sci-fi

REVIEW: Gattaca (1997)

Set in the near future, parents genetical modifying their unborn children to be the best they can be is the norm. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an in-valid, someone who was conceived naturally and because his genetic make-up wasn’t modified is seen as inferior. In order to follow his dreams, Vincent assumes the identity of genetically superior Eugene (Jude Law) but soon the authorities are closing in and Vincent’s secret is under threat of being exposed.

One of the best things about Gattaca is its world-building. In many ways it’s quite a small film, it has only two main locations, three main characters and a very self-contained and character driven plot. But the way this idea that genetically modification has become the norm and anything else is seen as wrong and worthless, is interwoven so well in the characters actions, the story, and little every day life details in the set design, makes this future seem so realistic.

Through the costumes, the buildings, and the way characters interact, the world of Gattaca seems like a very uniform and sterile place. Because of the environment they’re in, when Vincent begins to get close to his co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman) you get a sense on unease. Not only because any relationship between them might expose his secret but because it feels like romance and love doesn’t fit in this world.

Vincent is a character who is almost instantly likeable. Eugene, on the other hand, is biting and cold and it’s as his relationship with Vincent evolves from being one where they both need something from one another, to one where they are almost friends, that makes Eugene more sympathetic and likable. Hawke and Law give great performances, bouncing off each other as their characters find their feet around one another.

Gattaca combines its sci-fi premise with a tense crime thriller, but at its heart Gattaca is an absorbing drama. It has a world that’s rich with ideas and it’s a film that believes the audience is intelligent enough to follow these characters in a world that’s so different yet it’s a world that you can see coming to pass at some point. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Dune by Frank Herbert

“Spice” is the most valuable yet rarest element in the universe, it’s a drug that can be used in many different ways, and it can only be found on the inhospitable desert planet of Arrakis. When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens plot to take back the planet, putting Duke Leto and his family in danger. Duke Leto’s fourteen year old son Paul and his mother Lady Jessica, escape into the desert there they meet the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, and fight to survive and take back what has been taken from them.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin. It was a pretty good audiobook though some of the characters voices weren’t always consistent through the story so it was sometimes a little jarring at times. I definitely don’t think I would’ve read the physical book (as it’s so large and intimidating) so listening to it on audio made it more accessible for me.

Dune is about so many things, politics, religion, family, technology, and all these things are so well-developed that you end up with a vivid world this space society takes place in. that’s not to say it can’t be a bit confusing or overwhelming at times, it definitely can, but it does pose some interesting multi-layered ideas about politics and religion and how they interact.

This interstellar society that’s formed of many important families who control individual planets, though you only really follow the Harkonnens and the Atreides, is fascinating in a way as it’s full of weird contradictions. They have technology like force fields, but they fight with swords and daggers. They have space travel but they also have a belief in magic. It’s an odd combination that makes Dune seem like a historical story sent in a science-fiction world – especially with all the political backstabbing and the royal titles.

The descriptions of the planet Arrakis, its people and its creatures (there’s humongous worms with many teeth that roam the sand dunes looking for food) makes this hostile planet Paul and his mother find themselves stranded on a truly unsettling and dangerous place.

Paul is a compelling character. He’s had a lot of training in various forms of combat and politics, plus his mother has taught him the ways of persuasion and other skills that seem like magic to many people. He’s smart and capable for a teenager, but he’s pushed to the limit when his life, and the lives of everyone he knows, is threatened. I really liked his relationship with his mother Jessica. Their relationship was constantly shifting, sometimes they were like mother and son, other times they were like equals, and then at other times Paul seemed the more mature and self-assured as he seemed to be able to see possible futures.

Throughout the book there’s little experts of books from within the universe this story is set. As the story progresses, I came to realise these exerts were theoretically written after the events that Paul and Jessica were involved in. As they were often a history of Arrakis and its people, they gave you a hint as to whether or not Paul would succeed in his aims and what would become of the characters you’re already following.

I’m pleased I’ve read Dune, though it did end somewhat suddenly. A couple of the main plots were completed but there’s still a lot more to explore with this intergalactic political system. I didn’t know before going into Dune that there’s a number of sequels. I don’t think I’ll be reading them though as while I liked the story as I was reading it, I didn’t love the characters and I’m not desperate to know what happens to them next. 3/5.

REVIEW: Hardcore Henry (2016)

Henry wakes up with no memories as his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) is putting his body back together with the help of advanced technology. When Estelle is kidnapped, Henry must find and save her from a warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) who has his own special abilities.

Hardcore Henry is a unique film. It’s a shot entirely from the first person perspective so it’s as if you, the viewer are Henry. This makes the viewing experience interesting as you can only see as much as Henry sees, so sudden gunfire and attacks are often surprising. When there’s a lot happening and a lot of people attacking Henry at once, it can be a bit disorientating as the camera/Henry’s vision is moving so rapidly trying to follow everything that’s happening.

Hardcore Henry is a film that’s all about the action, rather than being character-driven. Henry as a character gets little to no personality, which is probably because he’s a stand in for the audience, and Estelle and the villain are cardboard cut-out characters. The character you get to know the most is Jimmy (played by a brilliant Sharlto Copley), he’s a guy who appears to have multiple personalities and is the only one who is trying to help Henry figure out what’s going on and how to find his wife. While the majority of the characters aren’t that compelling, the world of Hardcore Henry is intriguing. It appears to be set in the near future and with all the technology and evil corporations, it has the makings of a very interesting setting to explore if there is ever a sequel.

Henry is played by multiple stuntmen and it really is impressive how the filmmakers made this film. The stunts are on the whole brilliant and thrilling, and the action and violence gets bigger and more insane with every confrontation Henry has.

Hardcore Henry is completely bonkers but it’s also strangely enjoyable. It’s a film that knows it’s doing something different, and asking a lot from the audience because of that, so it makes sure it has humour and gracious violence to make it a fun experience. 3/5.

REVIEW: Beyond (2014)

Cole (Richard J. Danum) and Maya (Gillian MacGregor) struggle to keep their relationship going as they try to survive in a world where the human population has been decimated by an alien attack.

When Cole and Maya meet there’s news of an asteroid that’s heading towards Earth. People start to decide what to do with what could be their last few months or years alive as Cole and Maya fall in love.

Beyond has two stories running through it. There’s how Cole and Maya met, fell in love and how their relationship develops, and then there’s them in the present, alone in the wilderness, running from spaceships and trying to stay alive. Beyond is a film that’s made up of flashbacks and flashforwards, which makes it a choppy mess a lot of the time. Because it doesn’t spend that long in either time, you don’t get to know Cole and Maya that well, both as a couple and individually.

Cole and Maya spend more time arguing once they’re together than anything else, making you wonder how they are staying together. It seems like the apparent end of the world is the only thing that keeps them together.

The Scottish landscapes that Cole and Maya travel across are striking, and the way the present, dystopian part of the film is shot is beautiful in an eerie way. The music is suitably haunting too and all those elements make a bleak situation, however the story nor the character are never compelling enough to make this sci-fi drama/mystery enjoyable.

Really the sci-fi set up, an asteroid heading for Earth that could turn out to be an alien lifeform, is a backdrop for Cole and Maya’s relationship. The film never utilises its sci-fi roots to its full effect, nor gives you characters and a relationship you will to succeed.

Beyond is an intriguing low-budget British sci-fi film but it doesn’t quiet deliver what it promises. 2/5.

Sci-Fi Month is here!

IMAGE CREDIT: PHOTO by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash. QUOTE from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

November is Sci-Fi Month. I’ve seen talk about Sci-Fi Month on the twittersphere in previous years, but I’ve never been prepared enough to take part – this year is different though! Hosted by Dear Geek Place and imyril Sci-Fi Month is for celebrating all things sci-fi. That’s books, comics, films, TV shows – anything! It’s an excuse to catch up on the sci-fi things you’ve been meaning to get around to watching/reading and it’s a chance to meet fellow sci-fi fans.

There’s no requirements or goals to take part in Sci-Fi Month which I really like as sometimes too much pressure from challenges can put me off taking part. See imyril’s blog for more information on Sci-Fi Month and follow @SciFiMonth on Twitter and use the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth to take part in all the chats.

I had a look at my physical TBR, and I don’t actually have many sci-fi books on there. In fact, I just have four, Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, Dune by Frank Herbert, Area 51 by Bob Meyer, and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

My two main bookish aims will be to read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (funnily enough a recent #NinjaBookSwap gift from Dear Geek Place) and Dune. There’s going to be a readalong of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet during Sci-Fi Month which is always a helpful incentive – more info on the readalong is here. I have a physical copy of Dune but as that’s huge and intimidating, I used one of my Audible credits to purchase the audiobook. It’s a long audiobook at 21 hours but I should be able to listen to and complete it during the month on my walk to and from work every day (generally I can listen to at least an hour of an audiobook each working day).

When it comes to films, I’m going to make watching sci-fi films a priority in November. I really like science-fiction films, I like how they can be futuristic or bleak, can be action-packed or more thoughtful. There are so many subgenres of science-fiction which means there’s so many different stories to tell.

I’ve had a look through my watchlists on both Netflix and Amazon Prime and here’s just some of the sci-fi film I’d saved: The Discovery, Next Gen, The Beyond, Mute, Hardcore Henry, Arq, The Zero Theorem, Gattaca, Approaching the Unknown, The Colony, Psychokinesis, Stasis, Advantageous, Beyond, and Guardians. (Yes, there’s a film called Beyond and a different film called The Beyond – one’s on Netflix and the other’s on Prime and I’m intrigued)

Some of these have been on my watch list for ages so I’m not entirely sure what first drew me to them but that’ll make watching them even more fun.

If you fancy checking out the sci-fi books and films I’ve reviewed before on my blog click here.

Let me know if you are going to take part in Sci-Fi Month, I think it’s going to be a cool experience and I love it when events like this give me the push to finally read or watch something I’ve been meaning to read or watch for ages. Also, let me know what some of your favourite sci-fi books and films are, I’m always looking for recommendations.

REVIEW: The Power by Naomi Alderman

One day, teenage girls all over the world find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. As this phenomenon spreads and women of all ages learn to release powerful electricity from their bodies, the world changes forever.

The Power is an engaging read that captures your attention from the outset. It’s a story that’s building up to something so from the very beginning you’re wondering what exactly is everything leading to and what’s going to happen next. The story is largely told from four characters point of view. Roxy, the teenage daughter of a gangster, Margot, an American politician, Allie, a girl who reinvents herself as a religious figure called Mother Eve, and Tunde, a journalist and is the only male character you follow in this story. The story is told in snapshots, you get a dozen pages or so with each character and then it jumps forward a year or so and you see what’s happening in their lives now and how much, or little, things have changed.

The Power is fascinating because one would hope that if women suddenly had a power that men did not, it would finally tip the scale so that both men and women could be equal. They’d each have different strengths and weaknesses but this electrifying power women had would make them be able to protect themselves. Instead, The Power shows the scale of equality tipping in the favour of women. It does take time, but women become power-hungry, aggressive and sometimes sadistic in the way they abuse men for their own enjoyment or just because they can.

In some ways it makes sense, if you have some women who have been abused all their lives in some shape or form by men, it’s almost natural that if they suddenly had the power to cause pain they’d use it against those who hurt them. Also people are complicated! We can’t say that Men Are Bad and Women Are Good, and if women ruled the world it’d be a utopia. Women are just as flawed and as capable of violence as men. That being said, if women were so often seen as lesser-than, one would hope if they got this unique power, they would be more empathetic as they know what it’s like to be the one who’s scared to go out at night.

I hope the last couple of paragraphs make sense. The Power does give you a lot to think about, how society can change in such a reasonably short space of time, how people can forget how things were and how things can snowball into something you could never expect.

The scenes where women abuse men with their new powers are uncomfortable to read. It reminded me of when I read The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter in my Women’s Writing class at university. It’s almost more disturbing to read about women abusing men, than men abusing women and that is probably because there’s so much media showing men hurting women, that it becomes something you’re almost desensitised to. Women being cruel, sexually assaulting men, making them be in almost constant fear, it’s unnatural in many ways, and seeing that side of the society that evolves in The Power is unsettling to say the least.

The Power is an incredible book. It’s fast-paced, exciting and it’s a story that you’re never sure where it’s going to go next. There are some minor plot points that I wasn’t over keen on, and as I said it’s both unfortunate and interesting that it appears that, at least in this book, an equal society isn’t possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Meg (2018)

A team of scientists exploring the deep depths of the ocean discover more than they bargained for when they encounter a megalodon, a giant species of shark thought to be extinct.

The Meg does take a while to find its feet. There’s a lot of characters to introduce, almost too many to keep track of or care about, which takes time but once ex-deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) arrives things step up a gear. The first half of The Meg is more of a claustrophobic thriller as researchers are trapped at the bottom of the ocean with something attacking their vessel, the second half is more of the fun, action-packed people vs giant shark film you were probably expecting.

Naturally the scenes filmed on boats are a combination of filming in a giant tank with green screen, and being on the actual ocean, and the computer wizardry meshes those two together really well, so you really believe these characters are either going to swim or be eaten. The special effects are also great on the shark, it feels like a real intimidating presence and when a character gets a bit close to its jaws you get worried.

The film really thrives whenever Jason Statham is on screen. The Meg was pitched as Jason Statham vs a giant shark and it certainly delivers that, eventually that is. The action sequences whenever anyone is in the water are tense and while there are a lot of people for the Meg to chomp on, not that many people get eaten. The Meg doesn’t really go in for the blood and gore, which in certain sequences is a shame and makes the deaths somewhat samey and almost dull, but it’s a film that knows exactly what it is and relishes in it.

The Meg does try for more serious and emotional moments and they don’t always hit the mark. That’s not down to the cast, who all look like they are having a great time and do a great job even with some of the cheesy dialogue, but is more down to the pacing and the film trying to overstretch itself beyond the monster movie it is.

I will give The Meg its due for having a more internationally diverse cast than you usually see in a Hollywood film of its ilk, and it has not one but three smart female characters who are all scientist of some description. In the case of Li Bingbing’s Suyin, she is almost a co-lead with Statham and does just as much as him when it comes to saving the day.

The Meg is a lot of fun. There are jokes sprinkled throughout, a lot of which land, and the film generally knows what it is and has fun with that. There are a few typical tropes, for instance the greedy billionaire, but it makes them work. 4/5.