Revisiting Contact (1997)

contact2I have a fascination with space travel, alien civilizations and our own place in the Cosmos that dates back to me as a kid watching Star Trek. Films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Carl Sagan’s book and tv series Cosmos only reinforced my conviction that we are not alone, that we should watch the skies and being alone in this vast universe is surely a big waste of Space. 

I never read Carl Sagan’s book Contact. I’m not entirely sure why, it seems a strange omission but life is weird like that, we make some choices which, looking back, don’t entirely make a lot of sense.   

So I don’t know what differences exist between Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 film and the original book, or whether it is wholly faithful. It feels like something Carl Sagan would have written; certainly it has novel ideas and extrapolates from scientific ideas a plausible premise about First Contact. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to me, although now that I consider it I really should catch up with the book sometime. Its enough that the film was, when I saw it at the cinema back in the day, and remains today watching my Blu-Ray copy, a pretty strong and quite satisfying film. 

Its perhaps a wee bit melodramatic, a little too Hollywood… maybe its just that its a product of the 1990s. I think it would have benefited by being made several years ago with a less emotive director, someone like Denis Villeneuve, really- its no mistake that the film I kept on thinking about while watching Contact was Villeneuve’s own First Contact film, his superb Arrival from 2016. Arrival is a better film by some margin, I think, but I would dearly love to see what someone like Villeneuve might have made of something like Contact, given the material and a big cinematic toybox.

I was oddly disturbed, funnily enough, when I considered that the last time I had watched Contact was before Arrival existed- this was the first time watching Contact in which Arrival was in my thoughts, and it made me consider the strange thing it is of re-watching films over the years. We are different, the world is different, the cinematic landscape is different: and that later point is perhaps the most telling of all. Films made decades later with better technologies inevitably have some bearing on whether a film still holds up years down the line. For one thing, I seem to remember the visual effects of Contact being pretty cutting-edge back in 1997; its funny how much some CG effects have aged spectacularly badly. Many of Contact’s visual effects hold up pretty well, and some of them, er, really don’t look good.   

The search for extra-terrestrial life always made perfect sense and great importance to me. As Arthur C Clarke put it,  “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Contact doesn’t voice it in the same way, it leaves that argument unspoken and I keep on thinking that Jodie Foster’s character, our central heroine, Ellie, should scream that sentiment out at her loudest voice: how can any one of her detractors critiquing her obsession with SETI deny it? Contact seems more concerned with arguments of Faith, examinations of Faith, either in God or Science and its a bittersweet stroke of genius that Ellie’s First Contact experience ultimately becomes a matter of Faith. Are we believers (of course we are, we saw what she saw) or are we non-believers (did we really just see what she thinks she saw)? I think the film would have been incredibly brave had it just left it that way- instead it tips its hat with a reveal that Ellie’s digital recorder may have recorded just static- but it recorded eighteen hours of it, which validates Ellie’s claims. It feels a little too literal, too obvious to me, I think I would have preferred a vaguer conclusion. I think what I’m getting at is that Contact is still an enjoyable and fairly strong film- it just isn’t sophisticated enough, for me today. Maybe its too literal. 

contactThe films constant tension between God and science, between Faith and Empirical Evidence is both its most interesting dynamic and its most irritating. It keeps on forcing its way in. It feels like something Carl Sagan would have written, even if he always seemed quite dismissive about anything Divine- God always seemed too simple a solution for Carl. My suspicion, having not read the book, is that a lot of the films preoccupation with God and science are from the Hollywood direction, not the book, but hey, I could be way wrong and should-have-done-my-research.

The cast is really good. Jodie Foster is great as Ellie, and its wonderful seeing Tom Skerritt as the  boo-hiss villain of the piece, scientist/bureaucrat/bastard David Drumlin. James Woods of course could play the frankly despicable -if wholly believable- government senator Kitz in his sleep, and seeing him in this I wonder again why we see so little of him these days (has he retired?). How wonderful, too, is John Hurt as tech magnate S. R. Hadden (and me suddenly realising he’s a fellow Alien colleague of Skerritt, and yep they both die in this film too). Really, the cast is one of the films strengths. Even a rather young-looking Matthew McConaughey, who always irritated me in the film and still does -too cool, too self-confident, too sexy, too Hollywood- has the novel perspective gifted from his later roles, particularly Interstellar, a film that assumes intelligence but is frankly quite behind Contact in that regard (Interstellar’s twist that the ‘aliens’ are our future selves communicating via a Cosmic Bookcase is just… I’m always rather lost for words). 

As I’ve gotten older my own faith, as it were, that it would surely be just a matter of Time before SETI found some evidence of an alien signal and proof of neighbours in the Cosmos, has not been realised. Years and decades went by and the euphoria of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was eventually worn down by mundane reality. When that film originally came out I read something by someone remarking that the events of CE3K had they happened would have been kept secret, we -the public at large- would never have been told, it was an event just too big, too huge. It would change too much, so such revelations would be hidden away for our own safety. Reading that as a kid, I dismissed it with my usual youthful enthusiasm, but as I’ve gotten older and more jaded… partly I think, how do you keep such secrets secret in this Information Age, but then I think, grow up. They can hide anything.

Maybe something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind couldn’t be made today. Its message of Good Aliens after decades of Hollywood alien invasions felt quite radical at the time, even if its sentiments proved short-lived with Alien and Independence Day and so many others reasserting the alien’s rightful place of outsiders and menace. Are we ready for First Contact? Robert Zemeckis’ film suggests that we’re not, and its possibly right, but its a great question to ask and ponder over. For my part, a recurring problem for me every time Contact finishes, is that its somehow pressed some magical ‘reset’ button worthy of 1960s television- there is no mention of the alien technology just sitting waiting to be used again, or the various applications of that technology that would filter down into military and civilian use. Ellie is even back at her old job listening for signals again. James Woods dismissing the whole thing as an elaborate hoax by some high-tech industrialist is like some kind of magic trick, and its that one moment in which Contact becomes, at the last moment, utterly stupid.

Just as at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there would be no going back, and maybe the REALLY interesting films, in both cases, would be the films telling us what happened next, but neither CE3K2 or Contact 2 ever happened. Sometimes film-makers get away scot-free.

UFO (2018)

ufo1A poor man’s Arrival, or a teen Close Encounters, pretty much sums this one up. The casting of Gillian Anderson would seem a stroke of genius, even if it does inevitably turn out to be a relatively minor role- the irony of casting one of the two X-Files stars in this does appear to hold a rather meta-narrative curio over proceedings. The comparison to both Arrival and CE3K though are naturally very obvious but quite instructive too. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is one of my favourite science fiction films of the last few decades and I’ve rewatched it several times now, but its only when you see something like this UFO film that you an really appreciate just how special Arrival is- likewise, it informs just how good Spielberg’s Close Encounters is too.

Its not so much that UFO is particularly bad- its fine enough for what it is. I would suspect that it owes a lot to Arrival in particular, as it uses mathematics as a narrative crux in just the same way as language and linguistics was the central theme of Arrival. Both films establish the presence of aliens from the start- the plots of the films rather about what the aliens want to tell us, or the difficulties in communicating with them.

The plot is patently a combination of both Arrival and Close Encounters: Derek (Alex Sharp) is a brilliant college student who is fascinated by reports of a UFO sighting at Cincinnati airport, using his mathematics expertise to deduce a message in static which interrupted general airport communications and mobile phone services during the short event. Derek has been ‘primed’ for this fascination due to a childhood UFO sighting of his own, but this quickly becomes a Roy Neary-like obsession as he realises a cover-up is in progress, an obsession that threatens to derail his studies and relationship with his girlfriend Natalie (Ella Purnell). When he deduces that a mysterious countdown seems to be in effect, he has to enlist the help of his mathematics professor, Dr. Hendricks (Gillian Anderson). Derek races to unravel the mystery before time runs out, with FBI special agent Franklin Ahls (a sadly under-utilised David Strathairn) on his heels.

Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Personally I’d have been more interested had Gillian Anderson (ageing professor feeling her best work is behind her) had been the central protagonist, galvanised by a discovery by one of her students too young to realise what he had stumbled upon. While that’s possibly the perspective of my own middle-age talking, I do think that would have been a better movie. For one thing, Anderson is (with the possible exception of Strathairn) the strongest actor in this film and it needs her gravitas, and its hard to really identify with an antisocial and slightly irritating teen/young adult protagonist lacking any real need for redemption. The plight of Roy Neary, middle-aged father and husband caught up in events he cannot understand, is the central drive of Close Encounters, and the lonely and socially-weary linguistics expert Louise Banks trying to come to terms with being caught up in world-shattering events is the core of Arrival. Maybe a maths lecturer would be too close to Arrivals linguistics lecturer, I’ll concede that.  I suppose the biggest problem UFO has though is how it ends, which teases much but lacks the grand conclusions of both Arrival and CE3K– its one of those films that, when it fades to black, you just know the credits are up next, the finale lacking any sense of satisfaction. I didn’t hate the ending, but it did leave me feeling mildly irritated that I’d rather wasted the last ninety minutes getting there.

To the Stars, Dumbly

While the film has its moments, as expected, the science is pretty dumb in Ad Astra, despite what the marketing would have us believe. Here’s a great video in which Astrophysicist Andy Howell takes a look at the science of Ad Astra:

On the other side of the coin, check out this video they did about the film Arrival. Some great interesting stuff  about that one that can only make one appreciate what that film achieved even more:

Ad Astra

asastra1Ad Astra is really two different movies, and I liked one of them, and didn’t care much for the other. The one is a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and perhaps also Contact– it  wonderfully uses cinema as a visual medium to show us the immensity of the cosmos, and our place in it. It shows us a cosmos wholly indifferent to the human race and how the very immensity of it can challenge our sanity, our sense of reason. It asks the question ‘is there life Out There?’ and suggests a possible answer, and examines what that might mean to us, our place and importance in the immensity of space and time.

The second film is about pirates on the moon and carnivorous apes running amok on deserted space stations, and boys looking for their fathers when their fathers aren’t interested.  Its a Captain Nemo In Space film about as hokey as it was in The Black Hole.

If you can sense there’s a dichotomy there then you can understand my very mixed feelings about this film. We don’t get enough serious science fiction films, and we don’t get serious money and talent invested on space sagas in which we travel into the depths of space with real-space physics and no sound depicted in space (oh God I’m so thrilled at just that alone). Films like 2001 and Interstellar and Solaris are very rare, and even the rather flawed ones like Event Horizon or Sunshine are to be applauded, just for existing.  I’m thankful we even have Ad Astra, and kudos to 20th Century Fox bankrolling it, taking a risk on it. So much about Ad Astra is perfect, so much of it is so damned exhilarating, that it just feels so incredibly frustrating too.

When I saw advance word describing the film as Apocalypse Now meets 2001, I thought it was a bit of a wheeze, maybe a shorthand way, as Internet writers and YouTube reviewers often have it, in describing its sense of a journey across the solar system. I didn’t understand that this film literally is Apocalypse Now meets 2001. I suppose to be more charitable, I should describe it as Heart of Darkness meets 2001, but director James Gray is too on the nose with a narration that is so indebted to Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic that it feels like they should have had Martin Sheen voice it. Surely they could have dropped it, or most of it. Initially its interesting but it becomes far too indulgent and distracting.

adastra3Its also far too obvious, almost as bad as the clumsy narration that Blade Runner had, its so relentlessly describing whats happening and why and what Brad Pitt’s internal thoughts are about everything around him. Coppola’s film had a narration that was perfect, but that’s such a rarity and you have to be careful going there, especially if your basic narrative is also so indebted to its source. It was so obvious, I half-expected Tommy Lee Jones to mutter “The horror! The horror!” as he stared up at the stars. It shouldn’t have been so literal, and it also backs the film into the same quandary that drove Coppola nearly mad making Apocalypse Now– when we finally reach Kurtz, whats the revelation? Whats the endpoint, the grand insight that the previous few hours of film have been leading to? If you’re building up the mystery, you have to have a suitable answer, even if its just wrapped around another question. Gray ends Ad Astra with a mind-numbing revelation akin to ‘home is where the heart is’, and almost even that hoary chestnut ‘love conquers all’ – that’s fine, but helplessly anticlimactic after all the build-up.  Perhaps Ad Astra is too measured, too collected to really warrant the comparisons to Coppola’s hallucinatory trip up the river. Perhaps it needed more product placement, a way of ramming home its suggestion of commercialisation dumbing down what space is, what it means- we can’t have Coppola’s drugs in space, but maybe more Coca Cola would serve the same purpose in showing the inanity humanity brings to the void. What on Earth, I wonder, would a Terry Gilliam-directed Ad Astra be like?

There are some wonderful moments in Ad Astra, but some damningly awkward ones too, and no matter how strange and huge the grand canvas the film shows us, its also depressingly small and human-scaled too. I suppose that may be deliberate, a message in itself, but it also suggests a lack of confidence or a reluctant nod to the mass audience that perhaps thought that what Arrival really lacked was gunfights and action. A research station sending out a mayday message is devoid of bodies/signs of crew, because the sense of ensuing mystery serves the plot, maybe, but later when Brad Pitt finds his destination, its corridors are full of cadavers floating in zero g, presumably for decades. Even a crazy man would have jettisoned the dead into space, right? I mean, air is limited and its full of putrefaction and decay? That’s beyond unhealthy, its beyond stupid.

adastra2There is an awful lot to appreciate in Ad Astra, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it again at home in 4K (in January next year, I guess) and possibly enjoying it more with reduced expectations. Its a remarkable achievement that it was made for something just a little north of $80 million (by all accounts) as it looks rather bigger. Some of the world-building and art direction is truly amazing, and it feels very grounded most of the time. The cast is great, and Donald Sutherland in a rather short role leaves such a real mark on the film, he perhaps should have been on the journey longer. The cinematography is quite exquisite, and the majority of the visual effects flawless. The music score is perhaps functional at best- it works, but its surprisingly subdued in the audio mix, unless that was an issue at my screening.

The film runs just under two hours, which is refreshing for some perhaps, but I thought it a little short, I think it would have benefited by more time and less narration- less concise, more obtuse, that kind of thing. Dwelt a little longer on the empty spaces between worlds rather than Space Monkeys and Space Pirates, but that was possibly a more intellectual exercise than 20th Century Fox was willing to make.

Starting Another Life

anotherKatee Sackhoff, hell of an actor. Her turn as Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reboot was quite brilliant; searingly well done in fact, the kind of role that has endeared her to genre fans forever. While she’s had a fairly successful career post-BSG, I don’t think she’s been involved in anything as memorable or impressive (although one might well argue her turn in 24 was certainly a more high-profile turn in the wider public consciousness). She’s a strong and physically capable actor and how she’s never gotten a big role in a Marvel movie is beyond me, with her fanbase and genre credentials you’d think it would be a sure thing and she’d become some kind of superstar.

So anyway, a few weeks ago when I learned that Netflix were shortly dropping a new sci-fi series starring Sackhoff, well, it was at the top of my watchlist: Another Life, a ten-part thriller about First Contact and a spaceship sent to another star system to investigate the origin of a strange alien artifact recently arrived on Earth- literally Arrival meets 2001 and… Nightflyers.

Oh dear. I have a bad feeling about this.

Well, three episodes in and it’s pretty dire. To be brutally honest, it doesn’t work. Its car-crash television and its painful to see someone like Sackhoff wasted in it. Sure there’s seven more episodes to watch and like a masochist I’m sure I’ll be watching all of it (hell, I’m a veteran of that Nightflyers junk, afterall), and will have a review proper when it’s all done. But really, it doesn’t look good.

Possibly its a lack of budget, but the sets are limited (characters walking/running up and down the same corridor etc, and engine room that looks like a Chinese laundry) and the CGI functional at best, but really, the real handicap is the script, a regular refrain here on this blog. The script is awful, and the creative choices frankly appalling. At the moment I have no idea if its the script making the actors look bad, or just bad actors being bad, but it’s so dire its a struggle. Did the showrunners or any of the writers ever work on a sci-fi show before? I have to wonder. It really looks like the writers room had a DVD collection of sci-fi shows/movies from the last few decades and they assembled Another Life from what they thought were the best bits.

Alien artifact arrives/crashlands/sprouts mysterious crystalline structure. It has conveniently landed near the home of Niko Breckenridge (Sackhoff), a space commander, and her husband Erik (Justin Chatwin) who is a scientist tasked with looking handsome while communicating with the artifact. I mean, literally, it lands near their house. He is given the job of communicating with it (and in the tradition of CE3K, he finds music works) and she is given the job to travel to the artifacts original star system to find out why it was sent (not sure of the logic, it figures you’d be best figuring that out by communicating with the artifact). So you’ve got this husband and wife team (sci-fi’s answer to Hart to Hart or McMillan and Wife?) in charge of saving humanity. Oh, and they have an annoying daughter.

Niko’s job is made worse by being put in charge of the craziest, most dysfunctional crew of any spaceship I have ever seen. I mean, they are absolutely bloody nuts. And they dress in civvies because no-one wears uniforms on spaceships anymore. Its as if they picked a bunch of civilians at random and put them on Love Island in Space or I’m (Not A Celebrity) Lost in Space Get Me Out of Here. Its utterly bizarre. They are a bunch of utter nutters that make the crew of Star Trek: Discovery look competent.  They don’t work for NASA, there is no Government or Mission Control that I can tell- they are let loose on a FTL spaceship and get lost in the first episode after nearly plunging into a star. Niko replaced the ships original Captain, Ian, when she is put in command and he promptly tries to kill her. Twice. So she fries him in an electrical field, which pisses off the crew and… yeah, we’re still in the first episode. By the second episode they are wandering around on a rogue moon looking for caves of oxygen crystals (?) because they’ve lost all the oxygen from their ship and one of the crewmembers goes wandering off and does something even stupider than those alien-goo obsessed scientists in Prometheus. Its absolutely bloody nuts.

Oh Katee. The heights of Battlestar must seem so far, far away. You deserve better. Viewers deserve better. How come no-one can write decent sci-fi shows anymore?

 

 

Dead on Arrival

arrivalSo a colleague at work borrowed my copy of Arrival, being a genre fan who was pretty much blown away by BR2049 and was totally unfamiliar with the films of Denis Villeneuve and evidently in need of an education.

So he watched it. Turns out he didn’t like Arrival… well, he liked it, but wasn’t convinced/thrilled by it. Bit slow? I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to him, I was too surprised and feeling very sad.

Anyone who read my posts about Arrival, like my first review, will possibly remember my emotional connection to the film, especially its feelings of loss and grief. The film just came around at particular time in my life where it just seemed the right film at the right time, absolutely stabbing me in the heart almost, but in a good way. Ever since it’s been a film with a certain personal importance, a connection to a time and a loss (our pet dog, Ben at just three years of age) that might seem hysterically ridiculous to an outsider but remains quite profound to me to this day.

But isn’t it strange when films don’t mean the same to everyone else? I mean, I’m used to that, of enjoying a film and being at odds with people I know or general opinion, but in the case of Arrival it just feels doubly depressing. That a film I can feel so deeply connected to and which means so much to me can just so totally miss the mark with some. Or maybe my colleague deep down is just a cold-hearted bastard who doesn’t ‘get it’. Ha, only kidding. Or maybe he is. Maybe he just failed some kind of empathy test.

There is a strangely profound thing regards Arrival being the point in question here, and my connection with it and the emotional space I was in when I first saw it. Arrival, after all, is concerned with the idea of linear time and how an alien language unravels that view of time, so that our heroine, Louise, begins to ‘see’ the future as memory, of events already happened. And the film asks, if we knew our future and all the pain inevitably bound up with it, would we accept it? Louise sees that she will marry fellow scientist Ian, and will have a child, and eventually divorce, and their child later die when still young. And yet at the films end, after having seen and felt all this  with the viewer, Louise still goes with it, reasoning that the pain is worth it, that it’s part of being alive, that perhaps the cost of loving is in the losing.

Or something like that. Arrival feels to me as deeply spiritual a film as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe most people don’t see those films that way, and that’s why my work colleague didn’t ‘get’ it. Arrival is a beautiful movie wrapped up in a ‘first contact’ alien thriller. Its deep and heartfelt and beautifully constructed and acted, and of course now even more poignant for the loss of Johann Johannsson and remembering him everytime I watch it and hear the films haunting score.

So it isn’t important to everyone and not everyone ‘gets’ it. I shouldn’t be surprised but somehow today it just felt doubly sad. Some films we like aren’t ‘just’ films, I suspect. They mean something more to us. Which is probably why I write this blog and you, dear reader, are reading this.

I think we pass the empathy test.

The Beyond (2017)

bey1A poor-mans’s Arrival and Interstellar knock-off, unfortunately, this low-budget UK sci-fi has a few moments of impressive visuals but that’s about it, betraying the fact that it was written and directed by a guy who has worked as a visual effects supervisor. For the most part it is ruined by both its blatant  ‘inspirations’ (which no doubt got the project green-lit) and its ill-conceived and ineptly executed script.

A wormhole (hello Interstellar) appears above the Earth and is somehow kept secret by the Space Agency that runs the ISS etc from the UK (!) until lots of giant alien spheres suddenly appear above cities etc down on Earth (hello Arrival). While the world appears to be on the brink of war, with the military heads world over itching to attack the spheres (hello again, Arrival)  the Space Agency plans a secret (!) mission to enter the wormhole (hello again, Interstellar) and contact the aliens  presumably responsible for populating the Earth with floating Death Stars. For some reason deciding that humans aren’t up to the ordeal, it is reasoned that cyborgs, robots with human brains placed into their metal craniums, will make the trip instead. Just as well we have all this handy tech in the year 2019.

I can only imagine that it was at the behest of the budget, but the choice of shooting the film as a fly-on-the-wall docudrama is a big mistake, reducing much of it to a literal talking-heads piece. I mean, really, it seems to go on forever listening to ‘scientists’ chatting to the camera-crew about what they think is going on. How in the world  this camera-crew happens to be filming this ultra-top secret event (allowed to film the preparations for First Contact even when, outside the Space Agency,  no-one on the planet knows the wormhole is even up there, amateur astronomers the world over presumably looking the other way) is beyond me. And its rather hysterical seeing the POV camera prowling the garden of the Space Agency chief and sneaking shots through the marigolds as she talks to a candidate for the First Contact mission over tea on her patio. Please, please, don’t get me started about the space-physics implications of a second Earth appearing right by us and being told that Venus and Mars etc have suddenly ‘disappeared’. Who writes this silly stuff and thinks they can get away with it?

So anyway, it looks good -even great in places- and therefore looks the part of a Hollywood blockbuster but it really needs a script, and a director who can direct actors. This film has neither. Its truly woeful in places and its simply betraying the fact that it was dreamed-up after watching Arrival and Interstellar and that its essentially just a tech demo for some CGI effects rigs. Which is infuriating, because if you’re given the money to make a movie like this, you should make the most of that money by doing a character-driven piece, an intelligent, low-budget drama. Don’t pretend you can be as flashy as the big boys and expect that to be enough.

But its free on Netflix so if you want to blow your mind at how bad-but-pretty modern sci-fi can be, go knock yourself out. But you’ve been warned!

 

Annihilation (2018)

AnnihilationIts a pity that Paramount decided to sell Alex Garland’s quite brilliant Annihilation to Netflix for international markets rather than risk financial woes with a cinema release, but considering what films are successful out there these days and what cinema audiences seem to prefer it’s a perfectly understandable decision, sadly- not one I agree with, but I can understand their thinking.  The film is certainly a tough sell and demands a lot from the audience, including patience and a willingness to do some work, and the ending is indeed, while I won’t go into spoiler territory, something that must have made the execs nervous.

That all said, this film finally got me subscribing to Netflix and I’m so glad I did- this one film worth a months subscription alone (and hey, I get a free month first anyway). While I’m sad that I won’t be able to watch it on a big screen, I’m glad I won’t have to suffer the irritating mobile phone habits and other moronic behaviour that is infecting modern cinema audiences, instead thrilling to this brand new film in the comfort of my home. Maybe this is the future for serious science fiction films anyway- while its wrong to think of BR2049 as a failure (sure it didn’t break even, but it did pretty well considering its length/certificate/intelligence) and no Netflix deal might have saved it, there is certainly an argument to be made to leave the cinemas to the mindless blockbuster spectacles.  You just have to manage the budgets a bit more effectively, I suppose, and question if BR2049 and Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune simply have to be huge to tell their story or if instead its possible to go with a smaller scope.

ann2At any rate, Annihilation is a wonderfully intelligent, thought-provoking and emotionally demanding science fiction film. In places its as horrific as Carpenter’s The Thing, in others as fascinating as Villeneuve’s Arrival, in others as disturbing as Kubrick’s The Shining and as mystifying as his  2001: A Space Odyssey. If that description doesn’t make this film essential to you then I pity you. Its pretty wonderful and the fact that a studio doesn’t think that it can release a film such as this in cinemas is pretty damning, really. But here we are, its 2018 and cinema and television and how we watch films is changing all the time (I sincerely hope we get a disc release with a commentary and other extras eventually).

Like in Arrival, there is a real sense of something truly alien and strange in this film, something transformative about the experience of watching it. There all sorts of subtexts and mysteries playing within it. Is the visitation that creates the Shimmer, a region of expanding space that threatens to eventually consume all the Earth, an event of Extra-Terrestrial contact or of a religious one, or both? Is the film actually about our bodies betraying us, the horror of cancer, of having no control of what is within us, makes us?  We see tantalising glimpses of something utterly alien and beyond human understanding, and yet at the same time the horrors are familiar, internal ones. Transformation from self-destruction, everything that lives, dies, and we lose everything, even our minds, eventually, given Time. And even Time betrays us.

Beyond that, I won’t say anymore about this movie. I think it’s wrong to spoil any of this movie and I hope everyone gets to see it unaware of the secrets/pleasures ahead of them. In awhile I’ll return to this film in more detail but for now, yeah, it’s as good as everyone says and I hope everyone who wants to gets to see it (not everyone has Netflix or wants it). While just sitting down to watch a new movie still playing in cinemas Stateside was something of a pleasure it is also something of a poisoned chalice for fans of serious science fiction or adult film making in general. Is this, afterall, the future? And it can’t be denied, no matter how much I enjoyed this film, it would have been an immeasurably more powerful experience in the cinema.

Jóhann Jóhannsson has died

It is with profound shock and sadness that I have read the news that Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was found dead yesterday at his home in Berlin. Over the last several years I have enjoyed his music, particularly the albums ‘IBM 1401, A User’s Manual and Fordlandia, which are particularly moving and thoughtful pieces, and witnessed his rise as a film composer with such scores as Sicario, Arrival and The Theory of Everything. Last year  Blade Runner 2049 should have had a score by him. In fact, that score was likely the one thing I was most relaxed/looking forward to about that whole project. He seemed a safe pair of hands who might offer the film its own ‘voice’, especially following his score for Arrival, where the music was such a major part of the film. The subsequent news that he had been dropped from the BR2049,  announced late in the film’s post production, was the first real note of alarm regards the project. While so much else seemed great regards cast and crew, Jóhannsson being fired was my first real “oh, hang on, wait a  minute,’ moment when doubts began to leak in, and while the film finally turned out to be great, his absence seemed strange and I always wondered at what his score would have been like. I thought that maybe we would find out what happened and what his music was like, maybe even hear some of it someday.  But maybe now we never will.  

Berlin authorities are investigating the death and an autopsy will follow, so cause of death is obviously unknown. I am genuinely shocked and bewildered and so very saddened. Awful news. Maybe some sense will arise when we learn the facts behind his passing, but at the moment its hard to process it. I did not know the man but I did love so much of his music, and from a purely selfish perspective I am sad that I will not get to hear any further new albums/film scores from him. It feels like how I did when I learned that Prince had died. You think these guys will be around forever, and rather take the gift of their music for granted. We really shouldn’t.

The 2017 Selection Pt.3

2017s3Here’s the latest state of the 2017 selection. There’s been a few additions since my last update. And hey, I’m still trying to curtail the spending this year.

Heat: God, another copy. Its just one of those movies. I think I have a VHS copy up in the loft somewhere, a widescreen version that came in a big box, don’t know if anybody out there remembers that edition. Studios must love idiots like me. So I buy this thinking it might be definitive and before it’s even arrived people are moaning about colour-timing and sound issues. I don’t know. At least it was strangely (suspiciously, maybe?) cheap. So I’ve got it in HD for something like a third of what I paid for it back on VHS. I won’t mention the DVD  thats lying around someplace. And no, I haven’t watched this copy yet.

The Leftovers- Season Two: I mentioned this awhile ago, as its what finally got me around to watching season one, and (hurrah!) I’ve also watched this too- review coming soon. Yeah, I’ve watched something in the 2017 selection- will this catch on? (he wonders, noting he still hasn’t watched Assault on Precinct 13 or Vampires or Garcia yet) .

Dr Strange: Actually, yes, I’ve watched this too, as my review a few weeks ago will attest. Well, I hadn’t seen it at the cinema and I’d been curious about it for months.

Logans Run/The Omega Man/Soylent Green: A triple-feature blu ray set, with each film coming in at under £4 each. Well, I’m always a sucker for deals like that. These are three 1970s dystopian science fiction films, each flawed in their own way but each having redeeming features making them worth re-watching, at least for someone like me who grew up with them on tv- I guess  viewers born post-1990 needn’t bother, they’ll likely hate them. Their loss; hell, they are worth watching if only for the soundtracks (which I have on CD for all three- yes I am that nerd in the corner).

Arrival: The best film of last year. A compulsory  blu ray purchase. I watched the disc the other night and yes, it just confirmed Oscar had it all wrong- Amy Adams deserved a nomination at the very least, and quite possibly the statuette itself too. This is a science fiction film for the ages and deserves to be ranked up there with CE3K. I should probably do another review based on the home experience. Indeed, I could watch this all over again already. There’s something strangely rewatchable about this film, the way it flows, the direction, the acting… wonderful sound design. This film has me so excited for Blade Runner 2049 (if only they could do something about that title; it still feels awkward to me). Its made me wonder though, how rare it is to watch a science fiction film these days and think it’s one for the ages.

So anyway, as we tumble towards April, this is the latest photo of my disc purchases this year. And yes, by year’s end, I vow to have watched everything in this photo.