Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi. Continue reading

Space Station 76

space_station76Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.

– Warning. Dr. Bot must remind Misty not to become… too close to her therapist bot.
– I’ve gotta be close to somebody.
– We must keep this professional.
– Don’t be so cold.
– I must maintain objectivity.
– But I feel like…  I just feel like you and I have really been going through it here, you know? I feel like I have really been connecting with you. You know me.
– Emotion overload.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

– I’m a leg man, you know?

(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)

Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came.

And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.

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Dark Star

dark_star_ver2Director: John Carpenter. Screenplay/story: Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter. Starring: Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm. USA, 1974. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3.5/4. Odd science fiction space comedy.

– Now, Bomb, consider this next question very carefully… What is your purpose in life?
– To explode, of course.
– And you can do it only once, right?
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

– All right, Bomb… prepare to receive new orders.
– You are false data. Therefore, I should ignore you.
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

I must confess – I have never really liked John Carpenter. And I barely enjoy horror movies (with some notable exceptions like “The Shining”). I watched “Halloween” recently and enjoyed it at times, but if we forget for a moment its heritage, I find this cult slasher pretty mediocre. While admitting Carpenter’s immense influence, I’ve always seen most of his films made with little creativity, without that special sparkle that would lighten up everything. He is too technical in his approach, like an artisan, not an artist, who is methodically repeating similar feel and techniques in different movies. Note: I didn’t watch “Halloween”, “Escape from New York” or “The Thing” when they were released – movies that I don’t find bad, but just… pretty average in everything and with superficial characters? I’ve always felt Carpenter cares most about showing what happens to his characters, but not really the characters themselves.

But “Dark Star”, Carpenter’s and O’Bannon debut movie, made me change my mind about him. This little space comedy is like a fireworks show that you setup by yourself on a New Year’s Eve in the backyard. It’s an extravagant parody on space movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in particular. Fresh, well-crafted, wry and weirdly funny. Continue reading

Soyuz 50 years on

Wonderful article by thesciencegeek.org about the history of Soyuz space ship.

The Science Geek

On 23 April 1967, six years after Yuri Gagarin had became the first man to go into space, a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft was launched carrying cosmonaut Vladimir Komorov. It completed 18 orbits and then returned to Earth.

Mission patch for the first Soyuz mission

Sadly, during its reentry the parachute failed to open properly and the spacecraft was destroyed when it hit the Earth at high speed and burst into flames – killing Komorov and giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to die in space flight.

Despite this initial setback, the Soyuz spacecraft was successfully flown back into space the following year, when cosmonaut Georgy Beregovoy, a decorated World War 2 hero, completed 81 orbits and landed safely.

A Soviet 10 kopek stamp showing  Georgy Beregovoy. The Soyuz rocket is in the background – image from Wikimedia commons

Since Beregovoy’s mission, Soyuz has been launched into space a further 131 times…

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400 Days

400Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Ruth, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.7. Budget: unknown, but very low. My rating: 0.5/4. Comatose fight of Solaris vs 2001 vs Alien vs Moon.

 What is your current mood?
 Tired… and a little hung over.
 Tired and hung over aren’t moods, I need something like happy, sad, depressed, angry.
(a dialogue between main characters)

“400 Days” is a brilliant showcase of how with very little you can achieve even less. I found it on some faraway dusty sci-fi forums thanks to a viewer who complained about ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, criticizing it as a dull and uninspiring movie with bad acting. Thank you, dear unknown viewer! I must confess I feel like a snob by saying this, but should a basic cinema education be introduced in secondary education program? At least, as a short course?

Still, I am particularly proud I have seen a movie that grossed $58.00 (fifty eight dollars). Way better than ”Man Down” with Shia LaBeouf that took just £7.00 at UK box office during its premiere, isn’t it? I am also deeply convinced that even worst movies can tell you something new – for example, this year NASA will be actually testing 6 potential cosmonauts for 8 months in closed environment to examine psychological issues. On Hawaii. Continue reading

Inquest of Pilot Pirx

PirxDirector: Marek Piestrak. Starring: Sergei Desnitsky, Alexander Kaidanovsky, Vladimir Ivashov, Zbigniew Lesien, Boleslaw Abart. Poland, USSR, 1978. IMDb: 6.6. My rating 3.5/4. Android and space travel science fiction thriller.

– Brown, do you believe in God?
– It’s not part of my duties.
(a dialogue between Pirx and a crew member)

– Your world is horribly empty for me, your ideals laughable and your democracy is just a reign of schemers chosen by fools.
(one of the main characters)

“Inquest of Pilot Pirx” is one of those good old sci-fi movies I miss sometimes so desperately. Unhurried, detailed, with a smart plot and good acting, the film takes its time to prepare you for everything and develops slowly, but somewhere in the middle you suddenly realize that it’s grasping you right by the throat. Based on a series of short stories by Stanislav Lem, “Pirx” a solid psychological sci-fi thriller about human-like androids and space travel, that with years gained somewhat of a cult following, especially in Poland and ex-USSR countries. It didn’t have a lot of realistic CGI for what was largely criticized, but surprisingly it aged well – what did not seem realistic turned out to be very cool from a graphical point of view.

The style and overall feel of “Pirx” is something like “Blade Runner” vs. “Alien”… but the movie was actually made few years before them. Among all the cool stuff about androids and increasing levels of suspense, “Pirx” featured first-person view 6 years before “The Terminator” and here it’s not just some pure entertaining element, but an organic part of the plot. Good old science fiction, dammit.

”Pirx” also caused a chain reaction in my mind about several important topics:
– Why there has been no progress in A. I. development since the 50-s and do we really need it – in its classic sci-fi understanding? (short answer would be ‘no’)
– Why pre-CGI or early CGI specials effects were often more awesome than the photorealistic CGI we have nowadays?

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Arrival

Director: Denis Velleneuve. Starring: Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, Jeremy Renner. USA, 2016. IMDB: 8.0. My rating: 4/4. Science fiction poetry.arrival

– If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?
– Maybe I’d say what I felt more often. I-I don’t know.
(conversation between main characters)

Arrival is a beautiful reminder that when we gaze at the stars we actually look at ourselves. Shot mostly in dark colours, it is full of internal light. It is a poem, a reflection, a meditation. A story about the most valuable things we have, our fears and desires. About humility, our (in)ability to hear each other and what makes us human. The visual style of the movie tries to bring up Tarkovski’s movies – and not many modern science fiction movies can be proud of that. Still, ”Arrival” combines that in a modern and accessible way that makes the film not an art-house experiment but rather a story for all of us, if we let it in our heart. ”Arrival” is that kind of film that even though not perfect but it makes you feel ashamed for having even a slightest intention to criticize it.

20170329_013106 Continue reading