RIORI Redux: Francis Lawrence’s “I Am Legend” Revisited


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The Players…

Will Smith, with Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan and…Abbey.


The Story…

When a contagion spreads across the planet and turns the human race into bloodthirsty mutants, civilization’s last hope for survival lies with scientist Robert Neville, the last normal man on Earth.


The Rant (2013)

Richard Matheson’s writing has never been regarded as “subtle.” In fact, his work has been compared to the literary equivalent of being bashed in the head with a sledgehammer, and this an alleged complement. Then again, there’s nothing really subtle about the concept of being ridden down by an unholy fleet of blood-sucking vampires out to chew your ass, which happens to be attached to the only human left on the planet. Pressure.

For those not in the know, Matheson was a quietly prolific writer of suspense and science fiction; some of his work was translated to many original episodes of the seminal TV series The Twilight Zone. For those in the know, he penned the classics “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders” and “Third From The Sun” (oh yeah…that guy). Steven Speilberg’s first feature, Duel, was based on the short story of the same name. Several of his novels were adapted for Hollywood also, like Hell House, What Dreams May Come (which won an Oscar), A Stir Of Echoes and, yes, I Am Legend.

That particular novel has been made into a movie four times, including this version as well as the classic adaptations starring the inimitable Vincent Price and that damned dirty ape-hater Charlton Heston. So in long, Matheson’s fantastical work has proven to be quite versatile and malleable for the silver screen, stylized to fit the tastes and times. In short, he’s Stephen King’s favorite author and primary influence. Both say something about earning an audience.

That being said, it begs the question: “Four times?!?” What, they didn’t get it right the first three?

In this our 21st Century, we moviegoers have been bombarded with remakes of classic (and not so classic) movies. Here’s a story: years ago, 2004 into ’05, when I was a practicing alcoholic (I got real good at it too) and had a lot of down time to indulge in whiskey and cinema, I noticed a lot of commercials for new movies that I knew to be remakes. Since I had the time, I decided to keep track of how many films came out that year that were either remakes, reboots or sequels (or even prequels).

I counted 40. I sh*t you not. I double-checked this via the IMDb.

Forty. That’s a lot of laziness on behalf of Hollywood. And a mean way to fleece money off people. I guess the bigwigs figured the majority of moviegoers were either too lazy or too ignorant and wouldn’t bat an eyelash for a retread of a pre-existing film. Americans in general already have miniscule attention spans already; nostalgia is breakfast. Maybe the movie moguls were right. It might explain why I Am Legend is the fourth iteration of this movie whose origins span 40 years into the past. That’s pre-Internet, so what’d you expect?

Wait, wait. I’m not saying all remakes are bad. Some are quite good, like Hitchcock’s second go-round with The Man Who Knew Too Much, John Sturges’ classic western The Magnificent Seven, or even Mark Waters’ much-needed update of Freaky Friday. So before we pass (anymore) judgment, let’s pick apart the latest version of a classic man-versus-vampires epic and see on which side of fence it falls.

This film received some inordinate bits of flack by critics and audiences alike. Mostly directed at Smith. Like I noted in my After Earth dissection, I figure Smith is tiring of the maverick, comical roles he’s made his money on. Audiences seem like they’re not ready for a serious, dour individual like Robert. Like all the characters he’s portrayed most of his career, people would prefer to have Agent Jay or even the Fresh Prince up there on the big screen. But like with Adam Sandler’s constant re-hashing the buffoon roles, occasionally you gotta pull a Punch Drunk Love.

I Am Legend is not your conventional vampire movie. For one, the term “vampire” isn’t mentioned once. The Dark Seekers are not pseudo-romantic, quasi-sexual beings of immortal emulation. They’re f*cking freaks. An abomination to God and Nature. A plague, and the film depicts that as so; swarming rabid things crammed full of viruses. Redolent stinking hordes of shrieking rats preying on anything that bleeds. Have I made my point yet? Right. The Dark Seekers are very rather chilling and quite effective at establishing and maintaining Neville’s solitary nightmare atmosphere.

And poor Bob is stranded alone on Earth with the lot of them. In fact, “stranded” may be the key term that describes the feel of the film. For over an hour into the film, Smith is the only actor, not counting Abbey of course. We walk by his side, we only sees things that he sees, we truly live it all vicariously through Robert Neville and only him. We, as an audience, are stranded with him. Neville’s pathos is so consuming that as the movie progresses, you start to wonder if kind of relishes his solitude; wear it like a badge of pride or as sackcloth and ashes? He was directly responsible for the plague after all. Guilt can be a powerful weapon. So much so that it becomes ever obvious that Neville may be losing his mind. Wouldn’t you?

It’s good that Legend is quickly engaging. Not as in “fast pace.” The movies gets your attention very swiftly, and fails to falter. It has an urgent agendum, and quietly sweeps you up. This happens despite for the first half hour, all we really see is Neville driving through deserted streets of a ruined Manhattan, scrounging for food and sundries (yes, I used the word sundries) and tooling around in his lab. Smith is adopting a stoic, silent type of leading man, letting his actions tell the story. At this he does a fine job. A sort of relatable everyman in a dire circumstance. Him wandering the landscape gently affixes his sense of solitude to the viewer. By the way, how do filmmakers clear the streets like that? I mean, some of it is CGI, but the rest?

Speaking of CGI, I had a real issue (but not a big one) with the digitally rendered…well, everything in Legend. The effects were rather weak. You could almost smell the green screen wafting off the projector. What would be assumed to enhance the ferocity of the Dark Seekers only made them look rubbery and cartoon-like (still, rubbery scary cartoons). I admit I was watching a DVD on an HD television, but I’ve seen lower tech movies and the patchiness didn’t seep through. What the vamps lacked in looks, however, was made up for with screeches. So bravo Dolby.

The only other gripe I had was the film’s resolution. It had sort of a “duh” feeling to it. Considering what kind of man Robert Neville is, one would think he’d come to the proper conclusion light years ago. This would make the film really short though, and not worth the ten bucks admission. So we’ll ignore that as best we can for now.

Legend is very stark film, not unlike Matheson’s fiction. There is very little subtlety involved in the story. Bob’s alone, struggling to retain a sense of normalcy and avoiding the baddies. Not much else to the plot. You don’t really wonder if he’ll get out of this hell, nor do you invest much interest in that. It’s just watching him running errands basically. This was, in fact, the general feel of the novel some critics have said.

There are still very little amenities here. For instance, what attempts as humor here, doesn’t. It’s difficult to tell if it’s intentional or not. Smith has been understood as a comical presence in Hollywood, after all. And as for his acting, it’s some of the best he’s done in years. He’s essentially carrying the movie more or less by himself. He better be good. Again, and I hate to keep hammering on this, Neville’s sense of isolation really fills up the white space here.

Speaking of filling up space, there is next to no soundtrack. Silence—the absence of man-made noises like cars and general hustle and bustle—again creates the feeling of a desolate planet. How could you feel alone with smartphones bleeping everywhere? Like I said, stark.

Overall Legend was a pretty good little slice of cinema. I say little because it was released in the middle of December. Oscar time, not blockbuster time. And since it recouped only (yes, only) $100,000,000 at the box office, you could say it was a loss leader for Smith. Seeing that the original Men In Black movie raked in over $500,000,000, Will might have a long-ass time to go to shed some skin.

I liked Legend. I wouldn’t want to watch it again. For all its stylistic efforts, it lacked that je en sais quai I get from time to time, even from the bad sh*t I am tricked into watching. As I said it wasn’t typical Will Smith fare. Still, it had some merit as far as remakes go. It kept closer to the original source material, but even the tightest scenarists should know that following the book line for line leaves little room for interpretation. All that gooey solitude of the movie that I keep harping on was engrossing, but it did get tedious after a time. Maybe too much alone time with Will Smith’ll do that to you. Then again, the same can be said of Mathson’s stories.


Rant Redux (2019)…

I Am Legend was cut back in the “remake era” of moviedom, whatever that’s supposed to mean. According to some pop culture pundits we’re presently in the “reboot era.” What’s the diff and the point? In the original intro above I groused about the quadrillion remakes of good and not-so-good movies from yesteryear (EG: the 2000s), claiming—perhaps rightly so—Hollywood had gotten lazy, ran out of original ideas or banked on the notion of how Millennial sense of history is so palsied. Might have the hattrick there. In the end run audiences got bored with all the “new boss same as the old boss” folderol and the ticket taker showed exactly that. Despite Legend being one of the better remakes, the cracks were starting to show even then.

Now we have studios rebooting every franchise they can ferret out of the pre-WiFi vault. Probably also hedging their bets on Millennial knowledge of history, with all the world info in their pockets yet can’t work an ancient rotary dial phone. That’s not an insult; they could ask Alexa. You hear what I’m screaming? Right. I’d like to think that Gen X was the last generation that appreciates nostalgia. One doesn’t need nostalgia now; we have Facebook et al. Not a swipe, it’s true. That and most Millennials are so very forward-thinking, not ones to dwell on things left undone. There’s work to be done, achievements to reach, goals to scratch off the great To Do List of life. Who has time for longing after that year old memory? We have new ones to make!

Okay. Sorry. That’s as schmaltzy as I’m ever gonna get. Here.

So what does all that mean with this rebooting trend? Hollywood is trolling the Millennials. There were a lot of cool-ass movies series back in the ancient 80s and 90s (and 00s. Sigh). Let’s dress them up in some flash togs and market them to the forward-thinking brats and introduce the (market) value of nostalgia for stuff they never knew. Or wanted to. Or needed to. Do we really need another Bill & Ted sequel?

Sure. Rebooting isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor a cash cow. Picking up where we last left off is common in other media. Like when a rock group decides to reunite and tour. Or some spin-off of a popular TV series (EG: Cheers begat Fraiser, the many Star Trek series and the prequel Young Sheldon from Big Bang. Okay, two outta three ain’t bad). Or when some writer brings back a popular character for a new novel, like Jack Ryan, Lestat or every-bloody character from Kurt Vonnegut’s body of work. Jump-starting that rusted engine now and again allows the next generation of talent to see if their dog will hunt as Big Cinema crosses its arthritic fingers.

Rebooting, remaking, whatever. Hollywood is a business, commerce, trafficking in entertainment. At its core, like all bottom lines, Hollywood wants to make money, not art. If a film becomes “art” it does so by no means attached to the studios’ mission statements. A fine example is the classic Casablanca. No one intended it to be a classic, endlessly quotable, ideal ensemble piece during its production. No. Michael Curtiz was interested Howard Koch and friends’ concept of a film version of the play Everybody Comes To Rick’s. Only after the word-of-mouth, quotable quotes and ensuing awards, boom: classic. The film was made under the old studio system, so free press and agency were no-gos, not to mention the scalding absence of social media. Meaning: nope, Curtiz and company just had a job to, and the film itself was riddled with production problems and budgetary concerns despite being the nice, neat romantic triangle movie under the now standard 100 minutes long.

BTW: Trivia! Casablanca is the most quoted movie in Hollywood history. So here’s looking at you.

All that being said, remakes and its red-headed stepchild reboots can be a good thing. It all depends on the context and construct. Those two factors carry a lot of weight, especially when the movie in question is based on pre-exisiting media, like Legend was. Like with sequels, remakes and reboots have to demand: “Well, is there more of the story to tell? What can be added? What can be excised? Will it make money? Could you get off Instagram for one darn minute, Mr Producer?”

Re-whatever is a good thing if they can enhance a movie’s legacy. It’s hard to determine that if the continuous iterations fumble with the atmosphere of the originals against the story’s original potency, which invites future interpretations. Also what counts as a “re?” Consider all the adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. How many times has Romeo And Juliet been spun? We have from the definitive Zeffirelli version to the hip, 90s take with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Daines in their respective, titular roles. How about master Japanese director Akira Kurosawa plundering the Bard’s catalogue with samurai infused films like Throne Of Blood and Ran? Or even George Lucas plundering Kurosawa’s oeuvre gaffing-taping the plot of 1958’s The Hidden Fortress onto Star Wars: A New Hope? Christ, even the original Die Hard was ripped from a pedestrian novel.

Did all this creative theft prove right? Yes, if any of the above movies seem salient. Like way above, Legend was made into a movie four times over. I guess the story lent to fresher interpretations, and most of them were entertaining and made money. Unfortunately that’s the bitter bottom line, but occasionally those dollars made meant something. I did not intend for this revision to become a relatively even-handed screed about the pros and cons of re-anything, but the nature of Legend‘s being done again again lent some credence. I’d like to think so.

Oh, and as a coda: It was good to see Smith stretching himself by performing a one-man show, a la Tom Hanks in Castaway. That was the best part about the movie. If I Am Legend gets another do-over (I think it will), leave in all that solitude business. It kinda reminds me of myself carrying on this way to precious no one.

Hello? Wait, was it something I said? Come back, Shane!

(That last line was totally lost on the Millennials, despite its riffs in endless memes.)


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. We all need an awkwardly moody vampire/character study now and again.


Epilogue…

Well, that’s it, friends. Sanded off the rough edges of my early entries. Feels good to know after revisiting them I didn’t come across as a vomiting demon most of the time. Mostly. I suppose more barf may come up in future installments. Thanks to the evil social media I’ve learned my bile has become a stock-in-trade. I guess thanks are in order. You’re welcome.

So now it’s off to fertile fields. New territory. Gerard Butler to put in place. Business as usual. Hope you stay tuned. Excelsior!


Next Installment…

My man Don Cheadle is ex-con-turned-DJ Ralph “Petey” Green demanding his audience to Talk To Me so he may face the consequences.


RIORI Redux: M Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth” Revisited



The Players…

Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Zoe Kravitz and Sophie Okonedo.


The Story…

A thousand years in the future, Earth has been abandoned, its populace fleeing environmental degradation. Humanity sets up shop elsewhere, its home world forbidden and eventually all but forgotten. However because of a disastrous interstellar voyage, one General Cypher Raige and his young son, Kitai, are forced to crash-land on the long-abandoned, desolate Earth. Now alone and with his father gravely injured, Kitai must set out to find a rescue beacon that hopefully will save them from their cradle’s hostile, if not vengeful ecosystem.


The Rant (2013)

Another M Night Shyalaman movie?

Yes, another M Night Shyalaman movie. He is of ill repute lately, and his latest effort is no different in reflection. His hottest feature (this one) already has a notorious reputation for being a cataclysmic stink bomb at the multiplex. A failed summer blockbuster if there ever was one. Critics lacerated it. It grossed domestically only a fraction of its budgetary costs (but to be fair, it did recoup a lot overseas). It starred the once unimpeachable Will Smith, king of the summer blockbuster for over a decade, whose rep has now been inextricably damaged. Oh, by the way, it also co-stars his kid! Boo! Hiss! Piss on the screen!

Christ, the masses are a capricious bunch, aren’t we? It’s just a damned movie, after all.

First mistake: perceiving After Earth as is a sci-fi film.

Second mistake: modestly intelligent fans still address the genre as “sci-fi.” We don’t get no tornadoes made of sharks here in science fiction town. Really. No. I always preferred the genre designated as what writer Harlan Ellison termed “speculative fiction.” Stuff than could only exist in your imagination alone until it was time to be borne. Contemporary societal tropes shrouded with the allegory of the fantastic. That kinda stuff. There is, nowadays, very little “science” in science fiction. I doubt since the heady days of Jules Verne there has been much overt science in science-fiction at all, and that was over a century ago. Again, no. In the simpler terms of Ellison: If you like peanuts, you’ll love Sci-Fi!

Third mistake: perceiving this was meant to be a summer movie. After watching Earth, it has the aroma of a very late fall release, shrouded in falling leaves and freed from the farts and darts that we’ve all grown accustomed and/or numbed to during the summer popcorn releases. After Earth has little popcorn going for it. Also, it’s the first true leap Night has made into the spec-fic genre.

And that, curiously enough, is a good thing.

This movie is a film about the dynamics between a father and his son. Granted, it’s 1,000 years into the future, but I guess it’s safe to assume that such relations haven’t evolved too much from present times. I guess the only real diff is the current applications of clubs and flint. Anyway, families are alike all over.

I, like many ‘Mericans, enjoy the blockbusters Will Smith has hosted. Men In Black, Independence Day, Bad Boys, you get the idea. As of late, Will has been either dodging the summer spotlight or…oh, let’s face it. He wants to choose his own roles. Hell, he’s made his bones. Us duffers from Gen X remember him as either “The Fresh Prince Of Bell Air” or of one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and…you (might) get the idea.

Here’s this idea: Will Smith since entering cinema has always been a reliable source of charisma, audacity, and humor we’ve come to expect from a  21st Century film icon. Heretofore is a pleasant way to say you’ve been typecast. Like Leonard Nimoy (who directed a fair amount of reputable movies non-Trek related in the 80’s) as Mr. Spock, Smith is trying to shed his skin. And at the same time, striving to have his cake and…well, you know the drill Agent K (look here please)…huh?

Now the Fresh Prince has a son. And here’s the f*cked up thing about it: he’s a more interesting actor than his dad. You know, the multi-millionaire cinema icon dad former fresh prince dad. A well-adjusted 16-year old (at the time of this screed) son whose following in his dad’s footsteps. And a better, more convincing actor than his well-heeled dad has become.

You get it: I think Jaden Smith is a more engaging actor than Pops. Wanna know why? Earnestness. Every Will Smith movie stinks of bravado. Like the coffee pot that has set on the burner way too long into the morning and ignites a redolent smell of TP that has overspent its taint? Poor Will has had to live up to iconic status that, frankly, I don’t think he wanted in the first place. I’d like to imagine that the guy just wanted to try acting (and let’s facts. Every time Will tries to escape the predictable dumb comedy trope he inadvertently makes a profit. Must be stultifying).

Young Jaden, unhampered by typecasting, has carved out a much more eclectic niche than his rich-beyond-compare dad. I’ve seen the films tucked under Jaden’s belt. The remake of The Karate Kid was pretty good. The Pursuit of Happyness wasn’t bad (it co-starred his dad too.) And you wanna known what? There’s a reason why I credited the prime cast as I did (well, such as it was. There were less than at least eight humans I saw. And none of them Night. Looks like he saw my corollary). Jaden carried the film. And very well I might add. I found he conveyed appropriate emotion scene for scene better than his big-ticket dad (whom I’ve never seen act so damned stern before. The usual Big Willie charisma has all but vanished here).

As for the technical flourishes that are always evident in Night’s movies, After Earth was not for wanting. The sets and locations were nothing less than beautiful. The cinematography was exceptional. The film had an excellent score, courtesy of James Newton Howard (he makes the music to all of Night’s movies). And again CGI was used tastefully, not with splash and dash to make a lot of noise. On the contrary, After Earth is never a loud movie. It’s restrained and patient. It takes its time. This is probably why it failed as a summer movie. Too reserved. Or whatever expectations audiences have of Night’s movies, this failed too. This was the most linear, straight-forward tale Night has spun yet. Based in the traditional coming-of-age story and the dynamic of father/son bonding, Night cranked out a very simple, very affecting movie. I think toning down his alleged filmmaking monomania has done Night some good here.

Another element that is always present in Night’s movies and is not lost here is the idea of family. Every film the man has made revolves around the ties that bind, especially in Unbreakable and Signs. After Earth is no exception, and has been distilled down to the very basic element of family: parent and child, one caring for the other. It’s a simple dynamic, but an effective one, and I believe that if we didn’t have the prime cast consist of actual real-life father and son, the movie would not have worked. Most claim the film already didn’t work. Then again, it was summertime, people have expectations and the fact it was a Shyalaman film, there were also preconceived notions about what they were getting into. I guess this movie could remind us all of the immortal words of Flava Flav: don’t believe the hype.

To wrap it up, I have become slowly but surely aware of what I have been smearing all and up down Facebook between and betwixt my “friends” and what I regard as my local family of fleshoids (I enjoy Futurama), that I have since become somewhat of a fixture here. When I openly announced that I was gonna watch After Earth, the groans and screams were nothing less than satanically shrill. Anyways and simply put, audience screaming doesn’t make for a proper critique, especially if it’s the wrong time of year.


Rant Redux (2019)

Admittedly I have been rewatching some of these old films to get perspective on what I was trying to do back in 2013. Although I was drunk most of the time to endure some of the schlock, I think it’s fair to say that even professional movie critics need to watch a certain film more than once to have a solid opinion. Granted along come milestones like The Godfather, GoodFellas, Silence Of The Lambs, Annie Hall and others that require no further examination to decide they are great films. Sometimes, we have curiosities that need to percolate over the years for a proper verdict to be decided. Blade Runner, Night Of The Living Dead, They Live, 2001: A Space Odyessy, Die Hard and other possible cultish movies that just needed to steep awhile in the collective dark, deep teapot of the soul.

(Some good BS there, eh?)

Boink. After Earth is not one of those movies. By no means an outright bad flick, but we’ve all seen its like before. That being said, it seemed so has Night.

Pedestrian, formulaic and almost totally linear, Earth is a retread of a million S/F survival films and death is always a rude neighbor with endless kegs and a DJ that always spins Oakenfold spinning Oakenfold. And they never invite you over. Yeah, you’ve been here…there before.

I also believe this movie tanked because it sure as sh*t did not feel like a Night film at all. Suspense and utter weirdness has been the director’s stock in trade all his career. But sci-fi? Uh-uh. The difficultly in shooting a decent S/F movie is to bow to the will of interior logic and don’t apply a lot of deus ex machina or purport the future setting is indeed in the future. The best S/F films are loaded with social commentary and the human factor (EG: the original Planet Of The Apes, the aformentioned 2001Blade Runner, The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Matrix, etc), not gee-whiz-bucky-gizmo-Flash Gordon hyperbole. Okay, so the first Matrix movie had some of that, but the plot was classy and made you think.

That, to whit, is was makes S/F a genre special. Of course all movies may make you think, but science fiction must make you think in order to appreciate it. I suppose its why most Star Wars adherents declare that their pet saga is more fantasy than sci-fi. I can agree, and me being a Trekkie I dig the social commentary angle rather than the fantastic. Sorry. The rules of creating a decent S/F must be concrete.

Earth is abstract, propelled by a very generic plot device (EG: fathers and sons, fathers and sons…), technobabble, a lot of CGI hoopla, and nothing subtle for you to mull over. And the sick, sad part of it all is that Earth rolled out like Night was so original and clever delivering this pseudo-morality tale of family, redemption and forgiveness. It sure as sh*t has been done before many times. Ever see the original Star Wars trilogy? Yep.

There are two things about Earth that I did respect (and only two. Everything else was padding, fluff and afterthought) was the examination of solitude and enjoying the dynamics of an acting family working together. Consider other movies where parents and kids (and sometimes even elder generations) collaborate. On Golden Pond with its sentimental brittleness between Dad Henry and daughter Jane Fonda. Or the sheer goofiness (intentional or otherwise) of Kirk, Michael and Cam Douglas in the cheekily titled It Runs In The Family. Or heck, even the Murray family with Bill, Joel, John and Brian Doyle crossing paths in all sorts of media. It can be a real treat to watch how family collides with work when it comes to making movies; you can see where the lines blur. Smear would be a better term with Earth. Cypher and Kitan are as oil and water as you could get, yet a keen eye can tell Will Smith is really keen on working with his son on a movie. Perhaps that real-life bond softened the blow of a rather trite film. Call me a romantic.

Or just call me a dad who’s proud of his kid when she shows earnest creativity. At least more earnest than what Night tried here.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overruled: a mild relent it. Despite its flaws, the two factors I spoke of are interesting as they were played out. The rest? Meh, with a capital meh.


Even More Stray Observations…

  • Always always always wear your seat belt. Always.
  • Towards the beginning of act two: was that a scrunt?
  • “Put my damned cutlass away!”
  • Back in the days of old school anthology TV series (EG: The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, etc) certain episodes concocted an impetus to a story was some blah monster or a herd of alleged monsters. Such monster plot devices were dubbed “the bear.” In Earth the Raige’s have to best a nasty creature called an “ursa” hunting them. Night is a known Zone enthusiast, and you need to brush up on your Latin.
  • “Without knowing how to be alone, we cannot know how to be with others and sustain the necessary autonomy.” – bell hooks

Next Installment…

Ahoy! A quick trip back to the museum to see The Squid And The Whale square off again, starring that chick from Ozark and Atticus Finch.


 

RIORI Volume 3, Installment 11: Alex Proyas’ “I, Robot” (2004)


I, Robot


The Players…

Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, Bruce Greenwood and Chi McBride, with Shia LeBeouf and James Cromwell.


The Story…

In mid-21st Century Chicago, robots have displaced humans in almost every way from menial labor and the tedium of modern life. Robots are made to serve humanity, provide for and protect them; it’s in their basic programming. However, when one of the newer models appears to have gone rogue and killed its creator, it’s up to technophobe Det. Del Spooner to crack the case. No robot has ever harmed, let alone killed anyone before. But as a smirking Del could tell you, there’s a first time for anything.


The Rant…

Science fiction as a genre has always been a strange beast. Ostensibly, SF concerns itself with futuristic concepts like space travel, alien cultures and technology unbound. However, it is at heart stories, parables and satire about the human condition under a very focused lens. I say this in comparison to most “straight” fiction; novels are almost always about the human condition in relation to the conflicts that people encounter through life, love and leaving using very broad strokes. Ultimately its aim is the same as straight fiction. But their messages are usually subjective, albeit we as people being the subject. We always take away something personal in the abstract from reading a novel or short story or poem or whatever.

SF is objective. Very objective. The lens I mentioned is aimed squarely at the human condition as isolated from environments very not human. You know, artifices couching the nature of humanity against backdrops of warp drive, terraforming, artificial intelligence, etc. Sure, these ideas entice fans of SF—or maybe just the plain curious—into entering adventures exploring other worlds, but the core of SF tales is examining the human factor with a very specific concept in mind: paradoxes. Sure, there are paradoxes in congenital stories, too, like doing the wrong thing for the right reason and whatnot. In SF the issues arise like what happens to humanity when all this advancement begins to whittle away at very fiber of what it truly means to be human? And what exactly is that anyway? Does it really lie within us all, or does the Universe have all the answers out there somewhere? Or is it all just the yin chasing the yang for all eternity? Is that how it’s always been?

*belch*

That was deep. Sorry about that.

No shocker. I’ve always dug science fiction. It must’ve been when I first saw Star Wars at an early age that I caught the bug. Now I know the die-hard fans are presently screaming at me and wadding up empty beer cans to remind me that the adventures of Han, Yoda and Chewie are fantasy. Look. I was six. A New Hope had spaceships and aliens and robots (droids, whatever). It was science fiction. I’m not a real Star Wars fan, and never looked very deep into its philosophical machinations or ever widening mythos. It was just that the ideas of space travel and robotics and sh*t like that really tickled my pre-teen fancy. Maybe I’ll tell you about my other fancies another time, if you’re nice.

*winks*

(Speaking of the next Star Wars  movie, I can only imagine what JJ Abrams is gonna do to the franchise after seeing his Star Trek spectacles. Permanently grind Harry Ford’s career into powder seems most probable).

So big surprise, I watched a lot of other SF movies also. You know; the biggies. Prereqs. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Alien, its sequel Aliens (to which I can quote the dialogue—“Game over, man!”—verbatim) from James Cameron as well as his Terminator films and—by my opinion, his best film—The Abyss. Of course there was the original Star Wars trilogy, in addition to Dune (quit laughing. I thought it was great, but only the unedited, three-plus hour director’s cut). And a good chunk of Spielberg’s projects, although I should’ve avoided Jurassic Park 2. I did the whole schmeer. I also somehow parlayed this youthful enthusiasm into taking on a bizarre examination of spacey sounding electronic/modernist musicians like Kraftwerk and Phillip Glass. Hey, I was a teen. In hindsight I don’t get it either. Now back off and quit smacking me with your pressings of Yoko’s Season Of Glass. I can hear that the snow is falling!

*Pardon the interruption. The Webmaster has called in the Obscurity Police to beat your friendly, neighborhood blogger back to his senses with rubber hoses and a threat to drastically decrease his allotted bitspace*

Whew. Back. Ow. Where was I? Oh, yeah: sci-fi. Who’s Phillip Glass?

Naturally, I also read quite a bit of the big names of SF: Bradbury, Asimov, Ellison, Dick, Gibson and Clarke. Clarke—Arthur C, that is—was one of my faves. Got hip to him after seeing 2001. His books really made you think, and not in some fantastical way like Bradbury or Dick did. Clarke’s books were so painfully steeped in actual science and creating not only plausible, but feasible futurescapes it demanded you to not ask yourself, “Well, what if?” but rather, “Hey, why not?” Clarke’s works were so damned prescient it made the reader, if they were paying attention, almost demand of society, “What’s taking so long? We can do this! We have Science!” (cue Thomas Dolby orchestra hit). I guess it’s not all that surprising that the guy who invented the geosynchronous orbiting satellite and predicted digital tablets—2001’s “datapad” concept beat iPads to the fore by a good forty years—would awash his books with not only science but its development, applications and possible dangers, like nuclear war and homicidal AI. Such musings invited several paradoxical devices that are now SF story staples. Science versus psychology.

Although Clarke’s take on the human factor was decisively optimistic, his tales were rather cold. Recall my rambling above (which part?) about the tight lens? Virtually all of Clarke’s stories deal with such examinations in very stark contexts. Not in a cynical fashion, but in basic terms, all this tech cannot deliver humans from the truth that we are all animals at heart. In a Golding sense, the beast is just below the surface waiting to get out. That is, unless science—reason—wins out. Clarke’s techscapes often don’t, and the caution he insinuated in his prose later made manifest with political malfeasance, abuse of science and the perils of technology dehumanizing us. But hell, such a bleak outlook sure made for a killer SF movie in 2001, crazy HAL 9000 or no. Talk about the dangers of AI. Whew.

(An aside: I once heard NASA nixing the idea of a master computer program that watchdogged the total operation of the Enterprise, the first space shuttle, after considering what HAL did in 2001. No lie. Now that’s what Clarke was talking about! Ba-zinga!)

Speaking of AI, Clarke’s buddy Isaac Asimov had a lot to say about the emergence of artificial intelligence also, but in a more theological way, continuing SF paradoxes. Unlike Clarke, Asimov was much, much more philosophical—some would claim flowery—in his endeavors than his comrade ever was. Despite his stories employing devices—some would say trappings—of space travel, alien cultures and technology unbound, Asimov’s worlds were all about humanity’s place in the universe on a metaphysical level. You know. The human condition under that damned magnifying glass where being human seems so small and insignificant and blah blah blah. Asimov took his sh*t way beyond the beyond. If you’ve ever read his Foundation trilogy, you hear what I’m screaming.

After Foundation, Asimov’s Robot chronicles are his most famous, if not defining contribution to the genre. I think its tenets are applied today to real-life robotic engineers. Asimov’s cautionary tales not doubt influenced robotic engineers to be quite judicious in designing their machines as well programming code for all their subroutines. Wouldn’t want the slaves becoming the masters and all that. I’d say in part thanks to Asimov’s foresight, such careful designing explains why the articulated welding robots in Detroit don’t ask for coffee breaks (that and not needing coffee) or the drones erasing brown people from the Mideast complain about vertigo.

Just a minute. Fox News is on the phone. BRB.

*flushes iPhone down toilet*

Don’t worry. It had a Catalyst case. And I own a plunger. I was saying?

Book one of the Robot stories, I, Robot, dealt with the human factor in a world populated by AI. Robots built to serve humanity and so on, and all the abstract ramifications that go with it. One of the automatons achieves self-awareness, and this invites all sorts of navel gazing about the nature of self, the sanctity of life, what makes being human being human and yadda yadda yadda. If it sounds like I’m downplaying Asimov’s magnum opus, I am, if only to reflect on this week’s installment and being snarky for snark’s sake. As I have said before, I have my own Standard to maintain, too.

Me being all ribald and a d*ck is also reflective as a paradox between SF—supposedly focused on exactitude of the human condition—and how its message is inflicted on popular culture via the media, in this case movies. We’re not taking about any of those sociopolitical, esoteric or humanist objectives found in classic SF stories. Nope. We be talkin’ ‘bout the usual culprit in Tinsel Town that gives us less art for more money: profits.

He we go again. More paradox stuff.

SF master Harlan Ellison wrote an infamous essay entitled “Xenogenesis” commenting on how SF fans fail to appreciate the work their idols do in trying to examine above human factor message thingy. The title refers to a phenomenon in nature when occasionally an offspring does not resemble its parent Think “The Ugly Ducking” parable. Well, that works in making most SF movies, too, especially if it’s an adaptation of a book. The offspring sometimes does not resemble the parent.

Keeping Ellison in mind, here comes a good example of how SF can get a tad perverted when it comes to making a movie. Take notes. There might be a quiz later.

James Cameron’s sophomore effort was his now-legendary The Terminator. Of note, his debut film was a B-movie munchkin called Piranha 2: The Spawning. That movie entailed the hi-jinks surrounding exploring shipwrecks, killer fish and people wantonly f*cking on the beach. Also—true story—Cameron never even finished directing the film due to food poisoning (Hell, we all gotta start somewhere). Now I’m not gonna bash Cameron. I’ve enjoyed all his films, even the drippy Titanic and the goofy True Lies. But there are circumstances surrounding the uniqueness of The Terminator’s storyline that have been circulating for years in regards to its origin. Again, the beast did not exactly reflect its parentage.

For those who don’t know The Terminator’s plot by now, here you go. For those who do know, I do not care: An assassin cyborg from 2029 travels backwards in time 45 years. Its mission is to find and kill a woman that will eventually give birth to a child who will grow up to lead the uprising against the hordes of evil, sentient machines bent on eradicating humanity. The cyborg—the titular terminator—is an example of what happens when Asimov’s robot laws are not adhered to, by the way.

To rescue the woman, the humans sent back their own emissary to save her and hopefully subdue the terminator, an elite ‘bot-killin’ soldier who has the skills to pay the bills. The rest is a lot cat-and-mouse chase scenes, ridiculous stunts, heavy firepower and a lot of stuff going kerboom. That and Arnie shooting a lot of people. I mean a lot. This is where Schwarzenegger’s dubious film career takes flight. Still a great film, by the way.

Here’s where things get all blurry. It’s when the paradox occurs, when Hollywood mucks with what makes SF unique: analyzing the human condition in an environment that makes humanity insignificant. I’m not faulting Cameron here, not exactly. His mistake was a combination of fanboy worship, directorial enthusiasm and more than a little hubris. Where an ignorant Hollywood got their thumb in the pie is where the trouble with The Terminator’s production lay.

It wasn’t shown in the theatrical release, but on home video—right as the end credits rolled—The Terminator director and crew gave a shout-out to Harlan Ellison for his inspiration. In actuality this was less of giving kudos and more like a sort of limp-wristed slow clap. The tribute was added to appease the mercurial, often litigious Ellison who felt (correctly) that he was both robbed of creative credit and therefore any possible royalties the film would generate. Ellison sued, and the case was settled out of court where the man eventually got his due. Issue more or less resolved. In the end and by his own admission, Ellison thought The Terminator was great by the way

So what does ol’ Harlan have to do with Cameron’s The Terminator? Simply put, Ellison wrote the stories—teleplays, actually—on which the movie was based. Cameron modestly boosted ‘em, and without apology.

Back in the ‘60’s there was ABC’s answer to CBS’ revered Twilight Zone TV anthology series, The Outer Limits. Limits was much darker (and freakin’ scarier) than its cousin. It focused on hard, stark, apocalyptic science fiction rather than Rod Serling’s social commentary disguised as fantasy. Ellison himself penned a pair of Limits scripts, two of the best. One was simply titled Soldier, and was about a programmed-to-kill mercenary from the distant future who accidentally gets zapped into the past only to be pursued by his enemy. Our soldier eventually bests his adversary while defending the family that rescued him. The other tale, Demon With A Glass Hand, is about an android charged with protecting the last vestiges of humanity from an invading alien army from the future hell-bent on colonizing Earth.

Sound vaguely familiar?

After seeing The Terminator, Ellison felt the same way, hence the lawsuit. Cameron eventually fessed up to caging the stories and mutating them into his movie. However—not unlike an unexpected guest at a funeral—a paradox occurred. Hollywood failed to catch wind of Cameron’s tooling during production. To this day I find that amazing to believe. You wanna know how much oversight Hollywood has to maintain avoiding creative culpability? They have phalanxes of lawyers at the ready to make sure no scenarist or director—directly or inadvertently—lifts some other artist’s property, claim it as their own, and damn well ignore any copyright laws being f*cked with. If that ever happens—perhaps in Ellison’s case—much face and many, many dollars would be lost.

Well, it happened anyway with the first Terminator. One would think that Hollywood would’ve—should’ve—been more careful, especially with Ellison active in both TV and film. I guess they smelled a hit (on the cheap, too), as well as the bucks oozing from Ah-nuld’s every pore. Besides (shrug), science fiction is junk culture anyway, and who really reads anymore except maybe SF fans? And after all, The Terminator was more or less an action movie anyway, so why split hairs?

Well, Ellison brought out the shears. The reason why Harlan probably didn’t destroy Cameron’s career outright despite the lifted material is that Cameron handled the script in a very shrewd way. Even if The Terminator was overtly an action flick, it had enough sincere hallmarks handled very cagily to appease most SF proponents. Including Ellison apparently, who later went on the record saying he knew the film’s source material was impeccable—wink wink, nudge nudge. So beers all around, and Tinsel Town narrowly dodges (yet another) bullet.

And that’s the story of Avatar, the galaxy’s greatest Dances With Wolves rip-off. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously though, you might be asking yourself: what does all that have to do with I, Robot, the books and the film? Xenogenesis. A paradox. I, Robot the film barely suggests any affiliation with Asimov’s stories. Like The Terminator, Robot is mostly an action film with a healthy dose of “whodunit?” thrown in. But did it do a keen enough job on its own merit to earn the praise and street cred The Terminator received?

Well…


Chicago detective Del Spooner (Smith) has a secret. It’s more an open secret. He hates robots. And when you’re living in the city that seats the multi-national, multi-billion dollar US Robotics Corporation, you find yourself in a boatload of hate.

US Robotics is responsible for the lion’s share of both domestic and labor robots that displaced humans from doing the crap jobs no one wants to do. The ‘bots take out the trash, they dig ditches, they’re menservants to the general public who don’t want to walk their own dogs anymore. Spooner feels that all this anthropomorphic slave labor dehumanizes people, makes them lazy. Del’s a low tech kind of guy, and likes it that way. Less fuss, more hands-on stuff.

It’s no surprise that Spooner’s got it in for robots, so much so that he’s always on the lookout for any robotic criminal behavior, which never comes. Robots are funny like that. They are programmed to never harm a human, always protect humans and always sacrifice themselves in order to serve mankind. Spooner’s CO Lt. Bergin (McBride) is always quick to remind him of that. No robot has ever, ever committed a crime. Neither purse snatching nor murder. Del is tilting at windmills. Despite this irrefutable fact, Spoon’s prejudices keep him both on edge and perpetual surveillance.

Then one day Del’s paranoia pays off. You know what they say; you only have to be right once.

There’s been a murder at US Robotics HQ. The victim is Spooner’s on again/off again connection in the robot industry, Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell), the brain trust for all robot design and programming. Looks like the good doctor took a long walk off a short pier from his lab from many stories up to the concourse below. Lanning left a holographic memento for Spooner. A vauge warning to him of some possible nefarious activities bubbling just below USR’s spotless surface.

Before Spoon can scream conspiracy, Lanning’s protégé Dr Laura Calvin (Moynahan) comes to his assistance. Del falls back on his suspicions and proposes to her that one of Lanning’s creations went on the fritz and committed patricide. Although distraught, Calvin reassures the detective about robotic programming. No robot can harm nor be permitted to harm a human being. Whatever.

Investigating Lanning’s lab, Del and Calvin are assaulted by one of the latest iterations of Lanning’s work, a very human-like robot calling itself Sonny (Tudyk). Sonny’s the prime suspect, and after being subdued it’s taken into custody for questioning. Sonny pleads for leniency and justice and bemoans any possibility that it would kill its “father.”

Needless to say, Del’s not convinced. Sonny is dodgy—a rather human trait—about what went down that fateful day. By matter of right place/wrong time, Sonny’s case isn’t looking too good. But the machine carries on about “programming” and “service” and Lanning wanting it to be all over.

“It?” What “it?”

Maybe Spooner’s phobia isn’t all that unfounded after all. Something stinks in the bowels of USR, and either by personal prejudice, corporate greed, a righteous sense of justice or simply the lure of a unique case, both Del and Calvin are going to get to the bottom of this.

But both better be careful, the walls—the city—has ears. Not to mention a very large robot population…


Just the other day, my buddies asked me which movie was on the menu for the newest installment of RIORI. When I told them I, Robot, it turned out they had a few thoughts—and Standards—of their own regarding this cinematic trifle. This may illustrate that The Standard regarding the movies I scrape down to the bare metal here might be onto something. All I have to do now is figure out what.

The responses I got were equally divided, from “I like that movie” to blargh, and up came two feet of intestine. For everyone who said that I, Robot was a good way to waste a Saturday afternoon, someone else was scratching their head. I even had one guy (who wasn’t too fond of the film) cite a few scenes that really confused him. This isn’t a spoiler; the scene had no real bearing on the flow of the plot, so this shouldn’t hurt a bit.

He asked me about what was up with Det. Spooner and his beloved black Chuck Taylors. There were a few scenes apropos of nothing Spooner injected to the matter of his choice footwear. My friend didn’t get it. What was the big deal with the shoes? I answered in kind:

“Spooner just likes Converse,” I said frankly, “and it’s also product placement.”

This satisfied him, but not the whole deal with screen time dedicated to foot fashion when there was possibly a killer robot on the loose. This is where I return to the SF paradox again. Such glitches are rife within big ticket SF, even famous and popular franchises. How does Darth Vader go from gunning for Luke in the first movie to then recruiting him in the second? How was ET able to heal Elliot with a touch but unable to heal himself? Why was it that in the original Terminator Reese explained no inorganic matter could pass through the time machine but in TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles a severed, metal skull of a destroyed Terminator bounced into the past? Ripley bails on her crewmates to rescue a friggin’ cat? And what was up with Data using contractions in the first season of Star Trek: TNG?

(Hey, trivia time. The whole Alien cat thing? It was director Scott’s nod to old timey nautical superstition, not to mention serving as sort of a retrograde dues ex machina. Back in the day, when a ye olden wooden ship was going down, it was considered very unlucky to leave the ship’s cat behind lest there’d be no rescue. Cats were kept onboard to keep stowaway rats that would chew on both rations and rigging  at bay, thereby being unsung, essential members of the crew. No pocky for kitty. You heard it here. Anyway…)

Yeah, yeah. I know. Splitting hairs. But hardcore SF movie/TV fans notice such stickiness (as much as Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead freaks do), and it often causes a mild form of cognitive dissonance. It’s enough to have the dedicated viewer chuck the remote through the screen. Such paradoxes are commonly defined as betraying interior logic.

Let’s face it; the worlds of SF make up their own rules in order to advance the story. The rules must make sense, be relevant to and obeyed within the plot at all times. Sure, we know Han Solo and Greedo aren’t real, and neither are their blasters, but when Lucas f*cked around with the editing it put Star Wars geeks into a foaming uproar. The scene either upset or codified Han Solo as a soulless merc or just a guy trying to keep on keeping on.

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example. But here, consider this scenario instead: when Ripley finally bests the xenomorph in Alien 3 by somehow using the laws of physics (which are serious business in SF) in reverse? Possible spoiler, but doesn’t hot metal usually contract rather than expand when introduced to freezing cold water? Flubs like that makes the needle skitter over the average SF fan’s Philip Glass record. I heard such a thing once, which is now why I’m sterile. But later such evil exams result in 8-Track collection of Cluster to turn into Vaseline.

(And I hear them bootstraps being pulled up by hands still clutching cans of PBR.)

Anyway, I, Robot defies interior logic a lot, especially since the thing can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s a cop caper, a meditation on existence, a sci-fi parable or a Matrix disillusion. The movie defies interior logic due to the simple fact of its schizoid nature; the plot’s convoluted and crams too much story (all nine and next to none of Asimov’s opus) into its theatrical running time. I, Robot probably could’ve gone on for over four hours. Be glad it barely broke two.

The average movie freak—the guys like me who crave these things: beer, a good seat, surround sound and a patient date who would put up with the nerdy film geek sh*t quacking openly about this and that on screen—would appreciate this. Here: One of the biggest strengths of Robot is its visuals. Yeah, I know; if this is a sci-fi flick, it had better look interesting with lots of techno splash and dash. Well not this time. I’ve always preferred my SF to not be so fantastic more than plausible. Future Chicago here looks like how it could possibly be 20 years from now. The cars, the trains, the architecture, all of it looks plausible, and not gaudy or stylized like in some anime movie (think Akira). Chicago 2035 looks like any metropolis, only with slightly more advanced tech, different fashions and an altered skyline. That and there are f*cking robots marching everywhere.

You could see yourself there, and since the city is on the whole pretty mundane populated with average people, it should come as no real surprise that our hero Spooner is (at first glance) your Average Joe cop. In fact, Smith’s character is your stereotypical cop who prefers to play by his own rules. I guess even in the future some things never change, which is a shame. Sure, Spooner has a somewhat interesting backstory, and we want to know what his issue with robots is, but something’s off the mark.

It’s Smith’s acting. He’s very stiff. Big Willie’s charm is still there, though, but subdued and mired with much sarcasm. Over the course of the film, it becomes painfully apparent that Will is rather bored with his character. The zippiness he’s shown in his other SF movies (the Men In Black series, I Am Legend and Independence Day) is all but absent here. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or for the sake of plot, like trying to add some gravitas to his role or something. In any event, audiences know Smith as charming. His charm and humor come naturally, even in “serious” roles like Six Degrees Of Separation, Seven Pounds and The Pursuit Of Happiness. By the by, I’m not counting his performance as the titular character in Ali. We all know the great heavyweight was an even mix of personality, humor and charm. Not much of a stretch for Smith there. If you’re curious, a good example of a charmless Smith? After Robot, watch After Earth. The film was okay. Willie was not. And his rigidity don’t work here to good neither.

That’s the big problem with Robot. It’s not just Spooner is a stereotype. Everyone in the movie is a cut-and-paste, fill-in-the-blank, connect-the-dots nonentity. We have the grizzled cop with issues. We have Moynahan’s brilliant but underappreciated scientist (perhaps cuz she’s a girlie. So much for sexual equality in the future) who has all the answers. We have Smith’s Riggs to McBride’s Murtaugh as the higher up, scolding Spooner for being paranoid and lackadaisical. We have Bruce Greenwood’s slimy, overreaching executive now in charge of a billion dollar company and all the bells and whistles that go along with that. We have our Mr. Bodie, Dr. Lanning, the revered super genius scientist/Dr. Frankenstein. We have our cast of nobodies, and an audience really can’t rally around a cast that’s so flat and hollow to summon any real emotional attachment.

Save one: Sonny.

This is forced credit—perhaps with forced irony—but at the end of the day, Tudyk’s performance as the robot perpetrator seems the most human and fully formed. That is to say, at least without pretense. Sonny’s honest demeanor and childlike emotions are the only thing we can hang on to in Robot. He’s the most interesting character (the only one, actually), and let’s face it, the movie’s whole raison d’être. Robot’s world is comprised of a lot of trite dialogue, half-baked ideas and a needlessly rushed and convoluted plot, but we got this cool robot here conveying more emotion and compelling motivations than the rest of the flesh and blood cast, or at least those not rendered via CGI. But an Xmas tree with only one branch makes for a lousy place to hang all those ornaments. Ho ho ho.

There were a lot of technical red flags with Robot, too, and I ain’t just talking robo-jargon. Remember what I said about science fiction having to obey its interior logic? Well, I’m not one hundred percent sure if this applies to Robot’s byzantine meditation on life and freewill.

The following could be construed as a spoiler, but it doesn’t really give away any significant plot points or twists or whatever. Robot is technically a murder mystery disguised as a sci-fi tale, and the whole motive behind Sonny’s alleged murder is wrapped up in his programming. I’ll keep it short: robots cannot kill, but Sonny is a new model, programmed to think and emote like a human. He is accused of killing his creator and gets very emotional about it, claiming his innocence. His newer programming allows him a sense of freewill, and therefore capable of acting on his emotions. But he is still a robot, and his basic programming still applies. These points are hammered on throughout the movie. So Sonny is capable of killing, understands the nature of it, quite capable, has motive (albeit not his own, or maybe it was. The plot vacillates between these points as it is convenient to the hair-brained scheme of things) but stills asserts his basic code. Then gets perilously close to breaking it. In sum, if these laws are immutable to all robots, then how can Sonny seem to willfully defy them when it suits the situation?

Headache yet? I sure as sh*t got one.

The whole wad above is an insidious yet glaring technical issue—one of many regarding Robot’s execution—that makes the movie hop the tracks. Robot is trying very hard to be an SF movie, but any keen eye can see that this is merely a shiny, shiny murder mystery/action/thriller. Asimov’s concepts are barely touched upon; save the three robot laws, nothing else was adapted into the script, which ultimately sucked all the smart from Asimov’s stories that made his whole series so compelling in the first place. Even the end credits cite Asimov’s work being merely “suggested” as the basis for the movie. Would’ve Robot been better if the root stories were more closely adhered to? Probably not, considering all its other flaws besides a weak script.

Again with the pacing. It’s stuttering, like trying to start your car on a winter’s morning. Stop, go, crank, repeat, ignition, fart. Robot plays out like a CD with a scratch in it; just when things feel smooth sailing, there comes a hiccup in the story. Examples include the many, many, many times Sonny swoops in and out of character, or the heavy duty big science/philosophical exposition Del and Laura get into as if to explain the SF minutiae to the confused audience (perhaps who are fans of and understand how SF works). You gotta find a groove telling a story with film. If you keep mucking with the mixture, regardless of the genre, all you’re doing is cementing an audience’s suspicion: the story is weak, and the director is merely slapping mortar onto the crumbling dam.

Speaking of directing, Robot is sorely lacking in a signature facet of director Proyas. I think some of it injected into the movie would’ve made it more compelling. Robot needs a healthy dose of Alex Proyas’ weirdness. Compared to The Crow and Dark City, Robot cannot compare. This is Proyas’ first “straight” film, and it shows. It’s a failed blockbuster. Betting on Proyas’ cachet as a director of psychological fantasy, I’ll be willing to wager that the studio heads figured they found their SF Wes Anderson. I’ll also bet they hedged their bets and stripped out the overtly “weird” elements of Asimov’s story lines, tempered Proyas’ verve, dropped a whole boatload of cash into a derivative movie with cool CGI, Will Smith and that funny Aussie-Egyptian director of that comic book flick about Bruce Lee’s dead son as a dead rock star at the helm minus the sharpness of a science fiction story and hope the sloppy general public will come in droves. Will Smith!

Uh, no. Proyas’ talent with weird was wasted (or at most heavily diluted) on Robot. Watching it I could feel that any action director could’ve fit the bill. We landed in John McTiernan territory here, and our movie demanded some strangeness to lighten the mass media load with its not so subtle commentary on tech consumer bread and circuses. No, Robot needed some spice that only Proyas with hands untied could provide.

Still, for all its clumsy flaws, Robot had a handful of notable bright spots. Like I said, the visuals were interesting, albeit not necessarily compelling. But when used right, they worked. For instance, the insect/hive mind of the robots made for some cool choreography (although the Matrix-esque action camera work got a tad disorienting sometimes, but still in a good way). There’s something rightfully unsettling about swarms of malicious robots crawling across the cityscape, with humans cowering in their wake. This paired with keen use of lighting goes quite far in heightening visual tension. As if in reflection of the bland human cast, Sonny and his kind did their best to keep the audience engaged in the drawn-out, often frustratingly protean storyline by actually showing “honest” emotion. A gold star to Tudyk, who in my opinion was the real star and walked away with the movie, such as it was.

Ah, me. Yep, science fiction can be pretty heady. Seems the best SF films often are about, or at least hint at “big concepts.” The paradox of making a good SF film, or even a mediocre one like Robot is in figuring out how to keep that essential interior logic in check, maintaining a modicum of “smart” and inject just enough vitality and action to keep the heady sh*t bounding along without fear of pitfalls. Want to have that cake to eat.

2001 had it. The original Terminator had it. I, Robot? Not so much. What’s worse is that it wasn’t even a true science fiction movie. It was a police procedural, and a rather stock one at that.

By the way, the blogger wishes to acknowledge the influence of Harlan Ellison on this week’s installment. Just in case.

*again, wink*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. I, Robot was nothing more than a high concept episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. And not a very good one either. Plus, steer clear of The Crow: City Of Angels. Proyas sure did.


Stray Observations…

  • Nice touch with Stevie Wonder there, if a bit on the nose.
  • “Better be the last nothing.”
  • Technically speaking, Sonny and Co. aren’t robots; they’re androids. Androids are robots designed to look like people. Robots are designed to look like they could weld a Cadillac’s chassis together.
  • “Nice shoes.” Cute metaphor.
  • What the hell’s a “Café Ovaltine?” They give you a decoder pin with your latte?
  • “Do you ever have a normal day?”
  • “Ghost in the machine” is courtesy of Jung, not Asimov. And definitely not Dr Lanning.
  • “I’ll see my own doctor.”
  • Del’s robo-prejudice pans out as a tad weak. From the get go we’d’ve figured there’d be a bigger back story than REDACTED (that’s f*cking better than the usual pussy “spoiler alert.” Think I’m gonna use that from now on).
  • “That one’s me.”

Next Installment…

Charlize Theron is a frustrated writer of Young Adult novels, and lately her own story is an example of life imitating art. And we ain’t talkin’ no Sweet Valley High here neither.


 

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 18: Francis Lawrence’s “I Am Legend” (2007)


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The Players…

Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan…and Abbey.


The Story…

When a contagion spreads across the planet and turns the human race into bloodthirsty mutants, civilization’s last hope for survival lies with scientist Robert Neville, the last normal man on Earth.


The Rant…

Richard Matheson’s writing has never been regarded as “subtle.” In fact, his work has been compared to the literary equivalent of being bashed in the head with a sledgehammer, and this an alleged complement. Then again, there’s nothing really subtle about the concept of being ridden down by an unholy fleet of blood-sucking vampires out to chew your ass, which happens to be attached to the only human left on the planet. Pressure.

For those not in the know, Matheson was a quietly prolific writer of suspense and science fiction; some of his work was translated to many original episodes of the seminal TV series The Twilight Zone. For those in the know, he penned the classics “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,” “The Invaders” and “Third From The Sun” (oh yeah…that guy). Steven Speilberg’s first feature, Duel, was based on the short story of the same name. Several of his novels were adapted for Hollywood also, like Hell House, What Dreams May Come (which won an Oscar), A Stir Of Echoes and, yes, I Am Legend.

That particular novel has been made into a movie four times, including this version as well as the classic adaptations starring the inimitable Vincent Price and that damned dirty ape-hater Charlton Heston. So in long, Matheson’s fantastical work has proven to be quite versatile and malleable for the silver screen, stylized to fit the tastes and times. In short, he’s Stephen King’s favorite author and primary influence. Both say something about earning an audience.

That being said, it begs the question: “Four times?!?” What, they didn’t get it right the first three?

In this our 21st Century, we moviegoers have been bombarded with remakes of classic (and not so classic) movies. Here’s a story: years ago, 2004 into ’05, when I was a practicing alcoholic (I got real good at it too) and had a lot of down time to indulge in whiskey and cinema, I noticed a lot of commercials for new movies that I knew to be remakes. Since I had the time, I decided to keep track of how many films came out that year that were either remakes, reboots or sequels (or even prequels).

I counted 40. I sh*t you not. I double-checked this via the IMDb.

Forty. That’s a lot of laziness on behalf of Hollywood. And a mean way to fleece money off people. I guess the bigwigs figured the majority of moviegoers were either too lazy or too ignorant and wouldn’t bat an eyelash for a retread of a pre-existing film. Americans in general already have miniscule attention spans already; nostalgia is breakfast. Maybe the movie moguls were right. It might explain why I Am Legend is the fourth iteration of this movie whose origins span 40 years into the past. That’s pre-Internet, so what’d you expect?

Wait, wait. I’m not saying all remakes are bad. Some are quite good, like Hitchcock’s second go-round with The Man Who Knew Too Much, John Sturges’ classic western The Magnificent Seven, or even Mark Waters’ much-needed update of Freaky Friday. So before we pass (anymore) judgment, let’s pick apart the latest version of a classic man-versus-vampires epic and see on which side of fence it falls…


Geneticist Robert Neville (Smith) was a specialist for the US Army. Was. His life has changed a bit since then. In 2009, the men in the white lab coats made a breakthrough in medical science. The good news, by a means of introducing a retrograde virus into the subject’s recombinant DNA, they have found a cure for cancer. The bad news, it might turn you into a bloodthirsty freak. Uh-oh.

Fast forward three years. Earth is a wilderness. Manhattan is a desert island. The once proud skyline is crumbling. Nature has reasserted herself. No taxicabs. No Internet. No Starbucks. Not a human soul remains. Save one. Robert Neville. By all means, he’s the last human on Earth. Immune to the plague he inadvertently helped in creating and dodging any mutant that might cross his threshold.

During the day, Robert whiles the daylight away by hunting, foraging, playing golf off of the tail of an SR-71 Blackbird and just trying to keep busy or else lose his mind. He holes himself up in lab in the basement of his Washington Square brownstone, now a bunker, trying to cook up a remedy for the virus that has turned Earth’s populace into what are essentially vampires. Dark Seekers are the technical terms. By night he locks down the house, cracks out the heavy artillery and waits for day to come. All the while things outside are going bump in the night.

Time alone is endless. Well, Robert’s not exactly alone. His only companion is his German Shepherd Sam (Abbey), an anchor of sanity in his lonely purgatory. And a reminder of his past, when things were simpler and a lot less bloody. She’s his best buddy, and together they’re like a married couple. There are scary things out there. Best keep tight to your friends…friend.

Like clockwork, Robert broadcasts on the AM dial a distress/rescue message to any survivors out there. It’s a call of sanction, but moreover it’s a plea for help. Because every day that dies into night might be his last day. After all, for a man that’s lost everything—everything—in his world, it’d be nice to share the nothingness with another human being.

Will Dr. Neville find a cure for the virus? Will he survive the onslaught of hungry mutants? Is he doomed to be alone forever? Only time will tell, and Robert Neville has nothing but that…


This film received some inordinate bits of flack by critics and audiences alike. Mostly directed at Smith. Like I noted in my After Earth dissection, I figure Smith is tiring of the maverick, comical roles he’s made his money on. Audiences seem like they’re not ready for a serious, dour individual like Robert. Like all the characters he’s portrayed most of his career, people would prefer to have Agent Jay or even the Fresh Prince up there on the big screen. But like with Adam Sandler’s constant re-hashing the buffoon roles, occasionally you gotta pull a Punch Drunk Love.

I Am Legend is not your conventional vampire movie. For one, the term “vampire” isn’t mentioned once. The Dark Seekers are not pseudo-romantic, quasi-sexual beings of immortal emulation. They’re fucking freaks. An abomination to God and Nature. A plague, and the film depicts that as so; swarming rabid things crammed full of viruses. Redolent stinking hordes of shrieking rats preying on anything that bleeds. Have I made my point yet? Right. The Dark Seekers are very rather chilling and quite effective at establishing and maintaining Neville’s solitary nightmare atmosphere.

And poor Bob is stranded alone on Earth with the lot of them. In fact, “stranded” may be the key term that describes the feel of the film. For over an hour into the film, Smith is the only actor, not counting Abbey of course. We walk by his side, we only sees things that he sees, we truly live through it all vicariously through the character Robert Neville. We, as an audience, are stranded with him. Neville’s pathos is so consuming that as the movie progresses, you start to wonder if kind of relishes his solitude; wear it like a badge of pride or as sackcloth and ashes? He was directly responsible for the plague after all. Guilt can be a powerful weapon. So much so that it becomes ever obvious that Neville may be losing his mind. Wouldn’t you?

It’s good that Legend is quickly engaging. Not as in “fast pace.” The movies gets your attention very swiftly, and fails to falter. It has an urgent agendum, and quietly sweeps you up. This happens despite for the first half hour, all we really see is Neville driving through deserted streets of a ruined Manhattan, scrounging for food and sundries (yes, I used the word sundries) and tooling around in his lab. Smith is adopting a stoic, silent type of leading man, letting his actions tell the story. At this he does a fine job. A sort of relatable everyman in a dire circumstance. Him wandering the landscape gently affixes his sense of solitude to the viewer. By the way, how do filmmakers clear the streets like that? I mean, some of it is CGI, but the rest?

Speaking of CGI, I had a real issue (but not a big one) with the digitally rendered…well, everything in Legend. The effects were rather weak. You could almost smell the green screen wafting off the projector. What would be assumed to enhance the ferocity of the Dark Seekers only made them look rubbery and cartoon-like (still, rubbery scary cartoons). I admit I was watching a DVD on an HD television, but I’ve seen lower tech movies and the patchiness didn’t seep through. What the vamps lacked in looks, however, was made up for with screeches. So bravo Dolby.

The only other gripe I had was the film’s resolution. It had sort of a “duh” feeling to it. Considering what kind of man Robert Neville is, one would think he’d come to the proper conclusion light years ago. This would make the film really short though, and not worth the ten bucks admission. So we’ll ignore that as best we can for now.

Legend is very stark film, not unlike Matheson’s fiction. There is very little subtlety involved in the story. Bob’s alone, struggling to retain a sense of normalcy and avoiding the baddies. Not much else to the plot. You don’t really wonder if he’ll get out of this hell, nor do you invest much interest in that. It’s just watching him running errands basically. This was, in fact, the general feel of the novel some critics have said.

There are still very little amenities here. For instance, what attempts as humor here, doesn’t. It’s difficult to tell if it’s intentional or not. Smith has been understood as a comical presence in Hollywood, after all. And as for his acting, it’s some of the best he’s done in years. He’s essentially carrying the movie more or less by himself. He better be good. Again, and I hate to keep hammering on this, Neville’s sense of isolation really fills up the white space here.

Speaking of filling up space, there is next to no soundtrack. Silence—the absence of man-made noises like cars and general hustle and bustle—again creates the feeling of a desolate planet. How could you feel alone with smartphones bleeping everywhere? Like I said, stark.

Overall Legend was a pretty good little slice of cinema. I say little because it was released in the middle of December. Oscar time, not blockbuster time. And since it recouped only (yes, only) $100,000,000 at the box office, you could say it was a loss leader for Smith. Seeing that the original Men In Black movie raked in over $500,000,000, Will might have a long-ass time to go to shed some skin.

I liked Legend. I wouldn’t want to watch it again. For all its stylistic efforts, it lacked that je en sais quai I get from time to time, even from the bad sh*t I am tricked into watching. As I said it wasn’t typical Will Smith fare. Still, it had some merit as far as remakes go. It kept closer to the original source material, but even the tightest scenarists should know that following the book line for line leaves little room for interpretation. All that gooey solitude of the movie that I keep harping on was engrossing, but it did get tedious after a time. Maybe too much alone time with Will Smith’ll do that to you. Then again, the same can be said of Mathson’s stories.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Then turn it off. Then go read the book. Alone. In the dark. Get it?


Stray Observations…

  • “Just the way you like it: disgusting.”
  • I read once that Smith and Abbey would spend “sessions” alone for weeks at a time before, during and after filming so that they could create a special bond. Talk about creating on screen chemistry.
  • Saw the accident with the knife coming. Smith’s scream is priceless.
  • “It’s my birthday. You wanna sing?”
  • “Please say hello to me.” Pretty much captures the spirit of the film.
  • The toss away line, “Let’s say hello to mom” has a deeper gravity later in the film. It might be a nod to a theme Matheson employed in his fiction. Or maybe it was lifted directly form the source text. I dunno.
  • Nice detail with the weight loss. The flashback scenes feature Smith as sort of well-fed. Later in the film he looks as if he’s aged ten years.
  • “I like Shrek.”

Next Installment…

Billy Crudup feels just like Jesus’ Son, but not in a messianic kind of way.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 16: M Night Shyalaman’s ”After Earth” (2013)


Image


The Players…

Jaden and Will Smith…that’s…that’s about it.


The Story…

A thousand years in the future, Earth has been abandoned, its populace fleeing environmental degradation. Humanity sets up shop elsewhere, its home world forbidden and eventually all but forgotten. However because of a disastrous interstellar voyage, one General Cypher Raige and his young son, Kitai, are forced to crash-land on the long-abandoned, desolate Earth. Now alone and with his father gravely injured, Kitai must set out to find a rescue beacon that hopefully will save them from their cradle’s hostile, if not vengeful ecosystem.


The Rant…

Another M Night Shyalaman movie?

Yes, another M Night Shyalaman movie. He is of ill repute lately, and his latest effort is no different in reflection. His hottest feature (this one) already has a notorious reputation for being a cataclysmic stink bomb at the multiplex. A failed summer blockbuster if there ever was one. Critics lacerated it. It grossed domestically only a fraction of its budgetary costs (but to be fair, it did recoup a lot overseas). It starred the once unimpeachable Will Smith, king of the summer blockbuster for over a decade, whose rep has now been inextricably damaged. Oh, by the way, it also co-stars his kid! Boo! Hiss! Piss on the screen!

Christ, the masses are a capricious bunch, aren’t we? It’s just a damned movie, after all…


So it came to pass, Planet Earth was abandoned a millennium ago, due to either outstripping her natural resources, climate change, war or the generally infantile behavior of people who are more beholding to flags rather than tolerance. The surviving human race, thanks to the elite Ranger Corps, scooped up its remaining culture and found haven on planet Nova Prime, about a jillion light-years away from the cradle.

Like a hunk of cheese over and done at the back of the fridge, Mother Earth has been forgotten, idlewild, the stuff of legend and totally quarantined from any human who may unfortunately get snagged into her gravity well. She’s changed, this bitch of a planet, evolving into a farscape beyond the conditions she was left to roil in centuries ago, sprouting angry flora with irate fauna to boot. In sum: literal terra incognita.

Enter our protag Kitai (Jaden Smith), a bright, ambitious kid, desperate to follow in and perhaps outstretch the footsteps of his esteemed dad, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) as an elite Ranger. You see, Papa Raige mastered, if not founded the martial art of “ghosting.” It goes as follows: a local hostile alien race didn’t cotton well to having human invaders set up camp on one of their territorial planets. In return, they threw out a welcome mat of genetically engineered monsters dubbed Ursa—totally blind, very stupid and utterly ferocious designed to plainly chew out the human vermin. Gen. Raige figured out how to thwart this menace. Seeing that the Ursa couldn’t, well, see and operated solely on tracking human pheromones alone, all one needed to due was purge any and all vestiges of fear from their body chemistry. Raige was soldier prime, capable of simply walking up to one of these blind, stupid idiot fiends and slaying them with a swift slash of a cutlass. In short, he scorched f*cking earth.

Needless to say, Kitai idolizes—and naturally fears—his indomitable father. He enlisted in the Ranger Corps and outdoes all his peers in every way…save two. First, modesty, and; second, in his father’s eyes. It sucks having to live in your dad’s shadow, especially when it has a particularly long cloak.

But why be such a shrinking violet from such an esteemed family? Is there more to Kitai’s motivations than to outdo an overbearing father with a legacy ridiculously impossible to shoulder? Is it a need to prove his worth as a Ranger? Or is there a certain something else that drives Kitai?

At mom’s behest after the General announces his plans to retire, it’s a good time to take his estranged son along on a road trip. Things start out as business as usual, but (and don’t it always turn out this way) it ends up all widdershins as a celestial U-turn gets thrown at our hero’s’ starship resulting in a crash landing back into Mother Earth’s arms. And for this rude return engagement, she gets very, very pissed.

Surviving Kitai and crippled (but still digitally attached) Cypher have more or less three days to retrieve the rescue beacon to alert the Corps of their whereabouts before their elder Grandma Planet gets sick of their asses and rips them to pieces.

And the clock starts…now!


First mistake: perceiving After Earth as is a sci-fi film.

Second mistake: modestly intelligent fans still address the genre as “sci-fi.” We don’t get no tornadoes made of sharks here in science fiction town. Really. No. I always preferred the genre designated as what writer Harlan Ellison termed “speculative fiction.” Stuff than could only exist in your imagination alone until it was time to be borne. Contemporary societal tropes shrouded with the allegory of the fantastic. That kinda stuff. There is, nowadays, very little “science” in science fiction. I doubt since the heady days of Jules Verne there has been much overt science in science-fiction at all, and that was over a century ago. Again, no. In the simpler terms of Ellison: If you like peanuts, you’ll love Sci-Fi!

Third mistake: perceiving this was meant to be a summer movie. After watching Earth, it has the aroma of a very late fall release, shrouded in falling leaves and freed from the farts and darts that we’ve all grown accustomed and/or numbed to during the summer popcorn releases. After Earth has little popcorn going for it. Also, it’s the first true leap Night has made into the spec-fic genre.

And that, curiously enough, is a good thing.

This movie is a film about the dynamics between a father and his son. Granted, it’s 1,000 years into the future, but I guess it’s safe to assume that such relations haven’t evolved too much from present times. I guess the only real diff is the current applications of clubs and flint. Anyway, families are alike all over.

I, like many ‘Mericans, enjoy the blockbusters Will Smith has hosted. Men In Black, Independence Day, Bad Boys, you get the idea. As of late, Will has been either dodging the summer spotlight or…oh, let’s face it. He wants to choose his own roles. Hell, he’s made his bones. Us duffers from Gen X remember him as either “The Fresh Prince Of Bell Air” or of one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and…you (might) get the idea.

Here’s this idea: Will Smith since entering cinema has always been a reliable source of charisma, audacity, and humor we’ve come to expect from a  21st Century film icon. Heretofore is a pleasant way to say you’ve been typecast. Like Leonard Nimoy (who directed a fair amount of reputable movies non-Trek related in the 80’s) as Mr. Spock, Smith is trying to shed his skin. And at the same time, striving to have his cake and…well, you know the drill Agent K (look here please)…huh?

Now the Fresh Prince has a son. And here’s the f*cked up thing about it: he’s a more interesting actor than his dad. You know, the multi-millionaire cinema icon dad former fresh prince dad. A well-adjusted 16-year old (at the time of this screed) son whose following in his dad’s footsteps. And a better, more convincing actor than his well-heeled dad has become.

You get it: I think Jaden Smith is a more engaging actor than Pops. Wanna know why? Earnestness. Every Will Smith movie stinks of bravado. Like the coffee pot that has set on the burner way too long into the morning and ignites a redolent smell of TP that has overspent its taint? Poor Will has had to live up to iconic status that, frankly, I don’t think he wanted in the first place. I’d like to imagine that the guy just wanted to try acting (and let’s facts. Every time Will tries to escape the predictable dumb comedy trope he inadvertently makes a profit. Must be stultifying).

Young Jaden, unhampered by typecasting, has carved out a much more eclectic niche than his rich-beyond-compare dad. I’ve seen the films tucked under Jaden’s belt. The remake of The Karate Kid was pretty good. The Pursuit of Happyness wasn’t bad (it co-starred his dad too.) And you wanna known what? There’s a reason why I credited the prime cast as I did (well, such as it was. There were less than at least eight humans I saw. And none of them Night. Looks like he saw my corollary). Jaden carried the film. And very well I might add. I found he conveyed appropriate emotion scene for scene better than his big-ticket dad (whom I’ve never seen act so damned stern before. The usual Big Willie charisma has all but vanished here).

As for the technical flourishes that are always evident in Night’s movies, After Earth was not for wanting. The sets and locations were nothing less than beautiful. The cinematography was exceptional. The film had an excellent score, courtesy of James Newton Howard (he makes the music to all of Night’s movies). And again CGI was used tastefully, not with splash and dash to make a lot of noise. On the contrary, After Earth is never a loud movie. It’s restrained and patient. It takes its time. This is probably why it failed as a summer movie. Too reserved. Or whatever expectations audiences have of Night’s movies, this failed too. This was the most linear, straight-forward tale Night has spun yet. Based in the traditional coming-of-age story and the dynamic of father/son bonding, Night cranked out a very simple, very affecting movie. I think toning down his alleged filmmaking monomania has done Night some good here.

Another element that is always present in Night’s movies and is not lost here is the idea of family. Every film the man has made revolves around the ties that bind, especially in Unbreakable and Signs. After Earth is no exception, and has been distilled down to the very basic element of family: parent and child, one caring for the other. It’s a simple dynamic, but an effective one, and I believe that if we didn’t have the prime cast consist of actual real-life father and son, the movie would not have worked. Most claim the film already didn’t work. Then again, it was summertime, people have expectations and the fact it was a Shyalaman film, there were also preconceived notions about what they were getting into. I guess this movie could remind us all of the immortal words of Flava Flav: don’t believe the hype.

To wrap it up, I have become slowly but surely aware of what I have been smearing all and up down Facebook between and betwixt my “friends” and what I regard as my local family of fleshoids (I enjoy Futurama), that I have since become somewhat of a fixture here. When I openly announced that I was gonna watch After Earth, the groans and screams were nothing less than satanically shrill. Anyways and simply put, audience screaming doesn’t make for a proper critique, especially if it’s the wrong time of year.

Merry Humbug, ya bastards. 😉


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? When I informed my co-workers that I was planning on reviewing this movie, they all screamed at me and catcalled and questioned my sexual orientation. I don’t think any of the goofballs had actually seen the damned thing. I do dare claim, rent it. The flick has a quiet grace, some patience and an understandably natural chemistry between the two leads. After Earth is not a sci-fi movie. It is of speculative fiction. If you know the difference, you can see the film with the proper vision, and ignore the critics. And so oddly enough, ignore me.


Stray Observations…

  • “Massive expansion is one in a million.” Ah, science. It’s not just for 7th graders anymore.
  • Again, the location scout did a brilliant job. Sometimes it’s not always about the CGI.
  • “That sucked.” “That is correct.”
  • I gotta admit, the birthday cake bit made me chuckle. Another hint of Night’s affinity for family dynamics.
  • “Kitai, you’ve got incoming.” Understatement defined.

Next Installment…

It’s Jeff Daniels pitted against Laura Linney as The Squid And The Whale do battle.