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Posts Tagged ‘film’

10 Reasons You Want to Watch BLADE RUNNER, The Original

Blade Runner, The Original

I rewatched BLADE RUNNER last night in a friend’s home-theater with a group of folks in their 20s and 30s. For some, it was their first time viewing the film.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have seen the original BLADE RUNNER on the big screen during its first weekend release. I was a young highschooler at the time, a huge sci-fi fan and living in Burbank, California. I remember my older brother and I driving west over the Hollywood Hills, as we did often in that era, to make sure we were getting the biggest bang for our buck. Our theater of choice that night was The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

It’s not easy to describe to a new generation of filmgoers how important this film was at that time. Most folks in the film industry, especially directors point to BLADE RUNNER as ground-breaking. Ridley Scott made BLADE RUNNER after finishing the film, ALIEN. He also made it after his brother had died of cancer. The dark setting of BLADE RUNNER reflects a dark state of mind. Don’t expect cheerfulness here.

YET…you don’t have to be a filmmaker to appreciate BLADE RUNNER.

 

Here are 10 Reasons Every Sci-Fi Fan Ought to Watch BLADE RUNNER

Oh, and watch the FINAL CUT. 2007 version. There are seven versions of this film. Kind of crazy, I know.

  1. Cult classics happen for a reason. Following its meh release in 1982, a slow-building respect, awe and cult following emerged.
  2. BLADE RUNNER influenced the next generation of filmmakers, especially dystopian and sci-fi writers/directors.
  3. This is a brilliant screenplay (especially once R.Scott took out the clunky voice-over narration), though there are many fans of that version of the film.
  4. Take pleasure in watching a young Harrison Ford perfectly embody the main character, Richard Deckard.
  5. You like The Man in the High Castle? Philip K. Dick wrote that novel. BLADE RUNNER is an adaptation of his weird classic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  6. You’re a Battlestar Galactica fan? Here is a chance to see Edward James Olmos (Captain Adama) in a role you would not expect.
  7. Complicated villain. Rutger Hauer…what a performance!

    Hauer as Roy Batty

  8. The sequel is excellent and makes a lot more sense if you watch the original first.
  9. This is not a movie for the weak, nor is it for the mindless. You will have to think and process the experience after viewing.
  10. Because of number 9, it’s a great film to see with a group of friends. At the very least, the post-film discussion won’t be boring.

 

If you want to totally nerd out on BLADE RUNNER, I recommend this very long and thorough article in Cinephilia & Beyond

Writing Dynamic Non-Humanoid Aliens, Part 4 of 4

The Hive Brain Alien (Spoilers Galore)

Writing non-humanoid aliens who don’t speak a human language is no easy task. This post is preceded by three others. If you want the earlier insights, link to to Part 1,  Part 2, and Part 3. It occurs to me that I ought to define dynamic. That word is in all four titles.

In terms of a dynamic literary character, I mean a character who is neither pure good, nor pure evil…a character that can change its/his/her mind, can act morally or immorally, and can find its way into the audience’s heart.

Alien, of Ridley Scott fame

This post will be a study of ALIEN, BATTLE STAR GALACTICA, ANNIHILATION and ENDER’S GAME.

Hive brain aliens (or A.I. in the case of Battle Star Galactica) differ so much from human beings, in part because their societies resemble what would be perceived by humans, as dictatorships or slave states. Hive communities, though a perfectly reasonable way of life for many of Earth’s tiny creatures, when translated into human terms, feel unpalatable. All hive individuals think alike. All live for the queen. All work for her good and the good of the community, often at the expense of the individual. So, how does an author drum up empathy for these characters? In the case of Ridley Scott with his Alien creature…almost none. The exception would be in Alien Resurrection, the third film in the franchise, when the newborn hybrid alien is killed by its own mother, Ripley. The audience knows this is necessary, but still…it hurts to see that cute (not cute) little spawn (not little) sucked out of the spaceship.

Mommy?

So, these aliens in the Alien franchise are not sapient. They do not make tools and have no technological civilization of any kind.

They are predators, with one goal…survival. Not only will they eliminate other lifeforms that may pose a threat to them, they will impregnate those who remain and use them to feed their young. Yeah…not a pretty picture, but still, that moment when Ripley turns her back on her offspring…it tugs our heart for a brief moment.

My husband and I have been re-watching Battle Star Galactica (which, by the way is fantastic; the writing, the acting and the overall production hold up to any tv series produced ever after). In BSG, the Cylons are the worker bees of a hive mind (an A.I. computer searching for meaning). The Cylons have destroyed human civilization and are chasing down the remnant who are fleeing in space vessels across galaxies to find a place where they will be able to survive/start over. The Cylons are called “toasters” by the humans who shoot them dead (otherwise, they will likely die by the hands/guns of those Cylons). The Cylons are non-human with little or no individuality…until, the computer brain figures out how to create machines that are VERY human-like. Those Cylons infiltrate the human remnant and take on unique personalities. One even falls in love and is impregnated by a human. So…it all becomes complicated. Including, the episode we just watched which chronicles a Cylon called Scar. The episode is the 15th of the second season and is titled, Scar. It is free for for Amazon Prime members as is the entire series.

This particular Cylon is not only named by the human fleet (naming a hive member changes the way the audience sees this character), it is feared by them. The fleet’s fear of Scar also puts it in a unique category. No longer is Scar a worker bee.

Scar has been able to kill more human viper pilots by learning. The implication put forward by one of the human-like Cylons (the pregnant one) is that each time Scar has been destroyed, its failure in battle remains in its brain. As that brain is downloaded into the new Cylon body, a new pilot is born, only it does not forget. Scar is able to access the lessons of its battle failures and grow more adept at fighting human pilots. In a previous episode of BSG, the human fleet has destroyed the Cylon “resurrection ship”. Therefore, this battle with Scar is to the death. Scar will not be coming back in a new body if it is destroyed this time.

Cylon. Battle Star Galactica

In BSG, the writers want the audience to grapple with a morphing understanding of the Cylons. Cylons start out all evil, but don’t stay that way. Various human-like Cylons enter into human community and help it, many step in with critiques of human society, acting almost like prophets. The Cylons are monotheists, who believe there is a purpose to their existence. The human remnant is polytheistic, worshipping the gods of the Greek Pantheon. Wonderful fodder for philosophical ponderings within BSG.. Through the many episodes of BSG, the audience begins to feel more compassion for the Cylons. The entire series is worth watching if you are a writer who cares about humanizing characters that fall into the category of enemy or other.

In ANNIHILATION, the enemy is mysterious, hive-like in that it reacts en masse and not as individuals…In fact, it can’t be categorized as a hive-brain alien exactly. There is little clarity that the anomaly in Area X is actually an alien takeover. What emerges is the notion (at least in the novel) that the changes taking place in Area X are inevitable and may be good for Earth. The anomaly, however, is impersonal. The alien impact, or whatever it is, is spreading and seems to have no consciousness in the way we think of consciousness, but is more like a fungus or a virus. It has power to change its environment, but any actual “brain” that would become a military target, allowing our government to remove the anomaly is unclear. Lots of mystery, but the writer, Vandermeer, makes it work, especially in ANNIHILATION, the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Area X is frightening because it consumes and/or changes all who encounter it. As a writer, ANNIHILATION is worth studying for the utter strangeness of the alien anomaly. There is no verbal communication with it, only physical and psychological encounter. The biologist character in the novel (Lina, in the film) helps the audience see the mystery as beauty. However, the ambiguity remains and is never truly resolved. It’s good to see an alien like this. The presence of it pushes the human characters to their limits and reveals aspects of our humanity that are important to recognize. Really great sci-fi ought to do this.

Lastly, ENDER’S GAME. The Formics are the enemies, (the Buggers) that Ender eventually destroys. The novel is about how he is trained to perform this act. Ender commits xenocide without knowing it. It’s worth reading or re-reading ENDER’S GAME to watch how Orson Scott Card pulls this off. The Formics are all evil until very close to the end of the novel. The turn takes place when the innocent, but talented Ender realizes how he has been manipulated and how his power has been used to “save Earth”, but while doing so, he has destroyed another species. His grief is immense. Ender will bear this guilt into subsequent novels. The audience, once it realizes that the Formics have been destroyed, enters into Ender’s regret. A young boy’s conscience has been scarred. The novel then portrays the Bugger queen communicating with Ender, giving hope to him that there might be a path to redemption. The audience wants this for Ender. The queen reveals that the Formics had initially assumed humans were a non-sentient race because they lacked a hive mind. She/they realized their mistake too late. In other words, the war was a BIG misunderstanding. The queen requests that Ender take a dormant egg that has not been destroyed to a new planet where this species can thrive anew and Ender agrees. Suddenly, the audience is rooting for the Formics.

That is a turn around worth studying! The audience goes from hating Formics and seeing them as a monolith, to empathizing with them and hoping for their rebirth.

Make sure you pick this novel up next time you’re at the bookstore or you can order it here.

 

 

Writing Dynamic Non-Humanoid Aliens, Part 3 of 4

SPANISH DANCER, EMBASSYTOWN

Today, I look at China Miéville’s, EMBASSYTOWN. Beware of spoilers. This won’t be a review of the novel, but a study of the Ariekei, the aliens indigenous to the planet Arieka.

First, a little advice…If you have the opportunity, consume EMBASSYTOWN via audiobook. To buy EMBASSYTOWN via Audible, click here. To buy the physical novel, EMBASSYTOWN click here. Language is central to the story, but the Ariekei language is best experienced when heard rather than read, therefore my encouragement to read via Audible. The Ariekei (also known as the hosts) speak from two mouths at once. One mind, but two words emerge from the creature when it vocalizes. In the audio reading, the sound producers overlay two words spoken at once, like hearing two notes played at the same time. The effect is marvelous and strange.

For a synopsis: One human culture, the Bremen, has adapted and figured out a method of speaking with and listening to the indigenous population of Arieka, a planet on the edge of the known universe. Their motivation for doing so is to maintain a colony on Arieka. Like a typical colonial power, the Bremen dig for metals and also trade with the Ariekei, whose biotech is advanced and valuable across the known universe. The Ariekei are advanced in many respects, but their language does not allow them to lie or even speculate.

Conflict arises in EMBASSYTOWN when one Bremen ambassador introduces lying into the Ariekei language. He does this in the hopes of taking control of the host population, but chaos ensues. The main character, a woman named Avice Benner Cho, steps in to save those living on the planet, both human and Ariekei.

How does Miéville give the aliens, the Areikei, personality and tap into audience empathy?

  1. Similar to the film Arrival (see post 2 of 3), point of view is key. POV rests in one human character who is relatable. Avice narrates this tale in the first person. Not only is she human, she was raised on Arieka and is known by the indigenous population. She is returning to her home after many years of traveling through space. Avice is the “in between” character. She describes, interprets and translates for the audience.

    The sea creature also known as the Spanish Dancer

  2. Miéville finds colorful shorthand ways of describing the physical and personality attributes of particular Ariekei. Miéville, through his narrator, Avice gives the aliens nicknames, like  Spanish Dancer. It’s genius because this shorthand gives the audience color, shape and depth to individual Ariekei and is so much better than than referring to all of them as “insect-horse-coral-fan things” another set of descriptors Avice muses on in the novel. An artist’s rendering in the top image is not necessarily what I had imagined when I pictured the Spanish Dancer, but Miéville doesn’t need me to have that specific picture in my mind. The broad brush strokes are there in the nickname and not just any nickname…calling the creature a dancer implies grace and dignity. The name takes an alien that might be perceived as monstrous and draws our attention to its beauty and gentleness. Maybe this is why ocean scientists call the sea creature (pictured above) a Spanish Dancer. The moniker is descriptive and if I’m visiting an aquarium staring at this thing through glass, if I am thinking of dancers instead of monsters, my eyes are drawn to its beauty. Miéville is doing the same thing when he has Avice call one particular Ariekei, The Spanish Dancer. 
  3.  The Ariekei have known Avice since she was a child. Avice has a positive association with the Ariekei. She was raised on their planet and thrived. Humans and Ariekei have lived together for many years in peace. This underlying truth makes a difference in how the audience feels about the Ariekei.
  4.  The Ariekei are vulnerable to human abuse. The narrative of indigenous people groups used and abused by empires and greedy civilizations is not an uncommon story for the current sci-fi reading audience. Miéville dips into that narrative in this novel, portraying the aliens as complex, but also also as innocent, in large part because their language makes it impossible for them to lie. The audience empathizes with the vulnerable indigenous population. The narrative of “empire” taking over the “innocents” and using them for its own gain is familiar. That story taps into the audience’s empathy and our empathy lies with the Ariekei in this case.
  5. Avice relates to individual Ariekei, Miéville’s way of showing the audience that the Ariekei are not a monolith. Spanish Dancer is the most important Ariekei to the story, but there are others. As Avice relates to her and describes her and other Ariekei, the audience recognizes that though they are different from humans, the Ariekei are not all the same as one another. They are distinct in appearance and personality just as human beings are distinct from one another. (contrast this reality with the hive mind aliens, like the Formics in the Ender’s Game series, or the big computer brain of the Cylons “toasters” in Battle Star Galactica television series. I will tackle hive mind aliens in my final post on this topic.

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Female Empowerment and the Superhero

A REVIEW OF THE 2019 FILM AND A FEW OTHER OBSERVATIONS

In the last ten years, the urging of audiences around the globe have pushed the film industry to re-think the way it portrays people of color and women, folks who might not have been featured in stories (especially superhero stories) as headliners.

A number of different types of heroes have emerged victorious: Wonder Woman hit the scene big in 2017, the Black Widow in the Marvel universe has taken an elevated seat (will not spoil, but she plays an essential roll in Avengers: End Game, released this past month), and Black Panther, another Marvel character and storyline that incorporates not only one African character, but an entire culture.

All those films/characters broke open that hunger into full fledged box office $ and now, CAPTAIN MARVEL enters the scene.

Captain Marvel. First of all…I have to say. What fun! I loved this film and I noticed after emerging from the fog of the fictional dream what the credits indicated. I noticed how many women worked on the writing. The WRITING. I cannot emphasize this enough. Women were put into positions of power, able to make decisions about the story.

  1. Directed by Anna Boden
  2. Screenplay written by Anna Boden and a dude named Ryan
  3. Story credits going to Anna Boden, Nicole Perlman, Geneva Roberson-Dworet, Meg Le Fauve, and yes…a dude named Ryan

Ms. Marvel

So…when there was a shouting match in the writer’s room about what the character is thinking and feeling and the actions she is about to take…Ryan might have been “out-shouted” by the women. That was a good thing for audiences everywhere.

Wonder Woman was an amazing film, but women were not in the writing credits. A woman was instrumental in the direction of the film, which is awesome, but women did not “create the character”…in fact…here are the names of the writers:

  1. Zach Snyder
  2. Alan Heinberg
  3. Jason Fuchs

I’m not saying these dudes were bad people, insensitive to female motivation and feminine issues of power and agency, but…they are three dudes and there are zero women in terms of the story creation.

What was it like to be in the writer’s room of CAPTAIN MARVEL versus Wonder Woman. I imagine there was a difference.

And for me, even before I saw the credits, CAPTAIN MARVEL struck a note about women differently than Wonder Woman did. I noticed how the character’s strengths and flaws made sense to me as a woman.

CAPTAIN MARVEL was not a perfect film and there are problems (as an author I foresee them) with how incredibly powerful the creators have made Carol “Captain Marvel”. What is to keep her from showing up every other day and solving the world’s issues? The implication from Avengers: End Game is that she is super dang busy with solving the universe’s issues with evil, so she can’t bail them out every time there is a problem.

A problem a lot of great woman face, I suppose.  They want to help people, but have too much to do and not enough time on their hands…CAPTAIN MARVEL sounds like any number of Saints in the Catholic Canon. “If there were just more of us…” said one lady saint to another…

Indeed…I hope there will be more female heroes portrayed in the superhero universe in the coming years.

By the way…for those interested…there is a weird subtext to the Wonder Woman mythology. Click here to read an article about the man who conceived of the character:  The Creepy Creator of Wonder Woman

But don’t discount this creator/writer too quickly. He is said to have written this in a letter to the publishers of DC Comics:

“Look, if you had a female superhero, her powers could all be about love and truth and beauty, and you could also sell your comic books better to girls,” he said. “And that would be really important and great because she could show girls that they (girls) could do anything.”

 

 

 

Writing Dynamic Non-Humanoid Aliens, Part 1 of 4

The Antedean on Star Trek

A Study of Non-Humanoid Characters

(Beware. A Few Spoilers Below. For a no-spoiler review of the film, ANNIHILATION click here, for a review of the novel, click here )

Since my second viewing of the film, ANNIHILATION, I have been musing on my own sci-fi writing, thinking about how difficult it is to portray non-humanoid aliens in a novel, even more so on the screen or stage. The audience may not ponder this, but sci-fi authors grapple with the problem every time they sit down to write.

 

If you do a google image search of Star Trek aliens, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Scroll down and down and down to view many colors of skin, odd make up and costumes, but most of the images you see will be faces that look a lot like human faces. In particular, those aliens that become super villains are almost always humanoid…Klingons, for example. Why do Star Trek writers/producers seem to prefer the humanoid alien?

 

One theory emerges…

 

When telling stories, facial expressions and body language hold meaning. When my editor asks me to show and not tell in my story, I rely on movement, posture, actions as well as dialogue to show character. So, if my alien is a purple blob that does not speak human language and is flying a space vessel into lower Earth orbit for the first time and feels anxious, how do I show the reader its anxiety? My editor will scold me if I write: The blob creature was anxious as it flew into low Earth orbit? This is an example of telling and not showing. Substandard writing. She wants better and I pay her for that advice…so how does a writer manage? Maybe I decide the blob alien doesn’t have any feelings. It’s machinelike. I don’t need to show anything beyond the flying. That option is backed up by the way human beings often view the other, whether alien or human. That’s how people objectify the other.

 

It/he or she feels nothing = I feel no connection = I don’t relate = I can despise it, him, her. 

 

The not-feeling portrayal of the alien works sometimes. A number of successful sci-fi stories deliver to its audience the alien as monster, a creature or entity both sinister and destructive. The Thing as well as the first Alien films are good examples. Both follow the script of the haunted house drama. Humans are in grave danger, trying to defeat a monster that has found its way into the sacred living space. It will use up and in the process destroy all the good guys, unless the good guys destroy it/them first. The monster is objectively all evil.

 

What about non-human characters that might not be all evil?  Those are of interest to me as they are to many other sci-fi writers.

 

Back to the purple blob.

 

So, how would I portray the anxiety in my  blob character? Maybe I show the blob sweating while it nears planet Earth. Okay…that won’t work. How about a trembling blob? Would my audience interpret a trembling blob as an anxious one? For all they know, the trembling is a physical reality of a ship entering Earth orbit. You see the problem, which brings me to R2D2.

 

R2D2 on Tatooine

R2D2, not an alien but wildly different than a human, holds one answer. Recall a number of Star Wars franchise films. R2’s personality makes his mark in all of them and does so as a non human…How do the writers pull this off? How does R2 connect with the audience, which he does in a big way? (Note: in the Star Wars universe, all droids are programmed male or female. R2 was programmed “male” which is why I use the male pronoun when referring to him.) How do we know R2 has feelings when he can only bleep, squeal, whistle, spin its carapace from left to right, roll here and there and lunge back and forth on his three-wheeled legs? He doesn’t have facial expressions, arms and doesn’t even speak a human language, but the audience, especially children, feel a connection and an affection for this character. Why?

Dig deeper into the screenplay of the earliest film…Notice how humans, Luke and Leah, or another verbal and humanoid robot, C3P0 interpret for the audience what R2’s squeals, bleeps and actions mean. The audience sees and hears C3P0 responding to R2D2 in STAR WARS, A NEW HOPE and comes to understand the determined personality of this character.

 

Here’s an early R2D2 scene most of us are familiar with…the droids have just crash-landed on Tatooine and are journeying together across the planet’s desert-like dunes.

 

C3P0: What a desolate place this is…

R2: squeak, whistle

C3P0: Where do you think you’re going? Well I’m not going that way. It’s much too rocky.

R2: bleep, squeak

C3P0: This way is much easier. What makes you think there are settlements over there?

R2: bleep, bleep, whistle

C3P0: Don’t get technical with me. What mission? What are you talking about?

R2: whistle, bleep, bleep

C3P0: I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you nearsighted scrap pile!

R2: (turns to the left and begins heading in a different direction than C3P0)

C3P0: (calls after a departing R2) And don’t let me catch you following me and begging for help because you won’t get it.

Clever writers! This is one way to give that bucket of tin a whole lot of personality…put him alongside another verbal character who will always react emotionally (even though he is a droid, who of us would deny that C3P0 is highly emotional?) and interpret bleeps and whistles for the audience. After a while, the audience doesn’t even need the interpretation. We begin to hear the difference between a happy squeak or whistle and a sad bleep.

Back to the purple blob. If another humanoid is flying co-pilot and happens to speak a human language…now I can have the co-pilot respond to the trembling.

Purple Blob: (trembling as flames erupt around the nose of its space vessel)

Humanoid Co-Pilot: I’ve never seen you tremble before, Sir.

Purple Blob: (squishes 2 hoots and a few groans out an opening on the side of its gelatinous body.)

Humanoid Co-Pilot: Well. I can see why you would be nervous. The gravity on this planet is stronger than we thought, but our heat panels should protect us.

Purple Blob: (squishes out 1 hoot)

Humanoid Co-Pilot:  I’m just glad it’s you flying a not me.

 

That’s it for now. Thursday, I’ll tackle the fantastic aliens in the film and short story, ARRIVAL.

 

Film Review of Annihilation, Echoes of Ripley and the Alien Franchise…

This is a review without spoilers.

 

Don’t miss this film. It’s easy to watch. Right now ANNIHILATION is free for Amazon Prime members.

 

Five Reasons to Watch this Film

 

  1. It puts forward a non-humanoid portrayal of an alien species invading our planet–always a welcome change in sci-fi land.
  2. Watch it for the tension, mystery and suspense (on par with films like Alien and The Thing).
  3. Watch it for dynamic, mostly female cast. Realistic and flawed characters with agency and intelligence.
  4. Watch it for the beautifully imagined world. The CGI and other effects are a visual feast.
  5. I also enjoyed the creepy music. I expect it will make your skin crawl as it did mine.

 

Lena

ANNIHILATION is based on The Southern Reach Trilogy novels by Jeff Vandermeer. Watch the film and read the first book (in particular), also called Annihilation. To read my review of the first novel, click here. The film diverges enough from the novel, spoilers aren’t an issue. Both stand alone and give the consumer something different. The most important commonality in both is the main character: Lena, as named in the film. She is not named in the book, but is only known as the biologist.

 

Alex Garland wrote the screenplay based on the trilogy, but focused on the first book. He takes that novel told in the first person, a story relayed by the journal entries of the biologist, and creates something that makes sense for the screen.

 

In one of the film’s earliest scenes, a comet or asteroid hits Earth, near a lighthouse on the North-Eastern coast of the US. Within a few years (we learn later), an anomaly develops in and around the area where the asteroid hit. It becomes circumscribed by what the government people call, the shimmer.

 

The story of Lena opens with her sitting in a chair in a mostly empty hospital-type viewing room. She is dressed in scrubs, surrounded by men and women in hazmat suits, many of whom watch her through windows. One man is interviewing her about her journey into the shimmer. She is only survivor who has returned of a 5-person team. As he questions her, the story unfolds.

 

The casting of ANNIHILATION is strong, with nuanced performances by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (as the psychologist and expedition leader).

 

This film was released on a February weekend in 2018, the weekend following the release of Black Panther. While the Marvel masterpiece sucked nearly all of the movie-going public into the theaters, one, two and three times to ooh and aah over that story, the graphics and the unfolding of a Wakanda power struggle, ANNIHILATION quietly drew its small and eclectic audience. It left the theaters before the Hollywood press had a chance to say much about it. In truth, even without Black Panther as competition for eyeballs, the film was rated “R”, and therefore would not have attracted the masses.

 

However, similar to a film like Under the Skin, this story is so creepy and alien in a way that pushes the imagination, the sci-fi fanatic will adore it…as should biologists, who will see their discipline elevated in a way not often witnessed on the big screen.

 

If you are a DVD watcher, here is a link for purchase.

ANNIHILATION dvd

 

I end with a favorite quote:

“Was it carbon based? What did it want? It came here for a reason. It came here for a reason. It mutated everything.”

BIRD BOX: A Review with a Couple of Spoilers

Watch and Enjoy. BIRD BOX is an Entertaining Film as Long as you Know that These Images and Themes Have Been Seen Before

BIRD BOX was produced by Netflix and released for public consumption on December, 21, 2018. According to Netflix data, 45 million people watched BIRD BOX in the week before Christmas.

For those who didn’t watch it over Christmas, like me, here’s the review…

This story is a Quiet Place, but without the husband (there is a stand-out dude…Tom, played by Trevante Rhodes…who becomes a stand-in husband and Father, but for a short portion of the film). The story portrays a mother, Sandra Bullock, as Malorie, who gives birth shortly after a catastrophic alien invasion? The film does not make this clear…Is it really aliens? At one point, there is a reference to North Korea and bio warfare…but one can be pretty sure it’s more along the alien invasion spectrum. Creatures are mentioned in one of the early scenes. Most eager scifi fans will swallow yet another apocalyptic scenario and accept the tragedy as instigated by something otherworldly that impacts every person, mostly in a negative way. (99% of the human race does not thrive under its influence…yes, that’s a spoiler of sorts, but then you probably knew this).

There is some challenge in writing a review of this film with zero spoilers, because the narrative is so familiar to so many of us, but I’ll try. 

Here’s the premise…After an alien invasion (I think) every person becomes infected with a psychosis. This is spread from person to person through what they see. What do they see? That remains a mystery, but the results can be seen and they are catastrophic. Those infected figure out ways to kill themselves. Society drifts into destruction. Those who survive either do so by covering their eyes or a few see and don’t kill themselves right away. However, they become crazy people who attempt to get everyone else infected. The aliens are never seen by the audience, though they are heard and they are drawn in charcoal on paper by one survivor (one of the crazies). The aliens appear (in his drawings) as demons or devils. It’s possible this is some kind of bio-tech warfare and the creatures/aliens are all imagined, part of the psychosis. The audience isn’t in the know on that one.

Sandra Bullock finds herself responsible for two children and needs to figure out a way to get them to safety and a place where they can thrive. For that to happen, she needs to float them down a river, blindfolded. The story opens with her getting on the boat after lecturing the two little ones on the dangers of the trip and the importance of never taking off the blindfold, but the real body of the film takes place in backstory.

BIRD BOX portrays what A Quiet Place never did…the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic alien invasion that jacks up humanity. In BIRD BOX, the audience sees the unraveling. In A Quiet Place the viewer needs to imagine that unraveling. However, in BIRD BOX, the audience needs to imagine the villain. In A Quiet Place, the audience gets a clear view, eventually, of the alien that is bent on destroying humanity and by the end, a possible way to defeat it. That “ending” note is missing from BIRD BOX. It does not deliver enough answers about the mystery. Does an unseen villain ruin this film? Not exactly, but if a sequel is ever made, I will expect answers.

Regarding the similarities between the two films…It did strike me right away that in BIRD BOX, covering eyes is important, while in A Quiet Place not speaking is essential…which begs the questions…is this a theme that our current audiences want to explore? What if we had to survive in a post apocalyptic world without our sight or without speaking? Maybe the post apocalyptic universe is too easy…or maybe too familiar? I suppose, the next film of this ilk will explore surviving without hearing, or how about without tasting. Apparently, the public hungers for the answers to these question. I suspect, the quandary has to do with our over-teched and over-connected reality, but maybe there is another yearning I don’t yet comprehend. Another similarity between the films is the prominence of a pregnant mom as a survivor during a horrid moment of human existence.

I will say, the film (free for Netflix users) BIRD BOX is an entertaining jaunt. If you can get past the unknowns that are never explained…watch it and enjoy the drama that can only unfold at the end of the world.

 

Film Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Hello audience of All Sci Fi! Welcome to the second guest post. My name is Abby Jensen and I am Susi Pritchett Jensen’s daughter. She raised me with a strong love of good stories and science fiction. I also am lucky enough to be one of the first test readers for many of her stories and her novel. I have been helping my mom set up this site for the past year and am very excited to write my first content for it!

 

 

No Spoilers Review:

We have a longstanding tradition in our family of seeing a movie on my mom’s birthday because it’s so close to Christmas. This year she chose SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. My brother and I had already seen it once, but it is definitely the kind of film you can go back to and enjoy more every time.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is an action-packed, hilarious, and heartwarming story of family told from the perspective of Miles Morales, a Black/Latino middle school boy. Miles faces the standard coming-of-age problems of a mixed-race kid from gentrifying Brooklyn, along with a plethora of classic Spider-Man villains to save not just his universe, but the entire multiverse from collapse. It’s also rated PG and is accessible to kids as young as 7 or 8 (younger if they’re precocious.)

The writers deftly deal with multiple Spiderman comic universes, keeping them accurate, in-character, and interesting for both kids and adults. If you are a nerdy parent looking to introduce your kids to comic books, this film could be an excellent inroad. And even if you aren’t familiar with Marvel Comics, Spiderman, and especially Miles Morales as Spiderman, is incredibly relatable for people of all ages. After all, anyone can wear the mask, which Miles and the Spider gang (from the other universes) discover together. All they need is a persistent willingness to get back up after every hit.

What impressed me more than the well-handled story, was the unique animation style. As a designer, I was dazzled by the ways the visuals connected to narrative elements in the film. High quality 3D computer animation has been around for long enough that it finally seems like studios are willing to experiment with the medium. For SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, Sony uses animation to its full potential, creating a colorful comic-like universe for Miles. The textures and chaotic 3D effects connected with the disruptions of the multiverse evoke the unknowns of multiple dimensions in a way that is familiar enough that even kids will appreciate it. 

3 Reasons You and Your Kids Should See SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

  1. The message is inclusive and accessible to kids as young as 7 and as old as me (a 23-year-old kid.)
  2. The animation is beautiful and artistically adventurous, both of which add to the story.
  3. Miles Morales, a black/latino middle-school kid, brings one of the most relatable superheroes ever created to 21st century gen-z relevance.

A QUIET PLACE, Film Review with a Slight Spoiler

Science fiction pops up in the darndest places, some of those places are quiet places. Okay, okay…so that’s a bit of a spoiler, but why the heck did it take me so long to hear from someone/anyone that this film was about people surviving an alien invasion. I think some of why is because of the code of mystery that surrounded this film when it came out. Everyone seemed reluctant to tell…

I assumed A QUIET PLACE was horror/suspense. Most of the trailers indicated that this was so. I did not get the chance to see this film in the theater, but I might have tried a lot harder had I known about the scifi underpinnings. At some point, both my kids saw the film and told me with a wink and a nod that I should definitely view it. “It’s really good,” they said, “and not gory like a horror flick.”

That comment from them made me think it was for sure a horror flick, a well done horror flick, but still, horror all the way.

So…I didn’t get it. In fact, I might have missed the film altogether had it not been for a friend spilling the beans recently.

“You’ve seen A QUIET PLACE, haven’t you? There are aliens in this film.”

Okay, so now I know and now you know and it’s not a huge spoiler. The first view of the alien comes by the end of the beginning sequence, about 7 minutes into the film.

However, this story is not alien-centric. It’s family-centric in a really great way. The premise of an alien who hears its prey and only then comes to destroy, but leaves survivors alone if they are silent, now that is a fun and new angle on the alien invasion story.

Five reasons I recommend A QUIET PLACE, directed by the lead actor, John Krasinski

  1. Superior storytelling, lots of tension and heart. The idea of watching a silent film has been lost to the modern audience. In this creepy portrayal, there are powerful swaths of storytelling in which the visual completely dominates the viewing experience. That feels new and vibrant, in part because the visual story telling in A QUIET PLACE is well done.
  2. The family unit (not one individual) is the protagonist and each of the members are smartly drawn. A deaf character adds depth to the unfolding drama. We root for all of them. (Dad played by John Krasinski. Mom played by Emily Blunt. Daughter played by Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress.)
  3. Powerful and brutal villain(s). Ugly too.
  4. Inspiring examples of the will to survive and the costs we incur, AKA the suffering we endure, to love one another.
  5. Juxtaposition of idyllic scenery/cinematography and the unknown, the mystery of that which is not seen, the horror that is waiting to besiege.

The story unfolds in a post-alien invasion rural US (the locale is possibly somewhere East of the Mississippi, maybe Vermont). The aliens, rarely present, including their spaceships are not seen in the film, have come to Earth and have destroyed all living creatures who make noise (even animals that sniff about and snarl). It seems the aliens have no visual acuity, but can hear from very very far away and once they hear, they come to kill almost immediately. Those who survive the invasion are attempting a life in silence, including the protagonist family. The audience meets them initially as they tiptoe through a drug store (they are all barefoot) and scavenge for medicine and goods. The audience deduces, this is one town of millions of towns and this is one family among thousands of surviving groups? One other survivor is seen in the film…Let’s just say, he doesn’t last long.

Imagine your family trying not to make any noise. Imagine trying to communicate, trying to thrive without vocalizing. Imagine feeling pain without crying and playing monopoly without table chatter. Imagine that your life depended on staying silent. Herein lies the tension of the film. Also, there are discoveries to be made about the villain and how to defeat it/them. Might something be unearthed by our protagonists? Perhaps, but at what cost? You’ll have to watch the film to find out. $5.99 to rent on iTunes.

ARRIVAL, Film Review Without Spoilers

I recently watched ARRIVAL for a second time through Amazon Prime. In my first viewing, I was in a theater and I loved it. This second go-around, I was not disappointed. I watched with a group of my cousins who are all film/scifi nuts. The viewing was free for Prime members.

ARRIVAL is rated PG 13…it’s somewhat creepy and suspenseful, but a middle school child or a sensitive viewer could probably handle the production. I’m not sure why it did not receive the PG rating. It unfolds without graphic violence and there is no explicit sexual content. One might call ARRIVAL a quiet film, but the subject matter takes it from the quiet realm into the epic and deeply thoughtful.

ARRIVAL was released in theaters to much acclaim in 2016. The film is based on a short story by Ted Chiang. Eric Heisserer wrote the screenplay. I hope to read and review Chiang’s short story in a future post.

The film unfolds with slow intensity primarily around one character, Louise Banks, played wonderfully by Amy Adams. Banks is a linguist recruited by the US government to learn the language spoken by aliens who have alighted in giant oblong space ships in twelve locations around the globe.

The story is a linguist’s dream and as a science fiction fan, I recall a number of novels that view first contact in light of language and communication. China Miéville’s Embassy Town is a good example. In a story such as this, violence is often threatened, but not center stage. Mysteries and the push to understand the other dominate the narrative.

 

Five quotes from the screenplay to pique your interest:

  1. “If this is some sort of peaceful first contact, why send twelve? Why not just send one?”
  2. “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict…”
  3. “Are they scientists or tourists? If they’re scientist, they don’t seem to ask a lot of questions…”
  4. “If you could see your life from start to finish, would you change things?”
  5. “Meeting you…was more important that seeing the stars…”

Five reasons to watch this film.

  1. It’s free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
  2. If your family is into science fiction, ARRIVAL is a crowd pleaser which you can show to your kids with a clear conscience.
  3. Potential discussion about language and linguistics, the puzzle and the importance of communication.
  4. Female hero with lots of brains and only a few characters to keep track of.
  5. Potentially leads to fruitful discussion about love, suffering, beauty, grace, even religion.

To buy this DVD, click here.