I saw X-Men: First Class last night. It was a good, solid action movie with stunning special effects. It moves and kept me interested. It never had me on the edge of my seat. It’s an origin story– it has to go through certain details to collect them all–but it doesn’t do it very interestingly, in my opinion. It also has trouble with multiple characters, having a hard time giving them much development. I thought the original X-Men did a better job at giving each character a moment. While Wolverine, Rogue, Dr Jean Grey, et al have their moments to shine as characters pre-Xavier, we don’t have that in this movie. Here, we barely know anything about Banshee, Beast, Raven, Angel, Darwin, Havoc. They are more about what they can do than who they are–though they hint at something deeper. In all, it’s a pretty good film, but not an amazing one. Enjoy it as an action flick.
Janelle Monáe and Science Fiction: Metropolis, Freedom, and the Other
I like finding science fiction in odd places. Janelle Monáe is a genius. Think if the Archies had been a ska band with a funk lead singer. But she’s more than that. She’s also a brilliant storyteller. Her “Many Moons” reimagines the beginnings of science fiction cinema, Metropolis. She gives the silent film Metropolis the soundtrack it needed. For Janelle, Metropolis is about many androids now…and there are comments on slave auctions, blaxploitation, and the lack of freedom–for anyone. For women, for minorities, for humans in a world overcome by technology. There is no fear of androids in “Many Moons”—but even I would think that at the corners of the movie Monae makes, there is jealousy at the perfection of the androids, and even a bit of jealousy when Cindy Mayweather erupts in a spasm of freedom, or is it a spasm of realization that she is not free…. all I know is that she breaks loose and begins to dance, dance so high, that she short circuits. But the crowd is in ecstasy with her.
Monae has certainly looked here at humanity as commodity. She’s done it with brass. And artistry. She’s even mixed in a bit of Sesame Street.
I like finding science fiction in odd places. And this small film is beautiful. It’s got solid worldbuilding where she’s imagined, in one scene, the state of society. The characters all have the hint of well-developed backstories; they have desires, weaknesses, past confrontations. Cindy Mayweather grows as an android/character. Her growth, perhaps, comes from her realizations–of the names that keep her as Other. The names are not androidish—they are names leveled at minorities. Check out the Cybernetic Chantdown after the break.
TRON: Legacy needs a CLU, gets a “journey without a goal”
I wanted to like this movie. I have such fond memories of the original TRON. It was ahead of its time in many ways back then, and probably a little cheesy too… It was wrapped up in religion a bit, which wasn’t bad— it gave programs a “culture,” a “faith.” TRON: Legacy has kept up with the digital explosion in movies and taken it to grand heights, but it abandoned good writing and good characters along the way. I found it hard not to roll my eyes, and even with such great visuals, found myself bored during the last quarter of the film. How did they fumble such a beautiful opportunity? I don’t know, but I have some ideas. I offer these up for consideration. I’m no Roger Ebert (but I’m a huge fan, Roger) but I think most critics have already agreed that the plot lacks something. The original TRON received 69% on the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes, the new Tron 49%. Though, oddly the audience seems to like the second one more. Critics agreed the light show and “glitter” are fun, and who can beat that soundtrack? I loved the light show, the competitions, the music, but the plot is an epic fail.
Desperate Times Call For Desperate Magic: A Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt 1. is a good film–a solid film, giving a good arc and screentime to all three of the main characters, and a host of others. There’s plenty of action, but this film also takes time to develop the story and the characters. I stood in line at the Yukon Cinema for two hours to get in to the first showing (-10 C)–so my standards had to go up for how good this film had to be. And I felt like, in the end, it was worth it.
You know the premise: Harry Potter and team are on the run from Voldemort. Nowhere is safe. Harry is out to find as many pieces of Voldemort’s soul as he can and destroy them. We aren’t at Hogwarts anymore. But the lessons, it seems, still go on–and the grades are worth more.
Some small spoilers follow—but nothing major. Read later after you’ve seen the movie. It’s just me talking about the really cool character arcs–but I do a bit of telling what characters do.
I was pleased at how much this film is about Hermoine. The opening sequence has her erasing the memories of her from her parents’ minds, and also from every picture in the house. She has, in effect, erased her existence in the Muggle world. The film highlights the extreme displacement the kids feel by not being in Hogwarts, and you feel it too. The camera shots from above the various geographies, rotate just slightly, giving you the feeling of being lost. And these students are lost, very lost. They are on the run, and no place is safe. Hermoine guides them through past memories of her childhood, and the movie plays out as a backwards rendition of those memories she has erased. Each place they disparate to, or jump to, is a place she alone remembers from her past. When she is tortured in the film, we realize how much she has always been in potential danger at Hogwarts, especially because she is Muggle born. While Draco Malfoy always carried the racism and bigotry into Hogwarts, because he was a child–he had no power to enforce that bigotry, and we assumed that it would be knocked out of him. Hogwarts has obviously failed a few times to instill responsible and compassion in its students. Voldemort carries this much farther. On a purity spree, he is trying to subjugate the world of Muggles under wizardry control. Hermoine represents muggles on the run, Muggles fighting back. She even helps save another Muggle-born woman who has been stripped of her wand in a courtroom scene straight from the Inquisition. We know that the imperative for the wizards getting back in control of Voldemort is to save mankind, not just themselves. And we realize that the last six books were about Hogwarts, a school that taught morality and self-control to people who had great, destructive and constructive powers. Hogwarts is what stands between wizards and witches taking over the world–young wizards’ and witches’ education is paramount to our safety.
Ron has a great arc as well, as his whole family is left fighting against Voldemort while he and Harry and Hermoine are trying to find the horcruxes. Every day he listens to the radio to see if his family is okay. And every day they don’t find a horcrux is another day that he isn’t doing something to stop the war. He feels guilty that he’s “doing nothing” and doubly guilty because he gets to be with the woman he loves all the time. This turns in him, and with the help of an evil horcrux which amplifies those feelings of betraying his family, it causes him to rage against his friends, and make a big decision. It’s a huge move for a major character. We know part of is the horcrux, but part of it stems from six books of Ron Weasley being seen as less than all of his siblings, and standing in the shadows of Harry Potter. He now has to play the hero–and while he wants to so badly, there’s a fear that it’s always just “playing” and that this playing is actually taking away from a larger duty he owes his family back home. His arc represents, to me at least, the wizarding families and the freedom they are likely to lose if Voldemort wins, and the sacrifices they make to keep people safe.
Harry, though frustrated as a leader, has a lot of moments to make good and bad decisions as he goes. I like that he learns that his friends are doing the best they can. They are counting on him to know what he’s doing–and sometimes he does and sometimes he’s just an 18 year old who is figuring things out as he goes. I like that he’s learning to be a leader here under trying circumstances and there are moments in the film that he shows how good of a leader he can be. We know the final film will explore even more of Harry’s character, and Dumbledore’s. I wonder how much they’ll bring out the relationship between Grindewald and Dumbledore. I’m very excited to see how Harry reaches what he has to reach in the next film.
Even though this film deviates from its normal Hogwarts school year–I was pleased to see that the way the earlier films marked the passing of time was kept in this one: holidays. So even though you are on the run, Harry, you still mark time the same.
Deathly Hallows does have some overtones of Lord of the Rings, as Harry searches for multiple objects, so that he can destroy them. The scene interrogating Creature about a locket gave me Gollum, Frodo, Samwise feelings all over the place. And the dream sequences of seeing Voldemort closing in on various people acted like Sauron’s eye in reverse.
And then come to the middle of the film, I was surprised and charmed to find such a finely animated film inside. When the story of the “Three Brothers” is read aloud by Hermoine, the film indulges in a beautiful moment of cinema. I was entranced. The short segment is worth its own short film status–and I would definitely be interested in seeing a film like this made from the stories in Beetle the Bard. If this was the director’s way of seeing if we’re interested in seeing that film–let me be the first to say, yes.
Overall, the film far exceeded my expectations, in that it brought out threads that resonated with the first six films, and managed to find humor in the darkest book of the HP series. It also gave such meaty character building parts to Ron, Hermoine and Harry–just when you thought you knew them, now you see them grow again. This is the perfect culmination movie.
Kudos to the folks at the Yukon Cinemas for decorating the theatre, keeping peace, for filming the line, and asking us trivia questions for prizes. Thank you for threatening any person who had cellphone nonsense during the movie with immediate expulsion. Please do this for every movie! 🙂 I’m very proud of our how well Yukon Theatre did with the massive crowds, and regulating traffic. And they were all dressed in Hogwarts robes! Priceless.
Is There No Wonder in Wonderland? A Review of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
What do you want when you get down the rabbit hole? Burton begs this question in his version of Alice in Wonderland. Folks will probably enjoy the visuals–they are delightful to watch. But in this age of CGI, there’s not as much fanfare left for special effects. It’s coming down quickly to who tells a good story, and I want to examine Burton’s story here.
What I like about the story of Alice in Burton’s Wonderland is that we get a detailed look at Alice’s life before the rabbit hole–especially her cloying debutante-shuffling world, where so little was expected from women, and so much was expected from their cooperation. I like the summer dance on the lawn, the hordes who like to watch when she’s proposed to. I like Alice. I liked that narrative so much that I was expecting more of it when we got to Wonderland and it wasn’t there, not immediately anyway. When I realized that Wonderland was reflecting her own re-vision of a forced duty, then it got more interesting–but that time in Wonderland feels off.
Two things happened when she got into Wonderland. I got confused, and Wonderland was reduced to a strip of land between two kingdoms. The premise of this movie is that Alice has been here before. In fact, she has recurring nightmares throughout her childhood and young adulthood, and yet nothing in Wonderland sparks her memory? Even a memory of the dream? I don’t buy it. If I was haunted by something, I would start recognizing people and things. She acts like she’s never even SEEN the place. Why doesn’t anyone try to jar her memory when they pull out the Calendria? (When we do see her previous journey in montages it looks vaguely like the same plot…and boring)
This plot seems very focused on the end of the movie. It’s like one big long foreshadowing. She has to fight the Jabberwocky–everyone tells her this. All the beautiful weird dialogue of Lewis Carroll is gone, pared away to focus on an ending that’s so inevitable we might as well have just skipped to the end. All the characters are focussed on Alice. This is so unlike Carroll’s version where everyone was focussed on themselves. Alice was merely observant. Here she does only what we expect her to do; she goes through the motions of the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence, a moment with the Mad Hatter, a second with the Cheshire cat. She’s not even curious anymore. Where’s Alice–Carroll’s Alice?
Wonderland really takes on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, two queens that duked it out after Henry VIII died. I didn’t buy the petty rivalry of sisters. What’s there to fight over? Two courts, fully intact. The flashback involving the Jabberwocky smoking a White Queen party—well, there weren’t any consequences. The White Queen had a new castle, attendants, and enough white to choke the Arctic. I didn’t get the queens at all. There’s no reason for them to be upset, and in fact, the White Queen seems devoid of any will to fight–she has to be saved. Her court resembled the starchy-white English party Alice just left. And we hated that.
Remakes where characters revisit their original stories can be good. Hook is an excellent version of the grown up Peter Pan visiting Never Never Land. The script was brilliant. Burton’s Wonderland has very little wonder left–even for the characters involved.
Yes, Carroll’s original story is obtuse and playful–it isn’t easily figured out. But Burton scrapped the multiplicity of places in Wonderland, the depth of odd characters, and Alice’s curiosity in favor of a plot. If you’re going to put all your money on a plot, it better work. This one is so muddly in the middle, I just waited for there to be a reason for Alice to do something….until we see her realize that everyone is telling her what to do–in both worlds, and then she goes and does something else. But it’s not enough. She hurries through the epilogue in the world’s longest/shortest “I need a moment to think.”
I liked Burton’s rescuing of Alice’s real world experiences—though she doesn’t talk about them much in Wonderland any more. I like the ending, I like the beginning, but her time in Wonderland plays like nobody wants to be distracted by wonder anymore–they want the big battle. Carroll’s Wonderland was about the wandering, about the figuring things out, about the wonder— but this one had few choices for Alice, a lot of inevitably and no wonder.
A Biologist’s Ecstasy: ‘Avatar’ Awakens Joy of Seeing the World Again
This essay over at the New York Times explains ‘Avatar‘ from a Biologist’s point of view. Carol Kaesuk Yoon is encouraging everyone who ever loved biology to go see Avatar purely for the wonder of seeing Life.
Please excuse me if I seem a bit breathless, but the experience I had when I first saw the film (in 2-D, no less) shocked me. I felt as if someone had filmed my favorite dreams from those best nights of sleep where I wander and play through a landscape of familiar yet strange creatures, taking a swim and noticing dinosaurs paddling by, going out for a walk and spying several entirely new species of penguins, going sledding with giant tortoises. Less than the details of the movie, it was, I realized, the same feeling of elation, of wonder at life.
Perhaps that kind of potent joy is now the only way to fire up a vision of order in life. Many biologists of my generation (I will be 47 this month) were inspired to careers in science by the now quaint Time-Life series of illustrated books on animals or by the television program “Wild Kingdom,” rugged on-screen stuff for its time (“Now my assistant Jim will attempt to sedate the cheetah”). But maybe that isn’t enough anymore.
Maybe it takes a dreamlike ecstasy to break through to a world so jaded, to reach people who have seen David Attenborough here, there and everywhere, who have clicked — bored — past the Animal Planet channel hundreds of times without ever really seeing the animals. Maybe it takes a lizard that can glow like fire and hover like a helicopter and a staring troop of iridescent blue lemurs to wake us up. Maybe “Avatar” is what we need to bring our inner taxonomist back to life, to get us to really see.
If you are a science fiction/Fantasy writer, you’ll want to pay attention to the world-building done here. Rarely have I seen world building done so well at the biological level, in a movie. The plant and animal life here make sense together. It’s not an anything goes style—if you check out the movie purely from that biological angle, you see a world that fits together well.
And that’s something to take notes from.
Flashforward: the Excellence that “Knowing” could have been
Watch Flashforward, Episode One
Robert Sawyer’s Flashforward has been made into an ABC miniseries. It is a masterpiece. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how faithful the series is to the original book, but the book won an Aurora Award.
The premise is that everyone blacks out at the same moment for 2 min and 17 seconds. In that time, they glimpse their futures. When they return to the present, mass chaos has already happened. Planes fell from the sky, cars crashed, trains derailed. People died, lots of people died. Everyone had blacked out, so no one was in control of all those vehicles.
The main characters, and there are several, include two FBI agents, a surgeon, a man who lost a daughter in Afghanistan, a doctor about to commit suicide, and several others. The series will be about them either trying to avoid their futures, or trying to get to them, depending on what they saw.
Oddly enough, the date they jump to, April 29, 2010, will be the season finale of the show–and at that moment you get to see if they reenact their futures or not.
Obviously, I don’t know how they can carry this through after that episode…BUT, I’m thoroughly pleased with watching till they get there. After this first episode I know that we have a great team of writers involved.
Now, this is what “Knowing” should have been. In my original review of “Knowing” I talked about how the movie, though predicting disasters, left very few for the main characters to experience, and I was troubled by the fact that it seemed the directors had determined that no one could change anything, so why bother. That movie dripped with errant theology and left no doubt that everything was predetermined. I don’t mind that fate or God may be a part of my life, but free-will is a human trait,and makes movies much more palatable. To see someone struggle against their fate, to see them try. It is what makes those who are given two weeks to live all the more heroic for skydiving or organizing a political rally. How we react to what seems to be inevitable–THAT is interesting.
Already, I can tell that the show has set up five or six different beliefs about pre-determinism. Some believe God gave them a gift, others that He gave them a punishment. Some want to avoid the future, some to run to it. For some it predicted a horrible mistake they will make.
“Knowing” passed up all opportunities for real drama with real people, skidded ahead with bad dialogue and coincidence, to an ending which tried to justify the movie.
Flashforward is like Mozart taking hold of the Salieri “Knowing” and actually making a great movie out of it. Yes, I know, Knowing only had two hours…but still, this series is good solid writing.
1. The characters are individuals, who walk onto the scene with their own problems, their own pasts. They are well drawn and WHAT they do will determine the plot, not what others do. Now that the big blackout is done, the characters guide the series. They will push things forward accidentally or on purpose to meet up to April 29th. They will determine their plots!
2. Great dialogue, great stuff that isn’t about “the plot”— that Dimitri has to dance at his wedding to “Islands in the Stream.” That the chief of the FBI has to lie about his vision because he’s embarrassed.
3. The plot starts with the action. I can imagine this series beginning without the crash first. But who would have waited the whole episode to have the blackout? Nope, have the crash first, back up, and then take it slow. Maybe this is just the difference between TV and reading….but I think starting as fast as you can into the action gets people involved with you. I noticed in Robert’s book, first chapter, that he has a description of each character first…but within a page, he gets to the blackout. He knows the blackout is a great hook, and that everything of importance happens afterwards.
4. I like the music in this series, already, the building, the back and forth between plots so quickly so that you know they are happening simultaneously–the music and this choice to flash around gives you a sense that everything is tied together. In some sense it is like a trailer—when the trailer starts shuffling between images so fast that you get excited: all trailers seem to end this way these days. The director took the music and that shuffling sequence to build suspense.
I hope Robert Sawyer makes a huge amount of cash from this. This is brilliant stuff. And I’m glad to see a Canadian Science Fiction Writer land such an opportunity. I hope they do more interviews with Robert Sawyer in the States.
Well, I will keep watching the series. I’ve already become a HUGE fan.
Realistic Science Fiction: District 9
This is an amazing film, both for what it sets out to do, and for what it accomplishes. Taking the form of a documentary, it brings science fiction as close to real as I’ve ever seen it. It is the documentary form, I think, that convinces a viewer that this is happening, or has happened.
The film is about what would happen if aliens came to Earth powerless and malnourished. Human kindness would collide with our own aversion to aliens and suddenly you have camps where the aliens are kept. It’s a brilliant stroke to make this set in South Africa and not New York or LA or London.
This film will surprise you at every moment. I found myself, a film junkie, a sci-fi enthusiast, completely unprepared for where the movie would take me until it took me there. The writing is superb. You can’t find a traditional plot here anywhere.
Certainly we’ve come to an age where we can make special effects seem real—Peter Jackson, the producer and Neill Blomkamp, the director, have gone out of their way to make you see the special effects as realistically as possible. Yes, the insectoid aliens are CGI, but there’s not a lot of special effects here that are obvious. God bless ’em, effects are being smoothed into a film now.
This is not a mockumentary, whose job it is to make you laugh; it is filmed as a documentary to trick your brain into accepting its premise. And it works. I remember reading Dracula by Bram Stoker, as a kid. And I hated the diary parts—but it is the story in letters that make that novel all the more horrifying because the author didn’t want it to seem like fiction. They wanted you scared because these were actual letters. It was more creepy to do it that way. And this film, using documentary style–down to the archived tapes, the dates at the bottom, the steadycam moments–makes you think that someone pieced this together from twenty years of real footage. Some of it is grainy, some of it is blurry.
If you want realistic science fiction, you blend the techniques and technology we have now with the strange and possible technology; you bring in recognizable cultural reactions (the Nigerians scamming the aliens), historical patterns of behavior (Nazi experimentation), all without winking at the audience. Letting them react. They will think it’s real–because you have torn away what they expect in a movie.
You expect a hero. The main character is an idiot, really. So, he’s not Bruce Willis. He’s not super-intelligent, and rarely does the right thing. But what an interesting character! Again, if you are going for realistic science fiction, your main character may not be the best man or woman on the planet–but they are pivotal and they can learn. A learning character is all you need.
The movie is brilliant on many levels. It works as a science fiction thriller, yes. But it also works as a metaphor for immigration, for refugees, and for the slums that are in South Africa. Anytime a people are empowered over another people, stupid things happen to us. The main character of the movie really is us–as we treat other people as alien. That shift of power is the focus of the film, I think, and makes the most poignant statement. Given the right circumstances, human kindness can become dispassionate, cold power.
And what it takes to regain a sense of humanity, perhaps, is to lose it altogether. But I won’t spoil any of the movie. I’m so thrilled with the movie, I know that sci-fi junkies will love it and I know people who prefer realism and a smart script will love it.
I also know that if you have a passion for oppressed people in the world, and the injustice present in nations around the world who have subjugated another race, then you will also find the reflection of that, and the reflection, maybe, of hope.
Star Trek: Playful, Exciting, Character-driven
Star Trek has come a long way and just when you thought there were no surprises left, they show up. I’ll admit, the last few Star Trek movies left me cold. Nemesis bombed because the writer tried to copy too much from ST2 but without any of the heart. Insurrection was a trite story line. Abrams’ Star Trek reinvigorizes the franchise by giving us both old and new–it completely satisfies this Trekkie.
If you go, you will get a thrill ride, and you will also be reintroduced slowly to characters you thought you knew. Yes, everyone looks young and the sets look like Apple designed them, but that’s what it means to restart the series. You will get your money’s worth from this movie. Most people know these characters even if they aren’t fans–but they are reintroduced to us here in great detail. And there’s lots in here for fans of the show–little touches that show that the writers know the whole series.
I’ll try to keep out all of the surprises. But you already know that there is time travel involved, and it shows up at the very beginning. And because of that, events are altered. “Our destinies are not what they would have been,” says a young Spock. This is okay. Star Trek has thrived on the “might have been” storylines. The Mirror Universe got a lot of play in nearly every incarnation of Star Trek; Tom Riker was a might-have-been Will Riker; Voyager had the two part episode “Year of Hell” and the Finale which changed and altered timelines. Even ST: First Contact imagined a Borg-filled Earth. So, it’s nothing illegal–it just gives the writers room to wiggle. They got to play a little with the histories–legally –because a villain altered the timeline.
But that’s the premise. The cool part of the movie is not what they changed, but what stayed the same. We get to see some fine actors inhabit these characters and manage to put a bit of the former actor’s style into it. You watch Chris Pine–slowly he becomes a bit of William Shatner; Quinto is a fantastic Spock. I swear I can hear Kelley in this new McCoy! Uhura shows her inner Nichols in a turbo-lift. Sulu, Chekhov and Scotty all have their moments of channeling as well. But the writers also let the actors play—play with these histories and parts.
The plot allows each character to be introduced separately. This is a brilliant maneuver. instead of just dumping them all on the stage at once, we get to know each character in their context. We meet Kirk and Spock as children, Uhura in a bar, McCoy on a shuttlecraft, Scotty in a Starfleet Outpost, Sulu as a pilot and in a fight, and Chekhov in a funny homage to ST4.
I wish Wolverine would have been this good. This had just as much action as Wolvie, but ST had a unified plot, and well-developed characters we thought we knew completely. In the same way Wolvie failed–by being a prequel with no surprises at all–Abrams managed to give us a bit of parallelism in the lives of these characters and the ones we already know. And there are so many great and interesting surprises–what ifs–that are allowed to play out.
This is what revision should be. The series was great, but Myth can revise a story and get to its essence, even if the details have somewhat changed. I can accept both Roddenberry’s original and Abrams’ version–because this isn’t an arbitrary version. It fits in with the timeline because Nero changed the timeline. I’m cool with that. Just as I’m cool with Janeway’s original arrival back on Earth, and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (a fan favorite).
And J.J. Abrams, a big high-five to you and the writers from a long-time fan! When I was seven, I took my photo with the wax figure of Mr. Spock, my dad on the other side of Spock. I don’t have a costume–but I was once Spock at Halloween. I don’t know Klingon, nor do I collect the series, or any of the paraphenalia, but I loved the stories, and I recognize Star Trek as American Mythos. You’ve done a great job at bringing that to the surface. Well done. Do a sequel.
Knowing: People Stuck in a Plot (a movie review)
Having just seen Knowing, the film starring Nicholas Cage as a man who’s been given a sheet of numbers predicting every accident that will happen, I’m having a hard time with Ebert’s review. Ebert gave it four stars. I would give it two.
It is a movie about whether events in life are random or predetermined and wants to be a movie about what you would do if you knew the end of the world was happening.
If you want to see the answer to that, go watch Deep Impact–a better film.
Knowing doesn’t uncover the “end of the world” plot until late in the movie. This movie is about whether all events are preordained. And should a coded sheet of these events fall into our hands–does it indicate that higher forces are communicating with mankind–revealing these accidents? But alas, it’s not to actually change them. The list is stuck in a vault for fifty years. What’s the point of revealing numbers only to hide them away? Nicholas Cage would have us believe it is to give those numbers to his son, fifty years later. For what reason–there is no reason. Since Cage cannot do anything to affect or change the events, the paper communicates nothing but “proof” that someone knew what would happen.
Knowing is saddled with a predetermined plot too. The characters only talk about the plot; when they arrive in a scene, they say only what needs to be said to move the plot along, which I always find hard to believe. When the sister enters the movie, her reason to be there is to tell us that Cage is estranged from the family, to establish that he is running from religion, to emphasize that the family is worried. The writers even realize that there is no real interaction in this scene because they have her tell Cage that he didn’t even ask “how are you? How’s your week been?” before telling her to leave. The characters know it is an awkward scene. All of the scenes are like this–leaping from plot point to plot point.
The revelation that the numbers are actually dates is so unnatural as to be funny. It doesn’t happen because he actually strives to figure them out–he is drunk, it’s an “accident.” This plot is so much about determinism that it tries to get away with unbelievable coincidence. The author can always say–“Well, that was my point!” But that’s just bad writing. If you need coincidence that badly, then your characters are just puppets.
Cage is a morose father, drinking himself into a stupor every night. He’s supposed to be a MIT astrophysicist. Man, where did they get this classroom? That’s MIT?? It’s small. Only twenty students are there, most look around high school age. It’s supposedly his first lecture of the year–it’s completely philosophical, cosmological, lasts for ten minutes or less, with brilliant students who repeat back knowledge to the professor, and then our brilliant professor blanks when he’s talking about whether the world is random or not, and dismisses class. I never believed him as a professor. And I didn’t believe that was MIT, or any other university.
The worst foreshadowing happens here–when he takes up the models of planets and talks about them.
SPOILER: Cage is supposed to have worked on solar flares, was an expert in the field–but he doesn’t work on them now? He doesn’t mention this fact till the end of the film, when it becomes important. But one would suspect that the scientists who have already discovered that a major solar flare is coming would want to consult with the man who has solar flare knowledge.
This movie is full of Christian references to the inevitability of mankind’s destruction. You are sledgehammered over the head with it at times. Cage as prodigal son, makes the predictable return to his pastor/father. There’s even a convenient Christian message scrawled on a van in the last sequence–so that during watching destruction you might make a decision. The kids are taken in a “rapture” which makes angels look like a$$holes because they wouldn’t take Cage with them and save him too, or anyone else in those huge ships of theirs.
Take away the thin veil of science fiction and this is mere theology. Down to the “new adam and eve” and “tree of life” in the last frame… a very tired science fiction ending (we’ve seen it so much that On Spec and other sci-fi magazines reject all stories with “adam and eve” endings). Those people left behind are riotous and murderous, not many shown as kind; as destruction swoops down, you are made to think we are all sinners, murderous thieves. The writers have stacked the deck–giving us no choice on how to read the plot. Nobody really has a believable choice. That may be honest theology, or philosophy–but it doesn’t make a good movie.