Saturday 4 June 2016

Films: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015); and The Signal (2014)

I am not really a Star Wars fan. I enjoyed the original film enough to see it a couple of times. I also saw the next five films (although only once each) and was deeply underwhelmed by the final three in particular. However, the seventh film in the series was much better received so I decided to give it a look.

The start clearly signals the intention of the film to tick all of those nostalgia boxes so beloved of fans. The text scrolling into a star-filled sky introduces the film, filling in the background so that viewers understand the setting of the story. This is by no means a bad thing, much better than leaving the audience wondering what is going on for the first part of the film until enough clues have been provided by the dialogue.

What follows, as far as my hazy memories are concerned, is more or less a repeat of the first Star Wars film with the changes being mostly in some details of the plot. The old-fashioned feel is reinforced by the background music which continually and obtrusively saws away. I was reminded of that spoof western in which, at a highly dramatic moment, the camera pans away from the action to focus on an orchestra furiously playing. The old favourite characters are all there too, plus a cute new robot and couple of new young leads; Daisy Ridley's performance is particularly good and the best reason for non-fans to watch the film. So if you are a fan of the original film, you will probably love this one. If not – well, it's a passable way to spend a couple of hours or so if you have nothing better to do and a large box of popcorn to work through.


The Signal is a very different kind of film. Three students are on a road trip across the USA. Two of them have recently got into trouble due to a hacking incident at MIT for which they were not responsible, but are finding that the hacker, calling himself Nomad, is still sending them obscure messages. They manage to locate the source of these messages, not far off their course, so decide to pay the hacker a visit. They arrive at night and find a remote and apparently abandoned shack out in the countryside, but then are overcome by a dazzling white light and lose consciousness.

One of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), recovers in a strange medical facility and we see the rest of the film through his eyes. He is constantly interviewed and tested by Dr Damon (creepily played by Laurence Fishburne) who refuses to answer his questions other than to explain that the staff constantly wear isolation suits as the students are thought to have come into contact with "an extraterrestrial biological entity". Nic constantly tries to escape, especially when he discovers that he has been physically changed, but when he succeeds and rejoins his fellow students they finds themselves in an almost empty semi-desert landscape with only a few mostly-abandoned buildings populated by some strange people. They are constantly on the run from Dr Damon and his staff, and at the climax there are a couple of dramatic revelations which completely change the viewer's understanding about what has been happening.

This has the feel of a low-budget film (which it is), not necessarily a bad thing as it means the focus is on the characters and the dialogue rather than any glossy special effects (in complete contrast to most SFF films). It has an interesting and unusual plot, but while the final scene has a real twist it raises as many questions as it answers.

If I had to sit through one of these films again, I would choose The Signal.


Fred said...

I agree with your comments regarding StarWars VII. Although I am a fan of the first three, I did not enjoy this rehash. I frankly was bothered by the non-stop action, the characterization that never got beyond the comic book level, and the simplistic plot (if there was one). I eventually gave up and stopped watching.

I had hoped that the new director would have changed the direction of the series and had gone for those boring old attributes of plot, characterization, and dialogue, but I guess I'm still stuck in the 20th century, a hopeless old dinosaur as far as being up-to-date and in touch with the New Film Wave in which special effects and non-stop action substitute for those tedious out-of fashion characteristics.

It may be considered treasonable by some, but I didn't finish it.

Anthony G Williams said...

Fred, I suspect that the primary motivation of those responsible for making this film was simply money. Despite the very disappointing IV, V and VI, the Star Wars "franchise" was still worth something to older folk like us who fondly remember when the first one came out. Hitting the nostalgia button in the new film is pretty well guaranteed to generate a good profit, but I agree it's a shame that the opportunity to rethink the series was missed.

It makes a contrast with the 007 franchise, which was reimagined for the current series featuring Daniel Craig - much grittier.

Fred said...


Yes, I guess money does make the world go 'round. I only read a few of the Bond novels and saw a few of the films, but I'm more in tune with LeCarre' and Graham Greene (just finished his _The Human Factor_ about a week ago).