Posts Tagged ‘Sci-fi films’

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I AM LEGEND (2007)

December 27, 2007

I Am Legend review
I am legend

Matt: Three stars

Length: 101min

Tagline:

The last man on earth is not alone.

Précis: The world’s last human being hangs in New York and battles zombies in a disappointingly flimsy rendition of an idea rich with potential.

Review by Matt:

In the future of 2012, humanity has turned into zombies. Not crap meandering Night of the Living Dead style zombies though. Smarter-than-your-average-zombie zombies who are also fortunate to be about as agile as Spiderman. Sounds like a super-race. Except – and this is always the bummer with zombies – they keep wanting to act rabid and eat people. That’s what Robert Neville (Will Smith) the last human on earth has to put up with after a mutated virus either killed or zombified all of humanity. Neville’s story is told in I Am Legend, the new blockbuster for the 2007-08 holiday season, adapted (with considerable liberties) from Richard Matheson’s famous 1950s novel of the same name.

It’s an exciting premise. Post-apocalyptic films are always exciting, as they’re a ripe genre for exploring big themes. I am Legend starts promisingly. Neville screams through the grass-ridden, abandoned streets of a moribund New York in a red-hot mustang. Deer and lions roam the streets with him (one assumes they escaped the Manhattan Zoo, unless savannah animals just materialise wherever there is grass) and he hunts the deer, creeping with a rifle through the literal urban jungle. Cool. Soon after, Neville is whacking golf balls from a stealth bomber out into the Manhattan Harbour. Neat. Some time later he pokes around in the zombie-ridden alleys, the audience plunged into the darkness with him. Scary.

Ok, but when does the day-in-the-life of the last human finish and the interesting and thought-provoking plot begin? Hmm, it pretty much doesn’t. Turns out that this is only an averagely interesting portrayal of the post-apocalyptic future. I Am Legend spends too much time showing us the eerie streets of future New York and there’s only a sophomoric sophistication to the rest of it. A quality dystopian film like Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006) will weave the intricacies of the future society into the actual plot without slowing down. I am Legend doesn’t get a jump-start until its second half when an event actually pushes the plot forward. From there, the remainder consists of zombies leaping video‑game-style at our hero. Something we’ve seen one thousand times in a variety of monster, alien and horror films.

I was not at all surprised to learn that director Francis Lawrence’s previous film experience consists of Constantine and a bunch of pop music videos (given these connections could he not have got Britney Spears in as a more realistic zombie?). I am Legend is generally pretty, but a bit anemic. The plot is a thin, straight line with a gasping little lurch every now and then. It even finishes with a weak deus ex machina which, considering the blundering way the plot was charging toward it, is really pretty predictable. The film also leaves plenty of frustrating questions about why Neville and the world are in this situation, and even about how some of the immediate plot makes sense (as you watch the second half, remember that Manhattan is an isolated island, with all bridges destroyed). Even with the flesh-eaters battering at the screen before me, I was distracted by some of the film’s inconsistencies.

Will Smith (who’s really starting to develop an oeuvre of Hollywood sci-fi flicks – I Robot, Independence Day, Men in Black) is at least easy to watch. It’s a tough gig for Neville: alone, pestered by surprisingly poorly rendered CGI zombies, with only his loyal German Shepherd to accompany him (the other dogs have rudely mutated into slavering hellhounds). Smith looks suitably forlorn and holds the screen pretty well. I think it might actually be to his advantage to be able to act without having to interact with other humans; he seems better when he just expresses quietly. It’s a good thing he has his trusty dog to work with; together they’re able to stir up some genuine moments of emotion. In Cast Away, poor old Tom Hanks only got a volleyball.

But none of this is really enough is it? Adequate acting from a man and his dog; a nicely computerized future New York; a kernel of an idea stolen from a classic? I’m disappointed to say that I am Legend is just a nice idea executed ineffectually, and it grazed right off me. I just hope that it’s not too long before Hollywood starts work on the magnificent-sounding Superman vs Batman movie that’s advertised in the background of I Am Legend’s 2012 Times Square. Of course if the filmmakers forget the plot and just try to string together a few action sequences, even Superman vs Batman will fail, despite its compelling premise. Just like I Am Legend.

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FUTURAMA: BENDER’S BIG SCORE (Futurama Movie) (2007)

December 16, 2007

Futurama: Bender’s Big Score review
Futurama bender’s big score

Matt: Two and a half stars
Tracy: Two stars

Length: 88min

Précis: You need to be a fan; but sadly even the fans will think this is like an over-long, low-quality Futurama episode.

Review by Matt:

I’m genuinely unhappy to be writing a review about the Futurama Movie: Bender’s Big Score. Because ever since it first aired in 1999, I’ve been a fan of Futurama, the animated sci-fi comedy show created by Matt Groening. And now I’m going to have to tell you that even though Bender’s Big Score is the first exciting glimpse of Futurama since its axing from the Fox network in 2003, and it’s the first ever feature-length Futurama film, the movie is a weak, boring disappointment. Sigh, I’m sorry. I really wanted it to be great as well.

The plot of Bender’s Big Score is an ok idea, reminiscent of the kind of time-travelling paradoxes that often formed the spine of the old Futurama episodes. Extra‑terrestrial email scammers (yep, like cockroaches they’ll still be around 1000 years in the future) trick their way into ownership of the Planet Express Delivery Service and then discover that delivery boy Phillip J Fry is unknowingly holding the secret to time travel on his person (guess where – on his butt – snigger). The scammers exploit it to quickly conquer the world. And then, as anyone who has seen the Back to the Future series should know, the overuse of the time travel secret begins to endanger the fabric of the space/time continuum. It’s left to parallel versions of Fry and the reprobate robot Bender to make things right again.

All of the main characters from the television show play some kind of role along the way – Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, Hermes, Amy, Leela, Zap Brannigan, even Scruffy the Janitor – though it’s obviously difficult to let them all shine properly in just 90 minutes. Unlike The Simpsons Movie, which made a successful transition to the big screen and brought with it quite a coherent movie-length plot, Bender’s Big Score feels uneven and piecemeal, as if a few short episodes were roughly cobbled together. The Simpsons Movie also brought the show’s charisma with it. Bender’s Big Score somehow leaves that behind, which is a real shame because the television Futurama was really packed with charm.

The major problem though, is that the jokes are lacking! In some old episodes of the series it felt like the writers were in a golden mood and every moment had a clever zing. In Bender’s Big Score, like in some of the worst episodes, it seems they’ve just stacked together a bunch of forced, half-baked gags. There are a few crackling moments – such as the two excellent musical numbers – but mostly the wit and ebullient mischievousness that featured in the best episodes of the show seems muted.

And fear ye who comes to this movie with no knowledge of Futurama the show! Characters and ideas from the series appear with no context. I just know there will be viewers out there looking at Ethan ‘Bubblegum’ Tate the interstellar Harlem Globetrotting space physicist, or at the rampaging robotic Santa from Neptune, or Leela’s sewer mutant parents, and just holding their heads in utter confusion. In fact there are many references in the film that are exclusively for the loving fans (such as an explanation for the fossilization of Fry’s dog Seymour, and even an explanation for the buildings that are lasered to the ground outside the cryogenic chamber in the very first episode) so die-hards should at least appreciate that.

Bender’s Big Score is still Futurama at heart. There is still lots of nerdy sci-fi joy, cool ideas, lovely animation and some decent chuckles. But it’s not enough to just service the fans with in-references and a pretty sci-fi setting. I wanted a film that shone like the cleverest and most innovative episodes of Futurama (and there was much clever writing over the five years of the show). The good news is that three more Futurama movies are on the way. They can really be better than this.

I can hardly bring myself to do this to a show I’ve loved, but, Bender’s Big Score: two and a half stars.