Spectral (2016)

spec1.jpgIt was quite surreal, in all honesty- there was a moment where a military team on a rescue mission in a war-torn ruined city entered a building in search of survivors of an earlier battle, when it dawned on me that they were walking through the Vegas hotel where Deckard was hiding out in BR2049. “Whoops,” I muttered as the illusion of the film was suddenly broken, “this thing was filmed in Budapest.”

I think Deckard kept it tidier, mind.

Spectral was a pleasant few hours- certainly much better than I had been expecting. Tagged as a ‘Netflix Original’, as in a few cases now that is a little disingenuous. Spectral was originally a full-blown theatrical movie but Universal got cold feet upon seeing the final film and stalled its release, and Netflix came to the rescue of Universal/Legendary Pictures saving them the added costs of distribution and marketing. Rather similar to what happened with Annihilation I guess, although that got a theatrical distribution in the States at least. Welcome to the future of making/selling movies.

Spectral wasn’t likely to have set the cinema world alight I suppose, but its a pretty solid effort with big-screen production values so certainly surprised me somewhat- I later l;earned of its not insubstantial $70 million budget and yeah, its certainly all there (indeed, as BR2049 likely found later, shooting in Budapest, Hungary helps your money go a long way). I suppose that it could even be argued that the film actually deserved a theatrical shot.  While it would perhaps be easy to criticize the script for some failings, that would almost seem a little unfair, as the film is simply what it is – a sincere and unapologetic mashup of Predator, Aliens and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (a film I have always had something of a soft spot for), with visuals probably inspired by modern videogame culture- Gears of War a particular example.

spec2So while it feels very familiar (and yes, the shooting locations ensure it even looks a little familiar, although in this case this film got there first) it most importantly also seems very sincere and well-intentioned rather than a cynical knock-off. Its a decent sci-fi romp with a decent cast, plenty of action and surprisingly impressive production values. I wouldn’t compare it to a classic like Alien but it does have that same feel of a b-movie lavished with a-list talent.

There is also something oddly comforting and nostalgic, even, about a simple sci-fi movie that doesn’t feature characters in spandex and capes or overblown CGI battle sequences, and I’m pretty certain that I will revisit this film again in time. Its just ironic and a further sign of our times that I expect a disc release will never happen and re-watches will depend on it being available on Netflix in the future- a further glimpse of the inevitable anyway, I suppose, if physical media continues to decline. I don’t find thinking of that future particularly comforting.

One further thought- I’ve never really been a subscriber to the old adage that a ‘name’ actor sells a movie, but I do wonder that if this had somehow starred, say, Tom Cruise it might have had a better fate/bigger success akin to, perhaps, something like Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.  Certainly Universal might have been more bullish about the films possible success and not sold it to Netflix. That being said, I always like to see films with different actors away from the predictable casting norm, and the cast here all account of themselves well.

 

 

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