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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.12 2022.12.21|
Back to the Future
Back to the Future Part II
Back to the Future Part III
Battle: Los Angeles
Chappie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The Fifth Element
Jurassic Park The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park III
The Martian Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starship Troopers War For the Planet of the Apes
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chappie is all over the place, and exploding with ideas. However, unlike District 9 or even Elysium, Dir. Neill Blomkamp doesn't let many of those ideas pan out and develop properly before introducing the next one. For example, a security guard gives Deon a deadline to return the guard key by nightfall—which he doesn't—and then there is no mention of any repercussions as the film's focus has shifted elsewhere. Things like that happen a handful of times, and there are even one or two times when things happen without us being properly primed that such things could happen at all. It makes one wonder if too much was cut when the film was being edited.
That said, the basic premise of the film is intriguing, interesting, and unique. While it's amusing to see a robot behaving like a petulant, sulky teenager, the film isn't actually that far off the mark when it comes to how AI's are being 'trained' at the present time. My main concern is that the film paints the protagonist Chappie AI in an extremely sympathetic light. However, in the course of the story, not only does he mature from a child to young adulthood, he also figures out how to transfer someone's consciousness from one body to another. And that's just one week. Imagine what he'll be able to do at the end of week two?
Nevertheless, if you enjoyed Dir. Blomkamp's earlier films, you will definitely get a kick out of this one. Even if you're not a fan, this film has to be seen for its realistic portrayal of police robots, and the Moose—a remote controlled bipedal robot tank. And let's not forget the highlight: Hugh Jackman rocking a mullet.
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! A hundred or so human survivors, however, 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.
The highlight of the film, however, 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.
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."
There is a lot going on in Dune, and Dir. Villeneuve wisely breaks the novel into two parts (this film has the onscreen title Dune: Part One) and populates his film with well-known actors to help us make sense of it all. The above paragraph makes the film appear quite a lot denser than it really is. Each major thing—whether that be a plot point, relationship, or location—is introduced with the appropriate amount of time and gravitas. Dir. Villeneuve also intersperses his fill with pregnant pauses to allow us to not only comprehend what we just saw and heard, but also to marvel us with one fantastic new visage after another.
The film rightfully won a set of Oscars for its audio and visual achievements, as it gives us a whole slew of different planets, groups, cultures and life forms, while also making each and every one instantly recognizable as well as visually distinct from the others. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is how the art direction allows us to instantly understand who or what belongs to which group at but a glance. Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is simply how richly textured and realistically it depicts Arrakis&from how both the locals and off-worlders have adapted to life in the desert, to the truly alien fauna that inhabits the planet. The film is filled with unforgettable visuals, and is one of the rare great films that ends far sooner than the viewer would like (and that's despite its 155 min. length!)
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.
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.
The plot of The Fifth Element may sound confused, but the story is told in such a way that it is anything but confusing, and is quite fun! As it jumps around, it gives us one amazing set of visuals after another, and creates a well structured and well realized 'universe' in which its epic story unfolds. Due to the films kinetic nature, the story doesn't overstay its welcome in any one place, and we wonder what it would have been like if the characters spent more time exploring the amazing locales the film takes place in! Due to that, this film joins the ranks of such great films as Star Wars 4 that not only successfully paint a large canvas that other stories can be told in, but also have endless replay value.
The highlight of the film is its European origins. As such, it has a totally different flavour when compared to the typical English language science fiction film. This film positively oozes culture, and is sprinkled with a rich variety—from a Hong Kong street seller in a flying boat (!) selling his wares in the grungy slums of New York, to high society and royalty attending a space opera on a Polynesian-themed flying hotel! The film even splurges on small side diversions that add to the richness of its tapestry, such as muggings in NYC (and suggestions that they are rather commonplace), to stoned-out ground crew exchanging radioactive spaceship fuel with virtually no regard to personal safety! In short, the film is endlessly quotable. The only drawback to the film is when Leeloo learns about war; possibly because the sequence is tonally different from the rest of the film and reeks of having one's cake while also eating it. However, that sequence sets up the masterful ending with the final revelation of what the 'fifth element' is. It's a bit goofy, but ultimately it's a fun, visionary film.
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.
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.
Where Dawn was a more-or-less optimistic look at humans and apes struggling to find a way to coexist, War is far more clear-eyed on what such a situation would actually look like. The complication is that the 'simian flu' that wiped out most of humanity between the first and second films has mutated into a debilitating variant, and the human side are in conflict with themselves on how to deal with the new variant and those infected by it. Perhaps the most vital character in this film is Maurice, as he serves not only as Caesar's guide, but also as his moral compass and is the compassionate heart of this film.
The film also throws a moral challenge at Caesar in addition to all the physical and tactical ones, as he also has to deal with the trauma of Koba's rebellion and what steps Caesar had to take to resolve that conflict in Dawn—specifically how he is haunted by Koba's ape-on-ape atrocities, and how Caesar is starting to take on Koba's attributes in the current war. In many ways this is a great war film as it has taken all the romance out of it and depicts a vicious conflict with tragedy on both sides. However, it's a bit of a lesser Planet of the Apes film as it has next to no allegory on racial conflict. In some ways, it is thematically closer to a zombie film in how the humans react to the evolution of the simian flu.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the film (for me) is all the on-location filming on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The shots set on Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park were particularly nostalgic. Above all else, the thing that this film and its predecessor perfectly recreate is the cold drizzle in the temperate rain forest! The drawback to that, however, is that it constantly interrupted my suspension of disbelief with thoughts wondering why none of the apes were getting hypothermia!
12 Monkeys is, at its heart, a film full of ideas. On the surface, it asks questions about our treatment of the insane, and whether or not they are the ones who are actually 'insane' and who we should actually be fearing. The film also provides a challenging exploration of time travel, probing whether or not the human mind can actually handle the mental shock of being in a different time period—something never really addresses in easy-breezy time-travel films such as the Back to the Future series. It continues with other thought-provoking elements, such as drug-testing and animal rights, as well as a bleak future made out of the detritus of the present, which is somehow much better off than the grungy and broken-down present! The movie also not only makes allusions to, but even includes footage from other classic films in similar genres!
While it's arguable that 12 Monkeys contains a paradox—in that Cole may have planted the idea of the end of the world in Goines's mind—it never shows Goines suggesting or otherwise relaying the idea to the individuals that truly precipitate the destruction of humanity. Nevertheless, the film challenges us with the subjective nature of memory, and subtly alters the details in Cole's troubling reoccurring dream of a foot chase and shooting in an airport. The film has another theme about people's declining ability to communicate, which is underscored by the future scientists' over-reliance on technology during their interrogations, and people in the present-day locking others away in institutions instead of actually listening to them and their concerns. However, the film also adds a note of caution on the risks and dangers of people being swept up in the ideas (or delusions) of others.
The film presents a complete vision of a bleak, troubling future, and a fractured present. Dir. Gilliam has given us an auteur masterpiece full of shots whose skewing ranges from subtle to obvious—but never superfluous—of a grim future and an evening grimier present. The film is extremely well acted, with a certain protagonist hitting all the right notes of believable insanity and barely concealed thrill when they begin their plot to end the world, which rivals Madeleine Stowe's performance of Railly steadily becoming more unhinged the more she is subsumed by the idea of Cole's apocalyptic future. However, it is Brad Pitt's gesticulating performance as Goines that steals the show and transforms this film from memorable to unforgettable!