Friday, February 14, 2014

Movies of 2013, Science Fiction, pt2

Science Fiction
Star Trek Into Darkness, or "Damon Lindelof seriously needs to stop 'contributing' to franchises I like."
Overall: 6/10
Most of the posters suck.  This one is okay.
            I have talked about this movie before.  And have emphasized its studded nature.  The idea that it has a lot of symbols and iconography to give it the semblance of meaning without actually being meaningful.  This is practically the trademark of Damon Lindelof, creator of "Lost", whose one true gift if giving characters distinctive voices, and whose much lesser gift is throwing a lot of shit at the wall to see if it sticks.
            This movie has more twists than pretzel bread, and each makes less sense than the last.  It robs itself of emotional and intellectual resonance by immediately undoing huge plot developments.  Background characters have more visual personality than the main hero, leaving me wanting to hear their story rather than another story about Kirk.  And you know what, I am kind of tired of these characters.  I am a huge fan of all of these actors, but I am tired of these characters because the reboot is doing nothing with them.
            Christopher Nolan took a 70 year old comic book franchise and used it for complex discussions about perseverance, iconography, order and chaos, the nature of fear, and the role of security and privacy.  "Star Trek Into Darkness" rehashes stories and ideas to say nothing.  The idea of WMD's and terrorism were done better in the "Iron Man" franchise.  The idea of a villain who is out to protect his people was done better in the "X-Men" franchise.  "Star Trek" (2009) was given a pass on saying anything because it was a reboot, it showed the new visuals, it showed the new tone, it introduced the characters, this movie does not have that excuse, and by putting in shit like a tribble, and rambling about the Prime Directive makes this movie really stupid regardless of how pretty, exciting, or well acted.  That is not okay.
            Either have it be a fun adventure movie, or have a movie with intrigue and complex discussions, having both is like mixing ice cream and mashed potatoes.  It doesn't work!  At least not on any level that will last or stick with the audience.

Ender's Game, or "Would I like this movie better if I had not read the book?"
Overall: 6/10
Posters are overall better for this movie.  But some of them suck a lot.
            Compliment 1: This is a visual triumph.
            And it is kind of distracting.  When reading the book the video games and simulations are barely described, I personally imagined them as something like 3D "Dig Dug" and "Space Invaders", games that are not about graphical presentation but about teaching the mechanics of the game and developing a skill set related to them (a completely useless skill set for the real world, but a skill set).  I guess the filmmakers had the freedom to make the video games and simulations look however they wanted, but when everything looks so real, it is really hard to believe the twist that they tried to throw at the end.  The idea that Ender would have believed what they said he believed is preposterous when looking at this stuff.  It undercuts the movie's message for the sake of looking much cooler.
            SPOILER (skip to next compliment): There is of course a way they could have done both things, show them playing simple games at first, and then after they reveal what those games were really about flash to the actual battle and show it.  It would have helped to illustrate Ender's revelation at what he had done.
I am having Deja vu again.
Is there only one art department doing spaceship designs now?

            Compliment 2: The story is technically proficient.
            There is a set up and pay off that existed in the novel, the use of human shields later pays off in the use of space ships to protect a particular weapon.  But elements of the story, numerous conversations about the ethics of using Ender like they did, and nearly everything having to do with the tertiary characters is lost, the story is proficient, but bare bones when it comes to introspection and insight.
            Compliment 3: The acting is not nearly as bad as I had been told to expect.
            Butterfield is the bedrock the movie is built on and he is a really good actor, they actually step on his acting at one point by talking over a moment of epiphany, but overall he is really good, and deserves more credit for adding depth to a script that does not have a lot of clever dialogue.  Ben Kingsley commits to his part really well, and shows a level of true professionalism that can be missed when huge talented actors get roles in science-fiction-or-fantasy-coming-of-age stories (which is a genre that is surprisingly robust).  And Harrison Ford, is kind of wasted, growly and pissed are the emotions that come across, but there was a sort of tough love that the role called for that I did not feel come through, he doesn't interact with Ender in way that shows the complexity of that relationship, really he needed a lot more to work with.
            No more compliments.
            That is pretty much the end of the good things I have to say.  This movie is kind of a turkey, especially when compared to the book which is a god damn masterpiece.  It has pacing issues that nearly kill it.  Characters are introduced and dismissed so quickly that they can hardly been said to have existed at all.  And while I can understand that removing the plot about Ender's siblings conquering the world via effective blogging (symbolically mirroring how Ender is coming to terms with his own duality as a killer and compassionate leader, it is a METAPHOR), the fact is, nothing is given time to sink in, nothing is given time to be understood on a level deeper than skin.  Also, the actress that plays Ender's sister, Valentine, has to angrily storm out of a room in one of her two scenes and she looks funny doing it, kind of killed the scene.
            There is also a slapped on environmental message about how the aliens are invading Earth because they need water... Which is stupid horseshit.  Water is an incredibly abundant substance that can be harvested from space (something we see the aliens doing in the movie), there is no reason to talk about scarcity in regards to a civilization that has interstellar travel.  Much like the needless pollution and global warming crap from "Pacific Rim", and the kind of pointless environmental message of Krypton's destruction in "Man of Steel", this is out of place in here.
            There is also a major omission from the book in the number of times Earth was invaded by the Aliens, and why Earth thinks that attacking in an all out scorched world strategy is so necessary to secure the safety of the human species.  In the movie there was one invasion, in the book there had been two.  And while the near annihilation of the Earth in the movie is shown to be a strong motivator for a counter attack, Ender brings up a point that is never properly addressed, "Why have the aliens built up a huge fleet, and not attack Earth again?"  It is explained in the book, not in the movie.  That is a problem with the narrative on a deeper level than it should be because it robs the military of a good bit of justification for what they end up doing.
            Another problem is with the training.  In the book, you understand what is happening, the rules, and why it works the way it does.  You also understand how and why Ender is seen as good and smart because of how he changes the way the game is played through exploiting rules and mechanics.  The movie doesn't explain the game well, so when Ender starts winning it comes off as an attributed ability, rather than a demonstrated ability (which breaks the rule of movie making, "SHOW DON'T TELL").  For a movie that is so visually rich this should not be an issue.
            Also, it is yet another movie that walks up to an important line of violence, and then backpedals.  In the book Ender murders another child that is physically abusing him.  And later on he murders another child.  Ender doesn't intend either murder, he is just fighting hard and without restraint to secure his own safety, this movie has him violently win a fight, but does not have that core idea, it doesn't kill the kids, and those actions foreshadow other events in the narrative that are important.  If you are committed to not showing this sort of violence then you should not make the movie.

            Overall, this should have been a cartoon series, giving it time to do all it needs to do rather than the extremely condensed narrative that it is.

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