Future Cops (1993)

There are some weird and wonderful films out there if you know where to look, and amount the more bizarre films I can find you have Future Cops. At first glance, you’re probably thinking “is this some sort of weird Chinese Street Fighter knockoff or something?”, and you’d be sort of half-right. It uses parody versions of Street Fighter characters, but for some reason there’s also a parody version of Goku in the film. The actual film is even more ridiculous than it looks.

Here’s the plot itself. In the year 2043, an evil crime lord called The General plans to take over the world, but has been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment by judge Yu Ti Hung. In retaliation, he sends his three strongest henchmen, Kent, Thai King, and Toyota on a trip fifty years into the past in order to kill the judge while he’s in his twenties, before he even has a chance to become a judge and jail him in the first place. In order to put a stop to the General’s plan, the Police Director sends three future cops, Ti Man, Broomhead, and Sing, in order to protect the young Yu Ti Hung.

The story, I’ll be blunt, is ridiculous. It opens up as a frenetic action film, with lasers and kicks flying everywhere in an orgy of action. Ten minutes into the film, however, and the film turns into a bizarre sitcom starring a young adult with bad luck. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the back of the DVD for this film says “the future cops meet a retarded boy in the past, but it’s really just our hero who happens to have bad luck”.

My main problem with the story is not that it reads like a sci-fi Street Fighter knock-off. That I can somehow live with, in fact it’s actually better than the official Street Fighter film we got with Jean-Claude Van Damme. The main problem is that it’s all over the place and it tends to meander a lot. At one point it’s an action film, and at other times it’s a rom-com. Most bafflingly, there’s a scene in which Ti-Man and Yu Ti Hung’s sister are flirting inside a budget live action version of Super Mario World. It’s hilarious to say the least. If like me you’re watching this and you don’t know Cantonese, the film is best watched with subtitles, but just hope that you don’t end up watching it with erroneous subtitles, else you get gems like “the Pope is leaking”.

The presentation isn’t all bad. In fact, the music is quite good, in a cheesy sort of way. The whole film just oozes camp, like the Cantonese cinematic equivalent of watching an episode of the 1960’s Batman TV series, except it was actually intended to be a comedy, and you’ll actually bust a gut laughing. Of course, some of the props look like they were quite cheaply made, and you’ll notice this when some of the characters are shown crashing through walls.

On the whole, Future Cops isn’t bad, and it’s incredibly hilarious if you can get your hands on it. It seems like cheap action film that uses barely disguised rip-offs of Street Fighter characters, but when it gets down to the action, this is a film that doesn’t mess around. Truly, this is perhaps one of the most ridiculous films ever made, and seemingly proud of it.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Nowadays very few Hollywood films get me going to the theatre anymore, chiefly because the cinema now more than ever is an outdated institution of public life, and I’m surprised that the Internet hasn’t killed it off yet. Last week, however, offered something different. From the director of The Fifth Element came the promise of an exciting new sci-fi adventure that I think was hoping to rival Star Wars in terms of scope and success. But nothing is perfect I suppose. While the film certainly has its flaws, however, I think it’s a good film with decent ideas, and if nothing else is good summer entertainment. But let’s get right down to it.

The plot of the film is set in the 28th century, largely in the Alpha space station, the film’s eponymous city of a thousand planets, where people of different species from different planets live together. The protagonists are two government agents – Valerian and Laureline – who are given the task of investigating a mysterious force lurking within part of the space station, from which people have never returned, leading the government to assume it is toxic. But all is not as it seems, and when the two agents venture further towards the area, they realise that something else is going on.

The first half of the story showed perhaps the most promise. Aside from the prologue, you had Valerian going on this wild dimension hopping mission where anything can happen and it was fun. In fact, the fast-paced action oriented parts of the film are the best part. The second half of the film, however, is rather formulaic in terms of its writing, and when you get to the big reveal (which is almost a given nowadays), it sort of dawns on me that the big twist reads like something written by Noam Chomsky. It’s not terrible, but aren’t we sick of the bad guys always being some repetitive comment on Western foreign policy? I know Hollywood is full of Marxists but give me a break.

Valerian himself was a decent protagonist. Sure, he acted a bit like a high school jock, but when it counts, he acts like a real hero. For his faults (and those of the writers) he’s a good example of what a male protagonist should look like. Laureline isn’t too bad a character, but my main problem is that the producers and writers tried too hard to make her into such a badass action heroine that she might outshine Valerian for no reason other than to appease pretentious “culture critics”. The rest of the cast gave some good performances, particularly Clive Owen’s character.

For me the worst character is Rihanna’s shapeshifting character Bubble. It seemed like a gimmicky way of getting Rihanna into the film for cheap promotion, never mind that the generation of kids who thought Rihanna was cool probably pirated her music when she was big. Even worse is that it’s another attempt to politicise the film by writing Rihanna’s character as an illegal immigrant. In times such as these it makes to come to the conclusion that it’s a naked attempt at dogwhistling open borders politics in a market that again, is oversaturated with leftist politics.

If nothing else, the film looks amazing. Valerian sports some of the finest production values I’ve seen in a contemporary film. I know it’s common for sci-fi films to have a big special effects budget, but this film just takes this to incredible heights. I think that’s what made the film so ridiculously expensive to make though. The film costed €190 million to make, and thus far it has yet to turn a profit, which unfortunately means that this ambitious sci-fi flick could end its run as a box office flop.

On the whole, however, Valerian is a good film that in the end is hindered by Luc Besson and the producers’ desperate attempts to make it hip. It obviously didn’t work, which I guess is sad because it’s a good film with good ideas, but in this day and age what tends to happen with good films is that they get crushed under the weight of the producers’ overextravagant tendency. Vanity thy name is Luc Besson.

  • Score: 72%
  • Grade: C

Soylent Green (1973)

Films like Soylent Green tend to be interesting due to their out-there central premises, and this film seems to be a blend of detective mystery, dystopian sci-fi, and social commentary that’s characteristically of its time, this being the time when environmentalism starting becoming fashionable. I suppose it was only natural that we would see a film that grapples with overpopulation, and the film itself is something of a product of its time. That being said, it was certainly an interesting and entertaining film.

Set in the year 2022, some fifty years into the future, the film depicts an overpopulated, polluted world where natural resources are all but exhausted, and the climate has apparently become so warm that many animals can’t survive. Most food in this world is provided by the Soylent Corporation, which creates nutritious wafers that it claims are made from plankton. The story focuses on the life of NYPD detective Frank Thorn, who along with his partner Solomon is tasked with investigating the murder of Soylent board member William R. Simonson, who was allegedly also burglarised before his death. During the investigation, Frank finds that there are powerful men, including the governor, who want to end the investigation even if they have to kill him, and he eventually stumbles upon the company’s terrible secret.

Right off the bat I felt like there was some sort of environmentalist vibe coming from the film, which I guess was pretty much in vouge at the time. I don’t really mind that though. My real criticism is that the film is a bit slowly paced for a film of about 97 minutes in length. The film seems to meander on for a while without much happening, but when we get back on the case, all seems to be well and good. It seems to be one of those films that slowly gets better as it progresses until we reach the conclusion, which I think was a solid ending, even if it was cut a bit short.

The acting is quite good, and to be fair, there wasn’t really a bad performer in the entire film, although this is another one of those films where the characters have the misfortune of being outshone by a big lead, in this case Charlton Heston. That said, Edward G. Robinson gives a good performance as Heston’s crusty old sidekick, in what is sadly his last film. I do find it disappointing that we don’t have much exposition on the characters, but I can generally tolerate it here.

Even though I criticised the film earlier for its somewhat slow pacing, I can’t help but think that perhaps the point of it was to enhance the feeling of suspense. The film’s overall style was rather subtle, yet there was no real attempt to hide the film’s gloomy outlook. There were a lot of nice-looking set pieces, but sometimes I wonder if they were really necessarily. I don’t have a problem with them, it could simply be a way of fleshing out the futuristic world of the film.

On the whole it was certainly a good film, not without its flaws but still an interesting and intelligent sci-fi from back when sci-fi was smart.

  • Score: 70%
  • Grade: C

The Omega Man (1971)

If you hated Will Smith’s badly paced and poisonously boring I Am Legend, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll find The Omega Man infinitely better. Both were based on a Richard Matheson novel whose name was lent to the former, but this is easily the most recognisable rendition, and probably the best. It’s probably not a very unique post-apocalyptic survival film, but it certainly seems like a step above other films of the genre in terms of its execution.

The film itself is set in the year 1977, in an alternate history in which biological warfare between China and Soviet Russia had already resulted in the spread of a plague that killed most of the world’s population, with most of the survivors being turned into deformed, nocturnal mutants who can’t stand the sunlight. In a now desolate Los Angeles, a band of mutants called “The Family” are proceeding to destroy all forms of technology, as they see science and technology as the causes of the war that lead to their mutation.

One man, a U.S. Army Colonel named Robert Neville, believes himself to be the last uninfected man on Earth, and has developed a serum that allows him to become immune to the disease. After he finds out that there are other survivors who have not been infected, he finds himself not only trying to fend off attempts on his life by deranged mutants, but also trying to help others avoid succumbing to the effects of the disease and save humanity.

The story essentially plays out like a frenetic action film for the most part, and it starts out quite strong, although I wish the film would have maintained the action-oriented approach more often, as I think the film was certainly made for that. I don’t necessarily mind the approach the film-makers took, though I found the ending to be something a disappointment.

The acting perhaps isn’t the best, but there are good moments. Though I would argue that without Charlton Heston in the lead role, the film itself would probably have been far less entertaining as it was. Here he channels the same kind of role he played in Planet of the Apes just three years earlier, and in a way the role of the desperate survivor seems to work well for an actor who is known for playing rugged, down to Earth heroes.

The production values for the film were certainly very good, and you can generally get the sense of the kind of desolation that pervades over the veritable ghost town wherein Robert Neville lives out the rest of his days in fear and desperation. The makeup effects on the rather ridiculous vampiric mutants were also pretty good, as they made the mutants look about as menacing as you might expect them to, which sort of makes up for the somewhat ridiculous concept.

On the whole, The Omega Man was an above average film, but not without its flaws, and I can’t help but feel that without Charlton Heston the film might not have been that great. Was it entertaining either way? I would say yes.

  • Score: 71%
  • Grade: C

Space is the Place (1974)

The 1970’s had some crazy films back in the day, so it’s no wonder why I’ve been focusing on films from that time all month, because I love 70’s cinema. Before the age of blockbuster cinema, you had films that were unburdened by committee thinking, works of pure artistic passion. This was the zeitgeist that fed the creation of some truly unique films. That said, not all 70’s films were created equal, and some films are rather jarring. Space is the Place is one of them, with a wildly surreal concept but somewhat lacklustre execution.

The film casts the famous jazz musician Sun Ra as a Pharaonic space-age jester/guru/philosopher, with his band the Arkestra following him around. Presumed lost for many years, he arrives in Oakland, California and spreads the word of his plans to take black people with him to outer space. Meanwhile, he duels with a mystical pimp named the Overseer with the future of the black race at stake.

All I can say is, well that was bizarre, though it did some thought process behind it, though I’d say that gets even weirder. Apparently the concept came from Sun Ra’s time as a lecturer in the University of California, Berkeley. He taught a course there called “The Black Man in the Cosmos” in 1971, and his lectures became the basis of the premise behind the film. At least we can confirm that bizarre courses have been a staple in universities for a while. The film itself is based in Afrofuturism, a cultural movement that melds sci-fi and fantasy with black-oriented social commentary, typically of the left-wing, social justice variety, and the rest of the film is surreal psychedelia.

My main problem with the film is that it sort of got carried away in its concept, and got itself mired in pacing and confusion. The plot itself seems like it could have been the plot of a short film, but there are musical interludes between parts of the film. The musical interludes aren’t bad, but they disrupt the flow of the film, along with butchering the narrative, which appears to be based in Afrocentric identitarianism.

The acting isn’t bad, and I think one of the film’s biggest strengths was the ability of Sun Ra to give himself presence in the film, albeit by making himself look godlike to the point of ridiculousness. The other characters aren’t bad, and the guy playing the Overseer does a fine job, but the rest of the cast tends to fall into the background, especially whenever Sun Ra shows up.

At the very least the film succeeds in the realm of style. The pharaonic aesthetic looks great on Sun Ra, and a number of the set pieces channel the style to good effect. The music played by Sun Ra’s band is also quite trippy, so even if the musical interludes do cut into the film’s narrative, the music itself compliments the film’s crazy atmosphere. All in all, it’s a fascinating film. Mediocre but certainly fascinating as a product of its time. Though more than anything else, it was basically an art project for Sun Ra, though its fans will undoubtedly remember it as a quintessential example of Afrofuturism.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

The general consensus is that A Clockwork Orange is a classic, one the landmark films of its time, and they’re right. While it can often be placed in the category of the 70’s-style futuristic sci-fi film, it was certainly more than that. It was a deep, thought-provoking vision of how British society might look if it were only a stone’s throw away from totalitarianism. In that sense, the message and meaning of A Clockwork Orange is quite clear.

The film’s story is told from the perspective of Alex deLarge, a teenage delinquent and gang leader who is principally interested in classical music, rape, and ultra-violence. He also treats his fellow “droogs” like thralls, rebuking them when they express their discontent. His criminal life plays out in the backdrop of a society where law and order seems to have vanished. All this changes after he is betrayed by his fellow thugs and caught by the police. Two years later he is subjected to the Ludovico technique, a controversial, experimental aversion therapy technique that gets him out of jail within two years, but the technique turns out to be too effective.

The story starts out as a slowly paced tour of anarchy, with Alex and his gang taking drugs and raping and beating their way through a now dystopian London, a city teetering towards societal collapse. In the years following Alex’s incarceration, after a new government is elected, the tone of the film changes, becoming colder and more sterile, perhaps befitting the now subdued Alex. In taking the perspective of a criminal, Kubrick frames the dystopian world in the context of his own narcissistic worldview. Some have said that this glamourises the film’s graphic violence (which is rather tame compared to what we have now), but said violence is an important part of the film’s message.

Malcolm McDowell, as one might expect, delivers a fine performance as the main character, with a very convincing Cockney accent. He also excels in portraying the contrasting states of Alex deLarge – both the unhinged criminal and the subdued mannequin are portrayed with precision and skill by Mr. McDowell. The cast in general delivers some very fine performances, including Patrick Magee, who plays the lefty writer who sees Alex as a political tool to use against the government, and Anthony Sharp as the sinister government minister who wants to use him to advance his political agenda.

The film was not just groundbreaking in terms of its narrative and themes, but also in terms of its style. The film opens simply with a block colour title, and the rest of the film is set in a dreary urban environment. The film’s score is composed almost principally with a Moog synthesiser, which along with some classical music compositions gave the film a part of its unique personality. On top of that, the first half of the film is littered with sexual imagery, by way of the bizarre sexual art that people in the future seem to have. Could this be a way of visually communicating the late stages of the society in which the film is set? Who knows.

All in all, it was a great film, providing a great deal of fuel for your intellectual curiosity if you want such a film. It has certainly aged better than many films from its time, a rarity amongst films that are so symbolic of the dazed and confused decade as this.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

Fantastic Planet (1973)

Among the great animated triumphs of the 1970’s sits René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, a film well known among animation aficionados as a classic of surreal animation. Indeed, it’s not so much a piece of film as much as it is a work of art, and I think it was a work that was ahead of its time. Back in 1973, there were only a handful of animated sci-fi features, let alone of the kind that were mature enough to deal with heavy subjects such as authoritarianism, captivity and revolution, bundled in with the kind of utopian themes that you usually find in sci-fi from that point in time.

In this film, humans from Earth have been captured by blue giants called the Draag (who call the humans “Oms”), and brought to their planet of Ygam as pets which they dress up in garish costumes. The Draags have a technologically and apparently spiritually advanced society, and they live much longer than humans, but reproduce less. Not all humans are domesticated. Some humans live out in the wilderness, and the ones that do are considered savages, which the Draags regularly exterminate as their form of pest control.

The story focuses on a human named Terr, who since his infancy was raised in captivity by a young Draag named Tiwa, the daughter of a Draag leader named Master Sinh. He learns a great deal of Draag knowledge while living with her, but when she starts to grow distant from him, he runs away and steals the headphones that transmit knowledge to her mind. With his knowledge, which he spreads to the undomesticated humans, he leads his fellows to rebel against their Draag oppressors.

I think my main criticism with the story is that the film is rather short, running at only 72 minutes. That’s not necessarily bad, but with 20 more minutes I think the film could have explored more territory, but that’s not to say the writers did a very good job in 72 minutes. After all it’s undoubtedly a strong story. The film basic premise is essentially a variation of the David and Goliath archetype (in a Planet of the Apes sort of fashion), and built around that is a sophisticated, wonderfully bizarre tale of an advanced, yet self-absorbed society in danger of bringing about its own ruin.

The voice acting was pretty good, and the characters were very well-formed, though I think a longer runtime may have been better for character development. The main protagonist, however, is the most well-done character in the movie, which is no surprise considering that you get to see him from infancy to adulthood (it should be noted that humans seem to age faster than their alien captors). In a way, his intelligence and resourcefulness represents the potential of mankind, the potential that certain people in power don’t want people to display, and I think that’s part of the film’s message, that we have the power to bring about a better world for ourselves, but we have to make those in power see that we are be taken seriously.

Of course, Fantastic Planet is absolutely a visual treat, with its highly detailed, hand-drawn art style evoking a distinctly antique feel. The art style is something of a mixture of Terry Gilliam, Max Ernst (arguably), Salvador Dali, and other surrealist artists, and the result is simply magnificent. I find that the film has a kind of illustrative style, and there’s a scene that vindicates my point in which you see a montage of what look like rough, conceptual style sketches. I would say that this is as much a film for art students and budding illustrators as it is for cineasts. The film also had a great, progressive rock style music score, courtesy of Alain Goraguer.

On the whole, Fantastic Planet was a great film that desperately needs more exposure. It presented a vision of animation vastly different from what we’re used to today, one that emphasised the artistic potential of the medium and pushed the boundaries of what animated works were capable of. Where are such ground-breaking animations nowadays? Much has changed in over 40 years, but the classics of animation still endure, setting an example of the direction that animation should take.

  • Score: 88%
  • Grade: A

Logan’s Run (1976)

Before the advent of Star Wars, sci-fi films were not the explosive action-oriented films of today. Many of them were serious, but often far-out forays into such concepts as the futile pursuit of utopia, and the prevalence . They were also much slower in pace, and had a generally colder atmosphere. Sometimes this approach worked, but other times it came across as rather pedantic. On that note, this film is plagued by some of the more pretentious clichés of early 70’s sci-fi. This film could and perhaps should have been a sci-fi classic, and in some circles it is, but it clearly squandered its potential with a lumbering narrative that assumes that the viewer already knows what’s going on.

The film’s plot is set in the year 2274, in a dystopian future where the apparent remnants of humanity live in a domed metropolis run by a supercomputer, and nobody is allowed to live past thirty years of age. Everyone who turns 30 must go through a ritual called “Carousel”, in which they are vapourised and supposedly “renewed”. Those who refuse and try to flee are called “runners” and hunted down by elite policemen called “Sandmen”. The story at large focuses on one sandman named Logan, who meets a woman named Jessica and is sent on a mission in which he is forced to become a runner, and while doing so he discovers the terrible secret of the world he was raised in.

In theory, the central premise was quite promising, if only the film gave more of an explanation of what happened before all that came about. The way I see it, Logan’s Run was a pretty deep film, with its story ruminating on the dangers of putting so much of our faith in technology that everything is centrally managed by a supercomputer. It also explored the exaltation of libertinism, and presents a world that has caved into wanton sexual abandon to the point that the entire society is structured around facilitating a purely hedonistic society. Of course it had potential, but the narrative was simply underwhelming, and the film spends about a quarter of its two-hour runtime lumbering about.

The film’s general stylistic approach seems odd to me. In the first half it was better, with stunning futuristic visuals and cool electronic soundtrack, but in the second half, all of a sudden the film’s tone shifts to that of a more typical adventure film, complete with a cliché orchestral score. It is rather disappointing, considering that the producers had set up a futuristic setting, and yet they aren’t consistent in that approach. That perhaps may have been one of the film’s biggest weaknesses – a lack of a cohesive identity.

As for the characters, the performances don’t do much for me at all. The acting seems rather unconvincing, and it makes the characters seem quite silly, but then again, the whole film starts as a cold sci-fi film and then turns into a silly matinee feature. It may have interesting ideas, but they aren’t handled properly. Of course, it is still an interesting film, and it’s not totally bad, though there are more than a few things that desperately needed to be cleared up if the producers wanted us to take the film’s ideas seriously.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C

2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

In the depths of obscure cinema lay the some of the cheesiest, the cheapest, and in an objective sense, the worst among the B movie crowd. In fact, there are many examples of truly terrible knock-off films, and in that respect, this film is one of the worst examples. One of many Italian-made post-apocalyptic knock-offs that came out during the 1980’s, Sergio Martino’s genre flick is a bizarre attempt to somehow rip off Escape from New YorkMad Max and Planet of the Apes at the same time. Naturally, it failed at all of that, and scuppered whatever little potential it had.

The plot of this film is simple enough. It’s the year 2019, and human civilisation has been reduced to rubble in the aftermath of a nuclear war, and society is now ruled by the Euraks, a hybrid race that rules through fear and regularly tortures and conducts experiments on people. Meanwhile in Nevada, a mercenary named Parsifal (who I prefer to call Solid Snek) is asked by the Pan-American Confederacy to go into the ruins of Manhattan with two other men to rescue the only fertile woman left on Earth in order to repopulate mankind.

As simple and unpretentious as it is, it’s muddled and poorly written, and half the cast is pretty much vestigial in terms of the film’s lacklustre plot. Nearly every cliché you could think of is thrown into the film like badly thrown darts. Right off the bat the film opens with an obviously cheap diorama of New York, then lots of meaningless plot turns are jammed between the opening and ending. To the producers’ credit, the film at least started out in “so bad it’s comical” territory, before descending into blatant ridiculousness to the point of having completely broken all sense of immersion.

The characters aren’t great either, and in fact, the acting is quite simply atrocious. It’s worse than you can expect from most 80’s anime dubs, and it’s almost as if the actors were being paid minimum wage. Sometimes you get the occasional moment of humorously hammy acting, but the script had all the life sucked right out of it, and evidently so did the actors’ enthusiasm. I wouldn’t blame them, after all this was a project I’m sure nobody had any enthusiasm for back in the day.

Usually this is when the presentation compensates for a film’s other deficiencies, but not this time. The costumes are extremely ridiculous and seem utterly out of place, as do a lot of characters in this ill-conceived budget flick. The set pieces and special effects look so cheap that the film would have looked brand new in the 1960’s. The choreography is so noticeably awkward that it’s as though they didn’t even try, and not even the music score is exciting. In fact, sometimes the same sound effect is used throughout an entire scene, and it breaks all sense of immersion.

In short, the film was a total bust, but believe it or not, this film still has its fans. Honestly, I find it hard to say anything good about it. There’s films that are cheesy and that’s the whole point, and then there’s films that are simply badly made, and this was one of them. Probably the only cool thing about the film was the poster, and let that be a lesson. Never watch films just because the poster looked nice.

  • Score: 38%
  • Grade: E

Contact (1997)

Twenty years ago this film was frequently given much praise by the pretentious film critics of the day, and mocked by people who knew better. In many ways, Robert Zemeckis’ Contact was and still remains an example of everything that is pompous and awful about Hollywood since the 1990’s. Bloated production budgets (this was made for $90 million), ludicrous, half-baked plots that are stretched out beyond reason, palliative moralising, and a mushy style of writing that oozes Oscar bait, and that’s basically what Contact was.

The story, longwinded as it was, revolves around Dr. Ellie Arroway, a woman who has been fascinated by science and communication since childhood, and now works for the SETI program at an observatory in Puerto Rico, listening to radio emissions hoping to find signs of intelligent life in outer space. She eventually gains funding from a secretive billionaire to continue her work in New Mexico, but her work falls under tight scrutiny from the government, and the world at large her discovery is broadcast around the world.

You would think this was a decent enough subject, but the film itself is boring. The pace is intolerably slow as the film wades through one snooze-fest of a scene after another, and the ending isn’t even worth it. We all know the raw deal we got from the film. A lot of hype is built up over the protagonist finding an alien, you wait for two and a half hours and then you find out that the “alien” is just her father, or rather some mysterious being taking her father’s form. It’s clearly supposed to be a schmaltzy sort of ending, and it’s just awful.

Another theme you’ll notice throughout the film is the writers’ attempts to shoehorn a debate between science and faith. The director of the film once claimed that the film was intended to deliver the message that science and religion can co-exist, but that’s not the message I got. In fact, if the film was trying to have a debate, it seems as if they’ve rigged it in favour of the science side of the debate. In the world of this film, all scientists are noble and righteous fellows, and there are few openly Christian characters who aren’t ignorant science-deniers, which is unsurprising considering that by 1997 it had become fashionable to demonise religious people. In that sense, the film isn’t so much a celebration of science, as much as it is a glorification of scientism.

The acting is all well and good, but the characters are terrible. I find it impossible to relate to any of the characters, especially not the film’s right-on “IFL Science” protagonist Ellie Arroway. Her whole story centred around how she “has” to get her way because it’s important to her, and anyone who doesn’t give her what she wants doesn’t care about science. At least this is what I get from her general tone. The other characters aren’t too bad, and I should at least give some praise to the late John Hurt’s character, the billionaire S.R. Hadden, whose performance was befitting of his enigmatic character.

I suppose the film’s main strength was in its special effects, which would explain the $90 million budget. But I think that’s one of the film’s fundamental problems, that’s mainly special effects and virtually little substance. The film as a whole was a bad attempt at “philosophical” sci-fi, and it was barely entertaining. What’s really sad is that the people who worked on the film are capable of better. I find it baffling how Robert Zemeckis went from Back to the Future to a film with all the hallmarks of a lazy, Spielbergian snooze-fest, and yet here it is. A film that mainly got respect from the snooty establishment film critics for being a half-assed progressive think piece disguised as a movie, but I bet it ended up being a film that most people only watched once, which I’d understand because the film isn’t even that good. Twenty years on, it’s time we accepted the reality that Contact was never a good film.

  • Score: 44%
  • Grade: E