Saturday, April 18, 2009

Three SF Films: Species, Cube Zero, and The City of Lost Children

Species is a traditional SF offering. The plot--duping a naive human scientist into providing a means of reaching Earth--has been done numerous times, both on TV and on film. In this version, humans get information from an unknown alien intelligence that allows the scientists to conduct experiments in combining human and alien DNA. The hybrid then turns into a monster with superhuman powers and attempts to reproduce and eventually destroy the human species and so on and so forth.

The only new elements are the superior special effects to those produced decades ago, although the shape-changing scenes aren't really that much better than those I've seen in various werewolf films, and the occasional nude scenes which wouldn't have been allowed decades ago.

The film reminds me somewhat of the Mission Impossible TV shows (I've never seen the films) as a team, each member has special abilities, is gathered together to fight the menace which has just escaped from the government research facility. And, there is the obligatory romance between two members of the team.

Overall Rating: traditional SF fare, with decent special effects and competent acting.

Cube Zero (2004) is part of a trilogy which includes Cube (1997) and Cube 2: Hypercube (2002). Although Cube Zero is the latest film produced, it is a prequel to the first two. The director explains that he felt that there were unanswered questions remaining from the earlier productions, so this film is supposed to provide the missing background.

The Cube is a large installation which consists of numerous cube-shaped rooms, some of which are lethal while others are perfectly safe. One can move from room to room through short tunnels located at the top, the bottom, and the four sides of the cube. The inhabitants of this installation are supposedly those who have received the death penalty and have volunteered to be subjects in various experiments. The bait is simple: prisoners who reach an exit point are free. As we find out, though, the government is also quietly removing its opponents this way.

Special effects are good and the acting is competent, as far as it goes. The focus seems to be on the gore as this is sometimes described as SF/Horror--lots of blood and guts for everybody.

Overall Rating: a disappointment. This could have been an interesting film with some interesting ideas, but they went for the gore instead. According to various reviews, Cube is the best of the three, and I'm interested enough in the concept to put that one in my queue.

I've saved the best for last.

The City of Lost Children is, by far, the superior film of the three. In fact, I gave it five stars, the maximum rating on Netflix. The plot is not very complicated--a man aided by Oliver Twist's sister meets a Mad Scientist in Gormenghast*.

One, the main character, is a simple, naive strongman in a carnival who finds an infant abandoned in an alley. Approximately four years later, the child is kidnapped by a gang of technologically enhanced blind men. This gang sells the children to a mad scientist, who can't dream and, therefore, steals these children's dreams. He believes that these dreams will halt the aging process. One then sets out to rescue his "little brother." As he searches the city, he meets up with a band of young pickpockets and thieves whose Fagin happens to be two women who are Siamese twins joined at the hip.

The City, the setting for the film, is strange, bizarre, and definitely a major character in the film. I got the feeling that only in this City could this story take place. It is dark and damp and garish, the perfect place for the bizarre characters and the even stranger events in the film.

Ron Perlman plays One and is eminently suitable for the role. I remember him from another favorite film of mine--The Name of the Rose--in which he also does a memorable job.

Overall Rating: One of the best films that I've seen this year and definitely one to be viewed again.

*Gormenghast: a fantasy trilogy written by Mervyn Peake. The characters are bizarre and a perfect match for the setting, Gormenghast, which is an enormous crumbling castle. I would recommend it for those looking for something unique in a fantasy.

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