An alien robot crashlands on earth and befriends a lonely boy.
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, and Christopher McDonald
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The Iron Giant takes place back when America was great, and all that that implies. Monochromatic coastal hamlets, packed diners, and comfortable blue collar work keep everyone happy and docile, painting a picture of ideal life with no conflict or disagreement. This bubble is in danger of popping from contagions all around. Sputnik beeps across the upper atmosphere. A filthy beatnik is running the scrap yard. Most of all, a sentient robot alien is romping through the forest, chomping on cars and recklessly exploring. Brad Bird’s stellar debut uses these interlopers to tell a big-hearted story of courage and wisdom. He mixes cultural commentary on an insular and paranoid time with the kind of raw emotion and epiphany that works so well on this viewer.
One of the most successful books in recent memory, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One pays homage to all things nerd culture of the 1980’s through the guise of the most important man in its dystopian future setting, James Halliday, and the virtual world he created, The Oasis. As with any book adaptation, there’s always a question on how it will translate to the big screen. This was especially the case here, with wall-to-wall pop culture references and a wide assortment of locales experienced in the book. While Steven Spielberg’s adaptation largely throws many of the book’s events out the window, the movie still retains many of the important touchpoints of the book and while the execution seems a bit forced at times, it’s hard for anyone not to enjoy this movie.
In my reviews for our previous two AI movies, Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina, I’ve described both as technically impressive but emotionally cold. I largely fail the altered Turing test in Ex Machina, where Oscar Isaac’s Nathan wants his human test subject to develop strong feelings for an android. I never cared about any of the characters in 2049 even as I was wowed by the imagery and the vision. This is often the case with sci-fi, a genre where writers and directors automatically translate a distance onto human-machine interactions, or settle for the marvel and skimp on the resonance. The best of the genre, of which I would include Her, start with the raw question (Dan Harmon has described sci-fi as simply asking What If), apply it to recognizable human behavior, and follow it to a natural conclusion. Her keeps this formula as simple as it can, asking a minimal amount of buy-in from the viewer, building an unostentatious world, and daring them to fall into the central relationship between a man and his operating system while still doubting the wisdom of doing so. Her does it all and more, as plausible a vision of the future as it is a romance and a treatise on isolation.
The title of Alex Garland's sci-fi film is notable for what it leaves out. Ex Machina is missing the Deus that typically leads that phrase, meaning God of the Machine. A Deus Ex Machina is a dramatic device in which a powerful solution is presented to a difficult problem. Ex Machina doesn't resort to this often-cheap device, but by cutting God out of the title, it does invite the question of who in the film might fill that role. Is it the inventor, the vastly-powerful invented, or the mediator between the two that drives the action? As the writer of top-notch sci-fi films like Sunshine, 28 Days Later, and Never Let Me Go, Garland has long interrogated the relationship between creator and created, as well as the distance between cold rationality and empathetic feeling. In his directorial debut, Ex Machina is of a kind with his previous work, as artificial intelligence is subbed in for contagion, cloning, or space travel while the themes remain the same.
Before diving into the review proper, let’s get a couple important questions out of the way…
SHOULD YOU SEE THE ORIGINAL? – Probably, but it isn’t required viewing. A few pieces of the aesthetic might be lost in translation, but you really don’t need much beyond a basic understanding of who Deckard is, who Rachel is, and their relationship. Everything else can be gleaned from context within the movie.
SPOILER-FREE, SHOULD I SEE THIS? – More than likely yes. The pacing is a bit deliberate by today’s standards, but if you like Denis Villeneuve’s previous outings Sicario and especially Arrival, or you’re a fan of the original, you should see this. And try to see it on IMAX or Cinemark xD or something like that, because this is a visual spectacle.
Ok, and with that, onto the show…
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.