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Tag Archive: Independence Day


Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

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new-independence-day-resurgence-footage-featurette-47

Review by C.J. Bunce

Independence Day: Resurgence hit theaters in a summer full of major releases, so odds are you missed this one.  Nearly the entire key cast–excluding most notably Will Smith–returned for the sequel to 1996’s surprise summer hit Independence Day: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and even John Storey and Robert Loggia in his final role.  Fans of the original and fans of Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Godzilla) and his take on the classic disaster movie will want to check out the new Blu-ray and the extensive special features available this week for the first time, which detail the planning and enormity of the special effects created for the film.

Resurgence is best if viewed as the next entry in a long cinematic history of rollicking disaster films.  Think Irwin Allen’s Earthquake, Towering Inferno, and The Poseidon Adventure or more recent films where Earth’s monuments stand little chance at survival like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and San Andreas.  Independence Day: Resurgence provides an entirely new look at Earth.  The setting is today, but it’s a parallel world that lays out a possible world 20 years after the defeat of an alien menace.  As revealed in our review of The Art & Making of Independence Day here, Emmerich and co-creator of the original Dean Devlin pulled out all the stops in creating a big-budget special effects spectacle.

resurgence

But it’s not fair to just label it only a disaster movie.  Resurgence is in good company as sci-fi is concerned.  With its mysterious sphere and aliens that telepathically communicate with humans we can look back to the roots of modern sci-fi films in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It’s critical look at what humans might do when encountering aliens evokes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  And it’s look at the knee-jerk reaction of mankind to militarize and destroy with a blind eye to others we don’t understand is straight out of Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game.  It doesn’t achieve the success of any one of these, but does make for a solid summer popcorn flick with a rousing soundtrack and some cutting edge visuals, and in doing so it plays much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

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moon base concept art idr

While some approaches in the “Art of” or “Making of” category of film books provides explanatory text describing the moviemaking process, others are primarily photo essays.  Both approaches have their merits.  Titan Books has offered a mix of the approach with its Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here, while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Art of the Film, reviewed here, was a more visual snapshot of the filmmaker’s journey.  Although it has less explanatory material and more in-world story background, the new book The Art & Making of Independence Day: Resurgence is most like Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films, reviewed here.

Like the Planet of the Apes work, The Art & Making of Independence Day: Resurgence covers a behind the scenes account of two films, here the original 1996 Independence Day and this year’s sequel.  The reader is reminded of the history of the key characters in the original film in the first third of the volume, which also provides a review of the movie’s key special effect scene–the alien destruction of the White House.  Not only providing movie stills, we get to see the relative size of the model used for the building and the process for the explosion.  This sets up a good introduction for the special effects for the next two sections of the book: the rebuilding of Earth after the first invasion, and then the return of the aliens that is the focus of the sequel.

art and making of idr

Titan’s usual quality hardcover design and thick full-color pages include in-universe accounts of the next generation of Earth’s defenders, followed by concept art and sketchwork, extensive coverage of space vehicles and fighter plane designs and futuristic weaponry.  Director Roland Emmerich provides a foreword introduction.

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Independence Day Resurgence

We knew the sequel to 1996’s summer hit Independence Day was coming our way next year, but who would have guessed it would look like the sequel to Aliens?  Or Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  Director Roland Emmerich is back again, with a new, younger cast and some of the original players including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner.  Leverage and The Librarians producer/writer/director Dean Devlin was the writer on the original, but did not return for the sequel.  Maybe that accounts for the difference in tone?

But something is not quite the same.  Sequels usually carry off more than the next sequence of events from a story.  Independence Day is known for the humor of Will Smith and Randy Quaid as much as for the fact that it was an alien invasion flick.  We see no sign of that humor in this first trailer released this weekend for Independence Day: Resurgence.

Check it out for yourself:

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The 5th Wave invasion

The aliens have arrived.

It’s flat-out one of our favorite sci-fi sub-genres.  The alien invasion flick.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T, the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Predator (1987), Alien Nation (1988), They Live (1988), Independence Day (1996), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Men in Black (1997), Starship Troopers (1997), Signs (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), Cloverfield (2008), District 9 (2009), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Edge of Tomorrow (2014).  These are some of the most exciting and fun sci-fi movies to watch and re-watch.

Kick-Ass and The Equalizer’s Chloë Grace Moretz stars in a new Sony/Columbia Pictures release, The 5th Wave, which looks like it’s mixing the alien invasion film with the disaster movie, the epidemic movie, and the body snatcher movie.  The only thing missing is zombies.  But body snatchers are close enough.

Alien ship in The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave co-stars Office Space star Ron Livingston, X-Men Origins and The Sum of All Fears’ Liev Shreiber, and Prime Suspect and Assault on Precinct 13’s Maria Bello.  Is Moretz a normal Earthling or one of us taken over by the aliens?

Check out this first trailer for The 5th Wave:

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Space Invaders Pixels movie poster   Pixels Galaga poster

Last night Production Weekly announced the new title for the third Tron movie has been chosen:  Tron: Ascension.  Tron: Ascension will begin filming in Vancouver this October.  Oh, yeah!

Video game movies are back.  What conjures up more retro fun than 1980s arcade games?  Who didn’t have at least a few of these on their Atari 2600?  Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Galaga, Centipede…  This summer aliens have sent these animated pixilated weapons to cause Earth’s destruction in Pixels, a new 3D movie from Sony Pictures and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions.  Think of the comedy and fantasy elements of Ghostbusters mashed up with the annihilation of the world’s landmarks, Independence Day style.  All the makings of a summer comedy blockbuster.

It’s like the reverse of Tron–instead of shrinking down to the pixel size of arcade game character Tron and playing in the Grid, the arcade video game stars are now becoming larger than life, entering our world.

Donkey Kong screen

It stars Adam Sandler (when was the last time Adam Sandler had a hit anyway?  50 First Dates?).  He joins Kevin James (King of Queens), Michelle Monaghan (Source Code, The Bourne Supremacy), and Peter Dinklage (Elf, The Station Agent, Game of Thrones) as they defend the world against… video games from space.

It’ll all make sense when you watch the first trailer for Pixels, after the break:

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If you haven’t voted yet.  Go do it.  Longer than usual voting lines are expected today.  But who knows long lines better than Comic-Con fans?  Today is your day.  You can show the others how it’s done.  And why not drag your comic book-toting friends along?  Heck, bring along a stack to read.  It’s going to be a long day.

If you’re like me, you get a bit annoyed in the weeks prior to Comic-Con with people trying to hand out tips for your first Comic-Con.  Like we can’t figure it out.  So, in return, here’s a list you can send to your non-comic book-lovin’, non-genre-lovin’, the “who the heck is Buffy the Vampire Slayer voters” you’ll be stuck with all day.  Here’s a modified advice list snatched from lists of advice for first-timers at past San Diego Comic-Cons, a list which seems to apply well to your neighbors who think they know long lines but don’t:  Continue reading

Review by Art Schmidt

I dig summer shows. I like the trend the last several years of having a small set of summer shows on television that are quirky, different, and give you something to do on the few (!) days you aren’t out biking, vacationing, lounging by the pool or sizzling at the beach. And few summer shows since Monk debuted have grabbed my attention the way Falling Skies did.

As for the premise of this TNT series, which ran for ten episodes through the summer, it has some promise. The series starts approximately six months after the invasion, and the aliens have already kicked a large portion of the world’s ass. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when first learning about this, after all what’s an Earth Invasion story without the invasion part! But really, we’ve already had this past year Battle L.A. (standard alien army invasion), the newly re-spun V (standard aliens subverting human society from within), Super 8 (standard kids find aliens and save earth/it/both), and the Death Eaters invading Hogwarts (non-standard AWESOME!!!). So, I guess we’ve seen enough invading to slake that thirst for a while. Besides, the departure from the norm hinted at the potential of something new and innovative, and I bought in.

As far as standard science-fiction goes, it has several of my favorite sci-fi elements in it. Let’s go down the list, shall we?

1. Aliens Invade Earth? Check! A staple of mass-market science-fiction fare since its birth in the 1940s, this plot device comes chock-full of good, accessible dramatic elements.

– Humans being killed and persecuted? We humans can relate!

– Fighting against Earth’s military? Hey, we know someone who’s actually in that military!

– Taking over an Earth city? Hey, we ate at the Chili’s in that city once!

– Aliens blowing up famous landmarks? We know their significance and feel some emotion when they crumble (at least, we used to before ID4 and the host of movies that followed it blew up every major landmark known to man on a near-constant basis).

Irrelevant Tangent Warning: If ‘Blockbuster-Demolition-Fatigue’ isn’t already a term, then I just coined it. “What’s the matter, dude?” “Major BDF man.” “Bummer dude.” It even sounds like a mildly uncomfortable disease. Copyright 2011 🙂

BTW, you won’t get demo-fatigue from Falling Skies. If anything, there is a lack of combat and a deference for the human drama of the situation (more on that later). Just when you think there is going to be a big firefight or a confrontation with armed aliens, it doesn’t happen (like I said, more on that later). And then, when the humans argue amongst themselves, you might expect more bloodshed. But again, things are left un-resolved (Hey! I said more on that later!) Fine, Mister Bossypants.

2. Futuristic Weapons and Gizmos? Check! The alien invaders do not have hand-held weapons as we’ve come to expect; however, they have mechanical bi-pedal robots that escort them around and pack an enormous amount of firepower. They reminded me of the ED-209 from Robocop, but more sinister-looking and taller. Another departure from the norm, and after all, that’s what makes good Sci-Fi! At least, it’s a good start. The aliens also have biological devices that they use to control Earth children, as well, which the humans call ‘harnesses’, and this gives the aliens a form of telepathic control over the wearer. Oh, and one of their ‘mother ships’ landed in the middle of downtown Boston, and we’re told similar massive ships landed in most other major cities world-wide.

They serve as a base of operations for the Skitters and the airships, but what else are they for? What goes on inside? No one knows (yet)! Pretty cool stuff.

3. Space travel? Well, given that the series follows the Earth-bound human remnants who barely have working internal-combustion engine vehicles, there hasn’t been anything going on in space. Yet. However, given the cliffhanger ending (NO SPOILER) we may see some next season. ‘Nuff said.

4. Hot chicks? Check! Sorry, I meant highly intelligent, self-sufficient, alien-butt-kicking women who also happen to be attractive. Let’s face it, the guys in these things can look like average joes and they’re fine as long as they have a gun or can use a keyboard, but the gals have to be attractive. Seven-of-Nine. Number Six. Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher. Zoe and Kaylee. Starbuck. Even President Roslin (a.k.a. First Lady Whitmore) qualifies as a cougar. Admiral Cain and Kendra Shaw, Replicants Rachael and Pris; the list goes on.

Falling Skies has done its part to keep the stereotype alive, casting not two but three very nice looking young ladies in the three female lead and supporting roles.

Moon Bloodgood (Terminator: Salvation, Burn Notice) is the militia unit’s resident doctor and main love interest of our hero, Tom Mason, played by an uncomfortably-scruffy Noah Wyle (ER, The Librarian TV movies, Donnie Darko). Sarah Carter (Shark TV series, Final Destination 2) plays Maggie, the standard tough-as-nails gun-toting chick with a chip on her shoulder and a secret past. And finally Seychelle Gabriel (The Last Airbender, The Spirit) plays the young Lourdes, assistant to the (Blood)good doctor in her duties, and with a secret crush on Hal Mason, Tom Mason’s oldest son played by Drew Roy (Secretariat, Hanna Montana TV series).

Plenty of drama abounds with these characters and the male leads, which brings us to…

5. Human drama? Check, but with an asterisk. We all know that shiny space ships, flashing lasers and leather-clad women will only keep an audience’s interest for so long. There has to be something going on with the characters other than fighting and dying. And that’s where Falling Skies starts to go amiss. All of the building blocks appear to be in place for some good human drama. The aliens are kidnapping children, some of whom belong to the folks in our little band of survivors, and the aliens are turning them into slaves. There is a small militia group protecting a larger civilian group who want more freedom and better conditions; the militia leadership is keeping the best for themselves. There are good guys and there are not-so-good guys, like the aptly-named John Pope, the self-centered opportunist with the potential for a heart of gold played well by Colin Cunningham (Stargate: SG-1, Elektra) who loves nothing more than devising ways to kill the ‘cooties’, as he calls the aliens.

Irrelevant Tangent Warning: Note to the Writers: Please stop making Pope call the aliens ‘cooties’. It’s not funny or cute after the first time. It makes Pope’s character who has otherwise shown himself to be quite clever and cunning suddenly seem like a third-grade drop-out. Then again, ‘Skitters’ isn’t much better…

Then there’s the leader of the 2nd Mass, Captain Weaver played by Will Patton (Armageddon, The Postman, Remember the Titans). The character has so much of the semi-crazy my-way-or-the-highway military man in him that it makes the few times he softens up (assisting in a breech birth!) seem weird and uncomfortable.

Like all new shows, the series is trying to find its footing, figure out what works for these characters and their strange situation and what doesn’t, and where they can take things that is fascinating and new without being strange and unwatchable. And they’ve stumbled a few times, and succeeded a few more, and I’m definitely tuning in next summer to see where things go from here. But the one major issue that ran through the entire first season is that there is no real sense of danger or urgency about the characters or their activities. They talk like the aliens are bad-ass, they conquered every country and every military on the planet, but you just don’t feel any of that fear, any of that menace.

Sure, when the aliens show up they fight and run, but when there are no aliens on screen the characters almost act as if the aliens can’t show up. They aren’t on edge, and though they walk briskly from place to place they don’t seem to understand that ALIENS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE ENTIRE WORLD! That’s the one major thing that has bothered me since the second episode; the characters don’t act like they are in near-constant danger of being captured or killed. It’s as if the aliens are in the city, and the humans are in the country, and that’s just fine with everyone. The civilians, the militia, everyone; they all just seem like things are hunky-dory and they’ll go attack the aliens when they’re good and ready.

In the last episode (MINOR SPOILER ALERT!) Mason and Weaver are standing inside Boston, alone and on foot, looking up at the aliens’ mother ship / headquarters. Mason aims an RPG at one of the smaller airships and hits it; an RPG which is not heat-seeking nor remote-guided, by the way. The damaged ship crashes into the mother ship and explosions begin inside of it. Two guys, alone, standing on the street where any alien could easily pop their heads off. Attacking the larger-than-an-aircraft-carrier mother ship. With an RPG. And they only had the one rocket.

I thought for a moment I was back in 1993 playing Doom on my 486 PC. I cringed as the characters laughed, and the explosions continued for a few seconds. Thankfully, the entire structure did not come crashing to the ground, because I would have immediately put a permanent block on my DVR for anything with the term ‘Falling Skies’ in it. Luckily, the show saved itself, at least in my eyes.

And yet, the two characters continued to stand there, smiling and talking about how they gave the aliens something to remember. As they did so, I thought about how the U.S. military would have immediately dispatched Apache attack helicopters full of armed marines to trace the smoke trail of that RPG back to its source and eliminate the enemy within minutes, if not seconds. You know, the U.S. military that these aliens over-powered with their even-more-advanced technology and weapons.

The one thing Falling Skies desperately needs in its sophomore season is someone running around screaming “The Sky is Falling! The SKY is FALLING!!” I’m no chef, but the producers might try throwing a little chicken in with all of that ham.

Despite an interesting premise and a good cast, Cowboys & Aliens never quite comes together.  How could a team-up like Jon Favreau, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Steven Spielberg not get this right?  Unfortunately, the movie is “just okay.”  It’s an example of what happens when you buy an idea without a great story to back it up.  And it’s what happens when it takes six A- list writers to craft a screenplay, based on a work that itself isn’t very interesting.

Cowboys & Aliens lacks most of the elements of good science fiction and qualifies as a western only because of the bundle of cliched characters, a beautiful desert hills setting, and all the horses.  That said, it may find an audience with those who have never seen a good western or appreciate a good science fiction story.  It could be dismissed as “another summer blockbuster romp, sure to please general audiences.”  With the fun premise, the stellar cast, producer Spielberg and director Favreau, it may get favorable initial box office returns, but it fails to live up to its potential to rival all the summer movies released this year.  It should be better than all the sequels released this summer.  But it’s not.  In comparison, it doesn’t quite match up to past summer hits like Independence Day or Men in Black.

It’s not as fun as a movie with the title Cowboys & Aliens should be.  I wasn’t looking for humorous by any means, but there was not one point in the packed movie house where the crowd had any reason to laugh, cheer, or gasp.  The story lacked tension and energy.  From scene to scene the characters didn’t convincingly indicate the gravity of their would-be, desperate situations.  And we were never quite pulled into the world in any gripping way–you keep waiting for something to happen, then the movie is over.

Fortunately the film has no relation to the graphic novel created by Scott Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley.  The graphic novel is a simple analog of alien imperialism over humans as a reflection of European imperialism over the native Americans, and that’s about it.  Not enough to turn into a good comic book, let alone a good movie.  Add to that the six screenplay contributers (including Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who wrote the iffy 2009 Star Trek script) who couldn’t pull a complete story out of a good idea, and proved yet again that a story written by committee rarely works.  It is frustrating that an idea as fun as mixing aliens into the 1800s Old West is so hard to make awesome.  Even kids mixing toy soldiers and science fiction figures could come up with a fun story. 

The best of the film is the cast. As for the lead cast, Olivia Wilde’s character Ella was the stand-out.  She seemed to do the best she could with her role and, as with her with roles in Tron: Legacy and House, M.D. , she is fun to watch.  And Daniel Craig delivered an excellent performance as the western movie drifter with the secret past, Jake Lonergan.  But his character was put into too many strange circumstances, and we never got to see how a man in the 1880s would react to aliens vs someone in the 2010s.  Daniel Craig’s past roles have been so good, this one probably falls toward the bottom of the list.  Audiences are starving to see the next Han Solo or Indiana Jones role for Harrison Ford.  Billed as Ford’s “Rooster Cogburn” performance, Ford’s, Colonel Dolarhyde (a really bad name, by the way) is a one-note character.  The audience wants to like this performance, but we don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about this character.  At one point we’re told he’s tough and we feel he’s meant to be the traditional man in the black hat, but everything else indicates otherwise, and we don’t have enough back story to know what to think.

As for the supporting cast, Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Medium, Leverage, Law and Order, Lost, Enterprise) shows how great a supporting actor he is as the town’s preacher.  Keith Carradine also delivers a believable performance as the sheriff.  But as with Favreau’s Iron Man 2, another annoying Sam Rockwell performance almost reduces his scenes to cringe-worthy.

One more positive thing–I loved the “arm gun”.  It’s not in the graphic novel, so it’s a great addition and helps make Daniel Craig’s every move as cool as he is as James Bond.

The movie might have been more exciting if they hardly showed us the aliens at all (like the shark in Jaws).  When they appear, it is too much too often, and the aliens were a mix of creatures we had seen before, lifeless like the bugs from Starship Troopers, grotesque like Kuato from Total Recall, and the scenes are shot just like the aliens in the Alien movies.  The creatures should be terrifying, to the point that the humans should be running for their lives screaming–especially for people who have no concept of space travel or extraterrestrials.  They just aren’t.

The soundtrack starts with a good clip but ultimately relies too much on what sounded like a modern electric guitar ballad instead of a full orchestral sound–an epic, grandiose score you’d expect from a western, which might have helped save the film.

Not that my standards for a video rental should be any different than for a movie in the theater, but this may play better on video or late-night cable.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of the western scenes again, just not enough to buy another movie ticket.  The opening, for example, gets off to the right start, with Craig’s character executing a fight scene dive straight from Rio Bravo.

Unfortunately, this one left me wishing for a real good western or good sci-fi movie.

Cowboys & Aliens is in theaters.  2.5 of 5 stars.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

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