Saturday 22 September 2018

Screen time

Some films and a TV series to catch up with:

Film: Seventh Son (2014)

The cast of this fantasy epic looked promising: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander being the big names, alongside the always good Olivia Williams and a brief cameo by Kit Harington (of Game of Thrones fame). The hero (Ben Barnes) is a young man who is, natch, a seventh son with unusual abilities, and as a result is recruited by Gregory, the last of the Spooks; a band of witch-hunters. Gregory certainly needs all the help he can get since the Witch Queen has broken free of her long imprisonment and is after revenge. The relationships all get rather tangled with almost all of the principals turning out to have a past history or to be related in some way to at least one of the others (and the hero predictably falling for a young witch who can't be all that bad, being Vikander). Inevitably, the climax is a pitched battle between the forces of good and evil, and guess who wins?

This film received poor reviews and was not a success at the box office. I find that a little surprising; I have seen worse movies treated more kindly. I suspect that the low ratings were down to disappointment that something more original did not emerge, the plot being predictable and the strong cast somewhat wasted, but there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes or so.

Film: Jurassic World (2015)

I enjoyed the first Jurassic Park film (1993) but felt that the two sequels were a bit too similar. The format doesn't lend itself to much variation, after all: recreated dinosaurs get loose and terrorise lots of people (as well as eating a few who really deserve it) before being defeated, and only the peripheral details vary.

My expectations were therefore not that high for the first episode of the second trilogy. Just as well, as it didn't vary from the formula. The additional details this time concerned a genetically manipulated and highly intelligent super-T-Rex, plus plans for "taming" the velociraptors to make them more useful in a military role. Chris Pratt does his usual hunky hero stuff, but he is ably supported by his co-star (Bryce Dallas Howard) who actually saves the day when all seems to be going badly. Nice to see the female lead being given a bold and courageous role, rather than being eye-candy who gets to scream a lot while awaiting rescue by the hunky hero. All in all, this film is adequate without rising above the ordinary. I gather that the next episode (Fallen Kingdom) is supposed to be better – I might get around to it sometime.

Film: Forbidden Planet (1956)

I almost certainly saw this film long ago, but had forgotten all about it. My first surprise was that it is in colour; it's so old that I expected monochrome! The plot is well known, and is said to have some similarities with Shakespeare's The Tempest, although it's too long since I last saw that play for me to comment.

A starship travels from Earth to visit Altair IV in order to rescue any survivors of an expedition which landed there twenty years before. To their surprise the starship crew find one of explorers, Morbius, living in some style and in command of highly advanced alien technologies including a robot. With him is his daughter, who was born on the planet before all of the expedition members except for Morbius and his wife were torn apart by some unseen entity. Needless to say, the daughter creates quite a reaction among the all-male starship crew, but then the destructive entity reappears and starts killing the crew.

The film is of course now very dated, but not as much as I expected. I thought it was roughly on a par in all respects with the early Star Trek TV series which came along a decade later – in other words, The Forbidden Planet was well ahead of its time and is still worth watching.

TV – Missions (2017)

This a French TV serial (with subtitles), set in the near future, about the first manned missions to Mars. Ulysses, a European space craft funded by William Meyer, a fabulously rich Swiss entrepreneur, is arriving in Mars orbit when they learn that they have already been beaten to the planet by a much faster American craft, funded by an equally wealthy US businessman, Ivan Goldstein. It becomes evident that the US craft experienced major problems on landing, so the European crew decide to attempt a rescue. They manage to land nearby (not without their own problems) and find one survivor in a spacesuit, but he has a surprise for them. After this, the plot evolves from a routine "trip to Mars" to something of much greater significance.

The serial ran for ten episodes of 25 minutes each (on BBC4 in the UK) and is structured in such a way that it isn’t possible to say any more about the plot without spoilers. I will just say that I was reminded of the film 2001, not so much in the specifics of the plot as in the atmosphere of a cosmic mystery gradually unfolding. It is intriguing and well worth seeking out.

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