Six weeks at home (recovering from surgery) in the middle of a Kiwi summer (which at any minute could be winter) I’ve been trying to manage having a foggy brain with pain management and keeping myself occupied (hence the sudden splurge of ranty blogs). Now it is 99% humidity and I am missing my air-conditioned office at work – but not the work yet.
So after finally reading Brave New World so that I could actually say ‘I had read it’ (was glad I had read under a cloud of opiates – amazing but seriously depressing) I returned to Netflix to catch up on some sci-fi. Lying at home, trying to ‘be good’ (the idea of not being able to ride my single speed for nearly 3months is torture) I’m going to entertain you with my amateur attempt at being a critic.
Yet again – a disclaimer. I do not see myself as an expert, or even someone who has read and seen everything in the sci-fi genre. I’m a bit fussy and hard to please and I have a tendency to change my mind after viewing or reading things multiple times. I will limit myself to those shows/movies where I have some clarity about my position. I also do not want to be negative, as I think all writers and producers have a particular vision they are bringing to life and my lack of connection with something does not detract from this.
First up – Star Trek Discovery
I am first and foremost NOT a Trekkie. That should immediately disqualify me from commenting. But I love this series. Some fans lament the detour from what they see as they heart of the ST stories. I see it as a refreshing ‘posthumanism’ exploration of deeper philosophical concepts. I like the break from traditional scientific models of life, where quantum physics and biology are not separate entities. STD (unfortunate acronym) pushes scientific concepts to the edge rather than reproducing the ‘same old’. There are the familiar players – Clingons, Vulcans, Humans and The Federation. So much is familiar and also different. Leading women, gay characters and cultural diversity are not there for cannon fodder (red shirt syndrome). And if it’s ‘too PC’ for some – just load up on the original series and JJ Abrams reboots.
Second – Altered Carbon
Initially, I was swept away by this series. But once the honeymoon was over (probably after the 4th episode) it started to feel a bit like a Marvel series; Man has traumatic past – loses parents and sister – loves a woman – loses woman – tortured man has new identity – has a mission. It’s sexy, slick, and again pushes posthuman ideas (an area I am particularly interested in). The key concept of AC centers on technology (‘stack’) that enables consciousness to be moved to another body with ease means there can be a lot of room to ‘play’ with concepts of identity, connection, love, intimacy. To be ‘spun up’ into the body of the opposite sex is seen through mainly through the experience of women becoming men, it’s pretty phallocentric. There is a lot of nudity, violence and sexual violence in AC. So whilst I appreciate some of the ideas I’m left with an uneasy sense of misogyny masquerading as equality. There is no genuine shift in gendered relationships in AC – but it is still a great ride.
Third – The Cloverfield Movies
Confession – I HATED the first Cloverfield movie. The shaky camera work (yes I know it was intentional) and the ending had me wanting a refund on my time. So I was really hesitant to see 10Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. I gave Paradox a go first and because it was more about quantum physics I got excited. It worked well and there was enough humour in it to smooth out some of the familiar sci-fi limits. Bit of a spoiler – but I loved the amputation scene and the hand continuing to live as a separate entity trying to send a message. This movie makes the original plausible by opening up the idea that rips in dimensions and space/time could occur. 10Cloverfield Lane therefore sits somewhere in the middle of all this more as a psychological thriller. And here comes the ‘BUT’ – why the monsters. It’s like kids telling a scary story but they get lost on how to finish it so they say ‘and then A MONSTER’. I guess I am wondering how that adds to the tension, for me it was a huge deflation.
Next up – Legion
If you were to smash The Twighlight Zone, XMen, and Inception together you have Legion. It is full on, like a darker, creepier XMen. In fact it is part of the XMen universe. Definitely do not let your kids see this – it is more horror than sci-fi and while I’m looking forward to season 2 I hope they can dial back on some of the surges between layers of reality. If you like Twilight Zone and mutant stuff – this is great. Just sleep with the light on after.
Finally – Dark
Not all sci-fi needs a space backdrop. Actually, I struggle to classify some series (The OA in a similar vein). Dark has been a shining light for me and is more a time travel, esoteric drama than sci-fi. Comparisons to Stranger Things seem inevitable but it is nothing like ST except for some of the story settings (small town and young people with mysterious things going on). Brilliant acting is undone by terrible dubbing into English and at times it’s like watching English dubbing of Kungfu movies. I did watch it a second time in German with subtitles. If you can focus on the eyes rather than the mouths it works – but I hope they can rectify it before season 2.
Dark is an aesthetic series. It is beautifully shot and the sound track creates right tone throughout – you feel Dark as it spans three timelines (with a 4th being touched on – no spoilers). The characters are not over cooked, there is a lovely balance of diversity and a genuine sense that these characters are there not just to ‘fill the diversity quotient’ as many others feel. This is a good vrs evil story as well but it is much more subtle and mysterious, the simplicity of the story does not do justice to the complexity of the plot. There is so much going on you need a second go at it as some characters span 3-4 timelines and there is an economy of dialogue that means every line potentially hides a clue. Another way to think about it is to see Stranger Things as a ‘half-strength soy latte’ compared to Dark – an espresso (short black), it’s possible to like both flavours but most people will have a preference.
I’m also really excited about Annihilation. This isn’t being released in on the big screen in NZ, the studio was concerned it was ‘too intellectual’ for the masses. Netflix scored it and I don’t think they’ll regret it.
Well – that was fun, I don’t envy people who do this for a living, knowing regardless of your opinion people will shred you. There are a bunch of other shows I could comment on…save it for another rainy day, there seem to be enough of them at the moment.