Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.7 2022.02.15

Science Fiction Film Reviews


The Abyss

AeonFlux

Avatar

Back to the Future

Back to the Future Part II

Back to the Future Part III

Battle: Los Angeles

Blade Runner

Chappie
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
District 9

Edge of Tomorrow

Elysium

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

The Fifth Element

Gattaca

Inception

Jurassic Park
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park III

The Martian
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starship Troopers

The Abyss

stars

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AeonFlux

2 stars

Release date: 2005
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.11.21
One of the better films from the string of societal revolution films that came out during the late 90's and earlier 2000's. This movie made a greater impact than its peers because of its intriguing look at something fundamental to the human condition. The film doesn't spell it out, but this viewer considers it to be an examination of the soul. Perhaps one could say it is about the connection between the body and the soul (as nothing else could really explain the type of transfered memories between reincarnations that we're shown). The film doesn't even pretend to have any answers. Nevertheless, what the film does present is intriguing.

Another of the film's strong points is its visuals: notwithstanding the eye candy, it is a gorgeous film to look at, with a lot of care put into what appears on the screen. The visual choreography—not just the fight scenes, but the editing of the shots—is breathtaking at times. The future tech it presents is also unique and intriguing in its own way. I don't think anyone will look at grass the same way after seeing this film!

That said, although the story is done well (not necessarily well done), it leaves the viewer feeling that it could have fleshed things out a bit more here and there, and at the very least, made the protagonists a bit more sympathetic.

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Avatar

2 stars

Release date: 2009
Written by: James Cameron
Directed by: James Cameron
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.01.10
Jake Sully is a paraplegic ex-Marine who has replaced his recently deceased identical twin brother on a multi-year contract to Pandora, an alien world being mined for the valuable mineral unobtanium. Pandora is inhabited by giant humanoids called Na'vi. Jake was able to take over his brother's contract because Earth scientists use genetically matching Na'vi-human hybrids—called avatars—to explore the biosphere and interact with the Na'vi, and the avatars are frightfully expensive to produce. On planet, Dr. Grace Augustine the head of the avatar program, considers Jake a poor substitute for his scientist brother. On the other hand, Parker Selfridge, the company manager, and Col. Miles Quaritch, the head of the company's security force, both like it as Jake is a former soldier and can serve as a bodyguard, among other things. However, on his first deployment, Jake is attacked and chased by a panther-like creature, and is separated from his team. He is rescued by the Na'vi Neytiri, who after seeing an auspicious sign, takes him to her clan. Neytiri's mother, the clan's spiritual leader, orders her daughter to teach Jake their customs. Jake's human comrades all see this as a huge win: Grace sees an opportunity to get back into contact with the Na'vi after an unexplained fallout, and Parker and Miles both see an opportunity to learn about the Na'vi's home: a giant tree called Hometree, that stands above the largest unobtanium deposit in the area. As he's being promised that the company will restore his legs as a reward, Jake takes to his new assignment with gusto. However, his loyalties start changing the more he learns of and adopts the Na'vi culture.

Avatar is an intriguing film. On the one hand, it plays it extremely safe and doesn't take any risks, to the point that it's predictable. On the other, it's beautifully filmed by a genius director, and presents not only a well developed alien race and their culture and language, but also the entire biosphere of the world that they live in! One of the best aspects is the completely unforced, and naturally-developing Jake-Neytiri romance. The best scene in the film is the first time that the paraplegic Jake gets into his avatar body and is able to use his legs once more—from the first wiggle of his toes to his wiggling them in the garden dirt.

Alas, as smooth as the story slickly unfolds, it is also one that we've seen dozens of times before: invaders colonize a foreign land, come into conflict with the locals, and a love between a man and a woman from either side of the divide forms, causing the one from the invading side to question their loyalties, and join the locals to stop the invaders. Perhaps it's for the best that Dir. Cameron invested most of the film's time in developing the fresh and original world and culture of the Na'vi. The film also suggests an intriguing question: if humans are wired up and using avatars, are the Na'vi doing a less-technological version of that when they make their connections to the animals on Pandora to communicate with and control them? Sadly, the film doesn't stop to ask if the animal–Na'vi connection is a two-way one, and if the animals are communicating as much with the Na'vi as the Na'vi are with them. Nevertheless, the film is a visual masterpiece*, and could be seen just for its breathtaking visuals.

* I say that without having ever seen it in 3D. All the shots are filled with details right out to the edges of their framing, and the only way to enjoy that without risking a visual headache is to do that in the forced-focal-point free 2D.

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Back to the Future

stars

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Back to the Future Part II

stars

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Back to the Future Part III

stars

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Battle: Los Angeles

3.5 stars

Release date: 2011
Written by: Chris Bertolini
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.05.26
Significant clusters of meteors that appeared with little forewarning land in the sea near 20 major coastal cities. The meteors turn out to be something else, as hostile aliens emerge from the sea, and mercilessly attack the people who have gathered to watch them fall. As the aliens carve out a beachhead, Marines from a nearby base are dispatched to help evacuate the civilians and form a defensive line. Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz—who is set to retire and is training new recruits—is assigned to 1st Platoon Echo Company, and their assignment is to retrieve civilians from a police station deep in the enemy's beachhead.

Battle: Los Angeles is a war movie, with aliens. It focuses in on and follows the one Marine unit, and refrains from giving us a big-picture overview, or even going into detail on who the aliens are, their leadership, and why they're invading urban areas. In some ways, it's frustrating, but in many other ways, it's a good thing, as it forces the viewer to come up with their own answers.

The ensemble cast is filled with well-known faces, which helps make it easier to keep track of who's who—always a challenge in war films as everyone tends to be dressed in the same drab uniforms. The film is loaded with plenty of war-movie cliches. However, the twist that the enemy army are aliens makes it arguably much more interesting, as that naturally increases the unpredictability of the film. The writers and director wisely put limits on what the aliens know and understand about humans, and that leads to dozens of scenes where the aliens blindly ignore what is obvious to another human, or the aliens take inexplicable actions because they don't know what the human priorities are.

While the film doesn't have the same intensity as Aliens, Battle: Los Angeles successfully walks the same path, and even manages to give us some unexpected new takes in the soldiers vs. aliens genre.

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Blade Runner

3 stars

Release date: 1982
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.12.05
This film is good, not because of what it tells you, but because of what it asks you to interpret in your own way. How else could we still be debating and discussing it 30 years after its release?

The film was at once extremely familiar and foreign. So many movies and anime have copied its cityscapes that I was immediately reminded of such works as Bubble Gum Crisis, and the influence they had on my manga work in the early '90s. The plot, on the other hand, is more about what it suggests and implies, than what it specifically shows. Take Tyrell's massive trifocal glasses—what do they say about the character? Couldn't those massive trifocals be a metaphor for Tyrell being the all seeing, but at the same time a barrier that blinds him?

Throwing my 2 cents into the debate on whether Deckard is a Replicant or not: I'll say this: all the humans in the film are portrayed as physically flawed (e.g.: Gaff has a limp, Sebastian has Methuselah Syndrome) and the Replicants are not. In reading some of the debate on Deckard, one point stood out: what if Deckard is a Replicant with Gaff's memories? It certainly explains some things. And even though that deflates the navel gazing on such things as a human falling in love with a Replicant, it does adds a slew of new thoughts—do androids experience love the same as we do? What exactly is it that makes a human a human? Is this film told from the Replicant's perspective? And so on.

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Chappie

stars

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4 stars

Release date: 2014
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.01.20
Caesar—the intelligent chimpanzee who led the apes to freedom in Rise of the Planet of the Apes—has successfully carved out an existence in the rainforest north of San Francisco in the 10 years since the end of the preceding film. He has hundreds of loyal apes under his command, a peaceful growing community under him, and is a fair, moderate, and caring leader who has fully earned the respect of his compatriots.

Humans, on the other hand, have been decimated by the simian flu—the global pandemic accidentally released at the end of the preceding film. Something on the order of only 1 in 500 people survived that infection, and the survivors are few and far between. So few, that one orangutan remarks to Caesar that they haven't seen any human at all in the last 2 years!

However, a hundred or so human survivors are eking out an existence in the ruins of San Francisco, and are '3 weeks' from running out of fuel to power their generations. They have sent a small team to see if they can use a nearby dam to provide their power needs. The problem is that the dam is in ape territory, and there are individuals on both sides that still hold very strong feelings for the other side.

This film is a very well done exploration of what it means to be a leader, and the challenges that leaders face. Caesar is not only confronted by human antagonists, but also by fellow apes, and his own values. This is paralleled in the human side as well. We see understanding, shared values, and comradeship between humans and between the apes, but also between a few of the humans and a few of the apes. Perhaps most remarkably, there are no villains. Every character is well established, and their actions stem from their belief that they are doing the best for themselves and their comrades.

However, the highlight of the film is the extensive filming on location in the wet and rain-soaked rain forests of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland. They are places that I grew up with, and are very familiar to me. It's something about the type of moss on the trees, the layers of underbrush in, under and around the trees, and the type of rain. I knew instantly how cold the actors ought to have been during filming, but also how invigorating being there must have felt. The sheer nostalgia of those shots more than made up for the disbelief-breaking gap caused by the recognition that the forests north of San Francisco look nothing like that!

Nevertheless, this is one of those rare films that one wished played a little bit longer because the characters, their motivations, the consequences of their actions, and the world-building has all been done so well.

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District 9

4 stars

Release date: 2009
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.09.02
An extra terrestrial spaceship parks itself over Johannesburg in 1982, and just sits there. Weeks later, investigative crews drill there way in, and find inside over a million malnourished aliens, later derogatorily referred to as Prawns. The Prawns are relocated to an internment camp called District 9, which evolves into a slum over the following decades. Due to social unrest, the South African government employs MNU—a large weapons manufacturer with dubious intrests—to relocate the Prawns to a new camp outside the city. MNU appoints Wikus van de Merwe the thankless task of leading the relocation. His first job is to serve eviction notices to the Prawns. Investigating one Prawn shack for illegal weapons and technology, he accidentally sprays himself with a container of alien fuel. Problems begin to mount when not only is Wikus ineffective as a leader and he loses control of the mercenaries employed by MNU, the fuel reacts with his DNA and he begins mutating into a Prawn!

While District 9 has resonances with 80's science-fiction action films, it is a rarity: it heads off into uncharted territory and creates a new, unique world of its own. Who'd have thought that there would be dimwitted spacefaring aliens who just happened to bumble upon Earth, without even the knowledge or capabilities to open their spaceship doors? And once they are on Earth, the best they can do—despite their advanced alien weaponry that they smuggled down with them—is to turn their internment camp into a slum? Nevermind the unanswered questions about where they came from, what they're doing on a spaceship, and whatever calamity happened to them, their slum situation and treatment on Earth is uniquely fascinating. Layered on top of that is a story about government-employed multinational companies that are more interested in making obscenely large profits than in preserving the morality of the country, let alone its laws.

Into the mix is thrown the antihero Wikus van de Merwe, who is completely out of his league when he is assigned to lead the evictions. Note that the name is a play on the South African Van Der Merwe jokes—their equivalent to stupid people who completely lack common sense. He is played pitch perfectly by Sharlto Copley as someone who, while constantly being self-serving, becomes more humane the more he transforms into an alien. Nevertheless, the central theme of the film is discrimination. As Chris Mikesell from the newspaper Ka Leo wrote: "Substitute 'black,' 'Asian,' 'Mexican,' 'illegal,' 'Jew,' 'white,' or any number of different labels for the word 'prawn' in this film, and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue."

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Edge of Tomorrow

4 stars

Release date: 2014
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by: Doug Liman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.05.05
Inhuman aliens invade Europe in 2015. In 2020, the combined Earth military achieves a victory at Verdun with newly developed mech-suits. They then plan a major invasion of alien-held territory, and the British commander orders Major William Cage—from media relations—to cover it. Having no combat experience, Cage attempts to blackmail the general to get out of the assignment, but is busted back to Private and assigned to the misfit J-squad. The next day, the landing on the beaches in France are a total failure. Cage somehow manages to kill a larger blue alien in the melee in a suicide blast, and inhales its blood in his dying breaths. However, Cage isn't dead, as he jolts awake 24 hours before the invasion—and keeps awakening there whenever he dies!

The film is an intriguing examination of video games. Specifically: how does reviving at your last save point with all the knowledge you've gained affect your subsequent actions? Tom Cruise hits the right notes as Cage as he constantly struggles with coming to terms with his situation, and finding a way out of it.

The highlight is Dir. Doug Liman's structuring of the film. He wisely jumps over some parts during the first few times we see Cage's day, later coming back to fill them in when it fits the needs of the story. While some scenes are necessarily repeated, they are either significantly changed by Cage's actions to make them unpredictably fun, or kept mercifully short so that the film never gets stale.

This is one of the rare films that does anime-style mecha right. Coupled with its intriguing science fiction concept, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to miss this film.

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Elysium

4 stars

Release date: 2013
Written by: Neill Blomkamp
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.02.15
In the mid-22nd century, the Earth is overpopulated and heavily polluted, with most people living in poverty. The rich and powerful live on Elysium, a space station in orbit equipped with Med-Bays, advanced medical devices that not only cure all injuries and disease, but increase longevity. Max Da Costa is a reformed convict who works in the factory of Elysium resident John Carlyle. He is harassed by robot police, and has to deal with an automated parole officer who mercilessly increases his parole period. One shift, he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and informed that he has only five days to live. Max and his friend Julio seek help from Spider, a human smuggler, to get Max to Elysium so that he can use a Med-Bay to cure himself. Being desperate, Max makes a deal with Spider to steal data directly from Carlyle's brain in order to secure a trip to Elysium. Max succeeds in stealing the information, however, things go sideways when Elysium's Defence Secretary Jessica Delacourt dispatches security agent Kruger to hunt Max down—as Max now carries a secret program that would allow her to take complete control over Elysium!

Just like the mythical Elysium, this film is as much about metaphor as it is about palpability. On the one hand, we get the tranquil, clean, and idealized spacious residences of the Elysium space station. This is contrasted with the dusty, polluted, cramped, and crowded slums of future Los Angeles, where life is harsh, and authorities are even harsher. While those with the means—like Max's nurse friend Frey Santiago—are able to escape the worst aspects of the slums, others like Max are constantly being beaten down by it. Is it any wonder that Max had turned to a life of crime before the start of the movie, and returns to it due to the terrible things that happen to him during the film? Perhaps the worst thing is the callous, inhumane way that Max is treated. In some ways, the police robots that break his arm are more sensitive than the humans in positions of authority.

What I admire the most about Elysium is that it has big ideas. Just like District 9, the movie introduces one thought provoking idea after another. In some ways Elysium grasps at even grander ideas and themes, such as irregular migration, health care, worker exploitation, and the justice system. Perhaps that is why the film doesn't succeed in pulling it off in the same way that District 9 managed to do. Nevertheless, the film is incredibly timely, and still gets plenty of things right. This is, after all, one of the rare films that successfully manages to pull off cybernetically enhanced soldiers. The film also hearkens back to the best science fiction and action movies of the 80's. At the same time, it has echoes of the bleak 70's science fiction films with the protagonist trapped in inescapable circumstances. However, unlike them, Elysium ends on a transformative note. This is one of those films that you would have liked for them to have continued for a little bit longer and have shown a few more hints of what happens next.

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

stars

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The Fifth Element

stars

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Gattaca

4 stars

Release date: 1997
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.12.28
Vincent Freeman was conceived naturally. The problem is that in this not-too-distant future, eugenics is common. Due to that, Vincent is classified as an "in-valid" in society, as his genetic profile indicates that he has a high probability of several disorders and a short lifespan. His parents, regretting their decision, use genetic selection with their second child. Vincent's brother, Anton, quickly surpasses Vincent in physical attributes and abilities. Vincent dreams of space travel, but is always reminded of his genetic inferiority. One day, he leaves home. He works as a cleaner, the typical job of an in-valid, but still dreams of going to space. He gets his chance when he arranges to use the donated genetic samples of Jerome Morrow—a 'valid' swimming star who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident—in exchange for providing the lifestyle that Jerome is accustomed to. Vincent takes on Jerome's persona and passes the interview to get into the spaceflight conglomerate Gattaca. However, not only must Vincent be successful in his ambitions to get into space, he also has to conceal who he truly is. A real challenge when a stray hair, skin cell, or even drop of saliva will give him away!

Gattaca is a challenging film. Not only does it challenge our perception of the supposed benefits of eugenics—arguing its point from the perspective of those that are rejected by society for apparently being inferior—but also arguing that the potential of people is more than their origins, more than what their genes define them as. In addition to Vincent struggling against society as an in-valid and striving for his true potential, we are shown the two valids, Anton and Jerome, struggling with their apparent failure of not living up to their potential.

The pleasure of Gattaca is that it is a meditation on eugenics cloaked in a suspenseful thriller. The inclusion of the police searching for a murder not only ratchets up the tension, it also raises questions about what is legally right not necessarily being morally right. The visuals are intriguing, with a lot of plain, visually uncluttered spaces being used to reflect how the genetic selection process is mirrored throughout society. The film also employs retro-futurism, which gives it a timelessness—it could have happened yesteryear just as much as in the purported not-too-distant future. While the movie is loaded with famous and will known actors who all put in great work, Jude Law's performance as Jerome is sublime. He is both brash and weak, at the same time as he is boastful and helpless. This is a film of great ideas, and one that isn't afraid to run with them to thought-provoking conclusions.

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Inception

stars

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Jurassic Park

stars

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

stars

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Jurassic Park III

stars

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The Martian

4 stars

Release date: 2015
Written by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.11.07 (revised 2020.12.04)
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and lost in a dust storm on Mars while the rest of the crew make an emergency evacuation. Telemetry from Watney is cut due to where the debris hit his suit, and he is presumed dead. He wakes up, alone on an entire planet. After attending to his immediate needs—self surgery (!!) and oxygen—he has to contend with a fate of certain death... unless he can "science the shit out of this" to survive long enough for help to arrive!

I really like 'near future' space travel and exploration films, so I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It's one of the more realistic space movies to come out in recent years, and even though it is aimed at the layman, it trusts in the intelligence of the audience. Alas, the film doesn't probe very deeply into many issues aside from the political side of operating a space agency. That is why I rank it moderately lower than "Interstellar"; a film that deeply probed the feelings of separation and loneliness that go hand in hand with space travel. But, to this film's credit, it does depict the title character struggling to stay in control and master his emotions—a very important part of being an astronaut—in the face of some truly terrifying circumstances.

I found the juxtaposition of disco music a bit jarring at times, however, it does feed into the narrative of Watney making the most of the things he finds himself surrounded with—not to mention subtly pointing out how music can be used to fight loneliness. It is also one of the steady sources of the humour that is sprinkled about this film. That humour making the film very accessible, the title character very relatable, and one of the film's highlights.

This movie left me with a lot to think about. However, it's a bit light on science-fact for my tastes (I'm a fan of Discovery and National Geographic space documentaries). Though, I admit that I'd probably get worn out by that level of discourse well within the 2 hour running time of this film.

I was challenged by the film in certain parts, and although it had a foregone conclusion, with this type of film its not so much the destination but the journey that is important. And above all else, aside from cheating a bit at the beginning to set up the scenario, the film never jumps the rails with unrealistic developments such as aliens, the supernatural, or an improbable number of 'accidents'—everything is well within the realm of plausibility, and all the more extreme actions that occur are based on logical conclusions.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

stars

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Starship Troopers

stars

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