The Social Network

The creation of Facebook has changed the way that we look at our entire lives. Since 2004, when it was first launched, the site has forced us to reevaluate how we look at privacy, how we conduct ourselves in public and how we interact with our peers. Despite the numerous faults that can be found with the site, it is a remarkable innovation, one that is here to stay.

David Fincher's film chronicling the story behind the creation of Facebook is a fascinating, well paced film that has almost no right to be as good as it is. Penned by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network is almost certainly a dramatic interpretation of what really happened. Events seem to line up as they have in real life, and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerburg has noted that the film is fairly inaccurate, especially when it came to his motivations for starting in the first place. Regardless, it's extremely well written, acted and directed, a film that stands on its own merits, rather than something held up by its own novelty.

Alienating his date, Zuckerburg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) returns to his dorm room where he hacks into Harvard's internal social sites, downloads pictures and puts them together in a site where people are compared and ranked. It's a degrading exercise, but one that's revealing: the site receives over twenty-two thousand hits in a day, taking down Harvard's network, and getting Zuckerburg and his friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), thinking about what to do next. Approached by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss to create a social network of their own, Zuckerburg turns around and creates his own site, launching it as an exclusive online site for Harvard and surrounding area students.

The film splits itself between Zuckerburg's college years and several intense questioning sessions by attorneys from the Winklevoss twins and Saverin himself as they try and prove wrongdoing on Zuckerburg's part - the twins claiming that he had stolen their idea, while Saverin was trying to leverage the money that he lost when he was pushed out of the company. The juxtaposition shows how much things could change within a few short years.

The Social Network isn't about Facebook, or really even about the creation of the website. The film's true themes come from the title, and are ultimately an intense character drama between Zuckerburg, Saverin and Justin Timberlake's Sean Parker and their own interactions. Facebook has become an intense issue in the public lime-light, and the film's creators did well to frame their film by the people involved. The Social Network is ultimately the relationship between Zuckerburg and his friends, and ultimately the rest of the world. It's complicated, as Zuckerburg and Saverin face off against one another, backed by their lawyers, and the tension is incredible.

This is a film that is far more compelling than it should be. It's a film about a couple of geeks, working to push against the established social order that they've been told to work in. Zuckerburg has gone on to upend how we interact with one another. Parker notes that while his first company, Napster, was sued and killed by the music industry, it completely changed how people looked at buying, distributing and listening to music. The film also plays up the conflict between the Winklevoss twins - rowers who would go on to the Olympics - as the jocks against a diminutive Zuckerburg who beats them at their own game. Coders are selected by a complicated coding marathon and drinking game that wouldn't seem out of place for a stereotypical sports team - minus the computers and technobabble about what they're coding. Facebook, like some of the other earth changing events and creations in human history, was created by the nerd. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Albert Einstein and numerous others can likely count Zuckerburg amongst their numbers for the changes that he's pushed upon people, for better or worse.

The Social Network, while likely a fictionalized account of true events, is a fascinating take on the people behind the creation of Facebook, and I'm sure that there's some truth behind parts of the story. As someone who's used the website since it began, when it was invite only with a college e-mail address, it's astonishing to think about how much things have changed - there was certainly a nostalgic pang seeing the original masthead and layout. Up for several Oscars, Fincher's film has received a lot of critical acclaim, all of it well deserved for this highly relevant and thoughtful movie.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)

The first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens with a bang as a wizard instructor, tortured and begging for her life drops to the table, surrounded by jeering Death Eaters as she’s killed by the story’s main protagonist, Lord Voldemort. This sets the tone for the best Harry Potter film to date, one that is both a superb adaptation of the novel that it’s based upon, and a solid film in and of itself.

Starting with the books, I’ve long found the film adaptations of each to be lacking when comparing one another. The first and second films get the story across in a decent manner, but miss out on the real essence, look and feel of the novels. The third one had an exceptional look and feel, capturing the story in a condensed manner, while four and five likewise got elements of the tone, but not the story across to audiences. Generally, storylines were dropped or hinted at, while scenes that showed off the skills of the computer programmers filled in for unnecessary moments. Coming out of The Deathly Hallows, I found that I really couldn’t criticize the film for the few elements that they had dropped.

If time is the key element here, the move to split the book into two separate films is proof positive that the penultimate film uses its time well: the story, themes and characters are on screen, almost perfectly making the transition over. The final novel of the series is itself a superior read because of the depth and ground covered in the story: as Lord Voldemort rises, the Ministry of Magic topples as it’s infiltrated. More than just a fantasy novel, J.K. Rowling uses her time well to create a fantastical dystopian fiction, while the film enhances much of what she wrote by background visuals: guards at the Ministry are dressed in black, with red arm bands while wizards in the ministry work to root out undesirables in a fashion reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This is underscored by the puppet Minister of Magic stating in the early parts of the film: ”If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. It’s dark territory to go to, and the film tackles it well.

In a way, this film should be one of the more dull entries in the Potter franchise. Much like the first book, it’s set away from Hogwarts, focusing intensely on Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley as they escape from Voldemort’s forces in the Ministry and vigilante bands wandering the countryside. As a juxtaposition from the dystopian feel, the film also incorporates a number of vaguely post-apocalyptic scenes as they travel across burned out villages, abandoned fields and structures in a number of hauntingly beautiful scenes while searching for the remaining horcruxes. The film maintains a sense of urgency throughout the two diverse elements, from their raid on the ministry to their escape across England, and director David Yates demonstrates a mastery behind the camera for everything that’s on the screen: the action scenes caught my breath in my throat, and even though I’ve recently read the book, I found myself at the edge of my seat with anticipation for what comes next.

At the heart of the entire film is the three characters that we’ve grown to love since the first books and films came out so long ago. Watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time in years recently, I marveled at how young the entire cast looked, and how they have changed. This film serves as an intense character moment for the trio as they embark on their last adventure against the world’s darkest threat. Tempers flare, moods turn to despair and emotions deepen as they wander. I’ve often wondered if Rowling was somewhat reluctant to let the characters go at points, but returning to the source, I’ve realized that the vast change in tone and style for this last story was one of necessity, one that required the time to uncover things at a natural pace. It suites me just fine, and where the book served as the perfect coda for the series, this film does as well, before the last decent into what will ultimately be a packed and exciting conclusion with the second part this July. Where the first half of the book is a bit sedentary, the second half is the direct opposite, with an intense finale that both ties together numerous sections of the story together and leaves it with a satisfying conclusion.

After watching the first part of the last film, the last film is already set up to a stellar ending, and I hope that it will live up to the excellence of its first half. Part 1 has set an incredibly high bar, but this was the easier part to adapt, and the next installment has a lot of material to take in. For this outing, however, it's as perfect an adaptation as could be expected, and a fitting take on Rowling's fantastic story.


2010 Film Recap

After last year, with some excellent films like District 9, Moon (and less excellent, but still fun to watch, like Avatar), 2010 felt downright dull when it came to the genre films that came out in theaters. So far this year, I've only watched a couple, in and out of theaters, although there are a couple that are currently available to rent through a local Red Box, which I'll likely do over the next couple of days.

Of all of the films that I've seen thus far, Inception is by far the best, not only of the year, but it's going onto my 'Top genre films' list, which includes films like Moon, District 9, Solaris, Minority Report, and others along the same caliber that I’ve enjoyed. Inception worked on almost every level for me: it had a compelling, interesting and relevant plot, was excellently shot and directed, and has a fantastic soundtrack that I’ve listened to a lot. It’s a film that I’ve been eagerly anticipating seeing again after I saw it in theaters, and I was particularly happy to see a film that was not only smart and interesting, but that caught with a broad appeal and actually did quite well at the box office.

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that I saw recently that really surprised me. Megan and I rented it on a whim, and we both really enjoyed it. It’s a standard pre-teen action/adventure animated movie, with a focus on the fighting and happy ending, but it’s a fun little story of friendship and doing the right thing. And there’s dragons, some funny moments, quite a bit of action, and some excellent voice acting. Apparently, there’s a sequel coming in a couple of years, and I’ll certainly make it a point to see that one.

Along with How to Train Your Dragon, we rented Toy Story 3, which was a great capstone to the first two films, although given how long it’s been since I’ve seen the 2nd one, it’s hard to compare them in terms of quality. This new addition holds up wonderfully to the first film, something I consider a formative film in my own childhood, and treasure it deeply (along with the lessons learned there: treat your things well). #3 felt very dark at points without going overboard, but retained the charm of the first two films. Beyond that, it aged well, with Andy headed off to college, making this film a very different one in tone, and not just a rehash of the first two.

Daybreakers was another surprise, and while people seem fixated on the horrors of the sparkly Vampire novels and urban fantasy, this film makes its own departures and is able to retain some of the more horrific and over the top elements nicely. There’s an overt political and environmental message embedded in the story, but it fits well. The story of vampires running out of blood and mutating was a fun one, with some over the top elements, some neat science fictional ones, and Sam Neill being creepy.

Iron Man II was a letdown after the first Iron Man movie. Where the first was a fun, concise story that rolled together the military industrial complex and the wars in the Middle East, the sequel attempted to do the same thing, while also setting up the upcoming Avengers movie, juggle multiple villains and the Demon in a Bottle storyline. It’s a case where they should have picked one or two and focused on those, but despite the glaring problems, the film is a fun one, with action, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Hopefully, they’ll get the 3rd one right when that’s released in a couple of years, and I’m guessing that many of the problems are due to studio interference, rather than the people who actually filmed it.

Clash of the Titans was a bomb: a big, stupid fun bomb that was pure popcorn fare. Not worth picking up by any stretch of the imagination (I ended up winning a copy), but it’s worth watching for the overblown effects, crappy acting and monsters going around eating / killing / maiming people in various ways.

I couldn’t even get through The Book of Eli. A coworker of mine told me the ending afterwards, and I’m not missing anything after falling asleep while watching it. There were some interesting action sequences and a cool premise, but it just couldn’t hold my attention.

There were a bunch of films that I wanted to see, but simply haven’t had the chance or time to do so yet: Wolfman (despite the horrible reviews), Green Zone (Jason Bourne lite?), Social Network (Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite writers), Kick Ass (Which looked like an incredible amount of fun), Splice (which was apparently a well acted, scripted and shot film), Predators (which looked like fun), The American (Artistic spy film?) and the recently released Black Swan, (which looks and sounds incredible). A couple of these, like Predators, Splice, Kickass, Green Zone and Wolfman are all available to rent, so I might end up going that route before buying any of them.

And, of course, there’s a couple of films out there that are about to be released: True Grit, a Coen Brothers western, which looks like it could be an interesting one, based off of the original John Wayne film, while I’m also interested in the last Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hollows, Part 1 (I’m rereading all of the books now). The last film of the year that I’m eagerly awaiting, Tron: Legacy, for some pseudo-Cyberpunk blockbuster action is out next week. I loved the original Tron when I saw it earlier this year, and it’s one that I’m already anticipating for the big screen.

After this year, there’s a couple of films that I’m looking forwards to for 2011: Battle: Los Angeles is going to be a certain theater visit for me, The Adjustment Bureau, based off of a Philip K. Dick story, as well as Sucker Punch, which looks like pure male fantasy (and every geeky trope lumped into one story). Source Code, Duncan Jones’ second film is also to be released (I loved Moon, so I’m hopeful for this one.) and the summer, with Thor (Maybe), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides (Sure), X-Men: First Class (Yep), Super 8 (J.J. Abrams film), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Maybe?), Captain America (Maybe), Harry Potter 7.2 (depends on the first one), Cowboys and Aliens (Yes!), all looking like a bit of fun. The fall will also bring in the first Tintin movie, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, which I’m eagerly awaiting. There’s also a second Sherlock Holmes film in there somewhere, which might be fun.

2010 felt like a bit of a lax year – there were some other genre films that came out, but there really wasn’t anything that caught my eyes or attention beyond the films that I saw (or otherwise listed). Between ’9 and ’11, there are quite a few interesting things set to film, and if anything, it’s a reaffirmation that Science Fiction and Fantasy are both still pretty popular when it comes down to the wire. Except this year, for some reason.


Sherlock Holmes seems to be all the rage at the moment. A major studio film has been released, an anthology by John Joseph Adams, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has been published, and one of Fox's top shows, House, MD, has a number of connections to Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective and sidekick. There's a new version out, one that's possibly the best version that I've yet to see: Steven Moffat's Sherlock.

Set in contemporary London, the story of Sherlock Holmes has been reset to exist in the modern day. The titular Sherlock Holmes (brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self described sociopath, and a consultant for the London police. He's joined by John Watson (also brilliantly acted by Martin Freeman - who's also portraying Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit), an Afghanistan war veteran who rooms with the troubled detective. The series, composed of three hour and a half long episodes, are amongst some of the best that I've yet to see in television. Where Hugh Laurie's House has allowed for a good update of the character, Cumberbatch's returns straight to the subject matter of crime and puzzles. Fortunately, there is a second series planned, although with Freeman's work on The Hobbit in a year, it would be interesting to see if there's an impact.

The first episode, 'A Study in Pink' sees the meeting of Watson and Holmes amongst a rash of suicides in London as several people are found dead after taking a poisoned pill. As the two get used to one another, Holmes deduces that a single person is responsible for the murders, and works to track down their elusive prey. The second episode, 'The Blind Banker', sees a break in at a major bank, where nothing has been taken, but with a symbol spray painted to the wall of a secured office. As the two investigate, they move further into a world of international organized crime and Chinese gangsters. The last episode, 'The Great Game', sees Holmes locked in a psychological battle with his nemesis, Moriarty, with a series of challenges and crimes to solve in an ever shorter time period.

It's worth noting once again that Benedict Cumberbatch owns Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal of the character is spot on, with more similarities to the modern adaptations of Laurie and Downey's own takes on the character, where he's psychologically tuned, observant, and socially clueless. Cumberbatch nails every element of his character, even if he looks more like Neil Gaiman in my own mind than what I've envisioned Holmes to be.

It's curious that Holmes has popped up in a number of places lately. The stories have been incredibly popular throughout their publication history - Holmes is the most adapted character, ever - but it seems like he's popped up in a number of high profile areas lately. Sherlock did incredibly well on the BBC; a second series has been commissioned (and after the ending of Series 1, it's needed!), while the film has spawned a sequel, which is due out in the next year or so. At the same time, House, MD, is well into its seventh year. Personally, I'm hoping that we'll see a House hallucination of the famed detective at some point.

I think Holmes works well with any time period that he exists in. Doubtlessly, we'll see future adaptations of the character (I wonder how many science fiction stories have included him thus far), because the things that make him tick are really timeless. It's not the technology, the settings or backgrounds of Holmes, but the awareness of observation and superior cognition that he displays that fits everywhere. Add in a good look at the character and recognizing that it's not the hat and pipe that defines him, but the social ticks (the modern motion picture versions attribute Aspergers to the character, at least in part) that are more recognized in the modern day. Here, we see Holmes work well with cellular phones, city maps, computers and the like to solve his crimes.

Moffat's Sherlock is one that's destined for recognition, and I hope that it'll become as recognizable as some of the other classic versions. It's a fantastic drama, and the next series will be well anticipated. It’s exceedingly well thought out, acted and shot, and represents the best of what television can do with a familiar character.

The Upcoming Film Slate

Inception was amongst my most anticipated film of 2010 for this summer, and having seen that film in theaters (although I would very much like to see it once or twice more, soon), focus inevitably moves towards the next big thing to watch. With San Diego Comic Con over, and with it, a large rush of new trailers and films announced, or at least expounded upon. Looking at what's coming up, there are a couple of films that have caught my eye, which will be released in the next year or so. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 1

When it comes to Harry Potter, I've enjoyed the books, but I've really disliked the movies. The first and second films were simply abysmal, childish and completely didn't mesh with my vision of what the books were, while The Prisoner of Azkaban was marvelous, film-wise, but lacking in terms of adaptation. I haven't seen the movies that follow, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix and the Half Blood Prince, and I've heard varying degrees of quality from the lot of them. Still, the films look like they are getting better, and hopefully, I'll catch up with the films in order to see the first of the last Harry Potter film in theaters. Overall, I've really liked what I've seen from the trailers, in terms of film quality and the story, and if anything, it'll hopefully be fun to watch.

Tron: Legacy

I first watched the original Tron earlier this year, and I was absolutely blown away by it. The graphics are certainly outdated, but that hardly matters. Now, the original cast is back, aged in real time, and along with it, a stunning new version of the computerized universe, which, from all appearances by the trailers and VFX reels, looks simply stunning. This film has me left with some extremely high hopes, and I'm interested to see where they can go with the story, twenty or so years later. With the release of the first film, there was a certain understanding as to how computers and cyberspace was used. Now, in the age where computers are a major part of entertainment and work, that understanding has changed, substantially. Hopefully, the film will change with that change in understanding.

Battle: Los Angeles

This film is one that has seen the occasional news, but with Comic Con, there were several major announcements, and a trailer released, which has gotten me very interested in what this one will be about. The basic premise is that the film will mesh Independence Day and Black Hawk Down, as the Marines confront an alien invasion in Los Angeles. My guess is that this film will be approached much like we did District 9, with an original story, marketed with an interesting viral marketing campaign, similar film styles and so forth. The basic premise, marines vs. aliens, is already a fun one. What's gotten me more interested is that this film is being approached as if it were a war film. The aliens will be organized, logical, and aren't going to be destroying things like monuments. Plus, there will be combat. It should be a fun ride. No trailer yet, but that should be coming soon.

Sucker Punch

The trailer for this new Zach Snyder film looked just plain awesome. I have very little to go on: a trailer that combines dragons, Samurai, rockets, Nazis, alien planets, and a bunch of girls, and a description of 'Alice in Wonderland plus machine guns.'. The film doesn't look like it's going to be anything that's going to be thought provoking or anything like that. This looks to be the film that will be balls to the wall action, coupled with Snyder's fantastic visual style that he's worked on in 300 and Watchmen.


The trailer for this film leaked this morning, and honestly? It looks much better than I thought it might. Thor was a film that I wasn't all that interested in watching, but it looks like it could be quite a bit of fun, especially as Marvel dips further and further into the Avengers arc that will be tying all of their films together. There is enough action and familiar characters to make this film appear to feel very much at home with the universe that's being created, and it's just one further step in a bigger plan that Marvel has going.


Titled Mexico's District 9, this film has also been on my radar, with a couple of short teasers and photos. The premise follows a NASA satellite that had been searching for life crashes south of the United States border, bringing with it something, which blankets all of Mexico in a quarantine zone. A journalist has to bring someone across the area to the U.S., and they'll be coming across these aliens. It looks like there'll be a bit of a pointed message with it, and that worked well with District 9. Plus, it's an original/independent film, which has me even more interested, getting some fresh voices to the genre.

Source Code

The last film on the list is Duncan Jone's Source Code, which has wrapped filming in Montreal, and according to Jones, should be out early in 2011. Jones created the fantastic film Moon, which has become one of my all time favorites, and is putting together a story of a soldier who has to go into the minds of the victims of a train bombing in order to discover who the perpetrator was. Jones is going to be someone to watch with the genre, and I have a feeling that this film will be a very interesting one to watch.

Soylent Green

My girlfriend and I have begun a sometimes-weekly thing, where we'll pick out an old science fiction film and watch it, a sort of date night in. A while ago, I solicited my Facebook networks for a list of such movies that I needed to watch; the list grew immensely, and ever since, I've been picking up a lot of these older films as I find them. I've found a couple thus far: Planet of the Apes, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Alien(s), Omega Man, Logan's Run and recently, Soylent Green.

I had picked this film up, because it was on sale, but also because it has coined one of the absolute classic phrases in the genre: "Soylent Green is people!", screamed at the end of the film by the lead star, Charlston Heston, after he discovers the truth about the food that people have been eating all along. Most of these films, I've found, have been highly entertaining ones, watched simply for their status in the genre. But with Soylent Green, I found, there's a very relevant message in the film: when people and nature compete, mankind will do what it takes to win, even if by winning, mankind turns to somewhat drastic things in order to continue to survive.

Oddly, I was somewhat reminded of one of my favorite (and frequently mentioned) books, The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Both works feature near-future societies, where human populations have overrun their natural food supplies, and in a large way, are dependent upon larger companies to feed the larger population. The Windup Girl does this in a sophisticated, modern manner, while Soylent Green demonstrates the food shortages in a particularly excellent scene when Heston's character, Thorn, confiscates a stash of food from a rich murder victim's apartment, bringing it home for his elderly friend Sol.

At the onset of the film, set in 2022, the Soylent Corporation is the leading manufacturer of processed food, and is the only thing between the starving, overcrowded New York City, and total chaos of a hungry mob. Introduced is Soylent Green, created from plankton, which is rationed out to the people in the streets. Investigating the murder of William Simonson, Thorne discovers (from a report in Simonson's home) that the oceans have become depleted, and that the man had been a prominent member of the food company. The murder trail leads to a horrible conclusion: unable to cope with a vanishing resource, the company began to take dead people, and processed them as the namesake foodstuff. Unable to cope with what the company had been doing, Simonson arranged his own death.

At the heart of the action and dystopia that is presented, the film is an excellent cautionary tale, one that has an exceptionally well thought-out world that is frighteningly realistic. Recently, Charles Stross wrote an interesting blog post about the number of people that it would take to maintain the current level of society. Where most of everything that we do is supported in high percentages, from the design of the cars that we drive to the medicine that keeps us alive. When it comes to food, he notes that in the 1900s, it took around twenty to thirty percent of the work force to provide food for the entire population. Now, however, it takes .5 to 1% of the population, with an additional couple or percentage points to distribute it all, to do the very same thing. Just go to your grocery store and look at what is available at  your arm's length to see the variety of food. The logistical elements that go into creating everything there is enormous, automated and the nightmare of every green-eco activist who advocates for a clean living. With the preservatives, chemicals and emissions from cows that go into the whole process, there's a major impact to the world around us that just isn't visible to the average consumer. This makes the entire process far more scary, and in my mind, brings us quite closer to the worlds that have been presented in these sorts of bio-punk stories.

As climate change occurs and becomes more noticeable, it's likely that the science fiction genre will begin to look far more closely at this sort of science and dystopian future as a means of creative origin. Already, it's fairly easy to point to Bacigalupi's fiction, but in other venues, such as Lightspeed Magazine, there's already been a story about a similar future, and as these stories will undoubtedly become true, it's entirely likely that a lot of these authors will see their stories come true, in some form.

I don't think that I'd like to see the overpopulated world of Soylent Green or of The Windup Girl. The huge numbers of people, competing for food, and at the mercy of the food corporations is a frightening vision of the future, but in some ways, it's already becoming reality.

Review: Daybreakers


In a world with sparkling vampires and an abrupt popularization of the genre, the 2010 film Daybreakers comes as a welcome addition to the genre, blending science fiction, dystopian thriller and vampire lore into a neat, exciting film that had a sensible story with a great visual sense. The most interesting thing is that it's really not about vampires at all: it's about oil.

In 2009, an epidemic raged across the world, killing almost everyone and turning them into vampires. There are no new innovations here: the vampires avoid sunlight, wooden stakes cause them to explode in a bloody mess, and, of course, they drink blood. By 2019, society moves along like it always did, just during the nighttime hours. Ethan Hawke portrays Edward Dalton (hopefully better than the other vampire Edward...), a sort of vegetarian vampire who lives off of pig blood, who works for Bromley Marks, a pharmaceutical company looking to make a replacement for the rapidly dwindling supply of human blood. Dalton comes across a member of a human resistance movement, who knows about his work, and brings him together with someone who had cured himself of the aliment.

Daybreakers is remarkably well thought out, from the story to the background elements. Happily, the film takes much of the traditional vampire lore and shifts it into the future, holding onto only what is strictly necessary, and adapting everything else to what the story requires. Cars are fitted with shades and external cameras, sidewalks are moved underground, soldiers wear protective clothing, and houses have alerts for their owners to know when there's a risk of sunlight. Everybody is immortal, and it seems like it could be a very good life.

What really works well in this film is the attention to detail, on a story, visual and background level: the film doesn't feel like, nor is it, fluff. There's a good amount of attention to the story, which moves along briskly, with quite a bit of action, encompassing a number of elements, all along with a really striking visual sense that helps the film really stand out from most of its compatriots. Particularly striking was the lighting, with dim grays and blues for a lot of the vampire scenes, but also bright and solid yellows for the humans, creating a sort of unconscious divide between the characters and their respective storylines when they showed up. This has been done to great effect in other films, such as Pan's Labyrinth and the television show Firefly.

The main problem that faces vampire society is that there is a critical shortage of human blood. Humans, only numbering around 5% of their original population, or around 342 million, have been captured in massive blood banks for the likely population of 6 billion vampires. As the human population declines, the vampires transform into is a horribly mutated one that looks a bit like an oversized, insane bat (a subsider), which an entire populate is at risk of transforming into, and understandably, there is quite a lot of panic in the streets, and the very problem that Dalton and the Bromley Marks company is trying to avoid. Dalton comes across problems as he comes up against corporate interests, who are only interested in the status quo, with the ability to sell pure human blood to the highest bidders, while keeping their form, as opposed to the complete reversal of the condition that everybody is afflicted with.

This conflict is at the center of the film, and at the heart of it, it's really not about Vampires, but it's about the modern world's complete dependence upon oil. Oil, which helps hold the world together as we have become increasingly globalized, is a resource that will eventually run out, and will leave much of the world in a state of decline, due to short sighted business interests who only are interested in pleasing shareholders. The same holds true in the film, and given that there was a decade of vampirism on earth, it seems somewhat astonishing that they would have completely squandered their lifeblood (literally) until you realize that that's exactly what is being done at the moment, with any number of things. The film gets a good message throughout the film, fulfilling some important aspects of what the genre should be doing for its audience.

Ultimately, the environmental storyline is the strongest component in the film. There are good attempts at a personal story and some work towards the characters, but ultimately, after watching the film, it feels like there was a lot missing: tantalizing hints, such as Dalton's transformation and his subsequent relationship with his brother are largely left up in the air, as well as a couple of similar storylines that involve some of the other characters in the film (Sam Neill's character, Charles Bromley, and his daughter, for example), all add to a fascinating background and world that has been constructed for this story, and at points, it feels like there is elements or scenes that are missing that would really flesh out the film, such as the introduction of a vampire senator who harbors human sympathies. The film would have been further strengthened to better sort these out, and it's certainly possible that a director's or special cut would rectify this sort of thing.

Ultimately, Daybreakers isn't totally sure of what it should be: character or political drama with the coverings of a genre film, or something else. As it stands now, the film is a very good one, covering much ground and providing a nice addition to a fairly crowded speculative fiction genre. The film holds a good message, and has all of the right elements going for it, making it a really good, worthwhile film to buy, but it falls just short of being a really fantastic, must see watch.

Deus EX Machina: The Matrix is really just Tron

One of the films that I've watched lately that's become a real favorite of mine is 1982's TRON, which told what I feel is one of the better stories about artificial intelligence and the future of computers. The movie is a dated one, given how much computers have changed in the past thirty years, but I feel that it holds up extremely well, even in the modern computing age. Given the craze in Hollywood over the past decade for sequels, it comes as no surprise that a sequel for TRON will be released later this year. What is surprising is just how long it's taken (28 years!) to make a sequel. Except for one thing: the film has already been remade with another hit: The Matrix.

I saw The Matrix first, about a year or two after it was first released, and really enjoyed it. The combination of martial arts, cyberpunk and gothic themes blended together into a genuinely smart science fiction thriller worked extremely well, even extending into the sequels, which I thought were decent (although they certainly suffer from the 'More is Better' mentality that sequels are often saddled with), especially with some of the themes that were introduced in Reloaded and Revolutions.

When I watched TRON this past fall, I was astonished at some of the marked similarities between the two films. The Matrix is a film that plays homage to a number of films that influenced the Wachowski Brothers early on, and it's easy to assume that much of what is consistent in The Matrix is influenced from TRON. Some of these similarities are in the form of the visual nature of the film - the opening title sequences are nearly identical, as are some camera angles and scenes. Moreover, the story idea of a person entering a completely digital world is a major similarity between the two, and is certainly not something that's tied only to TRON. (William Gibson's fantastic thriller Neuromancer comes to mind) But in the visual arts, it's clear that there's quite a bit of TRON in The Matrix.

What made Steven Lisberger's film so interesting to me was the real depth to the story, and the religious connections that were placed there between the programs in the computer systems, and the mythical users who created them. Like any good story set in a speculative fiction universe, the story extrapolates from the fantastic and has several themes that are relatable to the audience watching the film. Here, there is a link between the cold and analytical electronics, with an element of the supernatural to the beliefs of the programs. Moreover, it changes the viewpoint of a program to something that's highly relatable, as people with fairly specific purposes within the innards of a computer, while the user, a creator of programs, is akin to a god in the machine.

The Matrix incorporates some of these elements in TRON, where Neo proves to be an exceptional person within the programming of the Matrix, someone who can ultimately conceptualize and realize the full extent of his abilities within the Matrix - he's able to alter the reality around him in order to accomplish extraordinary things. Neo is essentially superman within the computer, with a number of religious connotations surrounding him throughout the story.

With the coming Tron: Legacy film coming in December, the question has to be asked: is it necessary? In the follow-up Matrix films, we see that there's an environment that is very similar to the world that TRON presents, with programs acting on their own in their own little world. This seems to be where the next TRON is exploring, with a new world with better graphics (literally in both cases), but in a way, the Matrix films acted as a reboot to the 1982 film in their own way. The hope with film producers is that this new TRON film will become the start to a new franchise of films, with a trilogy and television series planned (at least that's the rumor). There's a number of ways that this story can go, and it will be very interesting to see just which direction can be taken with the future films and productions.

When it comes down to it, however, The Matrix is really a highly stylized, slightly different version of TRON. The protagonists in each film are largely the same: challenge a malevolent computer program and overlord within ambitions to control humanity. There are some differences here between the two, but for all intents and purposes, the Matrix has a similar enough story and had the same impact as its predecessor.

Hopefully, the upcoming TRON film will fare better than its counterparts in the Matrix trilogy, providing an interesting and thought provoking sequel to a film that really sparked that in the first place. Both the Matrix and TRON were excellent films that arguably changed the genre of science fiction film.

The Empire Strikes Back

30 years ago tomorrow, The Empire Strikes Back, the follow-up film for George Lucas's Star Wars, was released to theaters. Hailed as one of the best sequels , Empire is easily one of the strongest entries in the Star Wars Franchise. Ultimately, Empire has long remained one of my favorite Star Wars films, for its strong story and memorable characters, but also because it demonstrated that Star Wars was more than a simple one hit wonder out of Hollywood. Indeed, the successes of The Empire Strikes Back allowed Lucas to continue his story with Return of the Jedi, and ultimately, with the Prequel Trilogy.

The Empire Strikes Back was certainly faced with a daunting problem: how did one follow up the incredible success that was Star Wars with something bigger and better? The first film had been a major, unexpected blockbuster hit, with theaters selling out and sending lines around the parking lot in ways that revolutionized how the film industry marketed summer films. Taking place five of so years after the events of A New Hope, Empire opens with the Rebellion once again facing hard times: the victory over the Empire with the destruction of the Death Star was short lived, and are forced to take refuge on the planet Hoth, a desolate ice world. Tracked to the planet, the rebels wage a costly battle on the surface of the planet against Imperial Walkers before once again escaping, separating the main characters. Luke flies off to the planet Dagobah to train with Jedi Master Yoda, while Han Solo and Chewbacca take off through an asteroid belt in the Hoth system to evade imperial pursuit, with C-3P0 and Leia Organa in tow. Their ship damaged, they make their way to Bespin for repairs, where they are captured by Darth Vader and his soldiers, while Luke is in turn drawn to the planet in a trap prepared by the dark lord, using his friends as bait. In the end, Luke learns of his parentage, loses a hand, and Han Solo is put on ice, and we're left with an ambiguous ending, with an uncertain future.

The Empire Strikes Back worked simply because it built upon the successes of Star Wars. The first film demonstrated that a film with excellent special effects, a story that drew upon numerous sources and putting in quite a lot of space warfare worked well. Empire looked inwards towards the stories and characters, rather than building upon the previous successes, something that modern day filmmakers should take note of when looking to top their sequel. Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, Empire is a far more complicated film. Han, Luke and Leia seem to have developed their own little, complicated relationship between the three of them, while the Empire clearly has additional plans for Luke Skywalker. Rather than an evil yes-man for the Emperor, Vader looks to Luke as a way to expand his own personal power beyond being the 2nd in command to Emperor Palpatine.

Furthermore, there is far more added onto what Luke needs to do in order to become a Jedi Knight - he clearly has some of the basics down, but as Yoda demonstrates, much of what a Jedi has to do is mental - with that amount of power, there is much restraint and maturity required to fully master the force: Skywalker is not nearly at that level, and his showdown with Vader in the cave on Dagohah demonstrates that there's a clouded future for him.

This all pales in comparison to the revelation at the end: Darth Vader is Luke's father, which further reinforces Empire as a stronger, character driven drama, rather than one mainly fueled by the effects and action that so many other sequels are characterized by. There's some true issues that face the characters: Luke's father is one of the rebellion's sworn enemies, and he's being asked and tempted, to work with him to overthrow the Emperor. Lando Calrissian is forced to betray his friends at gunpoint, and has to reconcile with Leia and Chewbacca in order to save Han. Luke must forgo part of his training to save his friends. Empire works well, not because the heroes come out on top, but because they're beaten back. Luke's lost time training (and his hand), they have lost a close friend and ally and are still on the run. In light of that, the last shot, with Luke and Leia staring down at a galaxy, is one that really seems hopeful, and that despite their setbacks, will continue onwards with their ultimate goals. This to me speaks to far more than the victorious closing scene at the end of Star Wars.

In the end, what saves the Star Wars franchise, is the darker, more serious nature that Empire takes on after A New Hope. In a lot of ways, the story represented a huge risk, one that didn't pander to the audience, but helped to bring up their expectations for what quality cinema should be: challenging, entertaining, exciting, so forth. Instead of more intense action, the major fights are in the beginning of the film, with a fairly epic lightsaber battle at the end, and the action in this film is smarter, not there just for the sake of putting people into theater seats. The Empire Strikes Back is a superior sequel, one of the few out there.

As such, Empire remains my favorite Star Wars film, standing far and above the prequel trilogy and A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for me. The complexity in the story and characters, as well as the excitement that I had when I first saw it when it was re-released in 1997 still floods through me when I watch this one. It's one of the reasons that I've tailored my own Storm Trooper costume over to the Empire Strikes Back style, and why I'll inevitably pick it up first when wanting to watch a Star Wars film.

Alien vs. Aliens


Over the weekend, I watched two Science Fiction films, Alien and Aliens for the first time. In my quest to have a better sense of the genre, I've been putting together a list of older films, from the 60s and 70s, and these two were on it.

Actually, I had watched Alien once before - I had watched it once, not very closely, and was rather indifferent about it, and when the movie vanished from my collection, I never bothered to pick it up again. This weekend, with little to do but housework, I set up both films (recently aquired used from a local store) and watched both.

Alien is a masterpiece of a science fiction/horror film. Aliens, not so much. I realize that this flies against most of what other people have said about the movie, and taking in to consideration that the two films are vastly different, but I'm willing to stand by my assessment on this.

Alien is quiet, thoughtful, engaging and absolutely beautiful. Aliens is a mess of action, annoying characters and an overwhelming sense of energy. The two films could not be more different from one another, but in a way, that is why the two of them work so well for one another.

What strikes me most about Alien is the sets, look and feel of the universe that Ridley Scott and the production team set up. The Nostromo is wonderfully put together, a space ship that feels well worn and practical, the way that science fiction should be: durable.

Aliens on the other hand, feels flimsy, out of place after watching Alien. Rather than a quiet science fiction film, Aliens is a loud, fast and exciting rush that at times, drags on the plot. Where Alien succeeded as a horror film, building up the anticipation, Aliens kicks the action into high gear.

This is logical, I suppose, for the fans of the first movie, and for the franchise as a whole. The fact that the second movie is so different helps, I think, even if it does fall into the more is better mentality that seems to be the guide rule for most sequels now. A second film like Alien would be the worst thing for the franchise: it would be a dull installment.

Still, while this is good in theory, a major change and shift in tone, Aliens, I found, is let down by its execution. There's action, but it's not smart action. James Cameron has never really been a subtle director, and this is no exception. The acting is annoying, until the end, but the endless action is just repetitive and brings down the film as a whole.

Still, it's a better action film than most action films out there right now, and it's easy to see where the rest of the genre really comes from. That being said, Alien ends up on top.