Horizon Line (2020)

hline3Okay, here’s one I take for the team. This was watched on a late-evening unwind, clicking on one of the first suggestions from Amazon Prime (now that I think of it, I really must email Amazon ‘What did I do to deserve this?” if only to discern how whatever algorithm they use manages to think I’d enjoy Horizon Line. What on Earth in my watchlist/viewing history makes it think I needed to watch this?).  

Maybe the Amazon prime algorithm hates me, only unlike Skynet’s nukes, this critter is trying to finish me off with bad movies. Be afraid movie lovers, be very afraid: streaming really can be bad for you.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for having watched this; Amazon Prime hates me (probably payback for watching Netflix). This was pretty awful. Terrible, frankly. Its also possibly the stupidest film I’ve had the misfortune to see. Two star-crossed lovers, who split up a year ago wind up accidentally chartering a small plane together for a trip to a mutual freinds wedding in Mauritius. The pilot dies of an heart attack mid-flight leaving the two alone to figure out how to fly to safety and get into each others pants whilst holding onto some self respect.

How will they manage to survive a broken GPS? A terrifying storm? A broken Autopilot? A broken radio? A leaking fuel tank? With no sign of a map or compass or anything to discern where they are or where they are going, will they get to the wedding on time? Do you think they will kiss and make up during the stress and decide they love each other after all and they were silly breaking up?

Do you think one of them will open the cabin doors and climb outside while at cruising speed at high altitude, use gaffer tape to seal the leaking fuel pipe after accessing the engine in flight (mind the propeller, mate!), and the other get onto the wing and open the fuel cap, and hold onto the wing with one hand whilst refilling the fuel tank with bottles of booze left by the pilot?

Do you think the hunky one will smash his arm and the pretty one will demonstrate astonishing medical skills to straighten it and splint it up? Do you think said pretty one will be able to survive a crash into open ocean, swim up to the surface and then go back down to go save the wounded hunk and resuscitate him? Do you think you could possibly care what happens after all this preposterous nonsense? No, me neither, but this film needs to be seen to be believed.

I mean, technically its quite accomplished, it certainly looks good (presumably its using LED volumes, LED virtual walls to make it all look so ‘real’, because it looks too good for traditional greenscreen, unless its remarkably good greenscreen). Its just such a shame that so much effort has clearly been made for such a silly film, its like some kind of microcosm of modern film-making. As authentic as it looks, the dafter the screen-writing gets, and the risible dialogue (“you can do this!” “I believe in you!” “You got this!” ad nauseum) just.. these actors can’t possibly be this bad with decent material, can they? Well, every flick is a pay check.

This is clearly one of those films with the tagline ‘watch and forget’ or ‘leave your brain at the door’ as if that’s some kind of excuse. I’m tempted to suggest it really needs to be seen to be believed.

But, er, maybe not.

Django (1966)

django1I’m not one for spaghetti westerns- other than this one, I don’t think I’ve seen any that hadn’t been directed by Sergio Leone. The only thing I really knew about Django is that it was presumably the inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). Django apparently was the subject of some notoriety due to its excessive violence, which horrified people at the time, although today its cartoony theatrics seem dated and almost quaint. It was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who would afterwards direct another spaghetti western –The Great Silence (1968) – which was known to me through its Ennio Morricone soundtrack which I bought on CD back when I was having a binge on Morricone albums a few years ago. Curiously I have that film’s Blu-ray release through Master of Cinema on pre-order for a November release, so when I noticed the connection seeing Django pop up on my Amazon Prime recommendations list, I gave it a shot, thinking it might indicate what kind of film The Great Silence might be. 

Well, it was sort-of a pleasant surprise. The dubbing is typically atrocious, the dialogue is dire, the story is so paper-thin it doesn’t really make any sense (its some vague revenge plot) and the acting isn’t any great shakes either: so on that front, the film was no surprise whatsoever. But there was something appealing about it. I thought the production design was impressive; I mean, its clearly cheap but there’s something arresting about the wind-torn, muddy streets of a desolate town that seems to be literally sinking into the mud. Its like the end of the world as much as the end of the West.

Corbucci’s direction is no-nonsense and straight forward with no ambition towards the mythic, operatic qualities of Leone’s work, although Django (Franco Nero) could be seen as an Angel of Death in some corner of Hell. The cartoony violence prefigures that of the Rambo films that followed Stallone’s First Blood (Django despatches dozens of bad guys with a machine-gun hidden in a coffin that he drags around through the film, and hilariously the ammo-belt feeding the gun never moves). I presume it was this body-count that infuriated everyone back in the day, and its quite funny watching the various stuntmen/extras flailing around in exaggerated death throes generally minus any blood squibs going off or anything- for a film decried for its violence its not particularly graphic. Today a film like this would get a pass for its violence but would be roundly condemned for its treatment of women characters, all depicted as whores, subjected to being beaten by male characters (or whipped, even) and an indulgent,  lengthy sequence in which three of them are caught in a mud fight that serves nothing but the pleasure of male viewers. Its literally a film from some other age and makes any of Leone’s excesses seem quite tame (Leone of course came under fire for his own treatment of women in his films, particularly Once Upon A Time in America).

The 2021 List: August

I don’t know how, but I’ve managed to reach the magic 100 by the end of this month. The irony is that its not really been a target this year, as I’d intended to try keep the quality up (watch less, watch better) this year, so I’m not really sure how well I’ve kept to that maxim. That said, this wasn’t a bad month quality-wise. Babylon Berlin, which I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet was a particularly fine series and I look forward to catching up with the third season sometime. Film-wise I didn’t really see an absolute stinker (The Blood Beast Terror possibly qualifies but I hadn’t expected much of it anyhow) and the film noir films I watched were very good. So August wasn’t a bad month at all, I even managed to fit in some quality re-watches thanks to some 4K releases and a lack of new/interesting stuff handed me opportunity to pick discs off the shelf that I haven’t seen in awhile.

Real-life problems are increasingly impinging my time for viewing films and writing posts, and I can’t see that getting any better for awhile yet. Ain’t getting older and all the resultant responsibilities grand? It may be that my posts may have to get a little shorter and there may be a few spells of slim updates but I’ll see how it goes, I enjoy the writing etc and would hate to see things slide too far. 

September will see a few notable releases – I should have Arrow’s 4K edition of Dune in a few days, the new 4K edition of The Thing is due in a few weeks and there’s that Star Trek 4K set of the first four films coming out. Towards the end of the month Indicator should have some discs coming my way too (yay, another Columbia Noir set as well as what is said to be the film Peter Cushing most regretted being involved in- how intriguing is that?). I’m certain there’s going to be a few surprises I’m not even aware of yet; Amazon of course has the Eva rebuild films including the finale. Its all just a matter of finding the time, and I’m certain if I can manage that it will be a very interesting month ahead indeed. 

Television

92) Babylon Berlin Season One

93) Babylon Berlin Season Two

Films

94) Gilda (1946)

95) Enemy (2013)

96) The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

97) Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed (2021)

98) On Dangerous Ground (1951)

99) Gun Crazy (1949)

100) Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

The 2021 List: July

There goes July- the past few weeks have been rough at work due to sickness and leave, both within the office and nationally as a business ‘out in the field’ so I’ve been neglecting my blog somewhat (what do you mean, you didn’t notice?). Must try and fix that, and I’m wary of a backlog of reviews piling up, even if I’m struggling to find time/energy to actually watch anything.

So what have I been watching? Well, other than what is on the list below, I have been re-watching some old discs/films, some connected to films on the list below. Watching Herbert Lom in Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera got me watching the Indicator disc of Mysterious Island that I’d bought a few months back (in which Lom plays a very impressive Captain Nemo), and seeing the lovely Barbara Shelley in The Shadow of the Cat resulted in me bringing down Indicator’s first Hammer box from a few years ago and watching The Gorgon again. There’s something both familiar, comforting and sometimes revelatory about returning to films having not seen them in awhile, and I’m kicking myself for not at least dropping a paragraph or two here regards those two in  particular. I’ve also been trying to watch Arrows 4K disc of True Romance that came out a few weeks back but the time never feels right or I’m just too damn tired to give it the attention it deserves. I was one of the few that saw it back during its first theatrical run and have always loved it, so watching it in 4K is something I’m really looking forward to.

While there were a few clunkers in July, I did watch some particularly fine films, notably The Killers and Criss Cross, two astonishingly fine film noir. The first led me to the second, and I love that about films, how one can lead to another, some being fresh discoveries of films I’d never heard of before. Amazingly, I’m of a mind that Criss Cross may actually be a better film than The Killers, even though the former clearly had more impressive visual ‘noir’ flourishes, there seemed something more complete and efficient regards Criss Cross, a film that quite took my breath away, it seemed so perfectly formed. I really must work on a review of that film.

Lately I’ve been watching the German epic series Babylon Berlin, which has been on my watchlist for a long time now and will get a review in August when I’ve completed the first sixteen episodes (confusingly, they were ‘sold’ to foreign markets as two seasons of eight episodes each but I understand that in Germany it was one run of sixteen). Its astonishingly good, up there with the very best shows I’ve seen like The Wire etc (yep its THAT good). Its depiction of 1929 Berlin, during the last years of the Weimer Republic is so vivid, there’s a tactile feel to it which is almost quite horrifying. I’ve often said here that good period dramas are almost like science fiction, positing worlds as alien to us as anything envisaged for the future. I think that’s quite true of something like Babylon Berlin, which is not just depicting a world of a century ago, but one quite foreign as regards culture and politics (its really quite mystifying, but fascinatingly so).

Television

79) Superstore Season Four

86) Ratched Season One

Films

77) The Tomorrow War (2021)

78) The Killers (1946)

80) The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

81) The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

82) Nightmare (1964)

83) Synchronic (2019)

84) Saint Maud (2019)

85) Fast & the Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

87) The Sting (1973)

88) Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

89) Chernobyl 1986 (2021)

90) Blood Red Sky (2021)

91) Criss Cross (1949)

The new Dune trailer

Oh this looks good. This looks so VERY good. Anyone else get a tingle watching those Ornithopters flying over the sand dunes?

But is anyone else concerned that the last ten years of dumbing down blockbusters may have robbed this film of its audience? Nobody turned up to go watch BR2049, and that film wasn’t being dumped on HBO Max at the time either. I don’t know how much of an impact that HBO Max thing will prove to be, or how much Covid will be in the equation come October, but considering the money that Dune needs to make in order to break even/get Part Two greenlit…  My biggest concern is simply that, are audiences going to go in droves to watch a sci-fi epic minus caped superheroes beating the shit out of bad guys while wrecking a city? Are audiences going to sit still for a film with ideas? 

Mind, Dune is an epic story with epic spectacle so maybe that will pull people in. Films are so stupid now though, particularly the ones that make any money. I’m still reeling from the assault on my senses that was Godzilla vs Kong and that Hobbs & Shaw thing. Is that what films are now? While I take some comfort from how Disney’s Black Widow seems to have under-performed recently, that also makes me nervous regards how streaming (and yeah, Covid) seems to have pulled people away from the movie experience, wondering if things have changed forever. Have the weekly drops of content on Netflix and Disney+ so diluted peoples appreciation of tentpole releases (I have to wonder if Disney putting Marvel and Star Wars content for ‘free’ onto subscribers televisions is a kind of self-sabotage) weakened and diluted the appeal of said franchises as regards getting bums on seats in cinemas, like it used to be? We’ve already seen how people don’t seem interested in buying films on disc anymore. Some of the high-end stuff being dropped on Netflix is often poor but production-wise, they are essentially exactly the same thing as is seen in cinemas. I remember when I was kid, I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and when I got home Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was on the telly, and funnily enough it was the episode with the asteroid sequence and Buster Crabbe but it was so different in quality, the chasm between home entertainment and cinema entertainment was plain. That’s gone now, and seeing ‘new’ Star Wars and Marvel stuff straight onto the telly…

I’ve noted before that movies don’t seem as important or special as they used to be in my youth, back when Star Wars would be on the big screen only and when you’d wait for years to ever see Jaws again- gradually films have become more disposable. In a world where you can buy Avatar for a fiver, is there any wonder that Avatar itself fails to have any real cultural significance (and I’m really curious how those Avatar sequels will perform in a few years time). Are movies, as we fans remember them as ‘MOVIES,’ essentially dead, and things like Dune simply being made for a world and business model that no longer exists?

One has to wonder if Dune: Part Two will eventually just be a mini-series on HBO Max.

Saint Maud (2019)

smaudI’m pretty certain this one is a Marmite movie: one of those love/hate pictures – for my part, I have to admit I was quite blown away by it. I thought it was astonishing and intoxicating; its mood, its sense of time and place, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I’m not sure it works as a horror film, which appears to be how it was marketed- sure there are horror undertones but I much prefer to think of it as a decidedly unnerving psychological drama. A little like Taxi Driver set in Scarborough. Maybe that’s just cheating: its a lot like Taxi Driver, its nothing like Taxi Driver; it feels like Taxi Driver. Younger audiences with a more contemporary frame of reference might be surprised by its similarity to something like Joker, but Martin Scorsese was there long before. This is a study of a fragile psyche increasingly marginalised and isolated from society and the normal world around her, descending into madness. Its the farthest thing from pleasant.

Palliative care nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a very withdrawn, increasingly isolated young woman, traumatised from a prologue in which something seems to have gone terribly wrong with a patient in a hospital. Sometime later, and no longer working in that hospital, Maud is hired to look after Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle), a middle-aged woman who was once a celebrated and successful dancer and choreographer but who is now dying from terminal cancer, living her final days as a recluse in an isolated run-down coastal town. Maud is deeply religious, convinced that she has been touched by God and is meant for some hidden purpose, and is both fascinated and horrified by Amanda’s atitudes and those of her visiting freinds. Amanda seems have led a wildly hedonistic lifestyle and clearly has no Faith. It begins to dawn upon Maud that Amanda is the subject of her Purpose: that Maud needs to save Amanda’s soul from eternal damnation and lead her to the light. By any means necessary.

Saint Maud is about the terror of loneliness, and clinging to some kind of purpose and reason, however misguided or dangerous. Like Travis Bickle before her (and admittedly my comparison is likely lazy, too on the nose but throughout watching the film I couldn’t shake it) Maud’s attempts to connect with the people around her fail utterly, suffering rejection and her ensuing self-obsession twisting into further insanity as her helpless rage descends into religious mania. One can use God to justify anything. 

This film is beautifully filmed, with darkly unsettling cinematography and a truly nerve-wrecking musical score. The performances are excellent, particularly the double-act of Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle who are both thoroughly convincing, Clark mentally disintegrating while Ehle physically disintegrates. Its not an easy watch. It might even be boring to some, particularly those expecting a more ‘traditional’ horror movie, but I found it quite fascinating and endlessly bouncing around in my head afterwards.

 

The Tomorrow War (2021)

tomorrowThis was a bit of a silly movie, but it gets by with a pretty strong cast and really good production values- there’s some first-class CGI effects and creature designs here (which probably deserve a better movie). According to IMDB, this film from Paramount was originally intended to have a theatrical release but because of our old friend Covid, that was nixed in favour of selling it to Amazon for a cool $200 million. Let that sink in, and then consider how much these streaming services must be worth that they can spend that kind of money on content. So this film has big production values.

The title refers to a time travel element (fighters are recruited in the present-day 2022 to fight a war taking place thirty years in the future) but really its a bit of a misnomer-the film should have been titled “The Forester War” because that sums up what it really is, and gets at the scripts chief failings. For a film about a world on the brink of extinction due to alien invasion, its a remarkably small, intimate saga: Grandpa Forester is an ex-Vietnam fighter who can fly planes under the radar into Russia, Daddy Forester is an ex-marine who travels to the future and back to stop the war ever happening, Daughter Forester is a scientist/military chick who designs said toxin in the future and Mama Forester and child-daughter Forester in 2022 er, stress a lot but all make a happy family in the end. If that sounds like the script stretches credibility then you’d be right, and its a bit of a shame. Technically the film looks great with a number of big effects/action scenes which can be quite thrilling and dramatic but its all overshadowed by a nagging feeling of being taken for a bit of a mug by the screenplay. Daddy Forester Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is a school teacher who wants to impress his daughter by being Someone Special etc, but at the the start of the film his career aspirations are thwarted when he fails a job application. Naturally (quelle surprise!) it turns out he -and his family- aren’t just special, they save the whole of humanity. Everyone else seems to be just cannon fodder- its the Forester’s who get the job done.

The film also fumbles the ball regards time travel, or certainly gets caught up in a troubling paradox. Future-daughter Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski, who I adored in Chuck) confides in her father what happened to him in her past/his future (it wasn’t good) but this was surely erased by him travelling to the future anyway? The dad she remembers struck out regards being Someone Special, left the family and died in a car crash, but that guy never had to travel to the future to spend a week in a Future War (draftees go to the future for a week-long visit and if they survive -and few do, as the alien critters are nasty and winning- the draftees are returned to the present, their duty done).  Besides which, Muri designs a toxin to kill the aliens and sends her Dad back to use it and destroy the aliens before the war begins, but when he does that, he creates the paradox that having killed the aliens and saved the world, how did he get the toxin if the war never happened and Muri never had to design it? Yeah I know, alternate timelines etc. I actually thought they missed a trick not showing Muri going thirty years into the future and finding the Earth barren, all humanity gone and then the aliens having then fed on themselves until extinction. That way she’d know her timeline only ended one way and they had to start another, by sending her father back with the toxin.

One thing that did bug me was how they rather offhandedly explained that Time Travel had been invented and how it worked, the Time Machine being in some fortified offshore base. It was rather like, “ok yeah, and we invented this time machine, but the really important shit is the alien invasion!” as they casually announce that it only works in one direction and is fixed for thirty years travel, no more, no less, but hey, we really need to talk about the aliens. 

Its all patently ridiculous but it does look good and the premise is intriguing before its logic collapses. I appreciate I may sound overly dismissive (the Time Travel logic issues are hardly unique to this film, its a paradox that many before have become unstuck by) but its clearly a far better film than some of the mindless drivel that passes for modern blockbusters (Kong vs Godzilla, Outside the Wire etc).  Chris Pratt is, well, Chris Pratt- he gets by with his usual screen presence but to be honest, he’s one of those actors that seem to be playing the same character in every film I see him in: he’s not phoning in performances like Bruce Willis does these days but its getting worryingly over-familiar now. J.K. Simmons is his usual gruff antisocial curmudgeon and Yvonne Strahovski could arguably be playing Sarah Walker from Chuck… there’s certainly evidence that these guys were being cast because they fit the roles without hardly any effort at all. Comfortable, predictable casting I guess you’d call it. 

A final fight in the snow evokes memories of The Thing and it sure does look a sight with the last alien Queen battling in the winter wastes: its really quite impressive, brilliantly staged with great physical and CGI effects and the creature designs are very, very good. Its a pretty fair weekend entertainment I guess, easily dismissed but no worse for that: I just wish the whole thing could have been a little darker and less, well, less of “The Forester War.” And yet again here’s a modern blockbuster that lacks a really good score and is really hampered by that- modern action films really are handicapped by their scores, they lack any individuality, any real identity.   

The 2021 List: June

Hang on, where did June go?

Now then- please excuse my tardiness regards writing a review of item number 75 below. I’ve seen some dodgy films this month (what I was doing watching that Dads Army movie quite escapes me, and as for that Dog Gone Trouble… well I knew it would be trouble) but that number 75 was everything I’d been warned of and more. Extraordinary film-making, certainly, but in all sorts of horrible ways, but just how do I write that review and do its horrible magnificence justice? We’ll see if I can marshal my thoughts in July (I only hope I don’t require a re-watch to do it).

Television

66) Superstore Season Two

72) Superstore Season Three

Film

61) Invasion Day (aka Dragon Day) (2014)

62) The Woman in the Window (2021)

63) 3 Days to Kill (2014)

64) The Boat (2018)

65) Dad’s Army (2016)

67) The Wave (2016)

68) The Quake (2019)

69) Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know (2021)

70) Dog Gone Trouble (2021)

71) Prospect (2018)

73) Convicted (1950)

74) Aniara (2018)

75) Kong vs Godzilla (2021)

76) The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Wave (2015) & The Quake (2018)

thewave2The Wave is a Swedish/Norwegian production, a disaster movie set amongst some of the most beautiful natural scenery one can imagine, and a thoroughly entertaining film which is perhaps, like The Tunnel, only let down by its reliance on those over-familiar tropes which disaster movies always seem to rely on. So we are introduced to a family unit and the central protagonist of the film, Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) who alone seems to pick up on signs of an impending disaster and is finally vindicated, sadly, when a mountain pass collapses into the fjord Geiranger, creating a deadly tidal wave 85-metres high that rolls down to a scenic town (and the hotel where his wife works). 

So as far as tropes go, we have Kristian’s unconvinced work comrades, who fail to heed his warnings. We have his marital friction with his beautiful wife Idun (Kathrine Thorborg Jo) who resents him prioritising his work over his family (and possibly also the new job he has taken, which they are in the process of moving home for), and his tense relationship with his teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and his younger daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande, who possibly steals the movie). Inevitably when the disaster occurs and Kristian is proven right, his family is split up and he has to try to ensure their safety by going into danger and saving them from the episodic dramas, surviving all sorts of related dangers ensuing from the tsunami.

While the film feels formulaic and over-familiar (its a lot like the rather glossier San Andreas, but lots of others too) it wins-out thanks to its refreshing, frankly, European setting and its good cast which doesn’t really fit the usual Hollywood mould- none more so than Joner, whose hound-dog everyman is a very ordinary-looking scruffy hero.

Technically the film is pretty well accomplished, with some surprisingly successful visual effects and convincing physical effects, like semi-submerged sets, water damage etc. The episodic nature is just the way things tend to be in these films (we have to get from here to there, and we have to get past this obstacle there etc) and its perhaps unfortunate that the film finally just oversteps the drama with a nod to The Abyss and a drowning/death scene that really slips, as the one The Abyss did, into overwrought nonsense that threatens to spoil everything. 

But on the whole, The Wave works and was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Quake, in which Kristian’s family find themselves at odds with yet another natural disaster…

So three years have past and the thquakeposterEikjord family unit is more fractured (maybe an unfortunate description, considering what comes) than ever: Idun is divorcing Kristian, who has remained in Gerainger, ridden with guilt for having not successfully warned everyone about the disaster depicted in The Wave, while she with the children have moved to the safer (yeah, good luck with that) location of Oslo where she has a new job in a plush high-rise hotel in the city (whoops). Kristian is finally called to Oslo when a colleague who had reached out to him with vague concerns is killed in an Oslo Tunnel collapse. Investigating his colleagues death with the help of the deceased man’s daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Jo), Kristian discovers indications that a major earthquake is about to strike and as usual, nobody believes him until it happens.

The problem with The Quake is really the same as that of The Wave, except that unfortunately for this film, the sense of over-familiarity is only intensified by it happening to the same family (natural disasters for the Eikjords what bad vacations were for the Griswolds). In what is possibly an acknowledgement of this, the raised stakes here actually result in a real cost, and not all of the Eikjord clan survive this one, a surprise loss that doesn’t really land as possibly intended, but, you know, it at least answers some of the plausibility issues some viewers may have.

Like The Wave, the technical side is very accomplished, and the set-pieces are largely just as thrilling as in the first movie, but they do seem more ridiculous/Hollywood than the more grounded reality of the first film (allusions to San Andreas only more pronounced, here). Curiously, while The Wave had a certain unwise nod to The Abyss, this film has a particular set-piece that features a certain nod to a moment in the second Jurassic Park movie that pushes the term ‘homage’ perhaps a step too far, which is unfortunate because I don’t know why these two films felt the need to nod back to Hollywood blockbusters at all. The films are far better when being more their own thing, but maybe it was inevitable making films like this and feeling the need to compete with glossier Hollywood product.

Both films are pretty good though and well worth anyone’s time, particularly if one has an affinity to the disaster movie genre. I only wonder what the plausibility is of Kristian turning his hand to amateur astronomy and discovering an asteroid on collision course with Norway…

 

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Aniara (2018)

ANIIWell, this was rather bleak- trust a cautionary Swedish sci-fi to suggest that Despair Conquers All rather than Hollywood’s usual Love Conquers All nonsense. It was also quite brilliant, a sci-fi film which is High Concept to its very core. Aniara isn’t perfect by any means, but its absolutely one of the most engrossing sci fi films I’ve seen for quite some time. When the end credits rolled, I was quite dumbstruck, aware that I’d watched something really quite extraordinary. Again, it isn’t perfect- a few performances don’t quite ring true, there are one or two gaps in logic, a few fairly minor plot-holes likely down to being faithful to its 1950s source (and how space travel was envisaged back then), but its easy to forgive all that when the film as a whole succeeds so well.  

Based on a 1956 epic poem from the Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, its a really ambitious film that imagines the possible end of humanity at the macro level (humanity abandoning a destroyed Earth to seek possible survival on Mars) and the micro (the steady disintegration of a closed society of colonists trapped on a doomed space vessel). The Aniara is an implausibly gigantic colony ship that ferries survivors from Earth to a life on Mars, but this usually routine three-week voyage is interrupted by a catastrophic impact of space debris, damaging the ships engines and sending it wildly off course. The ships captain desperately attempts to maintain calm when he reveals to his passengers that the incident threatens to extend the voyage by as much as two years while a route back to Mars can be found. 

The beauty of Aniara is how mundane this future is. The colony ship is like a modern cruise ship, a hotel in space full of restaurants and arcades and clubs and theatres designed to entertain colonists for a three-week trip and presumably distract them from the cold reality of space travel and the hard life awaiting them on Mars. But following the incident that damages the Aniara, it is now an enclosed society within a fantasy façade, as if the colonists are suddenly trapped in a failing Disneyland during an Apocalypse. Its the Earth they thought they had all escaped in microcosm, dying all over again.

Aniara throws in ruminations of our place in the cosmos, the passengers increasingly fragile human psyches struggling to cope, collapsing in the face of Eternity and the vastness of the void that has trapped them. It purports an AI which elects for self-destruction rather than continue suffering the pain of increasingly damaged minds it is designed to heal. This subtext, of a suicidal AI unable to face its fate, is mirrored in the reactions of many of the colonists. As time wears them down and the Aniara’s enclosed, trapped society threatens to collapse, the whole fragments, people turning to religion and cults, the sheer physical escape of orgy’s or drugs or drink, while the more desperate souls taking the brutal path of anxiety, depression and suicide. 

Its, er, not an optimistic film. I could easily summarise the film -and I’m sure many have- as Wall-E crossed with the original Solaris movie: indeed it really feels like its from some other era, back when sci-fi films were more cautionary, like Soylent Green or Silent Running, and yet it feels so very timely, reflecting our society and how we live, how we cope through seeking escape from our realities.

Its also one of those films that is made Great by its ending, which I can’t really explain here because I always try to keep my reviews spoiler free when I can, but you know, the ending is perfect. Comparing it to the end of Citizen Kane is possibly misleading, but if you know how that film ends, how its revelation makes the film truly great and leaves it lingering in your head for days afterward, then you might have an idea what I mean. There is no real twist or shock in Aniara‘s ending, but its the perfect denouncement, perfectly sensical and satisfying even if it isn’t exactly reassuring. But yeah, its PERFECT and its haunting me- you just cannot leave this film behind.