ORBzine - Space Opera 2014 Movie Reviews

TITLE & REVIEW

American Warships (2012)

American Warships (2012) This is the low-budget version of mega-budget flop Battleships . The main difference, beyond the crappier SPFX, is the fact that it is about Mario Van Peebles ( ) commanding the USS Iowa instead of John Carter in command of the USS Missouri.

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    Battleship (2012)

    Battleship (2012) This is the not-awaited film adaptation of the children's' board-game, from the people who brought you the big-screen Transformers Films. So you should already know what to expect - lots of SPFX, little plot. Director Peter Berg previously made Hancock , among other films, so it is not entirely his fault.

    Taylor Kitsch (from the far more deserving blockbuster, John Carter of Mars ) is a dropout and loser who has a problem with authority figures. He wants to impress a swimsuit model ( Brooklyn Decker ), whose father is USN Admiral Liam Neeson ( Star Wars: TPM ). Our hero's brother (Alexander Starsgaard - True Blood ) gets him a job as an officer in the US Navy, though how he made it through Annapolis is a mystery. He gets to boss Rihanna around, so every job has its perks.

    NASA uses a satellite dish on Hawaii to bounce a radio signal off a satellite and into deep space. Six years later (after the radio signal has travelled six Light Years - which in a galaxy which is 100,000 Light Years across!) a handful of alien warships land in the Pacific ocean near Hawaii, intent on capturing the transmitter and Phoning Home for reinforcements. They deploy a forcefield so that US Secretary of State Peter McNichol ( Dragonslayer ) is prevented from deploying any additional military assets. Our hero John Carter and a small band of US Navy folks oppose the invaders. Even the Japs help to defend Earth, proving that this is no Pearl Harbour.

    The climax involves a moment reminiscent of a Michael Bey Film, where Uber-patriotic old-age-pensioners crew the equally out-dated battleship USS Missouri. They do not target the communications array immediately, because that would make sense. Instead they go toe-to-toe with the Alien super-ship. 1930s technology (read: brute force and ignorance) versus the most high-tech killing machine the aliens could devise ...

    The best naval warfare films are the World War Two ones from the 1960s, which used real-life tech and tactics to depict real-life events such as the Battle of Midway. This film is a nasty hotchpotch of unconvincing heroics and non-sequitors. It may make the occasional (probably unintentional) reference to the biggest Alien Invasion movie of the last few decades - Independence Day - but all that does is gloss over ID4's flaws and make it look so much superior to BS. But at least it is better than Transformers 2 & 3 !

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    Ender's Game (2013)

    Ender's Game (2013) Earth is involved in an on-going war against insectoid aliens who attempted an invasion. Colonel Harrison Ford ( Star Wars ) and Major Viola Davis must select a teenage recruit to be strategic commander of the Earth fleet.

    The protagonist, a nerdy little kid named Ender Wiggin, encounters a succession of High School bullies during training. He also befriends outcasts like tough-ass Latina chick ( Hailee Steinberg ). As a result, unlike other movie heroes he learns not to be a loner but to build a team of specialists.

    No doubt due to the literature origins of the story, there is a lot of depth to the material. However, this film is made by the special effects. If this had been made in previous decades, or for a lower budget, the SPFX simply would not have done it justice.

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    Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

    Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) This film would not be getting such terrible word-of-mouth if it were not a sequel to such a successful blockbuster. Even twenty years on, the original ID4 still stands out as an impressive piece of film-making. In comparison, this effort seems like a disappointment. The worst thing is that it cannot be enjoyed as a stand-alone, because it is filled with so many references to the original work.

    Two decades after the events of the first film, Earth has become unified and militarised. Certain people who fought the aliens (i.e. the main characters in the previous film) have developed a telepathic link with the aliens. As a result, they have dreams and premonitions about what the aliens will do next. If they had bothered to remember what the aliens did the first time they invaded then they could have predicted everything in this film, because the action scenes are a virtual rehash of the original. Seriously, it is exactly that predictable.

    The McGuffin that the invading aliens want is a probe that arrived on Earth fropm outer space. This is a setup for a third film. Yes, evidently the film-makers are keen to turn this into a franchise. And why not? Star Trek has a new film out this year, and a new TV show will be on our screens soon. Star Wars has been sold out, in more ways than one, now that Disney owns it. So who can blame Emmerich and Devlin for trying to milk more money out of this? After all, they accidentally started the Stargate franchise that spawned a decade's worth of television shows.

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    Independence Daysaster (2013)

    Independence Daysaster (2013) This is yet another SyFy channel effort. The USA falls victim to an Alien Invasion. This time the aliens' technology owes more to the spinners in Battleship than anything in this film's namesake, Independence Day .

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    Jupiter Ascending (2015)

    Jupiter Ascending (2015) This seems like yet another adaptation of a Young Adult novel, but it is an original work by the Wachowskis (formerly the Wachowski Brothers). They deliver a massive space opera, with the same reliance on greenscreen that the Star Wars prequels indulged in. They are certainly not recreating a genre the way they did with The Matrix .

    Jupiter Jones ( Mila Kunis ) is a young woman who is hunted by alien abductors. She has a destiny, but unlike Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter or King Arthur she does not have any actual skills or abilities. Luckily she has a roller-blading dog-boy (Channing Tatum - GI Joe ) as her bodyguard. Sean Bean ( Game of Thrones ) is a mentor figure.

    The villains are a bunch of interstellar aristocrats. Their intentions are incest, matricide and genocide.

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    Prospect (2018)

    Prospect (2018) Once upon a time there was a cultural snob who dismissed Science Fiction movies as Cowboys and Indians in space. He was specifically referring to Gattacca of all things, but in the case of this particular film he might be right.

    A young girl and her father go prospecting for valuable minerals on a remote planet. The planet has Earth-type gravity and temperate forest vegetation, but the atmosphere requires that the explorers wear space suits and helmets whenever outside.

    The prospectors get jumped by a couple of outlaws. The girl ends up reluctantly partnered with one of them - Pedro Pascal ( Kingsman: Golden Circle ). They trek through woods together, in search of a way home.

    Although this is set in a hi-tech universe with interstellar travel, the characters seem to use outdated technology for no apparent reason. For example, they all use flashlights when they should just go to infrared.

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    Scorpio One (1997)

    Scorpio One (1997) This was produced by Andrew Stevens (Dallas), and starts with some stock footage of a real shuttle launch. The story is set in the near future, aboard a space station named Scorpio One - apparently run by the United Nations but built by NASA It is equipped with artificial gravity, but the computers still use 1990s-style floppy disks.

    A saboteur destroys the space station. The CIA Director makes certain his best man, a martial arts expert (Jeff Speakman - ), is part of the rescue mission. The team, a mix of astronauts and US Army Rangers, go up on a space shuttle piloted by Steve Kanaly (Dallas) and Robin Curtis .

    The scientists aboard the station had discovered the secret to Cold Fusion. Someone is trying to steal it, but first they have to bump off the rescue team one at a time. It seems that the one behind it all is corrupt senator Lance Degault ( Buck Rogers in the 25th Century ).

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    Star Runners (2009)

    Star Runners (2009) Connor Trinneer ( Star Trek: Enterprise ) and James Kyson Lee ( Heroes ) are a pair of space cowboys who get arrested by the space cops. This is a lot like Firefly , up to the discovery of a mysterious girl frozen in a cargo pod.

    The guys end up stuck on a desert world, in an abandoned colony that is overrun by giant insects. Yes, this is now a pastiche of Aliens .

    All in all, this is quite a disappointment. By ripping off two of the best science fiction movies ever made, this low-budget effort sets itself up for unflattering comparisons.

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    John Carter of Mars Adaptations

    Princess of Mars (2009)

    Princess of Mars (2009) This is an updated version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic. John Carter is now a US soldier who served in Iraq/Afghanistan. But the concept is the same - he is transported to Mars (the nickname for a different world in a different solar system) where he fights alien monsters to save the Princess ( Traci Lords , looking great in a Princess Leia metal bikini).

    For a low-budget release from schlockmeisters The Asylum, this is actually quite watchable. It is nowhere near as bad as the majority of their output.

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    John Carter (2012)

    John Carter (2012) Finally, the most influential pulp Sci-Fi series of all time is brought to the big screen. The John Carter series was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs , creator of Tarzan , and inspired the Flash Gordon Series (which itself inspired Star Wars ). So it has all gone back to where it began ...

    The story is told in flashback, bookended by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryll Sabara - Spy Kids ) reading the Journal of his uncle, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch - Battleship ). We get an overly distracting detour into Arizona, where Confederate War veteran John Carter was prospecting for gold. After being side-tracked in adventures he got transported to Mars, which is where the real story begins.

    Sinister villain Mark Strong (typecast again, as in Green Lantern ) manipulates murderous thug Dominic West ( Punisher: War Zone ) into conquering Mars. Only the city-state of Helios, ruled by Ciaran Hinds ( Woman in Black, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ) holds out. Princess Deja Thoris ( Lynn Collins ) and her General (James Purefoy - Solomon Kane ) lead the fight ...

    John Carter, meanwhile, finds himself enslaved by the local alien species, the Tharks. Can he save both worlds?

    The only previous John Carter film is Princess of Mars , a straight-to-DVD effort by B-Movie schlockmeisters The Asylum. That effort came in for criticism for casting Traci Lords as Deja Thoris, the Martian Princess. Disney seems to have failed to learn from this in casting Lynn Collins in the role. Ms Collins is a far superior actress (she replaced Cate Blanchett in the all-star 2006 effort Merchant of Venice ) but she is not a big-name star. She lacks even the B-movie recognition of Ms Lords.

    Disney has not bothered with much of a marketing strategy for the film. There are no marketing tie-ins. The Star Wars Prequels (with Phantom Menace recently re-released as a 3-D conversion) may have destroyed the market. But still, considering the amount of money pumped into this film one would think that the Producers would make more of an effort to recoup their investment.

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    Hard Science Fiction

    3022 (2019)

    3022 (2019) Omar Epps ( Trick (2019) ) and Angus MacFadyen ( Robert the Bruce (2019) ) are part of a four-person crew aboard a space station. They are basically a refuelling crew, for spaceships from Earth that are travelling to the outer planets of the star system. Naturally this is a tense environment, where the crew are stationed for year-long periods.

    Suddenly, like the crew of the Odyssey 5 , our heroes are trapped when the Earth is mysteriously destroyed. Unfortunately there is no time travel in this story, so the crew are just stuck together without hope of rescue or a homeworld to return to.

    Eventually a space ship arrives with some other survivors from the International Space Station. The commander is Jorja Fox , and one of her sidekicks is Enver Gjokaj ( Dollhouse ). Unfortunately the arrival of unfamilar faces and extra mouths to feed is not a good thing.

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    Ad Astra (2019)

    Ad Astra (2019) Earth is bombarded with cosmic rays which cause damage to the electronic infrastructure. The cause is somewhere on the outskirts of the solar system. An astronaut (Brad Pitt - Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) ) is sent out to investigate. He travels from Earth to the Moon, then out to Mars, and finally to the outer planets.

    This is basically a rehash of Apocalypse Now (1979). The Colonel Kurtz figure, and father of the protagonist, is Tommy Lee Jones ( Space Cowboys ). One of the rescue crew is his old partner, Donald Sutherland ( Space Cowboys ).

    The problem with the movie is that it is slow-paced, like 2001: A Space Odyssey , but lacks the sense of awe and wonder.

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    Arrival (2016)

    Arrival (2016) Amy Adams investigates an alien spaceship that landed on Earth. No, not like she did in Man of Steel - this time she is a linguist called in by Colonel Forrest Whittaker ( Star Wars: Rogue One ) to decipher the alien language. Jeremy Renner ( Bourne Legacy ) is also present to investigate the mysterious alien artefact - no, not like in Thor .

    Despite the casting this is not a comic-book movie. In fact, the film that it is most reminiscent of in terms of theme is Interstellar . It is a touching drama that ultimately explores the human condition. Adams must communicate with the aliens and discover if they are friendly or not. Meanwhile, she also has to cope with memories of her daughter, a stroppy teenager who died of an incurable illness.

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    Astronaut (2019)

    Astronaut (2019) An Elon Musk type (Colm Feore - Chronicles of Riddick ) holds a contest to select a volunteer from the general public to become an astronaut on a private space flight. An elderly man (Richard Dreyfus - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) ) enters the contest.

    The company organising the space flight are having technical problems. Dreyfus, a retired engineer, recognises their problem as one he encountered earlier in his career. Now he struggles to convince them he is right before they go ahead with a dangerous launch mission.

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    Astronaut: The Last Push (2012)

    Astronaut: The Last Push (2012) Like a lot of low-budget films, this was written and directed by one person - in this case Eric Hayden . However, in this case the star (Khary Payton - The Walking Dead ) also wrote the story and served as producer so we can expect more than the usual vanity project.

    Payton and his partner (James Madio - Hook (1991) ) are astronauts on a six-year mission to orbit Jupiter. Yes, this starts off like the third section of 2001: A Space Odyssey . But after the opening credits, it becomes a lower budget version of The Martian .

    The Ground Control manager tries to keep in touch with the astronaut. His boss (Lance Hendricksen - Aliens (1986) ) also makes a couple of appearances.

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    Gravity (2013)

    Gravity (2013) It starts off as a routine space mission. Scientist Sandra Bullock is installing an upgrade on the Hubble telescope, with help from veteran astronaut George Clooney ( Solaris ) and Mission Controller Ed Harris ( Apollo 13 ). Then it all goes wrong ...

    Bullock and Clooney are trapped in orbit with limited options. They have to get to a space station with a functioning escape pod.

    Alfonso Cuaron delivers a breathtaking film. The science is based on real-life physics, although admittedly there are exaggerations to make it more plausible and photogenic.

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    Interstellar (2014)

    Interstellar (2014) This was written by Christopher Nolan , but unlike the amazing Inception this is a disappointing and predictable effort.

    The near future is an apocalyptic wasteland. Ex-astronaut Matthew McConaghey ( Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4 ) is now a farmer, raising his teenage son and Lisa Simpson-esque daughter in a single-parent family on a corn farm straight out of Signs . Grandpa Simpson is there too, looking like John Lithgow ( 3rd Rock from The Sun ), but Marge is long dead. The daughter's bedroom is haunted, and the ghost gives them coordinates to the secret NASA HQ of Professor Michael Caine ( Dark Knight ). The Professor plans to send some astronauts, including Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley ( Hunger Games ) through a wormhole into another solar system. McConaghy is offered the pilot's seat, and he accepts - though this means leaving his daughter behind.

    The astronauts have three planets to explore. Unfortunately the star system includes a massive Black Hole, which alters time whenever they get too close. Their goal is to rescue Matt Damon ( The Martian ), who can save the human race.

    Back on Earth, our hero's daughter grows up to be Jessica Chastain . She is a world-class scientist, because she is a girl, but has daddy issues because McConaghy left his family. Luckily, Doctor Topher Grace (previously a doctor in Predators ) is on hand to test her brother's family for silicosis of the lungs.

    The climactic twists are taken from other, better films. As such they are all very predictable. And since the film lasts three hours, it seems to drag on forever.

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    The Martian (2015)

    The Martian (2015) Jessica Chastain leads a crew of superheroes to explore Mars. Kate Mara (Sue Storm in the reboot of Fantastic Four ) conducts a shipboard romance with Sebastian Stan (Bucky in Captain America ), while the chubby Latino sidekick from Ant-Man is a chubby Latino sidekick again. Unfortunately, they get caught in a dust-storm and have to evacuate. Mark Watney (Matt Damon - Interstellar ) gets left behind.

    This owes more to Tom Hanks in Castaway than to Robinson Crusoe on Mars , though Damon keeps sane by talking to a camera and creating a video diary rather than talking to a football.

    Once Damon has a plan for survival, everything seems straightforward. Naturally, to increase the tension and suspense there are a series of unlikely accidents. These are enough to reduce Damon's chances of survivable so that they are in the right ballpark to make the movie interesting enough to keep watching. We know the protagonist will survive until at least the climactic third act, but the other cast members are all expendable.

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    Moon (2009)

    Moon (2009) Sam Rockwell ( Charlie's Angels ) lives alone on the moon. His only companion is a robotic AI with the creepy voice of Kevin Spacey ( K-Pax ). However, as his tour of duty is about to end he discovers he has been lied to ...

    Rockwell has the movie to himself, and he carries it excellently. He is a much-ignored actor, and despite his success in supporting roles in mega-budget successes circa 2000 ( The Green Mile ) he has never been allowed the mainstream stardom that he could easily have won.

    The film was written and directed by the son of David Robert Jones - AKA David Bowie ( The Hunger ), not the character from Fringe . The soundtrack mostly consists of the ironically-used song I am the one and only by 1990s one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes.

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    Soon

    Soon

  • 2000
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