Tag Archives: science fiction film

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Through readiness and discipline,
we are masters of our fate.”

The exposition for this film (which is more prominently labelled Live. Die. Repeat. on the Blu-ray cover, the tagline from the posters, but retains the Edge of Tomorrow title in the credits), starts even before studio logos have cycled through, with tiny clips of TV coverage explaining that tentacly and clairvoyant aliens have overrun much of Europe and that only the development of new battlesuits has stopped them from crossing over to Britain (and, ultimately, the rest of the world).

Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a US military officer whose job is not to fight, but to disseminate propaganda about the war effort on television talk shows. When a general orders him to cover a large-scale invasion of France from the front, Cage reveals his cowardice and lack of compassion for regular soldiers. All his attempts to weasel out of the assignment achieve, though, is a deployment to the very tip of the charge. Without his rank or job protecting him, and because the enemy somehow knows of the surprise attack in advance, Cage promptly… dies. Horribly. Within minutes of touching down.

And then he wakes up again, a day earlier, with the memories leading up to his death intact. The reason: he came in contact with one of the aliens’ blood during his death. But nobody believes him, so on to battle he goes… to die again. And again. He knows what’s coming, to a degree, but no matter how he changes his ever-renewing present, he still always winds up dead. Continue reading

City of Ember (2008)

In the wake of the first Harry Potter and Narnia films, a lot of studios jumped on the “let’s adapt a popular science-fiction/fantasy kids’ book and hope for a franchise” bandwagon, a trend that seems to have peaked in the late 2000’s (and has since been replaced with a run on “edgy” young adult novels). One of the many resulting movies is City of Ember:

Towards the tail end of an otherwise unspecified apocalyptic event, world leaders make a decision to sequester a portion of humanity in an underground city, cut off from the planet’s surface both physically and mentally (in that children born there are not supposed to learn about the outside world). They leave secret instructions with the city’s first mayor on how and when it will be safe to come back, to be passed on from mayor to mayor. Unfortunately, there’s a break in the chain, knowledge of an exit is lost, and the city’s intended “expiration date” is passed.

This low-information plan is rather daft to begin with, of course, but I guess there wouldn’t be a film otherwise, and I did like the montage that visualised the whole process. And I really love this kind of premise, where the survivors of a cataclysm use old technology handed down by their forbears without knowing where it came from or how to fix it. Ember, the place, has a nicely grimy and run-down look to it given what was presumably a rather low budget. It’s a pity that the rest of the movie doesn’t match the art design in quality. Continue reading

Attack the Block (2011)

Two recent events reminded me that I owned Attack the Block on Blu-ray and probably ought to watch it one of these days: John Boyega’s casting in the Star Wars sequel, and the firing of Edgar Wright as director of Marvel’s Ant-Man, necessitating a re-write of his and Joe Cornish’s script.

Cornish is the writer-director of Attack the Block, which also features Boyega’s break-out role (well, relatively, before Star Wars). The film is set mostly on a high-rise housing estate. On Guy Fawkes Night, said block is attacked by improbably evolved creatures from outer space, with only a gang of delinquent youths to stop them from taking over London, England, and the world.
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

A movie buff might be excused for growing a bit cynical in recent years. Hollywood has betrayed a strong reluctance to greenlight anything even approaching an original idea, particularly when it comes to big-budget blockbusters (or films that aspire to be blockbusters). Their audience hasn’t helped: of the 20 most successful films at the 2011 American box office, 17 are sequels, remakes, reboots, spin-offs, or Marvel superhero adaptations. (For the record: the three remaining top 20 films that year were an animated film made by a popular studio and two comedies that were comparatively cheap to produce and unexpectedly grew into massive hits; the 2011 international box office looks almost identical.) So regardless of quality, these retread films tend to make money. It’s no wonder that studios keep producing them. And it’s not that films related to a previously-established movie universe are necessarily automatically low quality, but the studios can only develop so many pictures at once, and if their slate is full of derivations, there’s not much room for originality.

So when 20th Century Fox announced they were trying their hand at another Planet of the Apes film, many people, me included, were skeptical. In the decade before that, Fox under its CEO Tom Rothman had made an unfortunate, and possibly unfair, name for itself as the greediest and most short-sighted of the major studios when it came to genre films. There was little reason to assume that a new Apes flick would be anything but a blatant cash-grab, making a quick buck by coasting on vague name recognition. The last big-screen sequel was released in 1973, and Tim Burton’s executive-meddled 2001 remake was ill received and still fresh in many people’s minds. There was neither a narrative need nor any kind of public desire for a new entry into that franchise.

Considering all that, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, despite the clumsy title, is an unexpected triumph. It is still not a necessary film, but that was always a given. But I think the people who made it gave a damn, and it shows on screen. Story-wise, they wisely decided not to go to the same well a third time and skipped the probably (ask Burton) not remarkable first Apes movie. Instead, they took the basic premise of the fourth film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and tried to adapt it to modern times and modern technology without being saddled by the continuity that would have come with any straight-up sequel to the original film series.
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Super 8 (2011)

In a time when trailers are prone to summarise large portions of a film’s plot and tend to more than just tease every single big setpiece an action film has, the marketing campaign for Super 8 was pleasantly subdued (for reference, see the rather unrelevatory poster to the right). And despite the many ways to accidentally run across spoilers while using the internet, I remained blissfully ignorant of the film’s exact plot before I started watching it, beyond its very general premise: In 1979, a group of young teenagers in small-town Ohio try to make a movie of their own, but when a military train derails and strange things start happening in the town, they get roped into an adventure far more exciting than they could have thought up for their movie.

It’s nice to be able to be surprised sometimes, and I won’t elaborate on that very general plot description for that very reason. Suffice it to say that, while not perfect (there are numerous contrivances and plot holes), it’s easy to see that Super 8 was something of a personal project for writer-director J.J. Abrams. Of the big-screen films he’s directed, it is clearly the one with the best script.

The movie could have played out as a glorified medley: it is a mash-up of elements from and homage to Steven Spielberg’s career pre-Schindler: components from Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), and the Spielberg-produced The Goonies (1985), are all woven into the fabric of the film’s plot. The cinematography, too, evokes the films made during the time the film is set in (though Abrams overdid it a little with the lense flares, even if I guess that’s his trademark now), and the fitting score by Michael Giacchino is intentionally reminiscent of the work John Williams produced in his heyday.
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