Why The Martian’s success probably won’t spawn a sequel

The Martian still

Hollywood needs to make more science and technology movies like The Martian. Photo courtesy 20th-Century Fox.

My two college-age daughters and I walked out of a showing of The Martian last weekend in a mild daze resembling postprandial satisfaction. You want that feeling of well-being to go on, and so the first question I asked them and an accompanying friend was, “Should it get a sequel?”

The answer: “NO!!!!!”

I agree. In fact, most hard science fiction movies don’t get a sequel. No science-driven stranded-in-space stories I can think of—Marooned, Apollo 13, Gravity, Interstellar—got a sequel. The only hard sci-fi film that did was, ironically, the granddaddy of them all, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does anyone remember 2010: The Year We Make Contact? Continue reading

Mad Max: Fury Road sputters, despite its feminist cred

Mad Max Fury Road image

Mad Max: Fury Road has feminist overtones, but it’s not enough to give the story depth. Image courtesy Warner Bros.

My college-age daughter Emily and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road over the weekend and we left the theater wondering what all the fuss is about. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the George Miller action thriller a 98 percent rating. Competitor Metacritic rates it 89 percent. I know three people who probably wouldn’t recommend it: myself, my daughter, and a retired firefighter friend who knows what really happens when cars blow up, flinging bodies in all directions.

I wanted to see MM:FR mostly because I liked the second Mad Max picture, subtitled The Road Warrior, but not the original Mad Max, which I found tedious. I also saw Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but I wasn’t all that impressed. Thirty years after Thunderdome, I hoped Miller had brought maturity to the franchise with MM:FR, but I ended up wondering if it was worth the price of the tickets. Continue reading

Review: How “Interstellar” resembles “How the West Was Won”

Interstellar movie poster

Interstellar owes a lot to the epic western genre.

Interstellar is a glorious tangle, an ambitious film that accomplishes much, but fails to grab the audience by the throat. Director Christopher Nolan delivers a sci-fi epic true to the Hollywood form, spanning galaxies and taking the viewer to places impossible to visit in real life. It expands on a classic American (indeed, human) theme–striking out for new lands–but falters when Nolan can’t escape the black hole of Hollywood cliches.

As father of two daughters, I’m a sucker for the film’s central relationship, that of test-pilot-turned-farmer Cooper, played by mumble-mouthed Matthew McConaughey, with his genius daughter Murphy, played by three different actors of various ages, most effectively by young McKenzie Foy. They live on a flat, dry, blight-ravaged landscape where ecological disaster has overtaken humanity’s ability to adapt. Climate change is the unspoken villain, though the emergency is scientifically non-sensical (“Earth is running out of oxygen!”). The most alarming aspect of this world is hopelessness, a sense that the land is finally wreaking its revenge on its human exploiters and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Continue reading

Utopia vs dystopia smackdown: Guess who wins.

Utopia, Texas, sign

Utopia, Texas. Image courtesy University of Houston, Clear Lake.

Too dark. Too depressing. Too frightening. These are the comments some critics and authors apply to the crop of movies and novels drawing viewers and readers to the multiplexes and bookstores these days. From the Maze Runner to Divergent, dystopias dominate the best-seller and blockbuster categories, and culture watchers wonder if the public has lost hope in the future.

Could it be that dystopia’s opposite–utopia–is simply boring?

Today’s complaints about dystopian stories originate with the movie made from the novel the Hunger Games, about a young woman who challenges an autocratic society that oppresses weaker communities with a blood sport. It’s really a classic “us-against-the-world” teen rebellion story, but the environment is dystopian, so it gets mentioned in the same breath as 1984, a gross injustice to George Orwell. Continue reading