Science Fiction

The Sky Has Fallen

Given the sheer number of zombie films that have been released in recent years, its always nice to see someone do something a bit different with the genre and this is certainly the case for The Sky Has Fallen.

The film centres on Lance (Carey MacLaren) and Rachel (Laurel Kemper), two people who find each other in the wilderness following the inevitable zombie generating plague. This plague, however, is a bit different to most in that there is a force that is behind it that is both raising and organising the zombies. This force, which we encounter as semi-substantial black shrouded figures, is unambiguously malevolent and also allows for a storyline that refuses to follow the survivors trying to survive plot that is all too common.

Lance believes he has seen the leader of these figures and is in the forest with the intent of hunting him down. Rachel, like many others, has fled to the forest to escape the chaos in the cities. They meet, violently, and initially things go less than smoothly.

Lance has reasons for not wanting anyone to tag along with him but Rachel, recognising that she is safer with an armed accomplice than without, refuses to leave. Not surprisingly, the two are terse with each other, to say the least, but as the film progresses so does their relationship and an uneasy alliance begins to form between the two of them.

This developing relationship, as well as the slowly revealed backstory which hints at the nature of the disaster, forms the core of the film and gives the plot an almost leisurely feel. Not only is this approach surprisingly effective at drawing you in but it also makes the sudden bursts of violence that punctuate the film all the more shocking. And, when it happens, the violence is noisy, rapid and very effective indeed.

Visually, this film is very striking and much attention has been paid both to the look of the zombies and the beings in the background as well as to the editing which implies a lot more than it shows. What really pulls this film together, however, is the sound design. James Sizemores score is incredibly atmospheric and really does work beautifully with the visual feel of the film to suck you in totally. So much so that I really was on the edge of my seat by the time the film ended.

The Sky Has Fallen is a thoughtful and downbeat take on the zombie genre and one with a satisfyingly fatalistic conclusion. Although the film could have probably done with an extra twenty minutes to develop the characters and themes a little more thoroughly, the style and originality on show make this a film well worth checking out.

Waiting for Dawn

There are some films that are so mindbendingly good that they leave you buzzing. And Waiting for Dawn is one of these films.

As the film opens Carl (Rob Leetham) has proposed to his girlfriend, Vicky (Iona Thonger). And immediately regretted it. Its not that theres anything wrong with Vicky – far from it – and Carl is undeniably happy with her. But he cant help feeling that, by getting married, he might be making a mistake and he might be tying himself down sooner than he is ready.

All of these are pretty usual concerns but things take a turn for the distinctly unusual when Carl wanders into a pub. The pub in question, The Waiting Room has been closed for years but is a useful landmark and a convenient place for Vicky to pick him up after shes been visiting her sister. On the day that he proposes, however, The Waiting Room happens to be open so Carl decides to wait inside for Vicky, rather than standing outside it.

This is where things start to become very strange indeed

Waiting for Dawn is a film that hinges on the character of Carl as he begins to discover, and slowly accept, that reality isnt quite as reliable as hed always thought. The Waiting Room really is a waiting room – and much more besides.

Rob Leetham does an incredible job of holding things together as the bewildered Carl slowly begins to understand, and then to accept, just what this place is and what this means for him. And this realisation brings home to Carl just what really is important to him and what he is going to need to do if he wants to see Vicky again.

Although the plot centres in Carl and, therefore, leaves it up to Leetham to carry the film, he does so with the help of a large and very solid supporting cast and an exceptional script.

It is very easy to identify with Carl and to stay with him as things become progressively stranger. Writer/director James .T. Williams does a great job here of slowly revealing the nature of The Waiting Room so that we keep up with Carl, but dont get too far ahead of him. Williams also manages to engender a real sense of dislocation in the film, which aligns perfectly with the plot.

This is very much a character based film and one that succeeds, not only because all of the characters are so well written but also because the cast as a whole really bring these people to life. There isnt a single jarring performance and everything slots together in such a way as to keep you thoroughly engrossed right the way to the end of the film.

Waiting for Dawn is a rarity. Its a science fiction film that deals with ideas rather than special effects. The film relies – successfully – on well realised and fully rounded characters rather than familiar stereotypes and draws you in with a genuinely unnerving atmosphere rather than relying on easy shocks.

This is a thoughtful, intelligent and downright engrossing film and one that is well worth watching out for.

Genetics

Liyla (Molly Feigh) is a slob. Overweight, messy and lazy she seeks solace for her out of control life in comfort food, drink and cigarettes. Amelia (Pamela Sutch) is – in her own way – just as bad. Wealthy, privileged and arrogant, she has managed to reach her early 30s without actually doing anything with her life.

Inevitably, the two women encounter each other and clash quite energetically. And, in mid-clash, they are struck by a special effect which results in Liyla finding herself in Amelias body and vice-versa.

One of the strengths if science fiction as a genre is that it allows writers to explore hypothetical questions. In the case of Genetics, Pamela Sutch asks what would happen if someone who blames their failings on the hand life has dealt them is suddenly dealt an entirely different hand. Or, in this case, an entirely different body.

Both Lilya and Amelia find themselves confronted with a completely new set of challenges and opportunities and the film essentially stands back and allows us to watch how they respond. This character-based approach informs much of the films comedy as well.

Although there are several deliberately funny scenes, much of the humour is allowed to emerge naturally as the characters develop. This approach is, of course, helped immeasurably by the strength of both of the lead performances.

Both Molly Feigh and Pamela Sutch really bring their – and each others – characters to life and manage to make them sympathetic enough that we do start to care about what happens to them. By the end of the film these characters have become quite likeable, which is an especially impressive feat given that, as the film starts, they are a pretty unpleasant pair.

Genetics is a gently entertaining comedy with a serious point to make about the way in which we often take the comfortable route of seeking excuses – either by blaming others or insisting our faults are part of our nature - for our misfortune rather than facing up to the extent to which we are responsible.

Dreamscape

A thrill-seeking businessman (Daniel J. Fox) hears about Dreamscape Inc, a company that provides electronic dreams – custom fantasies that are delivered directly to your brain as you sleep – and becomes very interested. After listening to the sales pitch, he signs up to have a little widget attached to the back of his skull and, still feeling groggy, is returned home where he collapses on his bed.

Then were into the main part of the film, a spy thriller fantasy that sees the businessman in the role of a courier, tasked with delivering a mcguffin to a contact. As The Courier (in keeping with the films noirish aspirations, no-one has a name), he takes on countless secret service agents, gets the girl (Magda Rodriguez) and attempts to stay ahead of The Investigator (Mark Ellingham) long enough to complete his mission.

This is all good solid stuff and works well as an action oriented spy thriller. Its also beautifully shot and really does show what can be achieved now with some intelligent use of digital effects.

The sets and the scenery really do come together superbly to give the film a very effective near-future noir feel. I dont think Ive seen a digital landscape this well realised since, well, since Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. As with Sky Captain – and unlike many subsequent films – writer/director, Daniel J. Fox is confident enough that he doesnt feel the need to constantly ask you to marvel at his CGI ingenuity. Instead, the sets and the design do what these things are supposed to do – deliver a well-realised and believable world that fits the story perfectly.

The film does have some weaknesses, however, most notably the slightly clunky dialogue and an air of predictability to the plot – the predictability being my major gripe.

The back of the DVD case promises that: “illusion quickly turns into nightmare as reality and fantasy blur.” Unfortunately, reality and fantasy dont blur nearly enough. What I was hoping for was something like eXistenZ in which both the characters and the audience are deliberately confused as to what is real and what isnt.

Although the businessman believes he is in a dream, the truth is quite apparent to the rest of us. And this makes for a rather disappointing reveal at the end.

A longer version of this Dreamscape is currently in progress. If this version makes more of the dream/reality divide or extends the final act, then Daniel J. Fox could have a truly unique film on his hands.

Iceman

Iceman DVD Iceman opens in the Arctic with a team of scientists retuning to their base with a frozen mammal. As the name of the film implies, this is not just a mammal but a man – a 40,000 year old Neanderthal to be precise. And, as the scientists start to thaw out the body, it turns out that the specimen is a lot less dead than originally assumed.

This turn of events gives rise to a conflict between the Arctic scientists. To the surgical team, led by Dr. Diane Brady (Lindsay Crouse), the Neanderthal is a medical resource to be investigated in order to discover how he managed to survive, frozen, for so long. The anthropologist Stanley Shephard (Timothy Hutton), he is a window to our past to be learned from.

A compromise, of sorts, is reached and the iceman (John Lone) – whose name turns out to sound a lot like Charlie – is placed in an enclosed facsimile of his prehistoric world. Here, Shepherd is able to interact with Charlie and, as the two men slowly begin to understand each other, a bond begins to form between them…

On the face of it, Iceman is a film about science, about scientists and about the conflicts that can arise between different disciplines and over different priorities. Unfortunately, this part of the film didn’t really work for me primarily, I think, because the conflict as it was presented felt very artificial. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the interactions between the scientists were remarkably unengaging and some of their behaviour – especially on the part of Stan Shephard – struck me as downright unprofessional.

However, the film is more than redeemed by John Lone’s superb performance as Charlie the Iceman. Here, we really do get a sense of a man out of time, trying to make sense of his surroundings and trying to express himself to Shephard.

Lone’s performance also brings out the best in Timothy Hutton and, as the two men spend time together, a real sense of camaraderie develops between them that informs Shephard’s subsequent attitudes and behaviour.

Director, Fred Schepisi, takes frequent advantage of the Arctic landscapes to remind us of the isolation in which all of this is happening – and the photography is utterly breathtaking. However, it’s not until the end of the film that the setting is used to its full extent – but when it is, the results are both powerful and moving.

Iceman is much more a drama than a science fiction film, but as a drama it is very effective indeed. The film takes an essentially simple premise and expands it into an engrossing story about the meeting of cultures and what it means to be human.

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