Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sci Fi on the Screen

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Share it Please

I was going to write about the upcoming Elysium by Neill Blomkamp, but with some other movie/tv sci fi turning up I decided to simply expand this post. For me District 9 is one of the best sci fi movies of the past ten years. Granted, that might not be such a great feat considering the competition - the Transformers and the Avatars might be somewhat entertaining here and there, but great movies they are not.

There have been a few other great sci fi films (Moon, Children of Men, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as well as some good ones (Dredd, Contagion, Source Code) but I think District 9 stands out the most as something completely different to what we've seen before. Neill Blomkamp has a visual sense of concept that I would liken to a young Ridley Scott. While Star Wars introduced the idea of the lived-in future Scott perfected it in Alien and Blade Runner. I get a similar feel when watching both District 9 and the new trailer for Elysium, except Blomkamp has updated the lived-in future to fit better with the 21st century.

As for the more futuristic aspects of Blomkamps movies I get a strong feel of Chris Foss and Syd Mead. Their work during the seventies and eighties had a great impact on me as a kid and Blomkamp just being a year younger than me probably grew up with these images as well. I'm very happy for it as I think a lot of today sci fi designs have become... almost standardized. The same design elements pop up again and again in tv, film and games and while they might look cool they soon get lost in a sea of similar designs. I think bringing back some of the concepts from the seventies and eighties is a great way to bring something new to the table. Especially since technological limitations during that time meant they could rarely be represented well when they were created. This has of course changed since then.

Anyway, what about Elysium? Well, the story is basically that Earth has succumbed to our misshandling of it and has become hot, dirty and over-crowded. The rich people have simply fled the planet and are living in a space station called Elysium - which is a beutifully realized Stanford Torus, yet another nod to the seventies - where they frollick in the artificial gravity and enjoy privileges like machines that can instantly detect (and cure!) cancer. Back on Earth Max De Costa (Matt Damon) has just been told he's got a terminal disease and don't have long to live, so he decides to try and get into Elysium. Jodie Foster plays the government official on Elysium who try to keep him out with the help of a bounty hunter named Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley - the lead of District 9. And that's the basic premise of the movie, but don't listen to me... watch the trailer:

Yepp... looks pretty neat, right? Looking forward to August are we? So that's Elysium. Definitely the movie to look forward to for me personally. 

What I also wanted to mention was SyFy's new series Defiance. It's a science fiction melange mixing Firefly, Mad Max and Babylon 5 with some interesting ideas crammed in. Perhaps I should have put Mad Max first as the show takes place on Earth that was inadvertently ruined by an alien fleet 30 years ago. It's not clear exactly what happened but it seems like there was a big battle that pretty much ensured mutual destruction and now a bunch of different alien races are stranded on a post-apocalyptic or post-terraform (although that's not the correct word since it was alien technology... extraforming?) Earth. 

While the Mad Max angle is obvious with the jury-rigged vehicles, evil raiders and a lack of resources I think SyFy really wants to grab the Firefly fans with this series. Besides the sci fi cowboy style that is fairly prevalent in the pilot it's a lot more than that, the backstory of the main character (a rogueish ex-military man who now make a living through salvage) and the general feel of struggling against the odds certainly make my Firefly bell ring. The city the show takes place in (and the name of the show itself) is even named after that fateful battle and there seems to have been some kind of military unit called yellow jackets. Hmm..

The B5 feel comes from the great mix of aliens and uplifted animals that live in Defiance. The Votans who came with the alien fleet was an alliance of different races and although they're all pretty much of the rubber forehead kind, and fairly stereotypical at that, I enjoyed the variety. I really liked the uplifted (?) orangutans though! Made me want to paint my ape gang for Jude Dredd. Here's a trailer:

In the pilot we get to know the main character, Nolan, and his feisty sidekick/adopted ailen daughter Irisa. They scavenge stuff from the alien spaceships that periodically crash down on Earth (quite often I assume) but after a run-in with raiders they find themselves in Defiance, which is very much a futuristic version of the frontiers town. We get to see the main factions in town and the obvious (at first, but probably more grayscale as the series goes on) bad guy is a scheming alien Castithan who also owns the local bar. His antagonist is a rich human who owns most of the mines in the area. Naturally they both have children and the human girl is in love with the Castithan boy... I see a lot of Capulet/Montague stories in the future, even though they fastforwarded it and changed the ending.

There's a betrayal and the towns energy shield is sabotaged just as they learn that an army of Volge are Theo Jansens's Strandbeest. It looks like the town is going to get wiped out, but luckily Nolan saves the bacon with some kind of alien power source that he scavenged in the beginning of the episode. He becomes the new town sheriff (I bet noone saw that one coming!) and at the end we get to see who the real bad guys are, including a bearded guy with some seriously silly looking glasses.
marching their way. I kind of liked the Volge although they pretty much looked like more cybered up locust from Gears of War. They had some neat walkers though, including one that reminded me of

The pilot was very much that, a pilot. And in my experience sci fi or fantasy tv pilots are rarely good in and of themselves as they have too much stuff to cover and get the audience hooked on. Neither plot nor character development is given enough time as there is an entire world to establish. This lends itself to one-dimensional characters and a very cliché script, but this is not anything I hold against Defiance. While some series, like Firefly, succeeds brilliantly in making an actual good pilot I think that is the exception rather than the norm.

All in all I think Defiance has potential, as long as SyFy actually dares to do something new. Right now the show is dangerously close to the cliché cliff but there are still enough interesting things in it for it to be able to break new ground. It'll be interesting to see the next few episodes.

Oh, and the series also ties in to a new MMO by the same name and apparently the tv show will affect what happens in the game and vice versa. Yepp. Here's another (live-action) trailer that shows more of the gaming side of the setting. Big bugs etc.

There we go.... some of my ramblings regarding sci fi on the screen. See ya!

EDIT: Well then... look what just popped up! AMC is apparently developing Ballistic City, described as Blade Runner meets Battlestar Galactica, taking place on a generation ship and being about crime. It sounds absolutely spectacular!

9 kommentarer :

  1. I am cautiously optimistic about Defiance. Not a bad pilot - hopefully they can keep the story moving forward and not let it become just another SyFy casualty.

    The Castithan crime boss reminds me of Londo Mollari in the early Babylon 5 episodes. He could end up being a major force - for good, evil, or both.

  2. I'd add oblivion to this as a pleasantly surprising piece of sci-fi :)

  3. @Chris - I feel the same way. There are enough interesting elements to make a pretty cool series out of, I just hope the people in charge make the right decisions. Considering the number of cancelled (and rightly so) sci fi shows over the past few years they have hopefully realized that the audience crave something smarter and less "safe" than things like Terra Nova and The Event.

    As for the crime boss, I was more thinking about G'Kar as he was often portrayed as the bad guy in the first season, but I can see Londo in him as well. :)

    @Mike - I was going to add a little blurb about Oblivion actually! Mainly that its aesthetics would fall into, what I categorize as, derivative territory. Or the pool of sameness that has plagued sci fi in the pastten years or so. That's not to say that it looks bad, just that it doesn't stand out.

    It does seem like a fairly interesting movie though and one that is on my watch list.

  4. Defiance seems to have some potential, but nothing that grabbed me right out of the gate. But most science fiction series tend be that way. Interest builds in layers and after a few episodes you'll either be tuning in regularly or you've moved on. If Defiance will be aired at Finland's national channels, I'll check it out. At the moment I'm actually more interested how the MMO connection and the synergy between the two mediums will be handled.

    Elysium trailer looked very good and gave me the good scifi vibes. Blomkamp's eye for unique design really shows here. Just look at those combat harnesses, or whatever they actually are! Even if the story itself doesn't sound that original, I find this film really interesting. I'll certainly be check this one out in the theaters when it will be released and even with just the trailer it looks worth the price of the ticket.

    Personally I feel Hollywood, with a few exceptions, has horribly dragged behind in the science fiction genre for the last decade. Perhaps even before that. When you compare the concept and visual design of today's science fiction videogames to science fiction films, videogames wipe the floor with Hollywood. Granted, the radical difference in the mediums, lends good hand to videogames as their worlds and stories have to be designed in much more depth as you just can't sideline things in videogames that you can do in films.

    The best science fiction film I've seen this year is actually Cloud Atlas. While the actual science fiction elements are quite sparse, I found the film immensely engaging because of its multilayered plot and rather differing take on traditional storytelling. Oblivion I'll be checking out tomorrow at a local theatre. There are actually quite a lot of promising scifi flicks coming out this year: Star Trek, Pacific Rim, After Earth, Elysium and my personal most waited film of the year Ender's Game.

  5. @NetDiver - Yes, it's a sad state of affairs when you get enthusiastic about a sci fi show just because it's not flat out bad, or not as bad as most of the stuff that shows up on tv. When was the last good (and I don't mean good for being sci fi) sf tv show? There has been good stuff like Fringe, Sarah Connor, Dollhouse but what was the last one that involved spaceships in any way?

    I guess BSG, although it really went downhill after season three. Before that Firefly, which I think was genuinely excellent tv, regardless of genre. Babylon 5 probably belongs as well, although it is dragged down by many of the attributes of a "cheesy cheap looking sci fi show". Has there been anything else (relatively) recently? I can't think of any off the top of my head...

    Anyway... I definitely agree about how video games have overtaken Hollywood when it comes to originality of design, although I think the stories being told have not kept up. That is to say, we get spiffy looking stuff now and then, but more often than not it's about a space marine shooing aliens.

    I'd love to see a hard SF game that takes place in our Solar system where the science fiction aspects are not simply veneer, but what the game really revolves around. Perhaps an rpg where you get to explore the implications of, say, terraforming Mars. Or the cultural impact of true post-humanism (the new Deus Ex touched on this, but stumbled towards the end. Excellent game nonetheless). Basically I'd like to see something different with a stronger connection to our actual future, rather than more space marines stomping bugs. Hmm, rambling a little.

    I haven't seen Cloud Atlas, but it sounds very interesting. Thanks for reminding me! I'm very much looking forward to Ender's Game as well, although not as much as Elysium. Had there been a director that I actually knew or liked that was doing Ender's Game it would probably be my top film of the year to see as well. But I just don't know what to expect of Gavin Hood. Wolverive was pretty meh.

    Pacific Rim looks like an absolute blast and I enjoyed JJ Abrams first Star Trek movie (although it's really not Star Trek anymore) so those two are on my to see list. Gravity is definitely on my list as well and I'm keeping a cautious eye on the new RoboCop movie and indie(?) production The Prototype.

  6. What did you think about Cloud Atlas?
    Is Pacific Rim not on your expectation list, or is to to much near futureperhaps? Its the writer and director of Pan´s Labyrinth that is directing that one as well.

  7. @Martin L - Hello there other Martin! Haven't had a chance to see Cloud Atlas but I think I'll be able to remedy that this weekend. I'll let you know my thoughts.

    As for Pacific Rim it's most definitely on my list! I really like Guillermo del Toro's work and look forward to see him tackle the kaiju/giant robo theme. Would be even happier if he managed to get At the Mountains of Madness into production though. :)

  8. I finally went to check out Elysium last week. Generally taking it was a good science fiction flick, but nothing we generally hadn't seen before. I mean it looked fantastic, sounded great, had that certain grittiness to its style, but the plot wasn't all that original and Blomkamp underlined the dystopic elements bit too much. The most memorable scenes from the movie were actually the ones featuring Kruger. The lead actor from District 9, Sharlto, really took the spotlight as an uncompromicing South African mercenary. All in all, 3 out of 5 would be my score for the movie.

    I really liked the visual design of the movie and anyone interested should check out the Elysium concept art by Aaron Beck on his blog. Awesome stuff.

  9. Yepp, I pretty much agree. It's basically an 80's style over the top action movie made in a very realistic and gritty way... which kind of clashes at times. Still, the visuals were spectacular and I really enjoyed it in the end.

    Got an article coming with some thoughts about recent sci-fi movies I've seen.


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