I recently formed a sci-fi movie club along with some other friends, where we watch a movie each month and chat about it with each other. The catch is that none of the others are based in the city that I am in, so it’s all done electronically: we stream movies from iTunes or wherever, and discuss it over email. It’s a bit different from the book club that I’m in, but still enjoyable. Kate is convinced that the real purpose of the club is to justify watching movies that none of the partners of those involved would ever want to watch. She is entitled to her theory.
But I wanted to mention one of the movies that we’ve watched that I found surprisingly enjoyable. It seems to be a film that got very little attention at the time, although it is a bit of a gem.
A well-made sci-fi mystery set on the moon
There was clearly a big budget set aside for this film. The production values are apparent from the very beginning, and yet the special effects are not gratuitous, despite being set in space. The movie is all about the story.
However, it doesn’t rush the story, and perhaps this feels a little slow at times, but also builds a sense of suspense around what is going to happen next. There is a real mystery here. The acting is also first-class, supporting the feeling of unease around the events. Even the robot character, Gerty, is well “acted”, which is a rare thing indeed.
I found it interesting how Gerty is given just three or four emoticon-type expressions based on how advanced the AI is otherwise. It is probably a fair approach to avoiding any uncanny-valley problems.
In hind-sight, this feels a lot like old-school sci-fi, of the ilk of Robert Heinlein. He was keen on Moon stories, too.
Rating by andrew: 4.0 stars
Our book-club book for the month is Jasper Fforde‘s most recent novel for adults. Not sure if I’m going to make it to book club this month, but anyway, while the book is still relatively fresh in my mind, I wanted to jot down my thoughts about it here.
An intriguing post-apocalyptic world with some novel ideas
Jasper Fforde is better known for his literary comedy books, which provide a post-modern take on the some traditional genres, like nursery rhymes. This book is a departure from that, so existing fans may not find it quite to their liking. This is, in essence, a science fiction novel: a story set in post-apocalyptic world.
There are still some comedic elements, and there is a hint of romance, but foremost this is a display of Fforde’s inventiveness. For example, in this speculative future, the characters live in a colourtocracy, where association with certain colours relates to a position in the class structure. One might consider the result to be the dystopian love child of George Orwell and Roald Dahl.
While the world itself is fascinating, and learning more about it was the impetus to keep reading, the main character was a bit of an empty shell. I didn’t find anything particularly likeable or admirable about him, nor anything repulsive either – he just stumbles along through the plot, primarily pushed along by other characters’ agendas.
Finally, it is worth noting that this book is the first of a trilogy, and the other books aren’t written yet. This was something not immediately apparent from the cover of the edition that I was reading.
Rating by andrew: 3.0 stars
There’s plenty that’s already been written on this movie, since it cost a bomb to make, the director waited a decade to make it until technology caught up to his vision, and it’s on a rapid trajectory to become the highest grossing film ever. But I’ve been hanging out to see it ever since I heard it would be in 3D, making it the first of the current crop of 3D films to be (at least, partially) live-action. And anyway, at least this review will be adhering to my strong policy of no spoilers.
An enjoyable film set in a jaw-droppingly impressive sci-fi universe.
This is not a new tale, and is similar to Dune (or to Pocahontas, I am told), but is delivered with such commitment to the vision of James Cameron that it cannot fail to impress. This film is awash with a wealth of detail that even Tolkien would be proud of. With scientific consultants including a linguist from USC and a botanist from UCR, the world has a lot of detail behind it that you can actually see on the screen. New technologies needed to be developed to produce the computer animation and to shoot the actors in 3D.
The 3D is something that is hyped up in the marketing for this film. I saw this film in 3D, but although I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it as much, or more, in 2D. It is a little distracting – from time to time I found myself impressed by the technology rather than immersed in the tale. Although, perhaps this is something that over time people will get used to. If you see enough 3D video content, you will probably be able to look past the 3D aspect itself.
The themes in the movie are consistent with the effort that Cameron has invested in his new world – perhaps he subconsciously doesn’t want anyone to mess with it. The themes cover the effects of colonialism, the theory of gaia, and the problems of the military-industrial complex. If this doesn’t float your boat, you can still get lost in the film’s 3D beauty or its action sequences.
Although, ironically, the characters themselves don’t have a great deal of depth. I found it hard to really empathise with them, or find their motivations completely believable. However, at least the heroes are likeable.
Even if the characters don’t re-appear, I came away convinced that the world will appear again in further movies, games and books. Like Star Trek, Star Wars or Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the story universe has been so richly populated that sequels can’t help but be spun out form it. Sounds like Cameron has at least a couple more films up his sleeve for it, also.
My rating: 3.5 stars