Tag Archives: science fiction

Movie Essentials: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

A rumor surrounding the initial studio screening of the film follows that one of the producers of the film, having worked hard to pump millions of dollars into the budget over an enterprise that lasted years, stood up at the film’s conclusion and promptly had a heart attack. Whether the rumor is true or not, the film has been giving viewers similar moments of shock, awe and bewilderment since.

2001: A Space Odyssey starts with a group of early humans, scrounging for food, competing with each other. They discover a strange, tall, black monolith which somehow instinctively draws them to it and soon they learn the concept of tools, the creatures taking the bones of a deceased tapir and using them to kill prey and rivals. Next, the audience is transported millions of years into the future, mankind now roaming space at ease, having discovered that same monolith on the moon, unsure what to make of it. A space mission to Jupiter finds a trio of characters, Drs. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) along with the artificial intelligence program HAL 9000 trekking to the far corners of the solar system. After HAL mistakenly reports that a part of the ship is malfunctioning, Bowman and Poole talk of shutting HAL down. HAL responds by killing Poole, cutting off his air tube in space and then disabling the life support systems of the other crewmembers in suspended animation. Bowman is able to unprogram HAL as the ship comes to Jupiter, finding another floating monolith in space that transports him through the cosmos. In a desolate room by himself, Bowman watches himself quickly grow old until he is on his deathbed. He stares up at the monolith above him once more, reaching out towards it before he is suddenly transformed into the Star Child, a fetus-looking organism that overlooks Earth.

What it all means has been debated for years. Some have likened it to the journey of evolution, the growth from primitive animal to man to machine to eternal being. Others note the similarity in the storyline to that of The Odyssey (Bowman using a key to unhinge HAL similar to Odysseus knocking the eye out of the Cyclops). Some even see technology being the true center of the story, HAL at times much more human than either Bowman or Poole, who often appear robotic and unemotional.

Kubrick refused to reveal his original intentions as to what the film meant. Wisely, he did not want to sway anyone’s opinion. Screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke once said, “If you understand ‘2001‘ completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” However, if you read the subsequent book that he wrote of the same name, it explains that the monolith is a creation of alien life that imbues other species with intelligent life. There are no aliens in the film however, giving the monolith a far more God-like feel, an omnipotent object that is unidentifiable.

Personally, in the mind of this reviewer, the monolith has always seemed a symbol of knowledge and power beyond human understanding, a metaphor for the eternal nature of the universe that we as human beings can only ponder but not understand. HAL, our attempt to create life, goes horribly wrong because of our inability to replicate consciousness as the universe does. What Bowman undergoes at the film’s conclusion is the metamorphosis into a being of sublime eternalness, the wisdom that comes from our souls joining the universe.

This process of understanding life is illuminated throughout the film itself, our birth represented as primeval man just learning to adapt (to walk for a child), the journey of adolescence symbolized by the voyage into space and the acceptance of inevitable death as Bowman is transported to a location beyond space and time, where such material aspects are inconsequential, and where he is joined with the universe, reaching a state of Utopian existence.

Now, that is only my interpretation. There are literally hundreds of others from all over. Different religions identify with the themes of the film and their own notions of the afterlife. Scientists debate its views on evolution and the progression of life on Earth and throughout the universe. Even hippies, those primarily responsible for making sure the film has the stature it does today, see psychedelic importance in the journey away from civilization into pure bliss. There is no right or wrong interpretation, creating a legacy for the film that will never end.

Kubrick stated that he wanted to change the medium of cinema with his work. He wanted to investigate new ways of experiencing film beyond the conformity that had set into the industry. With 2001, he has given audiences a film that continues to elicit questions and tickle our minds long after viewing. Boasting special effects that still appear seamless today and having influenced a generation of filmmakers, 2001 makes the wonder of the possibility of cinema seem infinite.


“Blade Runner 2049” a Great Sci-Fi Flick

Director Dennis Villeneuve has been steadily rising over the past few years. His films “Prisoners”, “Sicario” and “Arrival” are all solid works that hint at a filmmaker with vision and conviction. With “Blade Runner 2049”, Villeneuve practically blows the door off the cinema world and announces himself as one of the premiere filmmakers working today.

“Blade Runner 2049” features Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant, hunting down the previous generation of replicants who have broken free of society’s restraints and gone rogue. The world hates what he is, seeing him not as a person, but a sick creature pretending to be part of the human race. A mystery begins to unfold however as the bones of a dead replicant reveal a hidden secret. As ‘K’ delves deeper and deeper into the case, heroes and villains emerge and the possibility of a more pertinent life presents itself to him.

Gosling is solid in the lead role of the film, balancing the right amount of human tendencies with robotic insecurities. Side players Sappa (Dave Bautista), Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), Niander (Jared Leto) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) complete a diverse and interesting cast, but it is the characters of Joi (Ana de Armas) and Deckard (Harrison Ford) and their relationship with ‘K’ that really create the emotional core of the film. Joi and ‘K’ in particular share a very interesting arc of wondering whether or not their emotions are real.

The film tackles several absorbing existential questions regarding artificial intelligence and the ideas of living, building off the previous film’s themes in a great way. Do robotic beings have souls? Can they love? Can artificial intelligence in fact know more about life than the living? At what point do robots cease to be subordinate to man and become their own sentient race? This is a thinking man’s sci-fi film.

Special credit has to be given to cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner for creating a world so rich and real. It is truly breathtaking especially combined with Hans Zimmer’s haunting score.

The original “Blade Runner” was able to build a world full of intricacies, but lacked great storytelling to cement it as anything more than a visual epic. This sequel builds a heart underneath that facade and give birth to something new, both paying homage to its predecessor and creating something far superior. It is one of the best films of the year, a haunting and soulful journey of consciousness that takes you into an unforgettable world so close and far from us.

‘The Martian’ a refreshing science tale

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” tells the tale of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut presumed dead and left behind by his crew on the planet Mars after a sudden storm. Only Mark is still very much alive. Tasked with surviving the harsh Martian climate while trying to contact Earth for a rescue mission, Mark uses every scientific tool at his disposal, from creating fertile soil to digging up an old rover to connect with NASA.

“The Martian” feels like the third of a series of resurgent films on space, with “Gravity” (2013) and “Interstellar” (2014) coming before it. In comparison to those earlier films, “The Martian” is the lightest, filled more with the hope of success and scientific wonder than with pontificating on etherealism. So in that way, “The Martian” is more of a good-old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, enjoyable but somewhat more forgettable than “Gravity” or “Interstellar”.

Damon is very good in the title role, narrating what he is doing to a computer screen for record keeping and the rest of cast, including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara and Michael Peña, are also solid.

What the film does have going for it is a contagious adoration of science. As Mark uses every single item at his disposal to make himself food, transportation and communication, the viewer is tickled to see so many science experiments come to life. In a way, it is the most exciting science fair put to screen, a film Bill Nye himself would stamp with approval.

What’s missing is a personal tug of emotion with Damon’s character. There’s no lover awaiting him on Earth or daughter without a father. His background is not examined and that is a missed opportunity to establish an audience connection, something that really makes you pull for him to get off Mars.

While some will consider the film just a version of “Cast Away” (1999) in space, there is a lot of technique and charm in Scott’s direction of the film. It is a thrilling, if light, ride.

“Arrival” a poignant sci-fi experience

There’s something to be said for a good sci-fi film. Many people confuse fantasy and horror with sci-fi. “Star Wars” is fantasy. “The Thing” is horror. “Alien” is horror. Science fiction examines the unknown, tying our natural world and technology to the human condition. It usually asks more questions than it answers. It engages us in the way it views mystery and the cosmos. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is science fiction. “Interstellar” is science fiction. “Ex Machina” is science fiction. And “Arrival” is science fiction, and darn good science fiction at that.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer off a story (Story of Your Life) by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called by the United States government when several alien spaceships descend across the world. Banks must find a way to establish communication with them before the rest of the world goes haywire and carnage ensues.

Language and communication are the foundation for how Adams investigates these creatures and it is thrilling as we view her trying to establish contact. As countries such as Russia and China escalate their paranoia about why the aliens have arrived, the pressure mounts on Adams to figure out what exactly it is the aliens want. To help us? To harm us? One wrong symbol can change the entire course of mankind.

It is especially refreshing to see a film with aliens that is not preoccupied with leveling cities and giving us explosions and battles. “Arrival” examines real-world reality in its science fiction setting. What would China, Russia and the United States do in the event of alien landing? What would the common masses do? How would the pressures build? To see such thought put into a motion picture is nearly a miracle nowadays.

Jeremy Renner as Ian and Forrest Whitaker as Colonel Weber give strong performances, but it is Adams who steals the show. She is able to convey so much with just her eyes, finding the perfect balance between awe, fear and determination.

The ending is near pure cinematic bliss as all the different pieces come together; Louise’s personal journey, what the aliens want, her visions, Ian’s journey, the paranoia of China, whether Louise’s risk-taking was the right move. Without giving anything away, it is the perfect ending of answering some questions, asking a few more and giving us the emotional impact we deserve from a good science fiction film.