Not Quite Sci-Fi

There’s Something Behind You
Yar! Thar be SPOILERS ahead!

Today I saw the “low-fi” sci-fi movie Another Earth.  A movie that grabbed my interest a few months ago with its fantastically surreal promotional pictures (the sort of thing you see in the poster above.) I was eager to see the trailer for the movie.  It opened with a creepy moment where a woman tries to contact the mysterious other Earth, only to get a response … from herself!  Then the trailer went off the tracks and revealed the movie was really about human drama revolving around a young woman, some sort of tragedy, maybe a little romance, and redemption.  Damn; I was hoping for a sci-fi movie!

Which is what the movie’s about.  Think of your typical (oh, so typical) redemption play with this interesting sci-fi backdrop that exists as a visual metaphor for the unpredictability of life.  That would be OK, except that in some exposition (helpfully provided by voice overs of discussion about the second Earth) these metaphors were brutally beaten over the head of the audience.  The movie had its fair share of problems:

  1. The directing was somewhat unclear (at the very beginning of the movie some shots made it look like the main character–very effectively acted–was in the passenger seat of the car when she was, in fact, driving.)
  2. The directing used a lot of the “single camera” technique (very evident shaking, zooming in and out, lots of uncomfortable, close up shots) that’s very popular these days.  I personally felt this didn’t mesh well with the kind of story that was being told; this movie was generally more meditative than that kind of direction implies.
  3. A lot of niggling details in the timeline and plot don’t stand up to analysis.  This is probably excusable because this movie wasn’t so much about “plot” as “emotion.”
  4. While I really liked the soundtrack, I felt it was generally too discordant for the movie. Mellower, more traditional music would have been more appropriate.
  5. The lack of subtlety really hurt things.  An example: the redemption story is due to the main character having gotten into a fatal car crash with the secondary character, killing his wife, son, and unborn daughter and putting him into a coma.  This happened at the start of the movie.  The setup of the accident involved him, with his family, out for a drive (after a night of drinking on the main character’s part, which means this scene probably took place after midnight–why the heck was he driving around with his family so late?).  They stop at a stop sign for an inordinately long time while they happily talk to each other … so happily that it may the dialogue may as well have involved the father saying “I’m so happy with all of you right now, I would be so devastated if I lost you all, and wouldn’t it be ironic if it happened just this moment?”  (Cue car crash.)  Along the same line, when we see the father several years later he is–as per cliche–drunken and living in a house in disarray.  Not only was it in disarray, it was downright rotting.  So much so that the audience would have to conclude it was halfway to condemned even when he had his family.  

All this complaining makes it seem like I hated the movie.  I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t call it remarkably good, either.  This story has been seen before and will be seen again.  This iteration happened to have a sci-fi undertone.  If you went in expecting Star Trek, you’d be disappointed.  Heck, if you went in expecting 2009’s Moon you’d be a little disappointed (that one had a robot in it).

You know, it’s funny, I went into Moon expecting something more along the lines of what Another Earth delivered; I thought that was going to be a movie about the effects of isolation on people as well and explore the idea that being on the moon could end up being mind-numbingly mundane (ideas addressed in 2001 Nights.)  Instead it was about cloning and the nature of humanity.  Classic themes in science fiction, sure, but Arnold Schwarzenegger covered them in the sci-fi action movie The 6th Day.

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