The Ship Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us: A Review of Passengers

passengers-movie-poster

This review contains spoilers!

In the realm of inferior movies there is a special category reserved for movies that are unsatisfactory despite their captivating and deceptively convincing trailers. Passengers is a new addition to this category, for despite its adrenaline-filled trailers that bombarded TV screens several weeks before its release, it leaves its audience with a bitter aftertaste that makes one think, “I could’ve written a much better space-romance than that.”

As the space-romance begins, the viewer finds themselves instantly thrown into a tumultuous story aboard the starship “Avalon,” which is flying through space on autopilot, navigating cosmic debris and asteroids. It is one of these asteroids that breaks through the defensive shield causing the ship to “rock”—already a rather unconvincing plot detail considering that the ship seems to have flown seamlessly for 30 years—and wakes Jim Preston from his hibernation pod.

Considering this is yet another space movie featuring Chris Pratt, one might expect him to be somewhat akin to Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy: clever, quirky, quick on his feet. However, when creating Preston’s character, it is as though the producers forgot all these things, resulting in him being, conveniently, an engineer that lacks a personality. His role does not go far beyond attempting to break open the door to the command center and to ultimately assume roles as a welder, botanist, jeweller, and stereotypical I-will-save-the-world hero. The only backstory he receives is that he could barely afford the ticket, but decided to leave Earth in an attempt to start a new life.

After Preston struggles over the course of a year with being alone on the ship and even contemplating suicide, the movie comes to what is the biggest and most problematic aspect of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane. It isn’t so much the fact that Aurora is, like Preston, a monochrome character, or the fact that she’s yet another example of a writer who writes to achieve fame (and also happens to be from New York, and have a rich and well-known writer for a father). The problem is more in the way in which she appears in the plot.

passengers-screenshot-1

This is where the biggest source of anger and disappointment lies. The trailers present Passengers as a romantic story of two people who happened to wake up together and find themselves trying to save the spaceship, and in doing so, fall in love. In reality however, it is Preston who “wakes up” Aurora Lane by meddling with her hibernation pod.

Preston’s explanation for this is the inability to cope with his loneliness—his only other constant companion being the robot bartender Arthur—and despite how horrible his actions are, one can understand the motivation behind them. However, the way in which he specifically “chooses” Aurora—by accidentally coming across her pod, finding her attractive, looking up an interview with her and declaring that she is the woman of his dreams—raises eyebrows and exasperates.

This development overshadows the rest of the movie, and drastically changes the atmosphere. The viewer is put in the position of judging Preston’s decision. We’re left wondering when he’ll tell her, and then choosing sides when the truth comes out, and ultimately imposing a “final verdict” depending on which character’s side they choose.

However, even the morality issues of the movie are overshadowed by the scientific inaccuracies, despite the absolute frequency of the moral dilemmas. It is a movie that exasperates not only those of science and engineering backgrounds but even general viewers having some knowledge in the field. Examples, such as flying past a burning planet, catch the eye of an audience who know that in real life the ship would be pulled towards the planet by its force of gravity.

Other glaring errors in logic are difficult to forgive even in a sci-fi fantasy movie: scenes such as Aurora floating in a water bubble and not drowning, or Preston surviving a massive flame without even minor damage to his space suit. It goes without saying that some semblance of scientific law and common sense is appreciated. For this reason, scenes like the ending lose their sentimental touch, instead provoking a stream of questions like “wait, what is that tree growing on? And how are all these animals surviving?”

passengers-screenshot-2

The one positive of this movie, which can also be interpreted as a negative by some, is how easily it opens up the debate on morals and what constitutes romance (although the faulty science still looms in the background as another big topic of discussion). While Preston is easily criticisable for his decision to awaken Aurora, one can counter by saying that she got the adventure she was hoping for, a bigger one than spending a 240 days in hibernation flying to a space colony. The way the viewer interprets the movie is a demonstration of their thought processes.

The movie is viewed differently by different age groups. Teenagers and young adults might see it as a destruction of dreams and the snatching away of possibilities, similar to the way in which Aurora often accused Preston of doing so. Some adults, however, will argue that it is a movie that counters the ‘dream big’, ‘dream without limits’ ideology by showing that not all people can have their dreams fulfilled; a fact that is very much a part of reality and that which is still reluctantly acknowledged by the entertainment industry.

What I got out of this movie is that capitalism is scary, business comes first and foremost, and that if I were in the movie I wouldn’t get onto the Avalon even if they paid me. (Also that writers aren’t always weak and can actually swing sledgehammers or beat-up the jerks that ruin their lives.) Other than that, Passengers was a source of disappointment and emotional discomfort, with a bland storyline, shallow characters, a “romance” that is neither believable nor right, and an ending that makes one reach for a pen and paper and yell “I can do better!”

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Advertisements

Arrival – A Case of Déjà vu

arrival-movie-poster

Walking into Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, I only knew a little about the movie. I knew that it was based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by author Ted Chiang which I have not read (it’s on the shelf). I knew that it was starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. I was pleasantly surprised to see Forest Whitaker around the ten minute mark. I knew this was going to be a movie about first contact with aliens. And yet as the movie began, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen this all before. I mean that as the highest of praise, incidentally.

Twelve alien space ships land on Earth. Nobody knows why. Professor of linguistics “Louise Banks” (Amy Adams) is recruited by the US government and sent to the alien arrival sight in Montana, where she is partnered with “Ian Donnelly” (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist. Together, they are charged with finding a way to communicate with the visitors.

As Louise and Ian learn to communicate with the Heptapods (cheekily dubbed Abbot and Costello by Ian), Louise begins to uncover the Heptapods’ strange circular written language, which has no beginning or end, and begins to have flashbacks to her daughter Hannah, who died of an incurable disease.

Right away this is where Arrival separates itself from so many other “first contact” movies. In Louise and Ian, I can see every goofy pair of scientists in science fiction, sidelined as the comic relief while someone brash and bold fires a rocket wrapped in the American flag to save the day. But not this time. Arrival has billed itself as a film of intelligence, and it remains so to a fault.

arrival-still

But still, Arrival is intensely aware that it belongs to a canon. Maybe not to everyone in the audience, but to someone like me, who lives and breathes science fiction of this nature to the point that it’s tattooed on my body, I can see where all the elements come from. I can hear Close Encounters of the Third Kind in sound effects of the Heptapods. I can see 2001: A Space Odyssey and Interstellar in the aesthetics of the alien ships. I can see The War of the Worlds in the design of the aliens, and District 9 in the TV news footage of the world’s reaction to their arrival. I can even see Independence Day in the scale of the story. Hell, I can see E.T. in Louise’s growing connection to the Heptapods, and Slaughterhouse Five in the nature of the aliens themselves.

I can see where all these elements of famous science fiction staples were drawn together to make this film, but this is far from a bad thing. Sharply aware of the pastiche of its particular sub-genre, Arrival focuses on what makes it so smart.

Every shot of this film is beautiful. From a spaceship hovering over a field in Montana, to Amy Adams framed by the sunset streaming through her backyard window, to the interior of the spaceship itself, every frame suggests a world that is vast and expansive.

Louise is an interesting character. She’s a workaholic, a loner, has a sense of humor, empathy, and everything else that an interesting lead in a movie like this needs to have. The only thing that stretches my suspension of disbelief when it comes to Louise is how nice her house is. I’m not sure what school she’s a professor of linguistics at, but there is no way on Earth (pun intended) that she can afford a beautiful modern home in the woods overlooking mountains. No way.

In Arrival, we get two stories, and both are equally interesting. We get Louise and Ian learning how to communicate with Abbot and Costello. The movie spends a lot of time and energy on discussing the Heptapods’ written language. They write in beautiful, arching spheres, with no sense of linear time. Within their language, past, present and future happen all at once. Louise and Ian are learning to communicate with their Heptapod ship, even as eleven other nations around the world begin to communicate with their own ships. Tensions mount as the nations of the world start refusing to share. Arrival becomes a story about overcoming differences, and learning to cooperate with one another.

For those with an eagle eye, the first time the Heptapod language is explained, a big twist is given away. At least, part of it is. Yes, I have no problem saying that there is a time travel element to this story. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.

The second narrative is about tragedy, as we follow the story of how Louise’s daughter Hannah grew up, why her father left them, and how Hannah dies. This is about a grieving mother learning to cope with the death of her daughter, and understand that even though death is inevitable the time before death is still worthwhile.

arrival-still-2

Arrival is a story about grief, and making connections, and aliens, and time. It never fails to be smart, it never devolves into the action-oriented blockbuster format of so many others, it never falters in the ideals that it strives to put on screen. It is everything that a modern science fiction movie should be.

If you want to go see a movie that does science fiction right, with intelligence and integrity, is beautiful for every frame of its runtime, and might make you cry like the little baby we all secretly still are, Arrival is the movie for you.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Charming New Chapter of the Wizarding World

fantastic-beasts-movie-poster

Some people may understand I say that the first time I saw the commercial for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it felt very much like deciding whether to go and order another cup of coffee. On the one hand, you know you’ve already had several and so drinking another will probably ruin the pleasant effect, but on the other hand the thought is so appealing, and it looks so damn good that you can’t help but wonder if this one might be even better than all the rest.

At first, the movie seemed like just another cash-grab. And when J.K. Rowling announced that she plans to turn it into a series, with five films rather than the initially planned three, I have to admit it felt like another example of an author milking their success.

But seeing the movie turned out to be much different, and the feeling of relaxation, enjoyment, and overall lightness after exiting the theatre made the verdict quite clear: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very good. The adulthood missing from Harry Potter is present in Fantastic Beasts.

Fantastic Beasts transports the viewer to New York in 1926, and it is the wizard and magizoolistic Newt Scamander who serves as our protagonist. He is just as British as Harry, and as tussled and quirky, but that is where their similarities end. Unlike Harry, who we first met at 10-years-old, Newt begins the series as an adult and has the knowledge to prove it. He never sets out to flagrantly display his intellect, but instead spends the movie content with inwardly curating it out of the joy that it brings him.

The main conflict of the film is a little formulaic, part Pandora’s box and part comical-accident-turned-catastrophic. The magical suitcase Newt brings into NYC ends up switched with a suitcase full of pastries carried by the No-Maj (the American term for Muggles) Jacob Kowalski, who accidentally releases several of the magical creatures within it. One of these animals is the adorable Niffler, which has the appearance of an echidna and the personality of a magpie, amassing all the gold and jewels it finds into its bottomless pouch.

And thus begins a hunt for the missing creatures throughout the city, with the help of Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, her Legilimens (telepathic) sister “Queenie,” and Jacob.

fantastic-beasts-still

Right from the start one finds the distinction Rowling draws between the North American and European wizardly worlds. From the use of terminology for regular humans (muggles vs. no-maj), to the American wizards governed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is headed by a president. There is even a squabble at one point between Newt and Queenie over which wizarding school is the best in the world. Of course, Newt represents Hogwarts while Queenie argues for the recently introduced and still unfamiliar Ilvermorny.

Some aspects of the world-building cross the geographical borders, such as the Deathly Hallows sigil and the name dropping of Albus Dumbledore. Others transcend time and begin to create a sense of interconnectedness with the future, occurring in the form of a photograph Newt carries with him of Leta Lestrange, as he later admits, a past love from his Hogwarts years that ended poorly.

These differences and connections within the plot cannot compare to the most important difference of all: that of the quality of the story. Rowling presents a much more measured and sophisticated approach to magic, making it feel magical and all-encompassing in a way that doesn’t bombard one with a dazzling show of gimmicks and terminology as the Harry Potter series did. Instead time is taken to show the inside of Newt’s suitcase, to explore the nooks and crannies of it and develop a personal attachment to the creatures living inside it, giving a detailed example of the Undetectable Extension charm which was previously only vaguely shown in Hermione’s bag.

There is also a greater sense of order—or lack thereof—and consequence in the movie. The character of Mary Lou Barebone, head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an order that that fights to draw New York’s attention to the existence of witches, adds a touch of urgency to the story. She was a reminder that the threat of exposure and negative influence of no-majs on the wizards was just as significant as the threat wizards posed to each other.

fantastic-beasts-still-2

I can find few qualms in the movie, and even those are more technical than they are glaring plot errors. The obsession with darkness and dark scenes grew to be a bit much at certain points, making some scenes difficult to make out visually. The casting of Johnny Depp was another reason for confusion. His appearance in the film and just in general were unpleasant, by the bleached hair, eyebrows, and moustache, while his last words “Will we die just a little?” were delivered in a muffled manner that was also contextually disappointing.

These had little impact on the movie, which was a well-crafted story of adult wizards and witches from beginning to end. It did have the quality of a prologue to it, and some may find it to lack action while stressing the informative tone, but that is to be expected of a movie that is not only part of a series but is also introducing a new side of the wizarding world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them balances the familiar with the new, the former used more as a strategy to make the viewer more comfortable with the latter. It isn’t a crutch but rather a reminder that there is always room to create new worlds, characters, and plots, which is exactly what Rowling was able to achieve. The fact that she wrote the screenplay gave the movie a quality of confidence and authenticity, strengthening the sense of magic and wonder it already possessed.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

A Step in the Right Direction: A Review of Disney’s “Moana”

moana-movie-poster

We are slowly entering the age of the reinvention of Disney.

Disney has boasted about including diversity in their films for a few years now, but still, Moana came as something unexpected to me. I suppose I didn’t actually expect anything from the big talk of how Disney was trying to push boundaries, and finally strive for more accurate cultural representation of non-white/Western European cultures.The trailers for Moana were ambiguous at best, and the scandal with the Maui Halloween costume at the Disney store was not reassuring.

But having promised my brother we’d go see it in theatres, I nonetheless told myself to remain optimistic. Moana could be different—it could be excellent.

Now I cannot speak to how other audiences received Moana, or how truly accurate or representational it was of Polynesian culture, but the first thing that struck me about the movie was how much it displayed a genuine effort to research and present its findings.

Some Disney movies, like Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, take a fairytale approach in which the story begins with a narrator, either ominous or involved. Moana does this as well, but chooses instead to present an origin story rooted in mythology, telling the story of the island goddess Te Fiti and how her heart was stolen by the mischievous Maui. The viewers soon sees that it is a grandmother telling the story to a group of children, of which only tiny Moana is enthralled by the terrifying details.

There is something very down to earth and homely about this beginning sequence. The movie presents, for the first time, a glimpse of childhood story time that is familiar to many of the audience members, capturing the uniqueness of the heroine without driving it home with a giant flashing neon sign.

moana-concept-art
Concept art for Moana by Ryan Lang between Moana and Te Fiti

Moana is, in many ways, a movie of firsts. Moana’s adventurous spirit isn’t presented as an anomaly but rather as a return to ancestry and a past way of life which has been forgotten. The movie aims for a message of remembering one’s roots rather than going down the stereotypical path of having a heroine that’s different just because that is what is expected.

It’s a movie where, for the first time, the animal companion is arguably there not only for comic relief. Instead, we appreciate that other, subtler, line of thought presented through Heihei the chicken, that patience and love towards someone who’s different is a powerful thing. The story is also very much a “hero’s journey” archetype that leaves no room for a romantic side plot, another first in the long line of Disney’s princess ancestry, with only Mulan and Merida coming close.

One of the things I appreciated though was how “meta” Disney decided to be, in two moments both facilitated by Maui. The first occurs on a canoe, when Maui calls Moana a princess after she says that she’s the daughter of the chief. Moana corrects him, and  he replies: “it’s practically the same thing…if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It’s a cheeky and fun jab at the Disney line, especially since we all know Moana is ineviatebly going to be part of their “Disney Princess” line.

The second meta moment is about halfway through the movie, when Moana and Maui fine the entrance to the realm of monsters. An exasperated Maui asks Moana to not break into song and dance (even though he did this earlier himself). An added bonus is the scene where Maui signs Moana’s oar with Heihei’s beak, declaring that “when you do it with a bird, it’s called tweeting.” Perhaps Disney has become bolder in poking fun at itself and modernity. It is another sign of progress, one that added optimism.

As far as musical Disney goes, one will certainly find memorable songs, but thankfully nothing as out-of-context and catchy as “Let It Go”. The soundtrack is worth its own separate exploration, particularly with the original and cover versions of “How Far I’ll Go” and, even more memorable for me, the Rock’s tap-worthy “You’re Welcome”.

baby-moana
Still from the movie, depicting baby Moana

Sitting here now and thinking over the whole movie again, it’s easy to come up with all the movie’s strengths—it had many of them. Even small aspects of the story that existed for driving the plot were adorable and memorable, such as the Kakamoras and their elaborate pirate ship.

Right after finishing the movie though, I didn’t quite know what I felt or thought about it, apart from the general agreement that I liked it. I didn’t cry the way many people swore I would, perhaps because I’m not emotional at the same things. Yet this hesitation and uncertainty shouldn’t be taken as a negative sign, in fact, quite the opposite. It is an indication that for once, we have been presented with a princess-like character that doesn’t fall into one of the polarized regions of the spectrum as either a “I like her and relate to her” or “no, she doesn’t speak to me/I disliked her for ‘x’ reason”.

Moana lines up a carefully conceived and perfectly paced storyline, characters that are so well-balanced that one almost hopes they’re perfect even in their shortcomings, and a visual culture that is rich and vibrant without being exoticized. Moana is a step in the right direction, a movie that is hopefully an indicator of the way Disney plans to head.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

The Magical Side Of The MCU: Doctor Strange’s Shift From The Page To The Screen

dr-strange-1

Spoiler Warning!

You’ve never seen the magical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) before, but after seeing Doctor Strange in theatres, I guarantee that you’ll want to see more of it.

The MCU has broached science fiction before between the inventions of Tony Stark and the space adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, the MCU approaches traditional fantasy by exploring the world of magic and spells with the future Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange. How well did this film treat the subject of magic and how faithful was it to its source material?

Doctor Strange was no stranger to its source material, though some changes were made to serve the cinematic timeline and larger plotlines. Firstly, the MCU’s Doctor Strange is set in the 2016 contemporary world, whereas the comic debut was set during the Silver Age in the 1960s. Naturally, many facts changed as a result.

The biggest change surrounds the villain “Kaecilius”, portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, and “Baron Mordo”, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale) is no stranger to playing villains and if you’re looking for a good villain, you’ll be happy to hear that he delivers. However, in the comics Kaecilius is merely a named disciple of Baron Mordo, and most of Kaecilius’ role and power in the film is actually closer to Baron Mordo in the comics.

The problem is that the modern setting of the MCU could never explain Baron Mordo’s reason for turning baddie; in the comic universe, it’s a product of his disillusion from WW1. It’s unclear how the MCU will treat Baron Mordo, but his disillusionment with the modern world will have to be derived from another source if he does become a villain.

The second large change to source material was the Eye of Agamotto. In the comics, the Eye could emit light to dispel illusions, look into the souls of others, and had the capacity to view incidents that had recently passed. While the comics never explained its origins, the MCU has made the Eye of Agamotto a significant relic to serve a larger plotline: now, the eye is an Infinity Stone, specifically the fifth Infinity Stone, called the Time Stone. I don’t think most fans would complain about this change; however, the power of amulet may have been greatly exaggerated in the film and let’s just leave it at that.

The most controversial deviation from source material was the casting of Tilda Swinton for the portrayal of the “Ancient One”. The Ancient One in the comics was an elderly man of Tibetan descent, but the MCU decided on a female of Caucasian complexion for the role. Whatever your feelings on this matter, Tilda Swanton delivers a powerful performance. Unfortunately, the bald cap that she wore was extremely noticeable at parts and provoked some laughs from the crowd during scenes that were supposed to be somber.

This movie has an excellent cast and the actors deliver. Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is spot on, both as the arrogant surgeon pre-magic and as the humorous yet intensive the-ends-justifies-the-means magician post-magic. The only deviation was his mastery of pop culture references; the MCU’s Doctor Strange has a definite advantage over the graphic novel’s character in that regard.

The film’s treatment of magic is both faithful and intricate. The explanation of magic in the film was gratifying because the film actually provided a magical system. Magic was derived from scrolls and old texts and there was a requirement to study spells as a subject, rather than just have some innate use of them. The use of geometry to distinguish between the different types of spells was evocative of alchemy and the mandalas that originally influenced the character’s creator, Steve Ditko. Alternatively, the geometry could have correlated to the Sacred Geometry in the occult genre that informed the later Doctor Strange graphic fiction.

As an extension of magic, there is an appropriate analogy to be made between this movie and Inception. The manipulation of physics and structural solidarity, exemplified by the folding of city streets or the walls of a church in the trailer is fully utilized in the movie. These mind-blowing visuals are complimented by multi-dimensional traveling. My only gripe is that alternative dimensional beings weren’t significantly explored like they are in the comics. Nonetheless, you plan to see the film, watch it in 3D!

Doctor Strange is a fantastic origin story that is both intriguing and humorous in all the right areas without dwelling on the hero-founding incident. As one who usually complains when a film isn’t faithful to its source material, Doctor Strange’s slight deviations from the source material are illusions: too small to cause incident, and not even worth investigation by the graphic novel’s Eye of Agamotto.

dr-strange-7

-Contributed by Eric Harrell

What Counts As ‘Good’ Sci-Fi? Looking At Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow”

tumblr_nf755v6yhk1temhspo1_1280

I’ve been wondering what it is that makes a movie ‘good’ ever since this year’s Oscar winners were announced back in February. This isn’t because I was displeased with the movies nominated for Best Picture, or the men for Best Actor, or the women for Best Actress, not even the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey somehow received a nomination. No, I was drawn to the animated shorts section in support of Don Hertzfeldt, my favourite filmmaker, and his film World of Tomorrow.

As an avid fan, I have seen every film he’s ever made, whether wonderful or horrible (and I’m not ashamed to say that he’s had one or two duds). Yet, when I watched World of Tomorrow for the first time, about a week or so before the nominations were announced, I found something different from anything he’d done before: a sci-fi flick.

Don’t get me wrong, I love science fiction from the bottom of my heart. I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens three times on opening weekend and I am not ashamed in the least. However, when I watch a Don Hertzfeldt film, I expect to see less ‘galaxy far, far away’ and more ‘so deep I can’t even see you anymore.’ As an imaginative and angsty indie filmmaker, Hertzfeldt is more likely to deal with the ethical and moral issues of whether Han shot first than actually animate a blaster-burned, bug-eyed bounty hunter. And yet, the latter doesn’t seem so impossible after watching World of Tomorrow. Heck, we even get an appearance by a snake boy! (A Hutt maybe?)

I’ll keep my review short, as I’m obviously a little biased, and if you wanted a true review, you’d be on IMDb, so let’s not kid ourselves. In simple terms, if you and I are of similar mind and thought any of his other films were genius, this one will appeal to you. However, for the sake of most of the population who are unfamiliar with this man’s work, it is important to know a bit about his other films. Generally speaking, they’re always very introspective and character-driven, and deal with grand themes regarding the nature of reality or the human condition.

World of Tomorrow fulfills all of these criteria handily.

I have a few friends who would balk at my assertion that a film could be sci-fi through and through, yet still bear these stereotypical qualities of a ‘good’ film. Nevertheless, that’s what Hertzfeldt has made. The plot focuses on a girl named Emily, who is contacted by, and then transported via time travel, to her third generation clone in the far-flung future, who retains all of the memories of ‘Emily Prime,’ and thus is essentially the same person. You don’t really find anything more introspective or character-driven than that.

tumblr_o073owpjmd1uwat82o2_500

Furthermore, as it runs its course, the film presents many philosophical quandaries via these two awkward protagonists, including but not limited to: What is love? What makes the world beautiful? What role does sadness play in being human? At what point will technology end our humanity? And so on. Themes don’t often get much grander than that in my experience.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you read that last segment with disdain when I implied it was surprising that a sci-fi film could be more than aliens and blaster rifles, and were screaming, “Yes, many do raise the same philosophical quandaries, you blithering idiot!”

I would agree with you (except maybe on the idiot part). However, society’s mark on me would not.

Did you know that a science-fiction film has never once won an Academy Award for Best Picture? Oscar history has been one of drama after hard-boiled drama scooping up the top prizes. Occasionally, a comedy will rise up an remind everyone that the world is not entirely terrible all the time, but science fiction, fantasy (with the notable exception of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), and other speculative genres are typically shoved into the categories of Costume Design, Visual Effects, or the ever-popular Sound Mixing.

It would be a sweeping overgeneralization to say that most people, or even most film critics, don’t take speculative genres seriously. But for the fans of such films, it often feels that way. We are often relegated into a ‘nerd’ culture that the media clearly sees as painfully other, comical, and even downright silly. Watch a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory if you have any doubt.

But maybe even that is putting aside the issue too easily. It’s very simple to blame the mainstream society that has clearly ‘othered’ us nerds for our nerdy misfortune. At some point, we need to ask ourselves why our speculative films are viewed with such disregard.

“Don’t judge a book by its movie,” is a phrase I hear getting thrown around a lot lately. If we can’t respect our own movies, how can we expect anyone else to? This is not to say that we should blindly love every movie adaptation of our favourite book (I’m going to be honest, the movies based on the Percy Jackson series sucked), nor do I mean to focus solely on adaptations.

My point is that speculative films should contain the things that made us fall in love with these genres in the first place. To beat on Percy Jackson again (sorry Chris Columbus, but you peaked with Harry Potter), I loved the books because they could weave crazy magic and monsters with characters, themes, and situations I could actually care about, whereas the film was pure consumerist fluff.

In a world where commodification is everything, the artistry that comes with the massive imaginations of speculative writers and filmmakers is quickly getting sucked away.

This, in essence, is why I was so pleasantly surprised to see World of Tomorrow nominated for an Oscar. Yes, consumerism puts more and more pressure on filmmakers to produce speculative fluff that will make you eat popcorn and feel good, but this film, and other films like it (I could probably write a complete rant on The Martian) show what can happen when filmmakers care more about the quality of the story they’re telling than the size of the explosions.

Perhaps sci-fi needs to get a little bit more down to Earth in order to reach for the stars again.

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski

Pretty, but Pointless: A Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

The Huntsman WInter's War

This post contains spoilers!

Sometimes you want to watch a movie or read a book just to see how bad it’ll be, especially if it’s a sequel and there was quite a bit of negative feedback about the original. Sequels to debatably good originals seem to be appearing more frequently these days. For the level-headed and analytical viewer, they serve as a temptation for comparison, to see if there was any lesson learned after the original’s release.

I was shocked when I found out there would be a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, given the mixed reviews it received from critics. It was mainly ruined by Kristen Stewart’s acting which, given how frequently she appears on screen, is impossible to ignore. The movie was a bland retelling and was clearly an attempt to make more money off of an existing cultural staple. It seems that no one in the film industry has realized that the number of remakes is getting out of hand.

The latest installment in the series, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, was intended more as a prequel than a sequel, and after reading the summary I was pleased that at least one lesson was learned from the original: Kristen Stewart was removed from the screen. It wasn’t a convincing enough reason initially, but over time, curiosity won me over; I’ll admit, I wanted to see where exactly CGI-obsessed Hollywood could possibly go with this series.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t half bad. Certainly easier to swallow than its predecessor, despite what critic reviews and Rotten Tomatoes will tell you.

Winter’s War starts out as a prequel that promises to present a story that the viewers haven’t seen before. But that lasts maybe about twenty minutes into the movie, before the time frame changes and the story becomes a sequel (sadly).

The premise is a common one but comes out of nowhere: Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the original evil queen and Snow White’s stepmother, had a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt) who had an affair — and a child — with one of the court’s nobles. When her lover killed their daughter in order to save his title and avoid scandal (he was betrothed to another), Freya’s magical abilities are awakened, turning her into the Snow Queen. Eventually she leaves to the North and begins conquering kingdoms and kidnapping children, whom she turns into her army of huntsmen, instilling in them only one law: to never love. Through her tragic past, Freya sees love as a sin that can only result in pain.

The movie is a massive jumble of elements stolen from other sources, making it very easy to mock. The opening twenty minutes not only make apparent the influence of Norse mythology on Freya’s character, but also envision Emily Blunt as a violent “Elsa”. In a later scene, she also appears riding a polar bear with her army — hello Narnia, we haven’t heard from you in a while.

Her logic is questionable, too. She kidnaps children from their parents, makes them suffer and erases their emotions — if someone’s made you go through that kind of pain, how are you better than them by just repeating that mistake?

This is where Chris Hemsworth’s character Eric, the Huntsman, and his love interest Sara appear. They are both brought to Freya’s kingdom at the same time and, predictably, fall in love with each other over the coming years. Their attempt at running away together is destroyed and Sara is killed (but not really). At this point the movie jumps seven years into the future when Snow White is already in power. The magic mirror has been stolen and must be recovered before Freya gets her hands on it and turns the entire world into a frozen desert (a line literally used in the movie).

There’s a long list of problematic plot points, and though I refrain from going into the fine print, I’ll list a few here.

Firstly, Chris Hemsworth doesn’t seem to entirely know how his character should act. It’s hard to take him seriously when he spends a good chunk of the movie acting like a goofy teenager and trying to win over Sara, after both of them find out Freya tricked them and plotted them against each other in the past.

There’s also a whole subplot near the ending when Freya finally gets the mirror and her sister Ravenna comes pouring out of it, quite literally. Charlize Theron successfully takes the award for being the most glamorous but black-hearted sister ever, revealing a foreseeable plot twist that gives power-hungry a new face.

The main issue with the movie was that it created a lot of gaps in the viewer’s memory. I couldn’t remember who the two gnomes who come along with Hemsworth on his journey to save the mirror were. Then later, there was an instant reaction of “what is Finnick Odair doing here?”, when Sam Claflin’s character shows up with the royal guard to tell Hemsworth that Snow White is ill, cursed by the magic mirror, which needs to be destroyed.

It’s a wonder how this movie was made when the original was so forgettable and convoluted — a statement that is still quite applicable to its prequel/sequel, what with the ape-like goblins with gold-tipped horns and magical stags appearing out of nowhere to offer a ride when there’s no other mode of transportation around.

The movie is predictable and just as CGI-infested as the first one, although there are moments when the effects are truly breathtaking and serve its proper purpose: to visually manifest images that are impossible to fully capture with actors or props. The gnomes are also the most hilarious part of the movie, poking fun at the situations and characters in a way that mirrors the audience’s reaction.

Winter’s War, therefore, is certainly not a filmographic masterpiece, nor is it a movie that one will readily pull from the shelf or pick out from Netflix and say “I want to rewatch this one.” It’s best to think of it as a good movie for a drinking game. It takes itself less seriously than its predecessor, and its moments of glamorous antics are much more forgivable because underneath it all, there are still little moments of thought and humanity that manage to briefly shine through.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko