Posts Tagged ‘science fiction movie’

Humanity has an inauspicious introduction to an alien organism in the sci-fi/horror movie ‘Life’

May 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 17, 2017

The grandly named 2017 movie Life is a grimly efficient horror flick set aboard the International Space Station in the near future. I use the word flick advisedly: This is a B-movie premise mounted on a very respectable $58 million budget.

The space station’s six-person course — ah, I mean crew — is working on a project called Pilgrim, in which an automated probe is returning Martian rock and soil samples to near-Earth orbit for analysis and experimentation. Matters get off to a rocky start when the probe is damaged by debris, which leads to a hair-raising high-speed rendezvous.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that one of the samples contains a dormant single-celled organism. Once Derry brings the laboratory chamber’s temperature and atmosphere to Earth-like conditions, the microscopic creature begins first moving and then multiplying.

Humanity is captivated by the discovery, and an overjoyed elementary-school student names the life form Calvin on a live broadcast. No one is happier than Derry — although he and his crewmates will soon come to regret their finding.

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Confessions of a lifelong fraidy-cat; or, Why I (mostly) can’t abide horror films

May 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2017

When I was a child, I would sometimes glimpse horror films on television. These brief exposures inevitably made my pulse race and usually left me terrified, regardless of whether the scene showed someone being harmed or even threatened.

Once when I was 10 years old, my family and I attended a family gathering at my Great-Uncle Paul and Great-Aunt Jesse’s apartment in Queens. (Or maybe I was 8 or 13. Who knows?) The apartment’s combined living room and dining room was full of people. But one moment, when I happened to be facing the TV, I saw something that made me feel completely alone and utterly vulnerable.

There was some old 1960s movie on; I remember it being in color, although I couldn’t even tell you if the scene I saw involved a Frankenstein’s monster coming to life or a vampiric woman awakening. In fact, I’m not even sure if the sound was on or off. But just watching a few seconds of this production frightened me to the core. I think one of my parents — my mother? — noticed that I was petrified and steered my attention somewhere else, or perhaps got someone to change the channel.

It’s a weird childhood trauma to remember, if trauma is indeed the right word for such a minor ordeal. And yet thinking back on that moment — muddled though my recall of it might be — I get terrified all over again.

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Return to outer space — recalling another not-so-terrific science-fiction adventure from the waning weeks of 1979

May 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 10, 2017

Occasionally, YouTube’s algorithms offer up something interesting. That happened the other week when I stumbled upon some video clips excerpted from The Black Hole, the poorly received 1979 film that was the first-ever Disney production to receive a PG rating.

When I looked up the film’s release date, I found that it came out on Dec. 21, 1979 — exactly two weeks after the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I went to see The Black Hole in the cinema during its initial theatrical run, which meant that that month was full of science fiction excitement and disappointment.

The nearest art-house cinema to my current home is the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, N.C. The Carolina regularly shows old science fiction, horror and fantasy movies, and a few years ago, they brought in The Black Hole for a showing. Naturally, I went.

The film that had disappointed young me also disappointed adult me, albeit for somewhat different reasons. But that hasn’t stopped me from returning to movies (and occasionally books) that my younger self enjoyed. Which, not at all coincidentally, will be the topic of my next post…

The Enterprise crew takes an entertaining but inessential voyage in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

April 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2017

Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the venerable science fiction franchise, is a pleasant but ultimately inessential way to pass two hours.

As the picture begins, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise are roughly three years into their five-year mission. But Kirk has grown weary of deep-space exploration (there’s an amusing shot of him opening his closet to see several hangers displaying identical uniforms). Meanwhile, his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), feels compelled to break off his relationship with the human communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) because of his wish to help propagate the Vulcan species. This longing is only magnified when he learns of the death of Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in stills), his counterpart from and link to the original Star Trek TV series.

When Enterprise puts in for resupplying, rest and recreation at the remote (and oddly named) Starbase Yorktown after an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace between two warring alien races, there’s a distinct air of discontent about the ship. And yet Kirk remains up for a challenge; when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) rockets toward Yorktown on an escape pod spinning a tale about how her crew has been marooned on an even more remote planet named Altamid, the captain gathers his crew for a voyage through an uncharted nebula.

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Intriguing independent science fiction suspense movie ‘Infini’ is a minor treat for genre fans

February 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 28, 2017

The 2015 science fiction suspense movie Infini borrows plenty of concepts from superior movies, among them Invasion of the Body SnatchersSolaris and Aliens. But although this independent film is obscure, having been made in Australia on a minuscule budget, it’s executed well enough to make it worthwhile viewing for science-fiction aficionados.

Most of the movie takes place on an abandoned mining base on Infini, the farthest-flung outpost in the galaxy. A few hundred years into the future, when members of Infini’s skeleton crew go insane and program a deadly cargo to be sent to Earth, troops are teleported (“slipstreamed,” in the movie’s parlance) to the location to shut down the shipment. But the first wave of responders quickly go insane, and an elite search-and-rescue team led by Capt. Seet Johanson (Kevin Copeland) is summoned to clean up the fiasco.

The group encounters the only known survivor of the disaster, a security specialist named Whit Carmichael. The frazzled Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) claims that he shut down the base’s heating system during the carnage, thereby leaving most of it in a deep freeze as crazed personnel slaughtered one another. He agrees to help his would-be rescuers disable the cargo transport, but during the process many of the team members are exposed to the same toxic biological material that plunged earlier visitors into madness.

The rest of the story consists of Carmichael’s increasingly frantic efforts to evade the armed psychotics who are hunting him (and each other) while counting down the hours until he can teleport back to Earth.

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A slight excess of goofiness taints the majestic science-fiction horror atmosphere established in ‘Event Horizon’

January 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 25, 2016

Event Horizon is my favorite bad movie of all time. I love this 1997 feature because it comes oh so close to bona fide greatness.

The story is set in the year 2047, 32 years after humanity has established its first permanent base on the moon and a quarter-century after commercial mining has begun on Mars. After a brief prologue in which an obviously lonely scientist, William “Billy” Weir, wakes from a nightmare and tells a photograph of what turns out to be his dead wife that he misses her dearly, the action shifts to the U.S. Aerospace Command vessel Lewis and Clark minutes before it fires its main engines for a 72-day journey to the remote reaches of the solar system.

Only after the ship arrives and its crew emerges from stasis chambers — and after Weir, who’s tagging along for the ride, suffers another nightmare — do Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his comrades learn why they have been yanked from a well-deserved shore leave and dispatched to the rarely visited fringes of known space. It turns out that a ship thought destroyed in 2040 has been found in a decaying orbit around the planet Neptune, where it is broadcasting a short but cryptic radio signal.

The Event Horizon was said to be a research vessel that was lost after its reactor went critical. But Weir (Sam Neill) informs his captive (and highly skeptical) audience that this information was fictitious — a cover story. In actuality, the ship disappeared without a trace after activating its gravity drive, a novel device built by Weir that may permit interstellar travel by folding the space-time continuum.

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Bong Joon Ho’s unusual ‘Snowpiercer’ is a harrowing and haunting post-apocalyptic science fiction film

December 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 23, 2015

When Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer came out in 2013, the science fiction film was widely acclaimed. I hesitated to see it, however, because the premise — a new Ice Age has caused the extinction of all life on Earth but for the passengers and crew of Snowpiercer, a nuclear-powered train that endlessly circles the planet — and the plot — brutal oppression incites a violent revolt — seemed dour and depressing.

I was right, but so were the critics: Snowpiercer is a harrowing, haunting and beautiful movie. Its protagonist is Curtis (Chris Evans, best known for playing Captain America), a man in his mid-30s who has spent half his life aboard the train. Curtis is widely respected among the downtrodden proletariat who are packed into the car at the end of the titular snow-piercing train. The movement is nominally commanded by Gilliam (John Hurt), but everyone except the man himself recognizes Curtis as the rebellion’s true leader.

With the aid of a mysterious mole among the elite classes who inhabit the posh cars at the front of the train, Curtis and Gilliam devise a plan that will help them gain control of the very front of Snowpiercer — specifically, of the engine that powers the train. They begin by foiling the gates that keep the huddled masses (literally) compartmentalized and contained at the rear of the train. This allows them to liberate Namgoong (Song Kang Ho, also known as Kang-ho Song), the technician–cum–drug addict who designed the train’s security system.

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On the artistic and cinematic merits of ‘Aliens’

December 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 21, 2015

Back in July, I referred to James Cameron’s 1986 movie Aliens as seminal. I actually called it that twice, first in my review of Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat) and then in my writeup of Nick Cole’s 2014 novel, Soda Pop Soldier, which happens to pay homage to the Cameron film. (Rather improbably, the narrator of the book has not seen the movie.)

When I wrote those blog posts, I wanted to link to something that would back up my assertion about the importance of the movie. But I couldn’t find something that struck me as definitive, such as an entry on one of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top movies, and I didn’t want to get bogged down.

So I did what I often do when I’m looking into a topic: I opened a bunch of links and then I left the tabs open in my web browser for months.

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Considering why the original ‘Star Wars’ was such a hit and why the animated ‘Lord of the Rings’ was not

October 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2015

As I wrote earlier today:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy-adventure trilogy first printed in 1954–55, was a seminal publication. Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, an animated feature based on Tolkien’s work that was released in 1978, is an obscurity.

By contrast, I saw the original Star Wars during an extended first run in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the movie: I instantly wanted to buy all of the Kenner toys based on George Lucas’s movie. For years, I bought and devoutly studied novelizations of the original trilogy of movies as well as original Star Wars novels. (In the latter category, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Brian Daley’s trilogy of Han Solo adventures held prized places on my bookshelf and in my heart.)

So why did I cotton to Star Wars so thoroughly while The Lord of the Rings left me cold? Part of it was the quality of Bakshi’s movie — as discussed earlier, I generally found it to be adequate, whereas I thought Star Wars was out-and-out thrilling. But there are also major differences between the narratives woven by Tolkien and Lucas, and I wanted to explore those.

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In the symbolism-laden ‘Solaris,’ Steven Soderbergh explores a remote corner of space where the past is strangely present

July 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 22, 2015

Solaris is a work that I’ve engaged repeated over the course of my lifetime. The original book, by the great Polish author Stanislaw Lem, was penned in 1961. I’ve always held it in great regard, although my understanding of it is rather limited.

The premise is simple enough: Something has gone grievously wrong with a scientific expedition to the planet Solaris, an oceanic planet that manifests waves and weather patterns in ways that indicate the presence of some form of intelligence. A psychologist named Kelvin is dispatched to the research station to investigate why its communications have become erratic. While there, he becomes obsessed — some might say haunted — by a figure from his past, much like the surviving station crew members. To say too much more would be to give away part of the story’s mystery and power.

I first read Solaris as a young man, probably while I was in high school (if not even younger). Although I haven’t read it in many years, I remember the book being about the limits of human psychology and scientific inquiry. Lem ultimately positions Kelvin as neither a hero nor an expert — he is simply an average man baffled by, and at the mercy of, an immensely powerful force he can neither comprehend nor combat.

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