Posts Tagged ‘Space Disaster’

MOVIE: Europa Report (2013)

April 15, 2014

europareportIn last week’s review of the sci-fi flick Apollo 18, I mentioned that I’d recently been down to visit my mother, and thus had a couple of good-bad movie reviews to send your way.  This is the second from that series, and, as with Apollo 18, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing, acting, and production here too.  I can’t actually explain that stroke of luck; it’s very unlike us. (Though one of you guys recommended this one to me a while back — was that you, RogerBW? If so, thank you!)

The movie begins with the CEO of Europa Ventures telling the story, documentary-style, of the Europa One mission.  When it was discovered that Jupiter’s moon (Europa, dig?) was covered in liquid water deep under its frozen crust, the desire to become the first to discover evidence of life elsewhere in the universe was too hard to resist.  The corporation hired six astronauts, who set out about 2 years ago planning to land on the moon, take samples from that liquid water, and see if it had anything interesting swimming around in it.  Six months into the flight, comms were lost in a solar storm, and Europa Ventures heard nary a thing until nearly 14 months later (present day), when suddenly they received a huge stream of video footage and evidence the entire crew was dead.

Dang.

As we learn from the “found footage” that follows, the solar storm not only knocked out communications, but cost the mission the life of a crew member, who went out on a space walk to try to fix the problem and became contaminated with a deadly chemical. Realizing he couldn’t go back on board without killing everybody else, he cut himself loose, a gut-punching scene for all parties (especially me, because that was Sharlto Copley’s character and I love him).  Despite the death of both their comms and their friend, however, the team decided to press on with the mission.

Fourteen months later, Europa One finally landed on the moon’s surface, their bad luck continuing when they completely missed their targeted landing zone.  The crew managed to drill through the ice below the ship anyway and sent a probe down to collect samples, but they were in the wrong spot and the samples sucked.  Desperate to make the mission a success, if only for the sake of their fallen comrade, one of the astronauts insisted on going outside the ship to collect samples by hand, where she miraculously managed to find what looked exactly like a single-celled organism noodling around in one of her vials.  Everyone on board cheers!  Victory! And then: Oh, hey, what’s that bright light over there?  Let me go take a closer look. . . Wow, this is weird. . . AHHHHHHHHH!

See, because while in the real world, finding evidence of life elsewhere in the universe would be super cool, in sci-fi movies that’s the kind of thing that almost always ends in tears.  And so it goes with Europa Report.

While I confess I was a little disappointed in the ending of this movie (we finally see a creature, for one thing, and this is a low-budget sci-fi movie which means that creature was pretty lame), overall, I was really impressed by the quality of the writing, acting, and special effects. The (mostly computer-generated) sets looked pretty amazing — as it turns out, the filmmakers used NASA and JPL maps to design the movie’s Europa in the film, which is cool, and also used real footage from the International Space Station as inspiration for a lot of scenes on board the ship.  Their research work shows.

Overall, I think both Mom and I would say this is another good choice for fans of space sci-fi.   And there you go, guys: Apollo 18 and Europa Report — I just mapped out your next movie night double-feature (apologies in advance to your friends and family.)

Recommended!

[Netflix it (on streaming) | Amazon Buy/Rent]

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Disaster
Cast: Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley

MOVIE: Apollo 18 (2011)

April 7, 2014

apollo18I was recently down for a long weekend at my parents’ house, which is all the explanation I need to provide, I assume, for the fact I’m about to post a couple of reviews of cheesy sci-fi movies.  My mom and I are big fans of the craptastic genre; the worse the movie, the happier we are about it (to a certain point, mind you — even dedicated garbage-lovers like us occasionally turn a movie off after ten minutes of insufferable dumb-dom).

This one ended up surprising us, though.  We went into it expecting good-bad trashy sci-fi, and instead were rewarded with good-good trashy sci-fi.  I love it when that happens!

Aside from an intriguing story, which I’ll get to in a minute, this movie stood out to me as a primo example of how smart filmmakers can turn a low budget flick into a film as effective as its high-budget genre-mates.  We had just watched Gravity right before watching this (Mom hadn’t seen it yet), and while I was expecting that to make all sub-par special effects stand out as extra sub-par, I ended up being incredibly impressed by the scenes of weightlessness in Apollo 18.  They were just as believable as comparable scenes in Gravity (though obviously not done to the same extent/degree), and were done simply, primarily using camera angles and careful choreography of the actors’ body movements (plus one spinning pen trick).  Pretty cool.

The movie’s story begins with the publicly-announced cancellation of the Apollo 18 moon mission, due to budgetary concerns.  But on the sly, the crew is quickly informed the cancellation is a ruse — the mission is still happening, it’s just going to be disguised as a satellite launch to avoid arousing suspicion from the rest of the world.  The mission’s purpose is being kept quiet, the men are told, because it involves the installation of a series of sensors on the moon’s surface engineered to alert the U.S. government in case of an ICBM missile launch by one of its enemies.

At first, everything seems to be going as planned — two of the astronauts head down to the surface, the third remaining on the mothership in orbit, and begin setting up the sensors.  As they work, they also collect the usual rock samples, bringing them back aboard the LEM with them (obviously, they don’t realize they’re in a sci-fi movie, where even moon rocks cannot be trusted).

Day one goes great, they sleep well despite the cramped quarters, and the next day they head back outside for more work where they are startled to discover. . .

FOOTPRINTS.

Hey, did you leave these groovy prints, man?  No, man, did you?  No, man.  Well, who left ’em, then? I don’t know, man! Why you askin’ me? This ain’t groovy, man!  These prints are trippy!  (I’m paraphrasing, based on the fact this is set in the 70s, when, for all you young’uns out there, people use to say “man” and “groovy” and “trippy” a lot.)

Because they don’t know any better (see above re: unaware they’re in a sci-fi movie), the astronauts decide to follow the prints, and manage to track them back to an abandoned Soviet LK lander.  Nearby, they also find the body of a dead cosmonaut.  Clearly, the Soviets know this lander is on the moon along with the cosmonaut(s) who flew it — so wait, did the U.S. know about this?  Was this a secret Soviet mission?  Is OUR secret mission actually about THIS secret mission?  This is totally harshing my mellow!

When the next morning our intrepid heroes arise to discover the flag they’d planted outside has vanished, they decide they’ve had enough and start packing their stuff up.  “Man, this is OUTTA SIGHT, and WE ARE OUTTA HERE.”

Only, naturally, this is a sci-fi movie (see above re: this is a sci-fi movie), so, of course, when they try to take off, the ship shakes so violently they’re forced to abort.  One of the dudes dons his space suit and ventures outside to try to figure out what’s wrong, but minutes later returns into view, screaming that something in his suit is attacking him.  Back on board, the men discover the only thing in the suit other than the guy and his brand new gaping chest wound is a moon rock.  The moon rock attacked him?  Can you dig it?  FAR OUT!  (I am so sorry — for the record, nobody in the movie actually talks like this; I just can’t help myself.)

From there, things go from “that’s not good” to “holy crap,” culminating in “daaaaang!”

In other words, we totally dug it.

I noticed Rotten Tomatoes gave Apollo 18 a score of only 24%, based on 60 or so critic reviews and that a lot of the complaints were about the movie’s slow start.  I attribute this to the fact this movie is erroneously classified as a horror flick instead of a science fiction one.  If you go into it expecting horror, you’re definitely going to find the lack of action in the first 45 minutes kind of frustrating.

On the other hand, if you go into it expecting science fiction, the first 45 minutes are all about a mission to the moon in 1974, complete with scenes of giddy weightlessness, a cool lunar module, and a group of astronauts embarking on their dream mission into the final frontier.  Nothing boring about that to us cool cats, that’s for sure! To us, the moon rocks that come to life and eat people at the end were just a bonus.

Anyway, definitely two thumbs up from us, and recommended if this is your kind of thing. Catch you on the flip side, man!

[Stream at Netflix | Buy/Rent at Amazon]

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Disaster
Cast: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins, Ali Liebert, Andrew Airlie, Michael Kopsa , Erica Carroll

BOOK: The Martian by Andy Weir (2011/2013)

April 1, 2014

martianAttention all fans of space-based science fiction: this book is a must-read!  It’s a must-not-miss!  It’s a must-buy!  It’s a must-call-in-sick-to-work-and-spend-all-day-reading!  It’s a must-everything!  IT IS A MUST!

This hilariously funny and absolutely fascinating story is about a botanist/engineer on a mission to Mars who gets separated from his crew in a disaster and ends up stranded alone. Mark Watney and his crewmates were on the planet’s surface when a dust/windstorm suddenly kicked up, with gusts so powerful they began to tip the MAV over (Mars Ascent Vehicle — how they get back to the mothership).  While racing to the MAV to evacuate before it got trashed by the storm, Watney was struck by a piece of debris that punctured his abdomen.  The force of the blow, combined with the minimal gravity of Mars, sent him flying into the swirling dust, and the damage to his suit knocked out his life support computer, sending faulty readings to the rest of the crew — to them, Mark looked dead; there was nothing they could do but leave him behind and get to safety themselves.

To Mark, on the other hand, Mark was very much alive — and now he was also stuck alone on the surface of Mars with no way to send an SOS to Earth.

After an initial round of losing his cool, Mark, an extremely sensible dude, pulls himself up and heads into the hab (a huge inflated tent where the crew lived and worked) to assess his situation.  He’s got about 9 months of rations, a gadget that recycles water from the air and his urine and makes it potable again, several bottles of emergency water, about 10 potatoes they were saving for a holiday dinner, plenty of air to breathe, and a reliable shelter.  He’s got tools.  He’s got a bag of dirt from Earth he was going to use in his botany experiments.  He’s got one HELL of a sense of humor.  And, most importantly, Mark’s got moxie.  As it turns out, moxie really comes in handy when you’re stranded on Mars.  It’s a life saver, in fact.

Figuring he’s now stuck there for somewhere around four years, when the next planned mission to Mars is scheduled to land, Mark begins putting his noggin to work to figure out how to make 9 months of rations last 48.  The novel is told primarily through entries in his journal, which detail his work (along with his random thoughts about Aquaman) as he begins working out how to convert Martian sand into soil he can grow Earth potatoes in, and then make enough water out of hydrogen, oxygen, and science (!) to water those crops indefinitely (without simultaneously blowing himself up <– the true trick to making water).

Meanwhile, alternating chapters come to us from Mission Control on Earth, where a satellite specialist has just taken a look at the latest pictures of the Mars hab, expecting to see it destroyed by the storm, and instead sees things that can’t possibly be right.  How did the rover end up connected to the hab’s air lock?  It wasn’t like that when the crew evacuat. . . holy shit, IS THAT MARK WATNEY?!

Eventually, Mark is able to rig up a way to communicate with Mission Control, and the various players, including his old crew, start working out a daring rescue plan.  Meanwhile, we get treated to what is easily the most thoroughly entertaining — funny, smart, sharp, fascinating, impossible to put down — novels I have read in a really long time.

Oh man.  Honestly.  I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a novel as much as I enjoyed this novel.  It’s THAT GOOD, people.

Inspirational story: The Martian started out in 2011 as a self-published e-book Weir sold on Amazon for about a buck.  As word of mouth spread, more and more copies sold, piquing the interest of Random House who finally offered Weir a book deal last year.  That was quickly followed by a movie deal, no doubt partly inspired by the success of the film Gravity. In other words, the novel this computer nerd guy thought only his mom and best friends would buy has just exploded all the way to Hollywood — pretty darn great.  Now, here’s hoping he’s already hard at work on the sequel (I’m totally game for a sequel, Andy!).

MUST!!

[SCIENCE FICTION]

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MOVIE: Polar Storm (2009)

March 9, 2010

Oh, man, you know what?  It’s just gone.  This movie is GONE.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, I went down to visit my parents for a long weekend, which, as usual, meant Mom and I rented a hefty stack of movies, many of them, shall we say, somewhat risky.  (Note:  not risqué, as one does not rent such films with one’s mother unless one is weird).  Usually while I watch these movies with Mom, I take notes so I can remember them all later, and usually the ones I take the most notes about are the ones like this one — the hilariously bad ones.

Why?  Because they are the most fun to write about, naturally, and also because every two minutes while I’m watching them, I think about how much I want to tell you guys about the ridiculous thing that one guy just said.  Or the crazy-bad special effects I just saw.  Or the insanely obvious lack of a scientific adviser on deck.  OMG, my peeps, SO BAD!

I took about four pages of notes about Polar Storm and was looking forward to putting this review together and up.  Then I got on the train to go home, stuck my notebook (along with my iPod, argh!) in the seat pocket in front of me, and three hours later, walked off the train leaving both behind.

Bollocks.

Long story short: I have no idea what this movie was about.  This one or most of the others we watched.  BUT, I will now attempt to dig out what I can for you.  We’ll see how I do.

I can start by telling you this made-for-SyFy movie stars Jack Coleman, better known to some of us as “Horn-Rimmed Glasses” (HRG) from Heroes.  And yes, yes, that’s it, it’s coming back to me now — HRG plays a scientist.  An astrophysicist, I believe.

What happens, more or less (I think), is that a piece of a comet breaks off and wallops the Earth.  Somehow, this throws the Earth’s core out of whack.  And, as we all know from watching countless movies just like this one (The Core, for example, or its far superior knock-off Deep Core, which co-stars ex-Boyfriend of the Week Wil Wheaton, some way more plausible science, and a truly admirable amount of awesomely bad dialogue), if you monkey with the Earth’s core, all kinds of bad stuff will happen.

In this story, the core changes start to make the Earth’s magnetic field wonk out (technical term) and HRG becomes convinced the poles are about to reverse.  In (his) theory, this swap will make the magnetic field disappear completely just long enough for the sun’s rays to MELT US.  With FI-YAH!!

Yeah, no, it didn’t really make a lot of sense.  But I did appreciate that it very earnestly tried to.  And though it uses the same exact formula all these types of movies use — bad space/weather/nuclear-accident happens, lone scientist knows what’s up, nobody believes him at first, UNTIL THE FI-YAH!, then they eat a bunch of crow, and finally the scientist is given what he needs to save the world with a knuckle-whitening few seconds to spare — that hardly matters.  That’s what we rent these things for, right?  Plus, the acting in this one is surprisingly decent, and the story pretty satisfying overall.

Definitely one to stick in your pile next time you’re in the mood for a good-bad sci-fi flick to rent.  Which I’m sure is today — think about it for a minute.  Am I right or am I right?  Yeah, I thought so.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Space Disaster
Cast:  Jack Coleman, Holly Dignard, Tyler Johnston

MOVIE: 2012: Supernova (2009)

November 18, 2009

2012supernovaOkay, so, I was down in Oregon this weekend visiting my parents, which means, of course, that I’ve got about five movie reviews in the works, at least one of which is going to be for a totally terrible disaster movie.  You know how this goes.  You’ve been here before.

THIS movie?  Is that one.   And while we were in the video store looking for our magical totally terrible disaster movie, it occurred to me that we actually have developed, over the years, an extremely detailed set of criteria for our selection process, believe it or not (and I suspect you do not, but listen up anyway).  Since you guys have been loyal readers for so long, I figured it was about time I let you in on the secret.  The secret to picking really entertaining terrible disaster movies.

First of all, you have to know, and know well, the disaster genre.  There are four primary categories of disaster movie, each of which has numerous subcategories.  All four primary categories are worth checking out, but, and this is key, not all of their SUBcategories are worth checking out.  Listen up:

Monsters — Good choices: snakes, gators, komodo dragons, zombies (see also: virus), dinosaurs, cave monsters, sea creatures (esp. sharks, squids), The Thing, The Blob, The Abominable Snowman (esp. incl. Lance Henriksen).

Bad choices:  bugs, rodents, bats.  Well, sometimes bats can be okay, but only if they are accessories for more interesting cave monsters.  Also, Bigfoot can occasionally be substituted for The Abominable Snowman (see: Abominable, which is actually about Bigfoot even though it doesn’t seem to know it — all the better to love you with, Matt McCoy).

Mother Nature — The best Mother Nature disasters are volcanoes, fires,  tornadoes, and other storms (including ice-age-inducing weather phenomena), as they tend to involve the greatest duration of actual disaster.  Earthquakes are over far too fast, as are tsunamis, and movies about either of those two things tend to focus more on the depressing aftermath than the build-up and actual disaster itself.  (Tornadoes work for this, by the way, because they frequently come in multi-packs.)  Stuff being destroyed = good.  People cleaning up debris = bad.

Space — Space disaster movies often bring as part of the package a ton of hilariously bad science (for example, gravity in places where it does not belong), as well as a healthy affection for nuclear weapons, computers and other gadgets, meteors, and exploding space debris.   Sometimes there are even aliens, though not nearly as often as we’d like.   These are all good things.   The key to a successful space disaster movie, though, is that it has to FOCUS ON THE SPACE DISASTER.  Not to go into too much detail, because it’s really not worth talking about (trust me), but that is where 2012: Supernova fell down on the job.   It may be worth noting, incidentally, that space disaster movies are 6.3 times more likely to feature naked women.  Do with this information what you will.

Diseases – Virus and other disease movies, as with storm or fire movies, are good because they tend to involve long-term actual disaster.  We like to problem-solve when we’re watching disaster movies — a good virus story leaves a lot of room for that sort of thing.  Also, some of the best zombie movies of late have technically been virus movies, and this is a combination I think can work extremely well (examples:  28 Days Later, Zombieland).  Overall, I have to say the Disease Disaster category tends to produce the most consistently watchable films, even though those films tend to be exactly the same in most regards.  If it works once, it’ll probably work forever, right?  Just ask the people who keep cranking out Saw movies.

Okay, now, knowing the genre can obviously help narrow down the selection:  put the rat movie back on the shelf, pick up the one about the komodo dragons.  But this still leaves hundreds and hundreds of potentially unwatchable movies.    How do you know which one you should rent when faced with several equally-acceptable-looking options?    Well, I am happy to report that after years and years of experimentation, my mother and I have finally discovered the secret.   We call it the 90 Minute Rule.  And it goes like this:

Any movie that is less than 90 minutes long is approximately 9.8 times more likely to be unwatchably bad (note: we did not actually do the math, but I am 87.68% positive that number is accurate).  Movies that are longer than 90 minutes, on the other hand, are far more likely to be the kind of bad you watch with giddy joy.  It’s so simple, it’s almost embarrassing it took us this long to figure it out.

There’s only one problem — what about a movie that is EXACTLY 90 minutes long.  Say, for example, 2012: Supernova?   This is where you can still run into trouble.  Because  a movie that is exactly 90 minutes long is a risk.  A MAJOR risk.  It could so easily go either way — there’s simply no predicting it.  And that’s where it helps to know someone who is willing to rent that movie and watch it for you and then tell you how it is.  For example, ME.

This is how it is:  Absolutely terrible.  (Note:  Not in a good way.  If it were absolutely terrible in a good way, I would’ve said, “Absolutely terrible (in a good way).”)  May it never be the case that the survival of our planet is ever riding on the brains of three “scientists” who are anything like the big wheels who drove the storyline in this wreck.  Because if it is, we’re DOOMED.

Anyway, try this technique out next time you’re looking for a good-bad disaster movie to rent and let me know how you do!  Just make sure you leave 2012: Supernova on the shelf.  WHERE IT BELONGS.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Sci-fi, Space Disaster, Crap
Cast:  Brian Krause, Heather McComb, Najarra Townsend

MOVIE: Sunshine (2007)

February 24, 2008

As most of you guys now know, I love science fiction movies. I love them so much, in fact, that I have almost no standards whatsoever when it comes to picking out ones to watch. My favorite of all the various sci-fi genres out there are the ones that are about humans exploring space. Man, I love space. Space is totally the coolest. If I had a bazillion dollars, I’d be one of those crazy bazillionaires giving half my fortune to the Russians in exchange for letting me go up in one of their shuttles. I’d give my left nut, if I had one, and pardon the expression, to chill out with the stars.

A GOOD science fiction movie, though, is an extremely rare commodity. So rare, in fact, that I would estimate that out of the dozens of sci-fi flicks I watch every year, there is maybe one really good one in the entire bunch.

This year, I suspect this might be that one.

This movie, written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle (the brilliant team behind the best zombie movie of all time, 28 Days Later), opens with a group of astronauts in space. We soon learn they are on a mission to save the sun, which has begun to burn out billions of years too early, leaving Earth to slowly freeze. It’s actually the second attempt — the first group of astronauts sent to do this job suddenly disappeared shortly after they got into deep space. And right off the bat, Mom and I were raising an eyebrow at each other, because as it turns out, both missions share the same name, and that name is “Icarus.”

Now, anybody who knows anything about Greek mythology knows that Icarus is the fabled dumbass with wings made of feathers and wax, who got so sucked into the glory of flight that he forgot that heat and wax don’t go together, flew too close to the sun, watched his wings disintegrate in front of his eyes, and then, just before falling to his untimely death, paused momentarily in the air and held up a sign that said, “Oops!”

No wait, that last bit — that was Wile E. Coyote, not Icarus. But anyway, you catch my drift here. What kind of pessimistic space agency names their mission — a mission sent to fly right up to the sun — “Icarus”? Hell, why not just name it “Totally Doomed” and get it over with, I ask you?

Anyway, the answer to that question is that this film is for smart people, and the Icarus fable is going to serve as an allegory for many of the things that are about to happen to the characters before us. And that, my friends, is why I loved this movie sooooooo much. Only smart people are going to have that word, “Icarus,” stuck in their minds while they watch the story unfold. Only smart people are going to pause the DVD three times to try to figure out the science behind the enormous bomb the Icarus II mission is carrying up to the sun — a bomb with the “mass of an island” that, theoretically, is going to reproduce the Big Bang on a smaller scale and completely reboot our star. Only smart people are going to find this movie in any way entertaining. This is not a sci-fi movie for those who thought Bruce Willis’s Armageddon was hard science. This movie is for nerds, my friends, and it’s not afraid to just drop stuff in our laps and let us figure it out for ourselves. It was a nice change to feel like the filmmaker trusted my intelligence enough not to have to beat me over the head with his point, you know what I mean? I love that.

Incidentally, this movie is also for film geeks who love to be blown away by creative camerawork and brilliant pacing. Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. There were dozens of shots that totally blew my mind, as well as a variety of extremely creative little touches here and there. That Danny Boyle, I tell you — the man is a genius, pure and simple.

Okay, back to the plot. The Icarus II team gets out into deep space and quickly finds themselves with a conundrum. They’ve picked up a signal and the ship’s radioman has determined it’s the distress call from Icarus I. They manage to locate Icarus I, and it’s not too far away from them, but it’s in the wrong direction from where they’re supposed to go. And now they’re faced with a choice — go after Icarus I to see if there are any survivors, or stay focused on their mission and save Earth. For many of the astronauts, the choice is clear: the mission is the priority. But the ship’s physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy), talks them into going after Icarus I, making the argument that even if everybody is dead, they could take Icarus I’s bomb and add it to their own, thus giving themselves TWO chances to save the world.

Reluctantly, the rest of the group agrees. But while changing the ship’s course, the navigator guy forgets a crucial detail, and pretty soon the captain is dead, the ship’s “oxygen garden” (a greenhouse where they grow plants for food and air) has been destroyed, and chaos is about to ensue.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this movie is that the whole first half is primarily focused on telling the story of how this group of people are managing to live for years together on a tiny ship with the weight of the entire human race on their shoulders. We were a bit concerned at first, actually, that it might be a little too like Solaris (the Clooney version anyway), which both Mom and I had found almost insufferably dull. Yet, even though not a whole lot really HAPPENS at first, the way their life in space is laid out for us is just fascinating all by itself. Plus, I liked the twist of having an on-board psychiatrist instead of just your standard ship’s doctor, because that only makes sense, if you think about it. Talk about stressful living conditions — not only are these people crammed together in a small space for years without ever being able to get away from each other, but they are also ultimately responsible for the future of mankind. Blow the mission, and everybody they know and love is dead. In fact, everybody they don’t know and can’t stand is dead too.

Man, you gotta have SOMEBODY up there who can prescribe some Xanax, right?

There was a negative element of this movie for me, though, and that was the last thirty minutes. Suddenly the film goes from creative genius to. . . and I hate to even say this because argh!. . . the incredibly bad space-horror flick Event Horizon. After Icarus II discovers that everyone on Icarus I is dead (I won’t say how or why), they return to Icarus II and try to resume their mission. But someone has come back on board WITH them (again, I won’t say how or why), and that someone is, well, both really, really crazy and really, really pissed.

I didn’t understand the reason for this final “twist” — and to me, it sort of cheapened the movie, taking it from hard sci-fi to subpar horror, complete with gruesome murders and people’s arms coming off their torsos. Gugh. Boyle was doing a phenomenal job with a set of truly believable circumstances and characters — why throw an icky monster into the mix at the last minute? I found that final half an hour both frustrating and incredibly confusing, and had the rest of the film not been so great, it would’ve really ruined the whole thing for me.

But though I was disappointed by this part of the story, it wasn’t awful enough to detract from the movie’s overall effect on me, which was an effect, in short, of both fascination and awe. I loved so many aspects of this film — I can’t wait to watch it again to see what things I may have missed the first time around. So, if you like science fiction movies that actually make you think in addition to entertaining you, this is definitely one to pop into your Netflix queue ASAP. One of the best movies I’ve seen so far in 2008, and I’m extremely curious to hear what you guys think after you’ve seen it too.

Recommended!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Science Fiction
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Mark Strong, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada

MOVIE: Black Horizon (2001)

February 20, 2008

I was just down visiting my parents again for the long holiday weekend (a 4-day one for me, as I took Friday off too — woot!), so, as usual, I’ll be putting up about 86 bazillion new movie reviews over the next few days. Lucky for you guys, we had a hard time finding many bad sci-fi flicks to rent this time, as there just weren’t many on the New Releases shelf. So, I’ve only got two total stinkers to tell you about — the rest of the movies we saw were all pretty good! It’s a miracle!

This movie is one of the two dogs, in case you hadn’t figured that out by looking at the cover art, and it was also the first one we watched because we suspected it would be the worst one of the pile. Annnnnnnd we were right. This movie is not only really bad, but it also features some fairly astonishing stupidity. For a science-fiction movie, it’s pretty ridiculously lacking in actual science. Or even any effort at attempting actual science.

The story is about a group of astronauts on a space station, a couple of whom are working on a device that will somehow be able to harness energy from the sun (they call it the Prometheus device — which looked an awful lot like the Doomsday Device from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, incidentally). The device isn’t working, though, and the company that funded it has decided the only way out of bankruptcy is to somehow destroy the device before their investors find out it was a flop. So, unbeknownst to the astronauts, they manage to sabotage the station’s guidance system from Earth. No guidance system means no orbit, which means in a few hours, the entire station will come crashing down and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

A shuttle with a rescue team on board is dispatched from NASA, but by the time they reach the station, their own ship has been irreparably damaged and they, too, become stranded on the failing space station. The only way anybody will be able to survive is if they can get a few escape shuttles from the Apollo era to work — but, again unbeknownst to them, the evil corporation has also changed the launch codes for the shuttles, foiling their plans anew.

On the ground, a savvy NSA agent (Ice-T) has become suspicious of the evil corporation after discovering it appears to be in cahoots with the Russians. Will Ice-T be able to figure out what’s going on and get the launch codes to the space station before everybody on board is burned to oblivion? Or will he be overcome by the urge to bust out in some of his Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo moves at a critical moment and blow his cover?

The answers to these two questions, respectively, are: “yes,” and “no, more’s the pity.”

In terms of plot, I’ve definitely seen a lot worse, though I do have to wonder what in the hell Ice-T was doing in this movie, since it’s not like he doesn’t have a solid day job (in addition to his stellar performances in both Breakin’ movies, Ice-T is also one of the stars of Law & Order: SVU). Unfortunately, the things that were ridiculous in this movie weren’t really ridiculous in an entertaining way, so much as in a “Seriously? How dumb ARE you people?” kind of way.

Primary case in point: both the space station AND the shuttle had gravity. Um, guys? That’s not how space works! Had there been even the lamest attempt to explain this away (heck, I would’ve settled for “we’ve got magnets in our boots” — I ain’t picky!), it would’ve been something we could overlook. While we can’t help but notice errors of this nature, we’re pretty forgiving as long as some effort is made in regards to the science. But it was pretty clear there was gravity only because the writer didn’t know any better, and we really, really hate it when that happens.

Additionally, here we are in what was supposed to be modern-day times (2001, at the latest), and the computers on the space station all use floppies? And when they’re desperately trying to download all the data off the computers before the space station bursts into flames, nobody thinks about just pulling out the hard drive and calling it a day? Man, whatever. They weren’t even trying with this one, my friends.

In other, more terse words: skip it. You have more entertaining things to do. Like your taxes.

[Not available in Netflix | Don’t buy me!]

Genre: Science Fiction
Cast: Ice-T, Michael Dudikoff, Hannes Jaenicke, Alex Veadov

MOVIE: Asteroid (1997)

December 3, 2007

This is another one of the nine movies my mom and I watched while I was on vacation over the week of Thanksgiving. Again, this movie was fairly typical, but we would’ve been fine with that because of the good cast (Michaels Biehn AND Weatherly!) were it not for the fact the last hour of this three-hour movie was so dang dull. Unfortunately, “dang dull” it was — I hate it when that happens!

The movie, which I think must’ve been a TV miniseries originally, starts out as most asteroid destruction flicks do: astronomers discover that a couple of chunks of rock are hurtling through space pointed right at the United States (why the asteroids in movies always seem to be targeting us Americans, I have no idea, but I bet if we got Homeland Security on the case, they could trace it all back to al-Qaeda).

One of the two asteroids is pretty small, and it ends up plunking into a river in Missouri, doing fairly minimal damage. The other, though, is ten times bigger and, as the scientists tell us, will blow the entire nation to smithereens. Damn you, Osama bin Laden!

As a last ditch effort to save the nation, the government decides to shoot it with some rockets to try to obliterate it (when in doubt, blow it up — clearly, they’ve been watching a lot of Mythbusters lately). Unfortunately, though they manage to hit it spot-on, instead of exploding into dust, it merely shatters into thousands of pieces, all of which continue to rush through space in our direction. Whoopsie!

Scientist Lady (Annabella Sciorra) and Cocky FEMA Guy (Michael Biehn) are on the ground trying to predict where the chunks will hit, when they realize there’s not much they can really do except wait. The pieces fly straight into Dallas, TX, where Scientist Lady’s son and father live. And that’s where this movie kind of goes off the rails. Instead of focusing on the asteroid stuff, the second half is all a search-and-rescue type thing. Scientist Lady and Cocky FEMA Guy start falling for each other (yeech) as they struggle through the wreckage of Dallas trying to find her kid and pops. Unfortunately, while the cast is good (for the record, I’ve been in love with Michael Biehn since The Terminator), the movie itself focused too much on the aftermath and not enough on the science/space stuff. The fun parts of disaster movies, in my opinion, are the attempts to AVERT said disaster — the clean-up is rarely all that satisfying.

This is pretty much a stinker, in other words, though if you too have a big crush on Biehn, it may be worth a rental for you. He does get to save the day and make the ladies swoon, after all. And he also looks absolutely smashing in windbreakers.

Of the nine movies we watched on my vacation, though, this one ranks all the way down at number 7.

[Not available at Netflix]

Genre: Sci-fi/disaster
Cast: Michael Biehn, Annabella Sciorra, Michael Weatherly, Jensen Daggett, Dennis Arndt

MOVIE: Earthstorm (2006)

October 30, 2007

This is the kind of movie that normal people would find utterly atrocious, but that my Mom and I thought was pretty decent. Not because we’re stupid (obviously!) but because our criteria for a “decent” sci-fi movie tends to have less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the science it uses as its story base.

Other people are a lot more picky about the more pedestrian elements of movies, like, say, the characters and plot. Whatever, man.

Anyway, this flick begins with a huge asteroid whacking into the back side of the moon and knocking chunks of it loose, creating a large gash with fault-like activity in its center. The chunks begin careening towards Earth, which is bad in and of itself, but the greater problem quickly becomes clear — as the gash begins to grow larger, scientists start to realize that at some point an entire quarter of the moon is going to break free and come hurtling down. If this enormous chunk hits the Earth, says main character scientist Dr. Lana Gale, human beings will “go the way of the dinosaurs.”

Whether or not this means in millions of years we’ll be genetically reengineered and given our own theme park, she was less clear. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, this news spurs the scientific community into action, and it’s not long before the President of the United States has sent a moron (played by Dirk “Eggs” Benedict) to come and screw everything up. Typical!

The only solution Dr. Gale can come up with is figuring out a way to seal the gash so it can’t continue to grow. At first, she and the other Earthlings think they need to collapse it onto itself by shooting some nukes into it, but to do that, they’re going to need a demolitions expert. Enter John Redding (played by Stephen Baldwin of the perpetually bad hair), a guy who spends all his time blowing up buildings and is a bit taken aback when told he needs to fly to the moon and nuke the hoo-hah out of it.

Eventually, though, it turns out what they actually need to do is use an electromagnetic pulse to manipulate the moon’s iron core into sealing up the crack itself. Unfortunately, they don’t realize this until John is already in space. Fortunately, this means the script writers now have the perfect excuse to rip off one of the most entertaining scenes of Apollo 13, in which a group of engineer geeks on Earth have to figure out how to talk a group of non-engineer-geeks in space through building the necessary gadget out of spare parts they have sitting around. Derivative, yet still fun.

Will John be able to put together the complicated scientific device, get it set up on the right spot on the moon, and save the world? Or will his greasy, too-long hair fall over his eyes at a crucial moment, foiling the entire plan and leaving all of humanity encased in amber and forced to wait for, hold on, what would the human equivalent of Jurassic Park be? Neogene? Neogene Park? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. . .

In any case, yes, the characters are hokey, the dialogue is less than stellar, many elements of the plot are stolen from better films, and Stephen Baldwin is not much of an actor. Nevertheless, at one point, my Mom and I both realized we weren’t really sure how much of the science involved was accurate, and that’s nice because usually we’re rolling our eyes and muttering things like, “Boy, somebody in charge of THIS one sure flunked high school physics. . .” I can’t think of another sci-fi movie that features the destruction of the moon as its main plot point, and, frankly, we’d be pretty screwed without our moon, for a variety of reasons not limited to the damage it would create if a huge chunk of it plowed right into us. There’s quite a lot of potential for this concept — here’s hoping someone smarter gets a hold of the idea and works on similar film with a bigger budget.

In the meantime, though, this one might be worth watching if you, like us, are more interested in being given excuses to pause the DVD and speculate about the science than you are interested in actually watching a good movie.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Sci-fi disaster

Cast: Stephen Baldwin, Dirk Benedict, Anna Silk, Amy Price-Francis, Jason Blicker