Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Movie Review – Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim 1 Pacific Rim 2

Summary

I like to preface things, so I am going to do so here. (It’s probably an ego thing, but lets not delve deep where I have no depth, ok?) While I do not consider myself a giant monster or giant robot fanboy, I have seen quite of bit of both genres. Maybe it’s because of Chicago’s UHF TV stations playing them during my youth, or my never ending search for odd films in the video stores in my 20s, or maybe I just in the closet about the whole fanboy thing. Anyway, this review will be viewed through the filter of someone who watches this stuff, not through the lens of someone who is out for seeing great cinema. Oh, and by the way this review may contain spoilers.

Now, Pacific Rim is a movie about giant monsters and giant robots that has more than a head nod to the Godzilla (or Gojira) movies from the distant past. The director, Mr. Del Toro, wasa big fan of these movies growing up and he apparently wanted to update the genre. The premise here is that an extra-dimensional rift has opened up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and that allows giant monsters (called Kaiju) to pop into our world and wreak havoc. (Why is “wreak havoc” the default mode for most extra dimensional beings anyway? Why don’t they ever come here to get some really good fudge, or catch Cirque du Soleil show, or even just spend a day reading on the beach? Their tourism bears a striking resemblance to American foreign policy actually…). In response Earth bands together to build giant robots, called Jaegers (German for hunter) to fight the monsters. We seem to hold our own for a while, until the critters come through more often and start to adapt their bodies and tactics to our efforts. We shut the Jaeger program down and start building walls around the ocean. There are a few Jaegers left, a few pilots left, and a leader who has a plan to end the monsters once and for all. That’s the basics.

The Good

This movie looks good. Yeah, that sounds stupid, but that’s the best I can do. Everything in it, all the set and prop details look really good. Much, much of it is CGI, but it is too the point where the CGI is not at all noticeable. I think this little fact goes a long way towards making this an enjoyable movie. Much like Lord of the Rings looked “real”, which made it easier to watch. Ok, now you are saying “it’s a movie with giant monsters and giant robots and this knob is going on and on about the scenery!”, I hear you, but don’t overlook the scenery here.

The giant monsters are cool, but I think that the robots are the better of the two. In the old monster movies you saw a lot of the monsters, full shots, as they smashed up model Tokyo. In this movie your rarely see a whole monster, or see them for very long. It is all in little bits and pieces, a bit like “Jaws” actually. Only here it does not build suspense like in Jaws, here I think it really only exists to keep costs down. You see more of the robots, but still a lot of the details are left out – I will get into an explanation of that later. The fight scenes between the Kaiju and Jaegers are fun, but a little confusing. When there are multiple robots or monster involved it is kind of hard to tell who is doing what to whom. The fights keep you in the story though, and why else would you watch a movie like this anyway?

The Bad

All that beautiful scenery is covering up a mountain of plot holes and impossibilities that are going to make George Lucas think he made this film, or at least make him mad that he didn’t. I am not going to enumerate them here, but I will talk about them further in the “Other” section.

Acting. I hear that people in movies do this. If that is so, this was not a movie. Interesting dialog. That must be something that happens in plays I guess. Characters with motivations who grow. If I squint my eyes and turn sideways, I can see where some of that may have been present in this movie.

The Other

If you willingly went to a movie that features the idea of extra-dimensional monsters on this scale, humungous robots piloted by pairs of pilots through mind control, and a dimensional rift on the bottom of the ocean then you are on thin ice when you complain about plot holes and impossibilities when it comes to the details. No debris or clouds of silt just after you detonate a nuclear weapon on the bottom of the ocean? Don’t worry about it… look a giant monster! 8 helicopters carrying a giant robot that weighs hundreds of tons? Whatcoo talkin ‘bout Willis – and hey look another giant monster! Not mentioning the giant sword weapon to your partner until it is narratively necessary? You are thinking too much… hey look, giant monster guts! An EMP shutting down parts of a city, but the streetlights are still on? Ok, well that’s just dumb.
My point is that this might be the ultimate suspension of disbelief movie, on par with professional wrestling or a presidential debate. It is one of those where to enjoy it, you have to tone down that critical thinking part of your brain, and just let the art wash over you.

Final Verdict

Yeah, I enjoyed this movie. I saw in on one of those giant 80’ movie screens and I am so happy I did. If you like this type of thing, and you can turn off that logic critic, go see this movie. Do not wait for it to be streamed somewhere, unless you happen to have access to a giant screen of your own. This movie will not move your emotions, tell you anything about the human condition, or even make you like any of the characters. It will give you the thrill of giant robots flinging giant monsters around a big wet neon infused city though, and if that isn’t entertainment I don’t know what is.

Defiance – Late Season Review

Defiance

I reviewed this show earlier this season, after two episodes. My take on the show at the time was that he show was very ambitious. They had a lot of backstory and new races to explain as well as introduce a huge cast of characters, each with intertwining stories and motivations. I didn’t think the lawman character was working at all, but this held true for many of the characters in the show.

I’m a sucker for a post-apocalyspe story, and with the advent of on-demand TV I don’t have to watch at the same time each week, so I decided to stick with the show for a few more episodes. This is my review after 10 episodes.

The Good

Again, this show is really ambitious. There is a lot here for a sci-fi geek to chew on. Different races, different cultures, advanced tech raining from the sky,… they could make a show that spends three seasons introducing us to aspects of this world without ever really advancing the story if they wanted to. The good part is that they haven’t done that or turned this into a monster of the week show. They are being pretty good about introducing a couple of big story arcs and then setting up a few smaller character arcs. There are two major political arcs (Earth Republic moving to take over Defiance, and the Mayoral race between Amanda and Datak), and one major mystery arc (what is the object from the mines and what does it do) that promise to keep the story moving along nicely.

A couple of the characters are developing nicely. Stahma, Datak’s wife, is showing herself to not only be a manipulator on a grand master level, but possibly also one on the tactical level. She is shaping up to be the most dangerous character in the show. Doc Yewll’s backstory and how it is effecting current events is also a pleasant surprise. Good to see a healer get to be interesting.

The Bad

Weak Characters – The lawman is still not interesting. Datak has more than one note, but he has not quite made it to two notes yet, and for a savy guy he is awfully blind to his wife’s manipulations. The Irisa character, along with most of the Iraths, are lame imitations of Native American stereotypes. Irisa has no emotional range. She is a shut down person, I get that, but she still needs to have more than one emotion at some point. The Earth Republic representatives have been nearly mustache twirling bad guys, with the exception of Amanda’s former love interest, and he got killed by the end of that episode. The choice of putting them in Gestapo-esque clothing was a bit heavy handed. Finally, Rafe McCawley. In the matter of a few months he has buried one son, had another leave to find his mother, and his daughter is marrying the son of his rival. He should be breaking up by now, but he seems to be just fine. Also, it seems that running the mine is pretty easy since he is always at the house.

Odd Elements – one episode featured “hell bugs” as a plot element, and it is understood that this world has all sorts of different flora and fauna now, but it really plays no role in the life of Defiance. It seems to me that if critters like this exist, they would be more of a problem for the town rather than a plot tool. A different episode used nanotech as an explanation for an Irath coming back from the dead. It was such a duex ex machina that it ruined the episode for me, one which could have worked to develop the lawman and daughter characters but failed to do that either. Nano tech would have likely survived much of the arkfall and be a persistent problem for the planet, much like any form of microbe, it should not be a surprise like it was.

Fan Service – The lesbian relationship between the Kenya and Stahma really seems to be put in for no other purpose than to titillate. It may prove to be a larger part of Stahma’s master plan, and if so I will cut it some slack, but until then it make no sense that Stahma would risk Datak’s wrath for this when she is otherwise so smart. (Before anyone calls me a homophobe, it is not that fact that the relationship is between two women, it is the fact that I don’t believe it would happen and it does not seem to serve the story that bothers me).

The Other

The town really doesn’t have a character yet – its more like a refugee camp setting for the character stories rather than a living breathing entity. The mines should be a bigger part of town life, assuming they are the major employer that is. There also seems to be very little city administration other than the mayor and the lawman, the mayor (like the mine owner) seems to have a lot of free time on her hands. So, who is doing the work? A place like this would also need have regular contact with the rest of the world in order for an economy to run. The mines are a source of export, but how do the materials get to market? We have seen that travel is dangerous, so how do these important goods flow? Right now the town just a setting, when it could be a vibrant character.

Final Verdict

Well, since this is the second one, it’s really not so final is it?

I am enjoying the show enough to stick with it. I read that it has been picked up for another season which is encouraging. There are enough interesting story elements going on to keep me watching, but without better characters it is going to be really easy for them to make a story mistake and loose me as their audience. I am hoping that the Stahma character can maintain this level of manipulation without becoming too powerful that it kills the other stories. I really want the Artifact story to play out, but his is also the one with the most risk. My pipe dream is that Datak does rise to power and actually wants to make things better for Defiance but he gets caught between his ego, his wife, and his new allies in the process then has to make friends with his former enemies.

So, in summary, the show isn’t Game of Thrones/Downtown Abby/Breaking Bad for the Sci-Fi geeks, yet. I really don’t think it will ever be either, but it is showing some promise in the story telling and in the background elements. I recommend it to other sci-fi geeks seeking some TV entertainment.

Review – Defiance, SyFy Channel

Defiance 1 Defiance 2

Defiance is an original program from the SyFy channel. Defiance is set on a future Earth that has been devastated by a series of wars with several alien races who came to earth to colonize, thinking it wasn’t inhabited. Wars happened, terraforming happened, the immigration space floatilla exploded, and then peace happened. Now, Earth is barely recognizable, with the remnants of the human race along with the other 7 or 8 races trying to rebuild. There are some civilized zones, there are wastelands in between, and there is a rain of wreckage falling from the sky on a regular basis. The focus of the story is the town of Defiance. In Defiance all the races mix and work to build a place where all can live.

In the pilot, an ex-soldier and his adopted daughter who are on their way to Antarctica (there are beaches there) get stranded in Defiance after being attacked by “Spirit Riders” outside of town. They have a little adventure, we meet the power brokers in the town, and we set up the larger store. In the end, the ex-soldier becomes the Lawman in town. In the second episode, some threads from the pilot get woven together in the hunt for a killer.

The Good

The premise is good, but I cheated by looking up the backstory on Wiki. There is a fleshed out reason what has happened and some decent thought into the races. The idea of an Earth subjected to the forces of terraforming, but we still live here is interesting and gives the show quite a bit of leeway to create new creatures and settings. The tone has that nice mix between a western and a sci-fi, similar to what was done in Firefly but not quite as well.

The Bad

The lead character, the ex-soldier now lawman, is about as interesting as a dirt sandwich. I cant say if it is the acting or the writing as fault here, but he doesn’t cut it. This little issue extends to much of the cast. Either they are trying too hard, or they just don’t know who the characters are, but so far it is pretty hard to feel involved with any of them. So far, the characters feel very two dimensional.

The Other

In some ways, this is a very ambitious show. They are taking explaining a future history, introducing new races, setting up the conflicts (small and large), and introducing you to at least 13 characters who seem to have enough relevance to impact the plot points. And so far they’ve had two and a half hours to do that. Movies don’t manage all that in that amount of time. That being said, they may be doing too much and not thinking enough about telling some good stories. What I worry about is that they will do all of this work with these elements, but not do the work on the plot.

Final Verdict

The first two episodes weren’t bad, but I wasn’t thinking about them later like I’ve done with other shows. I’m interested enough to watch again next week, but it will need to do something more interesting soon to keep me around.