African Americans were faced with when this movie came out.  For example, the apes forcibly muted Taylor and the natives so they would not be able to communicate or, in Taylor's case, show  that they have intelligence.  This is similar to cases where African Americans were not allowed in schools or were violently harassed when they did go.  Because Taylor is the hero who finally breaks from the apes' imprisonment, it would make sense that the film is more a condemnation of racism than a supporter of it.  Towards the end of the film, the theme of war and destruction comes out.  Taylor has little faith in humanity, as he believes them to be destructive and harmful to no end.  At the end when he learns that people had destroyed their own planet which eventually led to the apes taking over, he realizes he was right in his assumptions.  Although there wasn't much talk of war up to this point, this scene has a clear anti war message.  War wasn't a popular of favorable topic at this time, as theVietnam was was reaching it's height with the Tet offensive happening just weeks before the film's release.  The ending scene could have been a way for the screenwriters to voice their opinions that war will eventually destroy the world.  Overall, the film is both a worthy science fiction film about the future and a commentary on then present day America.

Friday, November 29, 2013

THX 1138

THX 1138 primarily concerns itself with the idea that people will soon be made identical and stripped of identity.  The movie achieves this in multiple ways.  The first and most obvious is the color choice.  Almost the entire city is either white or grey, and the clothes that everyone wears are also all white.  Having everyone look the same, skin color included, makes them seem subhuman and without purpose.  This is confirmed by the scene in which the explosions at the factory kill a bunch of workers who were ordered to stand there and not try to evacuate.  This shows that they are disposable and have no use beyond work.  It is ironic that they are making robots, but they are in a way themselves manufactured to be robots.  The pills they are forced to take is another way that they are made robotic.  They are purged of their emotions and, combined with their letter and number name, forced to work and live in strange conditions.  In a way, it seems like Lucas could have been referencing concentration camps and the number ID that the prisoners were known by. One idea pointed out in the reading is the idea that nature represents freedom in the movie.  The only time we see anything outside of the underground city is the very end when he escapes.  There isn't much nature, only a large sunset and some rocks.  Literally, nature is his freedom because he's out of the city, and also figuratively because there are no trees or plants in the city.  The sunset is the most profound of the scene because it is the most amount of color scene throughout the movie.  Since the entire city, except for the yellow production area, is grey, the orange sunset is a nice change of pace, and considering that it was the final scene of the movie, a very unique conclusion.  The movie also does a nice job of leaving the ending open to speculation.  The audience is left wondering if thx manages to survive outside the city or if he will die.  Seeing as how he escaped all the guards and maze design of the city, he probably could live for a while, especially if the world has any above ground cities.  Although some of the redone special effects detract from the atmosphere, the film is a successful portrayal of what could happen if society is micromanaged and controlled to no end.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Of all the mid twentieth century sci-fi movies warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons, Gojira is probably the most obvious.  Of course, coming out of Japan not long after world war two, the film has a closer relationship with nuclear power than any other film prior or after.  Gojira is a giant mutated sea lizard that only exists because of nuclear weapons testing.  When it destroys the city and kills all those people, it's symbolic of the destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons, of which that Japan knew very well.  One interesting part of the film is the archaeologist who argues that Gojira should not be killed, but rather preserved and studied.  This might have been a way for the film to argue that nuclear technology can have it's benefits other than weapons and death.  It's likely that at the time, this was an unpopular opinion in Japan, if it was even talked about at all.  Ultimately, the majority decided against keeping Gojira in one piece and killed it.  The archaeologist eventually decided that this would be the better option after all and voted to kill it as well.  At the end of the film, he wonders whether or not all the other nuclear weapons tests taking place throughout the world will create other monsters like gojira. This is the main message of the movie, that nuclear weapons can only lead to death and other unfortunate consequences.  Seeing this movie after the Fukushima crisis makes it seem like an ironic prediction.  Maybe if the archaeologist got his way and they studied Gojira instead of vaporizing him, maybe they would have figured out technology to make better plants.  Compared to movies with similar themes, like Them!,  Gojira is definitely more pessimistic.  The ants never killed as many people or were as destructive as Gojira.  While Them makes nuclear technology out to be an inconvenience and something that can be dangerous to a smaller population of people, Gojira is a movie that warns about nuclear power having the capability to destroy the whole world.  If any country other than Japan produced this movie, it would seem less authentic, which is maybe why Gojira's message comes across as a genuine warning

Monday, October 21, 2013

2001 & Gravity

The science fiction genre is home to hundreds of films, each with their own meaning and implications.  Among them is 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece challenged it’s audience to find a meaning among it’s vague plot and unusual metaphors.  Almost fifty years later, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity presents a fresh, more realistic take on the genre.  Using modern technology and a somewhat believable premise, Gravity proved to be the space film that people were waiting for.  Because 2001 was such an important and influential film, surely it would have had an impact on most subsequent science fiction films.  Despite showing some signs of inspiration from 2001, Gravity has it’s own identity, mostly void of direct influence from Kubrick’s film.
 Gravity tells the story of two astronauts trying to return to earth after they are stranded in space by a storm of destructive space debris.   The reason for their predicament: a Russian missile test destroyed satellites and sent them flying towards the space shuttle at supersonic speeds.  Why was Russia in particular chosen to be the indirect protagonist of the film?  Perhaps this was a nod to earlier science fiction films during the missile crisis era.  At first glance, the plot of Gravity bears no resemblance to 2001, a film with no real clear meaning.  2001’s captured the feelings of loneliness and helplessness in it’s man versus machine subplot, which turned out to be a stepping stone toward’s its intention of telling a story of the evolution, and eventual rebirth, of man.  While the narrative of 2001 is unique, the filming techniques and sound of the film were nothing short of innovative, and influenced many films that came after it.
 Throughout Gravity, there were only a couple scenes that could have been inspired by 2001.  One of those scenes was the very first one of the movie.  After the title screen, there is a long shot of the earth rotating.  For a while, the camera doesn’t pan and there is no sound at all.  After about thirty seconds of silence, the character’s radio chatter starts to come in, and gets louder as their bodies and the space shuttle start to come into view.  Although there isn’t  a scene just like this in 2001, there are plenty where there is a lingering shot of something with no sound and minimal movement on screen.  For example, the scene where Hal and Bowman are staring each other down in their own ships had a similar vibe to it, as before either of them talk, there is about a minute of shots of the ships without sound.
     The second scene in Gravity that seemed like a nod to 2001 was toward the end when Stone reached the international space station.  She closed the airlock and took off her space suit and then curled up into a fetal position and just floated there for a few seconds.  This scene immediately recalls the end of 2001 where the giant fetus is hovering beside earth, especially since earth is visible through a small window behind Stone.  Despite not seeing the whole earth to get a size comparison like in 2001, both scenes look very similar.  The purpose of them within the movie was different, though.  In gravity, Stone’s fetal position was meant to show a sense of safety and relief, considering what had happened earlier in the movie.  The fetus scene in 2001 had a completely different meaning since the baby wasn’t flying through space in a death spiral for the past hour.  This is where the specific scene similarities between Gravity at 2001 end.  Other than both of them being set in space, each movie has it’s own style, which is not very much like the other.
     One aspect of 2001 that was surprisingly not a part of Gravity was a lack of much dialogue or music.  It would make sense that, by being alone in space, there would be a lack of dialogue.  Both movies have supporting characters who aren’t present throughout the movie, but handle them differently.  In 2001, Bowman and Hal aren’t exactly friendly, and since Hal can read lips and hear everything, Bowman can’t talk much around Hal.  Prior to their falling out, there isn’t much talking between Bowman, his Colleague, and Hal other than short plot advancing conversations.  This isn’t echoed in Gravity, as Stone and Kowalski have much banter throughout the movie.  Other than talking about how to try to survive in their situation, they talk a lot about other stuff like their lives back on earth and their families.  While they’re still together, they don’t really stop talking, which makes sense since Bullock’s character is clearly having a panic attack throughout the movie.  Even after Kowalski goes away, Stone continues to talk, either to herself or to Houston.  At times, it seems like she is giving a monologue to the camera rather than trying to calm herself down, which does take away from the suspension of disbelief that the movie otherwise succeeds at creating.
     The use of music is also very different in both movies.  2001 uses music very sparingly, with the entire middle section having almost no music at all.  Because Kubrick chose to minimise the amount of music in the film, what music there is really accentuates what is on the screen and establishes the mood of that scene.  The scene after the prehistory intro, for example, shows rotating space stations with a Johann Strauss waltz being played over it.  The music interacts with the movement of the space station, which even without the music appears dance like.  The visual combined with the music really enhances the scene and gives it more depth than if it were to have either no music or different, non waltz music.  Also, the main theme of the movie, Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,”  is played multiple times throughout the film in certain spots where it can elevate the scene.  Because of the grandiose sound of the piece, the scenes that it’s paired with are equally magnificent.  The most obvious example is in the beginning when the monkeys learn to use the bones as tools.  The music hits the forte as the monkey frantically hits the bones, which makes the discovery that much more profound.  The middle section of the movie is pretty much void of any music, as the silence and ambience of space act as the soundtrack, intensifying the eeriness and loneliness of their ship.  The only time music is heard during this time is when Hal sings as it’s being disconnected by Bowman.  Although it’s not as grand as the main theme, Hal’s song continues the trend of music being played only in climactic scenes.
     Gravity is much more like a normal action movie when it comes to the music.  In the beginning, up until the first destruction scene, there is only the sounds of talking and breathing.  It seemed at first that the movie would stay true to there being no sounds in space, other than the characters talking to one another.  After the shuttle was destroyed, and the movie started to become more of an ordinary thriller type, the music became more frequent and present.  Sometimes it was nonintrusive, with quiet string music being played underneath dialogue scenes with the intent of making the scene more dramatic or emotional.  While that is fine, other parts of the movie with large amounts of destruction had music being played loud and almost covering up sounds of the character.  Because the audience already knows what is going to happen by Stone looking at her watch, the music doesn’t heighten the suspense of her almost dying again.  Also, if the movie what have used more sounds of the characters hyperventilating and generally freaking out, it might have been more successful at maintaining the level of suspense throughout the movie.  The only thing Gravity at 2001 share musically, would be the final scene.  As Stone walks out of the water, the music reaches it’s climactic, triumphant section as the movie ends, similar to the main theme of 2001 being played as the baby floats next to earth.

     It’s almost unfair to compare 2001 to Gravity as they are so radically different.  While Gravity favors a more modern thriller formula where the main character survives a near death situation, 2001 is much more nuanced in it’s meanings.  After seeing 2001, you might spend time pondering the meaning of the film.  What does the baby represent, and how does it relate to the monkeys at the beginning, for example.  As for Gravity, the special effects are the redeeming quality of the movie.  The predictable plot and lack of any subtle, deeper themes can be overlooked because of the amazing visuals.  However, being from different time periods, this can be expected.  The end results are two films that are the epitome of their genres that, despite having few similarities, showcase innovative techniques and reflect the time in which there were created.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Throughout Frankenstein, many themes are explored: curiosity, guilt, innocence and creation among them.  The film shows possible repercussions when a man tries to hold the power of the gods.  The doctor's intentions for making the monster are pure enough, he wanted to test the boundaries of science. However, even before succeeding in creating the monster, he has people doubting him and telling him it's not a good idea.   Henry's fiancee and the doctor are the voice of reason until Henry finally realizes what the monster was capable of.  Considering Frankenstein's crazy experiment, his friend's suggestions provide some foreshadowing that the monster won't be a good monster.  The professor specifically tries to tell Henry that a man shouldn't have the power to control life and death.  At first, because he is actually able to complete the experiment, Henry doesn't see a problem with creating the monster.  It isn't until later when the monster starts to accumulate a body count, that Henry starts to see the error of his ways.  The guilt starts to overwhelm him and he decides the only way to prevent any more death or wrongdoings on behalf of the monster is to kill it.  The monster also experiences his own feelings of guilt when he drowns the little girl.  Because he doesn't understand how the world works, he thought throwing the girl in the lake was just a continuation of the game.  When she disappeared, he seemed to realize that he did a bad thing and felt guilty.  He looks saddened by her death, but the feeling doesn't last as he starts attacking people again soon after.  Having these completely different characters exhibit both guilt and personality changes shows the similarities and differences that all people share.  With that in mind, the question of whether or not man should have the power to create life gets more complicated.  Although the movie portrays that question negatively, with the result being innocent people's death, there are probably situations in which life can be created in a morally acceptable way.  The possibility for that will surely exist some time in the future when technology makes it realistic.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Metropolis Critique

     Metropolis is a movie about the struggle for power and recognition in a city divided by wealth and status.  It can be seen as posing the question of whether or not a society can survive by exploiting it's own people.  Ultimately, the answer is no, and the theme transitions accordingly to address the moral ramifications of achieving equality through peace and violence.  Despite being made almost ninety years ago in a time of prosperity in Germany, the film has many themes which are relevant in today's world.
     The world in which the film is set in, despite being futuristic, is largely believable.  The disconnect between the government types and workers, or "head and hands," can be compared to societies involved in slavery, in which the lives of the workers are unimportant to those who benefit from their work.  This is evident in the beginning when Frederson learns of the explosions and deaths in the worker city and shows little sympathy for the loss, as he is only concerned with having ultimate control over the city and those who work for him.  Frederson is an interesting antagonist, as he is responsible for the riots and the floods, but also displays a limited amount of morality when he realized his decisions put his son in danger.
     A phrase used in the movie, "The mediator between head and hands must be the heart," can be seen as summing up the plot of the movie.  Freder, the mediator, seeks to peacefully unite the two parties because he is emotionally involved in both.  Being the son of "the head," and in love with the leader of "the hands," his motivations to avoid violent revolts run deep.  The phrase can also be seen as meaning something else entirely.  The "heart" could be a symbol of man's free will and choice.  Frederson and Rotwang originally want to use robots to become workers, indistinguishable from normal humans, and devoid of a literal heart.  The phrase, which is the last image of the movie, can be seen as the main message of Metropolis: man's free will and ability to think is the most important aspect of life, and leads to a balanced world.
     Seeing the movie in 2013, it can be looked at as almost prophetical, with the most obvious connection being to the world war 2 era.  The city appears wholesome and flourishing, but soon turns to turmoil after the evil leader uses violence to control the population.  Later, after the conflict, the two sides were, at first, still unwilling to come to an agreement, which can be reminiscent of east and west Germany.  Metropolis was a movie that was ahead of it's time, both in production and special effects, and in subject matter and themes.  Seeing the movie in today's world makes one realize how the basic struggles in life never really change over time, as people want a world in which they can make a difference.