Science fiction trilogy

Long story short: I had a wad of off-peak movie tickets to burn before the end of the month, so I’ve seen more movies in March than I’ve had time to blog about (been busy gardening :-P) Jenny, who’s a huge movie buff, couldn’t be happier. Meanwhile I’m stressing about the huge backlog of posts… so here’s a quick sci-fi round-up to bring myself up to speed, featuring I Am Number Four, The Adjustment Bureau, and Limitless.

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four movie poster
It's Justin Timberlake with Iron Man hands!

Let’s get the painful stuff over with first: this movie makes no pretence of the fact that it’s a cheap cash-in, remixing various popular sources (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Iron Man, et al.) into a new franchise. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that there will be sequels, baking future-pointing elements into the plot, but having suffered through The Last Airbender I consider this a small mercy.

The film is set in the familiar sci-fi/fantasy story breeding ground of the American high school. The writers didn’t try to tie in the protagonist’s discovery of super powers with a coming-of-age puberty metaphor, and yet I found that oddly discomforting – a narrative no-man’s-land where the characters are too old for a younger audience and too young for an older audience to relate to.

A paint-by-numbers franchise (literally!) that might be named for its affinity to Vietnamese restaurant menus: not number 1, Pho tai (rare beef noodle soup), but the one further down the list with the extra stuff which is alright if you like that sort of thing (brisket, tripe, tendon balls, etc.), but not quite as good as the original.

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau poster
Is it just me or has Emily Blunt been Photoshopped beyond recognition in this poster?

The Adjustment Bureau is loosely based on a short story written by Phillip K. Dick, called Adjustment Team. By his own admission, Dick wasn’t very good at writing titles and his stories have a tendency of being bestowed with new titles when they’re filmed: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became Bladerunner, and We Can Remember It for You Wholesale became Total Recall. Then again, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and Paycheck all made it through unscathed.

A few weeks ago I read a really excellent essay of his called How To Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later. There, he philosophises about the nature of reality, drawing deeply from the Christian faith and the Bible. Adjustment Bureau never explicitly talks religion, but it’s very much like that essay and is probably true to the source material in that sense – fans’ protests about it being turned into a love story notwithstanding. Due to a mistake by one of the members of the Bureau, politician David Norris (Matt Damon) accidentally gets a peek under the surface of his perceived reality, revealing a religious subtext – a “divine plan” in which he is forbidden to pursue a relationship with Elise (Emily Blunt), a wild spirit whom he meets and falls in love with after suffering a crushing election defeat.

Despite being intellectually engaged by the premise, about halfway through I noticed Emily Blunt’s cleft chin, and it ended up bothering me throughout the rest of the movie.

A great movie to see with friends (or on a date), for its discussion topic potential.

Limitless

Limitless poster
One thing that clearly isn't limitless: the poster designer's imagination

Yet again I find myself at odds with Hollywood values. On one hand Limitless avoids being yet-another-morality-tale ramming the value of one’s true (unaided) potential down our throats, but then on the other what does result is a story where using drugs, taking shortcuts and screwing over other people leads to success. Hmmm…

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer who stumbles across his ex-wife’s drug dealer brother – ostensibly cleaned up and working for a pharmaceutical company testing a new miracle drug that lets people use the 80% of untapped potential in their brains (this is a myth, btw). After taking the sample that he gets given, Morra tears through a huge chunk of writing in a matter of hours. When he goes back for more, he finds his source murdered, but discovers a hidden stash of the drug and gets himself into way more than he bargained for.

Logic was never going to be a strong point in the conceit of having somebody become a super-genius, and if you think about it too much beforehand your brain would fill up with “if he’s so smart why didn’t he just…?” type questions before the movie even starts. Suffice to say: just go with it.

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