Tag Archives: science fiction

My thoughts on: Forbidden Planet (1956)

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If you’re looking for a list of influential science fiction films, one title that consistently turns up is Forbidden Planet. Considered one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s, the film set the bar for many films to follow. The film follows the crew of the C-57D as it travels to the distant planet Altair IV to follow up on a mission that went there and disappeared 20 years previously.

The story can be considered a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play where sailors from a distant land encounter the sorcerer Prospero (who controls the spirit Ariel) and his beautiful daughter Miranda, who has never seen any man except for her father. In the film then, Prospero is Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), one of two survivors of a previous mission to Altair IV, Miranda is Morbius’ daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), Ariel is the ever helpful robot Robby and the sailors are Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and his crew, though it could be argued that the commander is also an analogue to Ferdinand, the nobleman who ultimately marries Miranda.

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The film contains a number of firsts: its the first to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light vessel; it was the first to take place entirely on another planet besides Earth (the story opens with the C-57D in deep space); most notably the film is the first to contain an entirely electronic film score (credited as ‘electronic tonalities’). The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

 

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From the start, you can tell there’s something fishy going on with Dr. Morbius. He’s way too eager for Commander Adams to be on his way back to Earth, and small wonder. It comes out that the first expedition discovered the ruins of an ancient civilization belonging to the Krell, an ancient super-race that accomplished everything you can imagine before mysteriously vanishing overnight. And that’s not all: there’s a giant machine 20 square miles in size located underground, introduced with a scene that almost boggles the imagination.

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Weird things begin happening back at the space ship: vital equipment is sabotaged, a crew member is violently killed (literally ripped limb from limb offscreen) and strange footprints from an invisible being (in one of my favorite scenes) are spotted. I remember the first time I watched this film it drove me crazy as to what was stalking the planet. For a while I was convinced that it must be a Krell, a lone survivor as it were, attacking outsiders. But the truth is so much more terrifying. It turns out that the mysterious beast is none other than Dr. Morbius himself, or at least it’s a part of him.

See, when Commander Adams and two of his men discover the Krell ruins, Morbius gave them a tour and showed them a strange machine that had the ability to dramatically increase intelligence. Morbius used it on himself and is now arguably the smartest human alive. But what the scientist fails to realize is that boosting his intelligence gave his subconscious mind access to the large underground machine. That huge machine was the Krell’s greatest accomplishment and their undoing. Having accomplished everything else, the Krell sought to make the final accomplishment: creation by mere thought, simply imagine it and it will appear. It’s not a bad idea, if the conscious mind were all there is. But the Krell had long since forgotten about the subconscious mind, known in psychology as the Id, the reservoir of all our deepest, most primal desires. When the machine was turned on, the Id of every Krell on the planet gained access to a machine with unlimited power. Though they consciously didn’t wish to destroy or kill, their subconscious acted out their secret desires and thus the whole race was wiped out.

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Morbius is unwittingly in the same predicament as the Krell, though he cannot consciously use the machine, his subconscious can and has before! Deep down, Morbius only wants to be left alone with his research and daughter, so his Id is acting on these desires and attempting to ‘eliminate’ the problem. It’s a horrifying moment, when the scientist realizes he is the monster. And speaking of the monster, the one glimpse you do get of the Id monster is the stuff of nightmares.

Robby the Robot provides several moments of humor throughout the story (he has a very dry wit), including a memorable exchange with Altaira:

Altaira: “Robby, I must have a new dress made right away!”

Robby: “Again?”

Forbidden Planet is definitely a must-see film for any fan of science fiction cinema and if you haven’t seen it before I hope you’re inspired to go check it out. If you have seen the film, what did you think about it and the revelation of the Id monster? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

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My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)

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*warning: this review will contain a number of spoilers, so please stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

It’s been just over 12 hours since I saw Annihilation and I still have an intense feeling of awe. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this film could be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for my generation, it has that exact same feeling of “I just saw something beautiful but it’s going to take  multiple viewings to better understand it.” Nevertheless, I believe I understand the gist of what director Alex Garland was trying to show us, so I’ll make my way as best I can.

Three years before our story begins, a meteorite crashed into a lighthouse inside a national park and immediately began emitting something dubbed the Shimmer. Imagine the iridescent surface of a bubble and combine it with endless flows and ripples. Now grow that bubble to gigantic proportions and you have a pretty good idea of what the border of the Shimmer looks like. Scientists have sent multiple teams in to explore this phenomenon, but no one has ever returned…until now.

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I should mention the proper story actually begins with Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier and professor in cellular biology, being debriefed in an isolation chamber after the story is already over (dialogue implies she is the lone survivor). Apparently, she was inside the Shimmer for 4 months, even though Lena can’t recall that much time passing. The story then flashes back and reveals her husband, Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac), has been missing for a year. It turns out he was part of the last team sent into the Shimmer. Out of nowhere, Kane appears outside the bedroom, but something is off about him. He doesn’t remember anything and he suddenly gets really sick. Lena and Kane are taken to the facility studying the Shimmer and while Kane falls into a coma, Lena decides to join the next team going in (all-female as it turns out) to see if there’s some way to reverse what’s happening to her husband.

The team consists of Lena, Anya Thorensen (a paramedic), Josie Radek (a physicist), Tuva Novotny as Cass Shepherd, a surveyor and geologist, and all are led by Dr. Ventress (a psychologist who secretly has cancer and wants to know the secret of the Shimmer before she dies). I need to stop and highlight Dr. Ventress for a moment because she’s the closest we come to a human antagonist in the entire story (and I’m still debating whether the Shimmer is an antagonist or not). From the moment you meet her, at least in my experience, you instantly start to hate her. There’s something unnatural in her behavior even before entering the Shimmer, I’d almost go so far as to say she was exhibiting sociopathic behavior.

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One great thing about this film is it doesn’t take too long to get to the action inside the Shimmer, but you should know that once the team is inside things get really weird really fast. For example, Lena wakes up in a tent, having no memory of making camp, and it turns out that somehow three or four days have passed and no one in the team remembers any of it. Then there’s the mutations: as Lena recounts, they start subtly. First they find strange new flowers that seem to be crossbreeds of different species (that shouldn’t be possible). Then Josie is attacked by a huge crocodile that has strange mutations in its teeth. Some of the mutations are beautiful: Lena comes across a pair of deer that have mutated into strange beings with flowering branches where their antlers should be, but some are absolutely terrifying. The hardest scene for me to get through was one where the group is twice attacked by a monstrous bear that somehow has part of its skull exposed. But that’s not the worst part of it: after attacking and killing Cass, it somehow absorbed part of Cass’ consciousness as she died (Josie speculates that the Shimmer is acting like a genetic prism that is causing the DNA of everything inside it to actively combine together) and now can use her final screams of help as a lure. What I mean is, every time the bear roars, you can hear Cass screaming and it was absolutely terrifying.

Of course, as in any horror film, one by one the team is picked off:

  • Cass is killed when her throat is ripped out by the bear
  • Anya is mauled to death by the same bear after suffering a psychotic episode
  • Josie’s fate is….interesting. After Cass and Anya die, Josie is seen sitting outside, seemingly at peace. As she tells Lena “She (Ventress) wants to face it (the Shimmer) and you want to fight it. But I don’t want either of those things.” And as Josie talks and walks away, she begins to sprout leaves and branches and suddenly disappears altogether. I think she transforms into one of the people-shaped flower growths that have begun appearing. And I don’t think she died either; if anything, I feel like Josie transcended into…something else.
  • Ventress makes it to the lighthouse before Lena, but something strange happens to her that I cannot adequately put into words (but I’ll address a theory I have when I wrap this up).

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Lena finally arrives at the lighthouse, ground zero of the Shimmer and discovers a strange growth surrounding a dark hole and also an incinerated body sitting in front of a video camera. And this is when things go beyond “this is weird” to “what the f*ck just happened??” Because, as the footage reveals, Lena’s husband went inside the Shimmer and committed suicide with a phosphorous grenade while talking to…a doppelganger. It’s one of those situations where your brain races like “If that’s Lena’s husband sitting dead on the floor, then who or WHAT is lying in a coma back at the base??”

 

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The next sequence is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but I simply can’t put it into words. I’ve tried several times and it simply doesn’t do the moment justice. Suffice it to say that Lena is confronted by her own double, or at least something that is morphing into her double. But just as it gain’s Lena’s face, the real Lena puts another phosphorous grenade into its hands and triggers it, running out the door as it goes off. This incinerates the root of the Shimmer and causes the entire phenomenon to collapse.

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Apparently, the Shimmer was some kind of alien life, but Lena can’t say what it wanted, if indeed it wanted anything at all. All she wants is her husband (and it’s interesting that she apparently neglects to mention that the man now recovered from his coma is NOT her husband but an alien duplicate). “Kane” confirms to Lena that he is not her husband, but upon ascertaining that she is the one the real Kane told him about, he embraces her and then something strange happens: his eyes begin to shimmer with a certain familiar iridescence. And after a moment, Lena’s eyes “Shimmer” too. And that’s where the story ends!

What does it all mean? I believe, that even though the phenomenon has collapsed, the Shimmer is still here, it’s just internalized inside two people now. Just like a pair of cells. As Lena told a class at the beginning: two become four, become eight, become sixteen…I think this is only the beginning before the Shimmer spreads through humanity, though what it will ultimately do I cannot say (though if you have a theory I’d love to hear it in the comments below).

Now as to the fate of Ventress, here is my theory: I think Lena was talking to her double the entire time and here’s why: when we first see Ventress in the chamber, you can clearly see that she has no eyes, but when she turns to face Lena, she suddenly has them. When Lena’s double is being made, the last thing to emerge are the eyes. So I think the real Ventress died, was absorbed by the Shimmer and now her double is here, but it can’t sustain itself because of the cancer in the original Ventress. That’s my theory anyway.

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I wish I could explain certain parts better, but Annihilation is one of those films that needs to be experienced to be understood. Is it, as some say, too “intellectual”? Maybe…but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a movie that makes you think about what it’s trying to tell you.

One more brief note: in the middle of the film, there’s an extremely graphic scene involving some found footage (you’ll know when you come to it). I just wanted you to be aware that such a scene exists because it deeply disturbed me while I watched it.

Final thoughts: Annihilation is a brilliant film from Alex Garland and a must-see for fans of the science fiction genre.

What did you think of Annihilation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great day!

See also: Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

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Soundtrack Review: Altered Carbon (2018)

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Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. In Netflix’s Altered Carbon, Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitized; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent.

Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder … that of Bancroft himself.

The soundtrack is composed by Jeff Russo, who has also composed music for Star Trek: Discovery and Fargo. For the latter, Russo earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special in 2017. Russo began his music career in 1990, after founding his rock band TONIC. The group quickly achieved great success and in 2003, received two Grammy nominations, one for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” for “Take Me As I Am,” and one for “Best Rock Album.” The band was a great showcase for Russo’s guitar work and songwriting that allowed him to branch out and begin his solo career in producing and composing.

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I’d heard that the soundtrack for Altered Carbon was unusual for a story in the cyberpunk genre, and now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack album I can definitely attest that this is true. As a general rule, the music in any show or film set in the future (and particularly in a cyberpunk future like Altered Carbon) has an “edgy futuristic” feel to it. Notable examples of this practice include: Blade Runner and its sequel; Automata; The Machine and Forbidden Planet. These films have soundtracks with weird electronic noises, guitar riffs and descents into heavy rock beats during action sequences.

 

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But the soundtrack for Altered Carbon doesn’t do this. Instead, the music, beginning with the “Main Title” has a mysterious quality to it. There are long, held-out string drones that combine with soft vocals (that are half muttering, half singing) and a cello solo. The opening title has the slightest touch of a drum beat, but it only lasts for a short time and doesn’t dominate the track.

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Most of the album: “Consciousness,” “Bancroft Shows Kovacs,” “Her Daughter,” and “Attacked by Troopers” are all variations on the same musical arrangement: strings with a prominent solo cello, combined with female vocalizations and an on-again/off-again background of electronic music. This is not a bad thing: In fact it shows that the world of Altered Carbon has a consistent musical background (and consistency is never a bad thing in film and television music). It’s actually refreshing to listen to a science fiction soundtrack that doesn’t include heavy rock music. Jeff Russo has composed a beautiful soundtrack for an amazing show. If you haven’t watched it yet, the first season is currently available on Netflix. The soundtrack became digitally available from Lakeshore Records as of February 9th, 2018.

Let me know your thoughts on Altered Carbon and its soundtrack in the comments below! My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

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"Ride of the Firemares" by James Horner

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Krull is one of the first films to feature a score by James Horner and is personally one of my favorite pieces of film music period. The movie was a combination of science-fiction and high fantasy and attempted to cash in on the popularity of sci-fi after the debut of Star Wars in 1977. The plot centers on Prince Colwyn gathering allies to rescue his betrothed, Princess Lyssa, from the clutches of the extraterrestrial Beast, who wants to marry her himself. “Ride of the Firemares” is set in the latter part of the film when the heroes are riding to the rescue of the princess on “firemares”; horses that can travel incredibly fast and leave trails of fire in their wake. They have to arrive quickly because the fortress Lyssa is being held in changes location every 24 hours, and firemares are the only way to reach the fortress’s location in time.

Krull “Ride of the Firemares”

The heroes on firemares

In truth the “firemares” were large draft horses with fake fur attached to their legs, but the scene is enjoyable nonetheless. I especially enjoy the little detail where the horses move so fast that they can actually run on the air (essentially they can fly). If you like quirky science-fiction/fantasy from the early 1980s, this is definitely the movie for you. Is the plot perfect? No. It’s blatantly obvious in some points that the film is borrowing from Star Wars, but if you take the film as it is, it’s very enjoyable.

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