Extinction (2018): A Fascinating Exploration of Memory and Personhood

 

Netflix is the place where original sci. fi. films are accessible. Theatres are ruled by franchises, and maybe every so often you will get a “Ex Machina” or “Annihilation,” but those are the exception rather than the rule. Netflix you will get it all. From the awful like “Mute,” to the enjoyable like “Anon,” and the good like this film. I’m still holding out for a great, but this one was greatly enjoyable for the sci. fi. it was.

“Extinction,” is a film that was written by committee. The film was directed by Ben Young, with 3 people behind the screenplay being Spenser Cohen, Eric Heisserer and Brad Kane.

The story follows Peter (Michael Pena) haunted by visions of the Earth being decimated by an invasion. Torn between whether this is simply visions or reality an invasion arrives and Peter must protect his family and discern reality.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is really fascinating. At the beginning it plays with your head, as there is futuristic technology, and the main character has a problem with his head so you don’t know if what he is seeing is real. This world makes the viewer question the hint of annihilation they get until the action finally goes down. I love it, because in a world of the human mind and advanced tech where memories can be wiped, anything is possible, and the premise is explored through this.

Peter – Michael Pena is a great actor. He is the one who carries this film, and in doing so, makes it good, beyond the premise. The rest of the cast do okay to not even being noticeable, which brought it down some. Peter never stops being compelling though. You are with him as he questions what is real, and when he takes the next step of questioning his entire reality and what he is. There is so much depth to his character and weight to his decisions that I couldn’t help but be pulled into the drama.

The Truth and Conclusion – The people inhabiting Earth are robots, and the aliens invading are human colonists trying to take back Earth. It is very much like the “The Twilight Zone” in the premise, and I really enjoyed this core truth that drives the film. Especially as one of the invaders save’s Peter’s wife after he realizes that the robots have kids, families, and lives. After that, the robots are on the run as the invasion continues and things are left up in the air as to the future of Earth.

The Cons:

The Supporting Cast – None of the other characters stood out to me except for his cop friend, played by Mike Colter (Luke Cage), who kept his memories from the last human / robot war. He was the only one with any layers to him and the rest were just plot devices to drive Peter’s actions. If the cast had been better, this movie would have been great but because I only cared about Peter, it never got beyond good.

Netflix is the place where any B sci. fi. movie will get made now, and that works for me. Movie theaters are so lost in franchise management that I almost prefer seeing a flawed decent original gem than another “guaranteed-to-be-good” franchise film. It is out of these original stories and taking chances that more “Ex Machina” and “District 9” original movies will get made. If there is no taking of chances, the visual medium of science fiction could easily get lost. I support this movie for being on the better end of that spectrum of original sci. fi. films and I definitely recommend to anyone who is a sci. fi. film fan.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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The Martian (2015): A Masterpiece Celebrating the Wonder of Science, Discovery and Survival

The Martian

    “The Martian” is a film that truly captures the terror and wonder of space travel as well as giving us very real and complex characters who are worth rooting for. Ridley Scott has done it again (though I haven’t watched some of his more recent films so I understand there was a drop in quality at one point). Suffice to say though, I really hope this film will kick in the love of exploring space again in the populace.

     The film was directed by Ridley Scott who was also one of the producers, written by Drew Goddard and produced by Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam and Simon Kinberg. It is also based on the book of the same name (that I want to read now) by Andy Weir.

    The film involves astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally being left behind on the first mission to Mars called the Ares III mission and him having to survive and make contact with NASA in order to mount a rescue before he dies.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Dariusz Wolski captures beautiful scenes in this that show the desolation and danger of space but also the beauty and wonder of space and Mars.

The Soundtrack – Harry Gregson-Williams gives the soundtrack a very “2001: Space Odyssey” feel giving us both classic instruments, synth and even a mixture of 70’s and 80’s music intermixed throughout the score.

The Writing – Drew Goddard did a good job on this script! It all show rather than tell and the times where it gets you information you need (how Watney sciences) it is done a comedic or interesting way that drives the action forward. This alone puts it above “Interstellar.” I really want to read the novel after this.

The Characters – The characters are compelling with only two characters not really getting too much exploration but still have arcs! This is a show where even the minor characters make choices that have consequences.

Teddy Sanders – Jeff Daniels does an amazing job as the Director of NASA who has to make difficult choices throughout the course of the film as Mark surviving makes things more complex as far as getting funding and at one point he has to decide sending the Ares III crew back and risking them all or just sending the probe with supplies. He choose the latter and you get the reasons for that too. His arc involves him being willing to take risks to save Mark, even it means losing his job.

Mitch Henderson – Sean Bean is the man in charge of the astronauts and he is a great guy who is willing to go behind Sanders back to protect his men and he sends them the data they need and the plan that Purnell created. He stands by it the entire time and for him space travel being about people is key as if people are forgotten, than what is the point of sending them out there in the first place? I really liked his character and he was one of my favorites. There is also a point where he explains the Council of Elrond where Purnell’s idea is first discussed…which is a great “Lord of the Rings” callback.

Vincent Kapoor – Chiwetel Ejiofor is truly a master of his craft as he plays a guy who isn’t much of a people person but truly becomes invested in people beyond just the idea of travel and missions over the course of the film. He is very much the Vulcan Spock to Sanders being Kirk and he is there supporting Mark through the course of his isolation on Mars.

Rich Purnell – Donald Glover plays the man who comes up with the idea of using the Ares III to save Mark and is not a people person at all as he doesn’t even register his non-communication with his boss or the director of NASA. He is a lot of fun and was my favorite character in the film as he was fully in to finding a way to bring Mark home and was a put of an eclectic scientist.

Ares III crew – Two of the crew fall in love and we see it slowly grow over the course of the film and when is a funny dad. These characters don’t receive the same level of development as Ramirez the pilot and Lewis the leader though.

Rick Martinez – Michael Pena is wonderful as Martinez who is the pilot as well as Mark’s best friend. He is a guy who jokes around, is ex-military and loves what he does. He is the one who helps the others realize what it means to go back and he is willing to leave his wife and son behind longer to bring back Mark as he knows Mark would do the same to him. He has a strong moral code and is the glue that holds the crew together. He is also the clown and Pena’s wonderful sense of humor has a chance to come out.

Melissa Lewis – Jessica Chastain plays the most serious character in the film besides Jeff Daniels’s Sanders. She carries guilt over leaving Mark behind and this drives her to action and risking herself in the end to save Mark as she won’t risk her crew. She is a great commander for this reason and we get to see her tender side with her husband as well as her closeness to Mark who is her closest friend on the mission too. Her arc is moving past her guilt to help save Mark.

Mark Watney – Watney is a sarcastic botanist and Damon truly carries this film. In this we see him have to survive in impossible conditions using only the resources NASA left behind and that Mars has. He does a great job too as we see him use Botany to grow potatoes using his own crap and the Mars soil and we later see him “Science the shit” out of everything around him in order to survive. In the end he survives and he truly owns it too as we see it is his willingness to take risks that brought him out there in the first place. Him swearing at NASA for not telling his crew he was alive was brilliant too as on multiple occasions we see he isn’t a fan of authority at all and enjoys having a good time being “the best.” His arc is facing death and moving past it to find a solution each time.

Space Travel is Wondrous, Dangerous and Worth It – This is the core message of the film as at the end Mark is teaching new astronauts in training and tells them that message. He also has no regrets as he loves what he does and what he did and is a huge promoter of more missions as he knows it is the future.

The Strength of the Human Will – There are a lot times characters want to give up, but it is when they face the challenges and rise above them that they are able to find ways to solve each of the crises they face.

This is easily one of the greatest films of the year and one I’d highly recommend. I plan to add the book to my reading list and I will be eventually buying and seeing this film again as it truly captures so much of what I love about this galaxy, space travel, adventure and science fiction and all the possibilities of the future that come with it. I’m rooting for us eventually colonizing Mars and I hope this movie will ignite the interest in space travel and colonization again.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. A nearly perfect film.