Tag Archive: I Am Mother


Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

Continue reading

When we created last year’s preview of 2019 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and homed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our annual picks in our Best Movies of 2019.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019 here.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2019:

Best Film, Best Superhero Movie, Best Re-Imagining on Film Shazam! (Warner Bros.).  Movies are supposed to be a wonder, right?  What brought the magic of the movies back to theaters more than Shazam?  Why did DC take so long to adapt a superhero to the scene perfectly?  Who cares–they finally did it.  Faithful to the character from the #1 selling superhero book of the 1940s, this was the superhero movie many of us have been waiting for for the past 50 years (or more).  Full of superhero fun, one of the best training montages ever, Zachary Levi’s boyish hero was perfectly matched to Jack Dylan Grazer’s take on best pal Freddy.  It’s also the only superhero movie we can think of that got better as it went along, culminating in a fantastic, satisfying third act and finale.  This is what we want more of.  And it was the first DC superhero movie of the millennium that could be watched and enjoyed by the entire family.  Honorable mention: Glass (Universal), Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony Pictures).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Adventure Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: The Next Level (Columbia Pictures).  The only issue with this film was that its status as a sequel will prompt some to not recognize it for the gigantic success it truly is.  With adventure scenes bigger and better than anything in the entire Indiana Jones franchise, two movies in and director Jake Kasdan proved a sequel can actually be as good as the original.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game were perfectly spliced in to tell a new tale.  The bridge crossing scene is now the adventure film scene to beat.  An epic fantasy that’s loads of fun.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Shazam! (Disney/Marvel), Captain Marvel (Disney/Marvel).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Carl, Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount Pictures).  It would have been almost impossible for James Cameron and director Tim Miller not to get this right, a new thread through time reuniting Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and a new T-800 with Arnold back with another take on his greatest borg of all time.  New characters and new effects kept the franchise from getting boring, but this was more than just getting by, a big sci-fi spectacle with great cyborg battles, and easily the best cyborg fix this year.

Continue reading

 

Review by C.J. Bunce

The next six-issue series that is also released as a complete graphic novel from publisher TKO Studios is a science fiction story called Sentient.  Familiar comic book writer Jeff Lemire (Descender, Old Man Logan, Green Arrow) has a new story to tell that is a mash-up of this year’s earlier Grant Sputore-directed, direct-to-Netflix film I Am Mother (reviewed here at borg), the plotting and visuals of the gutsy Orbiter 9 (reviewed here), and the desperation of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s ill-fated transport ship story, Passengers (reviewed here).  As the idea of a human trip to Mars has gained interest, we’ve seen an uptick in the sub-genre delving into the actual work required to make such a far-off journey possible, along with a host of horrific possibilities that may confront us.  It’s materialized in films like Alien: Covenant plus the Lost in Space TV series reboot.  Sentient is also the latest take on Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s story of kids governing themselves without adult supervision.

 

Just as the space frigate USS Montgomery clears the barrier where communications are broken off from both Earth and their destination colony for an entire year, the ship is sabotaged.  The artificial intelligence on the ship, a female voice called Valarie, attempts to coordinate a recovery, but it becomes too late–all of the adults on the ship are killed as a result of the chaos caused by the saboteur, and what remains are the cordoned off children, who Valarie must train to continue the mission.  Even the A.I. has her own misgivings–she’s just not programmed to become a surrogate mother.  Fortunately the oldest, Lil (who just celebrated a birthday and could be 12 or 13 years old), and Isaac, the son of the saboteur, are young but smart, the kind of kids who probably went through Space Camp before their mission.  These aren’t naïve kids–they immediately understand the pressure and responsibility that falls on them.

Lemire’s steady and thoughtful pacing sets up artist Gabriel Walta (Doctor Strange) for a great visual showpiece, highlighting a style and colors that may have you thinking this is the next iteration of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series–even the character faces look like they were drawn by Kindt with his trademark clean and simple imagery and muted tones.

Here are some preview pages, courtesy of TKO Studios:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

Continue reading