Monthly Archives: August 2012

Cargo

Set in 2267, Cargo is a German film which sees humankind abandoning Earth to live in an orbiting space station in miserable dank conditions, reminiscent of Blade Runner or Fifth Element. Giant billboards and TV commercials hint at a better life on Rhea, a far off world of wide grassy fields and fresh air, but it costs a fortune to get there.

A young medical officer, Laura Portmann, played by Anna Katharina Schwabroh, decides to join the crew of the cargo ship Kassandra on an eight-year journey to a remote station in deep space in order for her to be able to join her sister on Rhea, although this would mean that she would be awake by herself for a six month period whilst everybody else is in cryo-sleep before being relieved and sent to sleep herself, losing years of her life.

Alone on the ship there are obvious comparisons between this and Alien, or 2001 A Space Odyssey or many other space adventures, but it is still done very well if you enjoy the slow building of suspense. Only a short while in, Laura starts hearing odd sounds down on the cargo deck, and when searching for the sound finds out that something is moving about. Waking up the crew, a cat and mouse game begins against a backdrop of suspicion as they find out the cargo in the hold isn’t what they were told it was, and people start to die as the real truth about Rhea emerges.

When I started this film, I first of all didn’t realise it was German and I have a preconceived idea of German films being a bit arthouse or abstract, so once the subtitles started I can’t say I was too hopeful, but it is basically in the same style as the major space films I mentioned previously with some stunning designs of the space station and the immense cargo hold with its mosaic of moving cargo crates. The tension of what is down in the hold and the friction between various members of the crew who have to deal with a security agent placed there due to ‘Luddite’ terrorists attacking technology is very well done and Laura is a good character for us to follow as she is a clear outsider in the crew, and very believable.

I think I enjoyed this so much because despite it running down a familiar path, there are enough little differences that lift it into its own, such as the design of the cargo hold which really is epic, and the acting is very good with a range of quite separate characters. I was very impressed.

Advertisements

The Dead Undead

This terrible vampire and zombie 2010 horror film from stuntman and actor Matthew R Anderson, who also stars, and Edward Conna, another stuntman and actor who wrote the script as well as co-directed, is the tale of a war between vampires and zombie vampires.

The film opens with a group of college-age kids who have travelled to an apparently empty hostel in the countryside. However, with the camera giving us a good perv of one of the girls in the shower, you can tell something’s going to go wrong and a little vampire kids jumps out from under the bed and tries to attack before disappearing into a hole in the cupboard. Cue lots of screaming, shouting, squawking, and people’s hair returning to its previous glossy bouncy curlyness despite two of them just having been in the shower.

The girls are shoved together into one bedroom whilst the men go off to punch the rear hatch of their truck to get it open, but the girls who did see the vampire kid don’t discuss this, and the other girl who is swigging from a bottle of wine has somehow managed to get herself so drunk in ten minutes that she completely ignores what’s going on altogether. It’s really sunny in their room, and the boy burns when he lands in the sun, but the blokes run outside and it’s the middle of the night. We are just 12 minutes in and the lack of continuity is already awful.

Outside, one guy gets his gun that was just in the back of the truck, despite the fact they were on a summer holiday, and the other goes for a zombie crawling on the ground with a stick or something, whilst inside one of the girls decides they need weapons. Hang on a minute, back up. What the fuck? A random kid jumps out covered in blood and disappears, and this requires a shotgun? The men haven’t seen anybody else, no zombies or vampires or demons lurking in their bedrooms, and the girls when they see two men punching one another, instead of climbing out of the window, go and look in the bathroom for weapons. If somebody came crawling at you across a car park growling, your first thought would probably be along the lines of ‘have they got rabies?’ not ‘let’s hit them with a stick’.

Inside, blonde one starts dumping shampoo on the carpet by the door to make it slippery, but blonde two isn’t feeling too hot because she’s swallowed some blood. Outside, Travis has just pulled another gun from his car, but luckily help is at hand and a van of gun-wielding, heavy metal soundtracking, slow-mo walking soldiers turn up to get down and dirty. And shoot gnomes.

The lighting’s strange in this – sometimes quite dark, other times there’s clearly a floodlight parked in front of them. People also go hunting for zombies in the pitch black – I’m sure if you can muster up an arsenal of weapons, a few torches are manageable. The general quality is of a TV soap with stilted conversations and a complete lack of emotion. One girl, whose friend has just turned into a ‘ZV’ (zombie vampire), comes out with ‘Great, psychotic vampires that are impossible to kill’ in the tone of voice people use when it starts raining and they’ve forgotten their umbrella.

She brings out completely over the top reactions to having a bit of blood on her, or possibly seeing a mouse, but put two guys punching each other and growling outside the room and there’s barely a flicker.

I actually gave up at this point, it was so leaden and boring and once the cliché of one of the gun-toting hunters getting bit and then pleading not to be killed despite the fact he knows exactly what’s going to happen to him was wheeled out I decided I had better things to do with myself.

Rogue Moon

Included in the SF Masterworks series, Rogue Moon, published in 1960 by Russian SF writer Algis Budrys, is considered to be part of the ‘New Wave’ of SF in the 1960s and 1970s, which was more focused on literary experimentation than hard science.

An alien object has been found on the dark side of the moon by America and a transporter built to materialise volunteers on the moon who then go in to explore what it is. Unfortunately, this results in a very quick and painful death, and retrieving any information on what is in there and what killed them is proving to be very difficult.

An extraordinary kind of person is therefore required who can face death again and again without being driven insane by the experience, in order for science and the human obsession for domination over the unknown to continue its inexorable path forward.

There are only a few central characters in Rogue Moon, with the main focus on the relationship between the obsessive and rigidly self-controlled scientist Edward Hawks, and the daredevil risk taker Al Barker, who in his own way is also very self-controlled, defensive, and consumed by the need to find a meaning.

The writing is very different from, for example, Arthur C Clarke’s, with the science not as exact and more fanciful, and the alien object on the moon being more a personification of death rather than a solid place or thing to be explored. The characters’ personalities and reactions to one another and the stress they encounter in facing the up to now impenetrable barrier of death are the driving force of the novel, rather than detailed descriptions of the lunar surface or the alien structure. When Hawks, accompanied by a Director at the company they work for called Vincent Connington, visits Barker and his girlfriend Claire, the situation is very reminiscent of the style of dialogue used in novels such as The Great Gatsby. There is a brittle, fake face put on and each of them, apart from Hawks who refuses to be dragged into these games, and they dance around one another in a series of subtle mind games and affected indifference or machismo.

This is a very different book from what I was expecting. Having read Clarke and Hoyle, who were both scientists, I was expecting most of the action to take place on the moon, with an explanation of what the thing is that is up there. This is merely a tool however for Budrys to explore human psychology in the face of such extreme testing. It explores Barker’s personality, which teeters on the edge of having a death wish and needing to prove something to everybody, particularly himself, and Hawks’ cold ambition to unlock the secrets of the alien artefact that clash with the fact that he has to send to many men up there to die in order for him to do this. This is a study of death and how humans approach it, as well as a study of what being ‘you’ actually means. The transporter used to send people to the moon destroys the original object, and sends a signal to the moon to recreate the object from moon rock by rearranging atoms, as well as forming a second identical object on earth, which means that two versions of the same person with the same memories are alive at once, but neither of them are the original person that went into the machine. The actual deaths that take place within the alien maze or whatever it may be are barely described at all, being irrelevant to the overall objective of overcoming death – but whether it is actually overcome at all is highly subjective.

A central theme of the book is things not being exactly what they seem – so a person transported to the moon isn’t the person that left earth, and the alien object cannot be exactly defined by observers, being described as possibly existing in more dimensions than previously experienced, and remains as unknowable at the end than it was at the beginning. Claire is a character made up by a character, who flirts and pushes people’s buttons in order to get a reaction from them, and who is described by a love-struck Connington, who himself gets ahead by also finding people’s weaknesses, as being ‘an elemental – the rise of the tides, the coming of the seasons, an eclipse of the Sun… Such creatures are not to be thought of as good or bad… Woe to us who would pursue them on their cometary track.’ He wants her because he can’t have her, and elevates her from being human to an unknowable force of nature. There is a constant want for more than life currently gives, yet most people aren’t sure what they actually are looking for.

The idea of memory is also a main theme; the making an impact on another person’s life. Hawks’ heartless experiment where he candidly tells Barker that he will kill him many times in a wide variety of ways is juxtaposed with a gradually blooming and tentative love story between him and a woman who gave him a lift. Barker, who is accused of ‘courting death’ by Hawkes, when killed the first time, is horrified by the impersonality of it: ‘…it didn’t care, I was nothing to it!’ he says. The team on the moon who set the volunteers on the path to the alien object are all copies of identical people who are living their lives down on earth, with their families and friends. Despite having all of these memories, they aren’t really that person, and are mere shadows on a far away moon that have to come to terms with building their own form of existence as a separate version of what once was.

This is a difficult book to get a grasp of, as humanity, love and death and what they mean to each of us can be completely different. It is a book of many layers and no answers. Whether a reader likes the book or not I think depends on what they want from their science fiction, but I think it works well to show that not all SF has to be rigidly scientific in its structure, and based on hardware in space. I think you can read into this novel as much as you wish to, there are numerous little details which can be mused upon. For example, Barker’s house is built on the edge of a sheer drop down to the sea, with the road leading to it a death trap for the unwary driver, yet Barker takes the turns at 50 miles an hour and Connington, despite having to inch his way around the bends with help from Hawks, refuses to walk up to the house which would be easier, but which would mess up his boots.

When Claire eventually leaves with Connington, they smash all of the plate glass windows across the front of the house, which earlier reflected multiple copies of Claire as she lay by the pool manipulating the men around her. A rebellion against the fake faces put on by these people or Claire not being able to stand the sight of herself? Why does the alien structure kill people for facing lunar north, or raising their left hand above their shoulder, or at all? At every turn there’s something to snag the interest of those who wish to read deeper.