Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Four SF films

Predestination  (2014)

The Edge of Tomorrow  (2014)

Solaris  (1972)

The Zero Theorem   (2013)

I watched Predestination last night. It's, of course, Heinlein's "All You Zombies" embedded within a time-traveling anti-terrorist organization which is attempting to prevent the Fizzle Bomber from blowing up a goodly part of NYC.  As far as I can remember, Robert A. Heinlein's core story was treated accurately.  I enjoyed the film, once I accepted the premise that the expanded version was necessary for making the film.   After all, who would want to watch a film solely based on RAH's short story?  The only weakness I found was in the role of "the unmarried mother."   That character just didn't come across as convincing to me.  Perhaps Sarah Snook, who played "the unmarried mother," wasn't convinced either by the character.
I watched some of the special features, and one of the comments made by a producer? director? actor? was that this was an entirely unique concept in time-travel stories.  However I can think of at least two other stories which played with the same paradox, and there probably are others.

A time-traveler goes into the future and finds a world destroyed, probably by war.  He finds the remains of a building and inside is a display case with a knife in perfect condition inside  it.  He brings the knife back to his time.  The knife is analyzed and even a small sliver is taken from it.  The material is unlike anything the scientists have seen before.  Eventually they lose interest in the knife and it is placed in a small display case near the entrance of the research institute.  The story is "As Never Was" and was written by P. Schuyer  Miller.  A similar incident is found in Ford Madox Ford's novel, Ladies Whose Bright Eyes.

I would rate the film as at least a 4 on a 5 point scale.

The Edge of Tomorrow  aka Live Die Repeat

Tom Cruise plays  the role of  a smarmy self-involved PR person in the military in the midst of an alien invasion.  It's a role perfectly suited to him.  He irritates a general and ends up busted in rank and headed for the front lines, more specifically an invasion of Europe from England, a futuristic replay of WWII's Normandy invasion, with far more disastrous results.  The humans are wiped out.  Through a rather unbelievable set of circumstances,  Cage,  Cruise's character, is time-warped back to the time when he is forcibly united with the squad that he will join in its ill-fated invasion.  Again, he is killed and so on.  Each time he presumably learns a bit more and survives a bit longer.  

The star of the show is actually the battle suit--see Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  The special features or bonus features focuses solely on the battle suit and on the creation of the aliens.  What we see of Cruise involves the heroic struggles he makes in learning to manipulate the suit.  Nothing was mentioned about anything else in the film: plot, setting, characterization. It was all suit, suit, suit.  

The reason is simple: there really isn't much in the way of plot, setting, characterization.  If the action scenes were removed, only about 2-3 minutes would remain of the total running time of 113 minutes.
If you want action, this is your film.

I'd give it 3.5/5.0 for the action scenes which were technically highly effective and kept one from thinking about the implausibility of the plot, what there was of it.

The film is based on Stanislaw Lem's novel of the same name and is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
It has his signature film elements--long and loving takes on nature and humans doing nothing or sleeping.  I would also be more likely to recognize  Donatas Banionis' (he plays the major character Kris Kelvin) profile than his face, as the camera spent some time focused on his ear (right one, I think)

It's my fault, probably,  that I didn't get Tarkovsky's message:  for example: the commentary regarding Kris, the psychologist, who supposedly functions solely by reason and with no emotions or feelings,  tells us that he has no love for nature.  Not knowing this, I thought the first few minutes of the film which portrays him wandering through the grounds where he lives suggested that he was enjoying his wanderings.  Later, when I found out he was leaving the planet, I thought he was soaking up memories of nature for the future when he would be surrounded by metal and plastic in the space ship and on the station around Solaris.  But, no, according to the commentary,  this part shows he is detached from nature, and that he does have only some minimal feelings is demonstrated when he washes his hands in the small lake.

Once aboard the space station in orbit around Solaris, he encounters the same sort of visitations that affect the other crew members.  His dead wife suddenly appears to him in a physical form and not just as an image or vision.  He now begins to understand the problems faced by the other researchers on the station.  Are these visitations an attempt by the inhabitants of the planet, or even the planet itself, to study the strange visitors in orbit or an attempt to communicate with them or both?  Or are the humans suffering from hallucinations which have little to do with the planet? The viewers are left to decide this for themselves.  The ending?-- well, the film just sort of stopped.  Perhaps someone reading this can leave a comment that will help me understand it. 

It's been long since I read Solaris, so I can't do any reasonable commentary on the faithfulness of the film to the novel, but I do remember being confused by the film in much the same way I was confused by the novel, which probably is as it should be.  How alien can a being or race be, if one is not confused or bewildered by at least some aspects?

Rating:  ??  This was my second viewing, and I suppose I will try again sometime down the road.

The Zero Theorem
Dir.  Terry Gilliam
In Henry James' short work, "The Beast in the Jungle," John Marcher has the strange fixation that something unusual, either good or bad, is going to happen to him.  So, he avoids getting too close to people and does not propose to a woman who would certainly accept him because he fears to subject others, including a wife, to his fate, whatever it may be.  At the end of the story he wonders if the marvelous thing that was supposed to happen to him had already happened, and he failed to recognize it when it did.

Qohen Leth, in a similar fashion, has isolated himself while he awaits a phone call.  Many years ago, he received a phone call from a stranger who asked if he wanted to learn the answer to the mystery of life and existence which would then make him a supremely happy person.  Before he could answer "yes," he was disconnected.  Since then he has thought about nothing except waiting for this phone call.  He is even afraid to leave the house for fear of missing the call.  Since he isn't rich, he has to go to work, but he hurries home immediately after work in order to be there when the phone rings.  He has also been haranguing Management, unsuccessfully so far, to allow him to work at home.

He is considered a computer genius whose job is "entity crunching," and exactly what that entails is beyond me.  He finally persuades Management to allow him to work at home, and it proves the point that getting what one wants is not always a good thing.  He has been assigned to work on the Zero Theorum, a task which has defeated many others before him, and the need for secrecy is likely what prompts Management to allow him to work at home.  The Zero Theorem is a mathematical formula which, when proven, will support the theory that the universe is meaningless.  The universe is an accident that will not happen again for there's no reason for it to happen again. Ironically, his home is a burned out cathedral. 

Aside from the plot, the costumes, setting, and special effects are part of the charm of the film.  The film was shot in Bucharest, Rumania, and Gilliam takes full advantage of the varied architecture of the city.   It supposedly takes place in London, but this is clearly not the London of today.

I found the costumes to be bizarre:  one of the scenes is a costume party, but I couldn't see much difference between what they were wearing at the party and the clothing worn by people on the street.  This effect was brought about by using clothing styles from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, but not made of the expected fabrics of cotton, wool, or silk or even polyester.  Instead (and this was forced to some extent by the film's low budget), the costumes were made from shower curtains and other items made of a shiny plastic material.  The exception was the main character, who work black and other dark colors, which clearly set him aside from the rest of the cast.

The story is the conflict that develops when he becomes distracted by a young woman which interferes with his devotion to his job and his constant preoccupation with The Phone Call.   She offers him a way out, an escape, but he can't let go of solving the problem of the Zero Theorem and of waiting for the phone to ring.  (One hint:  the film does not end when you might think it does.)

It's an interesting story with an intelligent plot and some serious questions that have been around since humans started wondering about when and where and how and why.  It's also a feast for the eyes with the bright colors, with a tinge of the steampunk universe hovering about.  
Rating:  4/5


  1. Fred, your mention of Henry James sends me scurrying to my bookshelf. Also, your mention of time travel is coincidental to my posting at Beyond Eastrod; I ponder the paradox of time-travel to the past. Now, I must visit the beast in the jungle.

  2. R.T.,

    "The Beast in the Jungle" is my favorite short work by Henry James.

    Your post regarding time travel involves one of the paradoxes that arise if time travel happened to be possible.

  3. Fred,
    I've watched Solaris recently. Did you watched it again after this post of yours?

    1. Di,

      If you are asking about the Tarkovsky film, the answer is yes. I watched it again last year. I wanted to compare it with the Hollywood version, but that's in the SAVED section on Netflix, so I'm still waiting.

      What was your impression of the film?

      Have you read the novel? Any comments

    2. I have neither read the book nor seen the Hollywood film.
      Do you like Tarkovsky?
      I've been intending to write about Solaris.

    3. Di,

      I will be interested in reading your post on Solaris. I've watched three of his films so far: _Solaris_, _Stalker_, and _Andrei Rublev_.

      I've liked the three films I've seen.

    4. I've written about Solaris.
      I have a friend who is a fan of Tarkovsky.

    5. Di,

      OK, I will take a look at it.