If you’ve been paying attention to me over the past few years I have been running this site, you will know I love Sci Fi and Science in general. I was raised on Sci Fi movies, with some of my favourites from childhood being things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Aliens, The Blackhole, 2010, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Dune, The Abyss, Tron…ok so the list goes on. Alright the list does go on *deep breath* Flash Gordon, Altered States, Flight of the Navigator, My Science Project, Explorers, Lifeforce, Night of the Comet…ok ok I will stop now. That’s still but a fraction of what I grew up with and love. Some holds up better than others, others such as 2001 and Blade Runner I didn’t appreciate as a kid but do now.
When it comes to sciences, Chemistry, Archaeology, Linguistics, Physics, History, Astronomy, and Psychology are but a tip of an iceberg of things that fascinate me to no end. Put an article in front of me around some of these fields I will read it and do my best to understand it. Give me someone in these fields to talk to and I will probably pick their brain and ask questions, even if I only understand about a third of what they are saying. There was a time in my living room two linguists started speaking about various complexities of language and the breakdown of components of language and language groups. I comprehended a fraction, but still found it fascinating and had I chosen could have studied more to understand the rest. With this combination of fascination it should be no surprise that on Stargate and SG-1 my favourite character is Daniel Jackson. That I spent time making a character for a game who had a journal and was deciphering Goa’uld. That I love studying how Dothraki and High Valyrian work; which by the by enabled the creation wonderful relationship with someone, simply by speaking just a little Dothraki and sharing the geekness.
So whats the point and how does this apply to the movie?
Well let’s talk about that then. The film deals with the arrival (roll credits, ding), of an alien race and our protagonist is brought in to help decipher their language. So we have the marriage of Sci Fi and Linguistics. Ok so that’s technically repeating myself as it is SCIENCE Fiction, but for so long we have been moving away from the science part of science fiction relegating it’s existence to that of technobabble and gimmicks, without asking the important questions. Like The Martian, this movie goes back and puts the Science back with gleeful abandon and still manages to make it accessible to most any film goer who chooses to watch this.
This is not entirely an original work as it is based on the book Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It was adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer who also penned The Thing (2011), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and this years Lights Out. As I’ve started recently, this tells me he either has been offered projects that have ties to classic 80s or he has a passion for it. Success rate of the film notwithstanding. He also seems to understand and appreciate dramatic tension, or strives to do so. With this, while still unfamiliar with the original material, I feel he succeeded as the dialogue choices and plot points either hit or tropes avoided brought me great joy. He also managed to make it accessible to people who don’t have a passion for science. While not as open as the Martian was, there’s a lot here that they do explain and it works. The rest of the time you can follow along and it works with little explanation.
That means a credit must go to director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). You see a script can tell you one thing, but your decision to show not tell makes all the difference. What makes this movie work is a combination of showing and telling, ironically a plot point of the film. In combination with the script he is able to weave a cohesive story that tells you what you need to know, asks questions to keep you engaged, and delivers an ending that was surprisingly well handled. The direction of his actors was good as was his blocking and choice of camera angles. There are a few scenes where very intentional tricks of the camera are used if you are watching. That is the best term to apply to the direction here. Intentional. This is well thought out and I believe there is very little deviation from the plan as the scenes unfold in practice vs on paper.
Of course you need your stars to deliver as well. Amy Adams (Enchanted, American Hustle) delivers a fantastic performance as our Linguist – turned Xenolinguist – who must carry the film. She brings the appropriate levels of shock, scientific methods, and inquiry that I wanted to see in this. Jeremy Renner (Avengers, American Hustle) is a ‘hard scientist’, physicist I believe, who works for the government and is brought in with Adams to help uncover the purpose of the aliens. What I absolutely love is the chemistry and partnership between both actor and character as the film progresses with good delivery and solid execution on his own sciences while they unravel the mystery of the aliens.
There are flaws, I really wish directors would stop adjusting the contrast and colour balance of their work. While it’s clear it’s an intentional choice, I don’t know that it was a necessary one. Retaining your normal palette here would have been sufficient and forced other techniques to come into play to show other components of the story. That’s it. That’s my big flaw. OK there are a few minor tropes they hit which were…able to be dealt with and quickly which made them bearable in an otherwise near perfect product of science fiction.
As Passengers has not come out yet, Morgan was disappointing, I am the lone dissenting voice on 10 Cloverfield Lane; this is hands down the best Science Fiction movie of the year. I will easily put this up there with films such as Contact, The Martian, Ex Machina, and others of their ilk. It proves we haven’t lost how to do good Sci-Fi just that people may be afraid to. Without trying to sound too elitist, this is Sci Fi, the rest is space action or space fantasy. Let’s face it Star Wars is a space fantasy, we can all accept this and love it as much as we all do anyway.
The performances are good. The camera work is good. The script and direction are good. The movie had a very tight (by Hollywood standards) budget of $47 million and you can see the amount of control they had in making this and we all benefit for it. This is the kind of movie, like The Martian, that lets you and your friends have good intelligent conversation coming out of the movie about what you just watched.
My recommendation? Help them make their money back and then some.
Should you see it?
See immediate sentence above.
Will you buy it on BluRay?
Yes. No doubt.
It’s appropriately slow, but methodical. This has the pace of a good drama. It is NOT an action set piece.
Folks that’s it for this one. We have a really good movie here that was really enjoyable.
If you are a reader of my reviews and have a passion for Linguistics, see it and come back and tell me what you think of the science.