Tag: Science Fiction

Review: Interstellar

Good cinema will make you experience a wide range of emotions, and sometimes even managing to surpass that. One that makes you think, to contemplate the wider issues that are swept under the blanket. Is Earth our sole home? Are we destined to die here or will we spread to the stars? Questions that become increasingly important as time goes on, for how long till we face a similar situation?

For fans of sci-fi who are frustrated with the latest trend of action movies that are set in space, this is a breath of fresh air. You’ll find no unnecessary action here, no over the top ships, and no alien attacks for the sake of flexing those budget biceps. The plot is simple, Earth is slowly becoming inhabitable. Decades of overindulgence has led to worldwide famine and war. Those left are farmers with one in particular being Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot. As a nitrogen-hungry disease ravages crops and causes reduced oxygen levels a new threat arises. “The last people to starve will be the first to suffocate”

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In circumstances I won’t reveal, Cooper meets a now underground NASA and is convinced to lead a mission to another galaxy, to potentially habitable planets. This is not just an exploratory mission, it’s a search for survival, a planet that can sustain human life. The film boasts a massive $165 million budget and you can instantly see how that was put to use with the depiction of other planets being phenomenal. Where other films simply fly out to the Middle East to create their Mars-like alien world, Nolan does it right. For the portrayal of space alone I feel this film will be regarded as a classic in years to come. That is before you factor in the incredibly intricate and complex story, the great acting and use of sound. Everything has a purpose, seemingly irrelevant moments in the first act suddenly become vitally important as we follow the numerous twists thrown at us.

After talking to several friends about their opinions, there was only one recurring negative: that the first act was too slow and they found themselves losing concentration. While this may be true initially, after you let the film simmer in your mind you begin to, as I mentioned before, make connections. With a second viewing you’ll be blown away by the sheer amount of things that forebode about the future, in ways you can’t possibly predict first time around. The Nolan brothers did a fantastic job and I feel they deserved more praise in the writing department.

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Something that surprised me, especially considering the fact that this was a blockbuster release, was the amount of times it brought a tear to my eye. Not just that but the variety of ways it was achieved. Emotion isn’t understated in order to pander to a wider audience, the movie is without a doubt emotionally exhaustive and when the credits hit the screen there will be a long silence before you finally speak.

When the 2014 Academy Award Nominations were revealed I was shocked that the acting was not recognised. Jessica Chastain as the grown up Murphy was sensational, a level above any over performance that year. Mackenzie Foy, who played the young Murphy, surpassed my expectations and then some garnering well deserved praise. The performance has been recognised by studios as well with her receiving a leading role in an upcoming adaptation of The Nutcracker also featuring Kiera Knightley, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren.

Once again Nolan teamed up with film composer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer and the result is magnificent. Straying away from his traditional orchestral soundtrack, he opts for a more stripped back sound using a piano, organ and synth to create a dream-like atmosphere. A decision that complements the plot and visuals perfectly.

Going into the cinema I hoped that silence would be used to emphasise the scale of Cooper’s mission and the universe itself and I was not disappointed. The most immersive moments incorporated silence in a major way with the most notable being the initial separation of the ship upon launch. It was here than I learned what the phrase ‘deafening silence’ means. Another example was when Dr Mann (played by a surprisingly unbilled actor) opens the airlock as he is mid sentence of a grand speech. A gasp was heard throughout the cinema and while the event itself was inevitable, the delivery was sublime. The soundtrack crescendos to thunderous levels and then, nothing. A case study in immersion through sound.

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When it comes to modern sci-fi films (e.g. The Martian and Passengers), the ships and their interiors are fantastically futuristic, an illustration of where we want our state of space travel to be. Interstellar on the other hand goes down a different path. Since the famine and the wars that follow, NASA has been forced underground. No one would, in their right mind, fund space travel in a time where the only surviving crop is corn. As a result the technology is dated, reminiscent of the golden age of NASA. A time where man dared to do more than just dream of leaving this planet. This golden age is reflected in the colour palette used for the entire film after the first act, full of warm oranges and reds.

Nolan should be heralded for more than just his cinematic achievement though with his picture. In preparation for the wormhole and black hole scenes, the visual effects team worked in unison with physicist Kip Thorne to create state-of-the-art simulations in real time, IMAX quality. The result is truly extraordinary. Those who went to the cinema to see this received a science fiction experience unparalleled in modern times. If you ever have the opportunity to see a reshowing, do yourself a favour and go see it, you will not be disappointed.

Interstellar may not be Nolan’s best film in terms of critical acclaim and audience reception, but in decades to come I feel it will be the most well-remembered, alongside Inception. Beneath the hard sci-fi shell this is a relationship drama, one that Nolan can personally identify with. About how your career can take you away from family for great periods of time and the major moments in their lives are reduced to nothing more than brief glimpses of another world.

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Review: Arrival

One moment is all it takes to change our lives, to define a species. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy, Prisoners) presents this moment with a profound silence uncharacteristic of science fiction. No great battle, no chaos or destruction, just the arrival. Sometimes the most terrifying action is nothing at all.

The film opens to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a distinguished linguist traveling to work as a lecturer at the University of Montana. All around her people scramble to see screens displaying news although Banks continues to her lecture hall unaware. Almost immediately after beginning the lecture a phone goes off, then another. The world has just changed, the scale of the change however, is hidden for a few more seconds.

After tentively switching a news channel on, they learn of a mysterious object in rural Montana, massive in size and visible for miles around floating just metres from the ground. Speculation suggests an experimental military ship until more objects are found across the world, 12 in total. Villeneuve plants the audience into his world, desperate for any sliver of information but before any possible understanding can form an alarm rings around the lecture hall. The whole state is on lockdown while governments across the world scramble to figure out what is going on. As Banks enters the parking lot we see people rushing to get back to family and jets flying overhead, in a deafening array of sound.

The next day by contrast is eerily quiet, Banks travels to work as usual although it soon becomes apparent that she’s the only one. Here she is approached by Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) to join a military task force at the landing site. Working alongside a theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they must not only establish the methods of communication with the unknown visitors, but decipher it and be able to communicate back. Some nations faced with a landing do not have peace as the primary objective on their agenda. China and Russia mobilise their respective armies to defend the populous from an expected invasion and it becomes a race against time to avert war with potentially peaceful extraterrestrials. Chaos is a persistent threat illustrated through widespread rioting and looting by people under the impression that the end of times is upon them.

Every few hours Banks and Donnelly travel to the bottom of the spaceship from a makeshift base nearby. Cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, A Most Violent Year) achieves an almost tangible level of anticipation as the sheer scale of the pebble shaped ship is slowly revealed to us. This feeling is very shortly dwarfed in the sequence following as the team make their way inside. For all the advanced technology of both alien and human design depicted, there was a certain irony in using a scissor lift to bridge the gap between the 2 civilisations. When the aliens are eventually revealed, dubbed heptopods for their 7 legs, Banks is unable to make sense of their whale like cries. With the relations of world nations seeming to crumble around them, failure is not an option and upon seeing words and sentences in a visual form and not noise, a deeply complex and beautiful written language is revealed. The further she plunges into this language, the more her reality begins to shift and in doing so changes the fate of her world.

The climax of Arrival is both staggering and satisfying as several confusing elements from early on suddenly become crystal clear. With fabulous cinematography accompanied by a soul-stirring score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, this is truly a first contact film like no other. Villeneuve delivers a poignant message underlining the utter necessity of communication that transcends the screen and resonates beyond.