Screen Talk

Screen Talk #2: Ender’s Game

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Screen Talk is my space to chat about films and television, ranging from reviews, to recommendations and everything in between.

Today I want to talk about the film adaptation of the novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Enders Game

I had been meaning to watch this for a while, but somehow managed to miss it at the cinema and just never got round to it. Until I was browsing through Netflix, remembered it was there and thought it would be a good thing to watch for Sci-Fi Month! I really enjoyed the novel it is based on, despite the author being a rather disgusting human being, so I had to give the film a shot some time.

The good:
  • The visuals were great. The Battle Room looked so fantastic, as well as the suits of the cadets and all their technology.
  • The soundtrack, composed by Steve Jablonsky, was an absolute wonder.
  • The casting – Harrison Ford! Viola Davis! Ben Kingsley!

The bad:
  • The film cut out way too much of the book, such as the sub-plot involving Valentine and Peter, set on Earth.
  • Instead of focusing on the camaraderie that Ender develops with Bean, Petra and the other cadets, the film ignored all of these friendships in place of a potential romance that never actually blossomed.

The ugly:
  • Without the sub-plot set on Earth, it didn’t feel like there was any real threat to humankind. The chapters in the book with Peter and Valentine kept it feeling more ‘real’ and grounded, literally and metaphorically.
  • Why is Ender so special and talented? We don’t see a single moment of the reason why on screen. The film missed out so much that it in fact just cut out all the important bits. There is no real explanation as to why Ender gets promoted again and again. Sure, we see him win one battle. But why does that make him so much more worthy than the other kids who have won tens, hundreds of battles?
  • We’re told that Ender is a mixture of his brother and sister, and that’s why he fits the academy. His brother is on screen for all of five seconds, and Valentine not that much longer. Therefore, this means nothing. We don’t know what this combination would be like.
  • Ender was so… bleh. He lacked any real personality. I had no reason to like him.

Overall Rating:

Have you watched Ender’s Game? What did you think?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Top Science Fiction Films & TV Shows of 2015

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

This is something I like to share every Sci-Fi Month, along with my top books – my favourite science fiction films and television shows watched this year. These do not have to have been released during 2015 – just watched this year by myself.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

I already spoke briefly about Jurassic World earlier this month when I discussed dinosaurs in science fiction, but I have to mention it again here because it DEFINITELY makes the cut. So it might not be the most amazing or smartest movie ever, but for the sheer fun, thrill and nostalgia, it does no wrong in my eyes. It took all the things that made the first film so fantastic, and built on them. And it was so exciting to finally have the park open to the public! Even if things went exactly as expected.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina

Another film I have already discussed this month, Ex Machina is low-key, eerie science fiction. Although A.I. may not sound ‘low key’, the technology viewed in the film is quite basic in terms of presentation, and we don’t see much more than Nathan’s swish security system and Ava herself. A slow, creeping piece about what artificial intelligence means, this might keep you awake well past your bedtime.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron

Whilst Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t quite the film I’d been waiting for ever since it was announced, it was still a good, fun film – and to be honest I just can’t resist Marvel. Ultron was a little too comic to be a decent villain, but it meant we got to see more of the superhero team, as well as the new additions of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I’m surprised it’s not on Netflix yet to be honest…

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Okay, this is probably cheating a bit since this is a rewatch, but I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy so many times since its initial release, and I still love it just as much. It’s funny, heartwarming, has a great amount of action and adventure, and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. It’s a little more light-hearted and self-deprecating than other Marvel films, and all the more better for it.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

It took me a little while to get round to Big Hero 6, and I’m so glad I finally made the time. This film was adorable in every way, and just so so cool! A group of teens go from robotics students to superheroes, along with what might be the cutest robot companion ever to exist. I want a hug from Baymax please.

Terra Nova

Terra Nova

I also previously discussed Terra Nova in my post on dinosaurs in science fiction, and I’m so gutted that it was cancelled! I don’t regret checking this one out on Netflix though, definitely give it a shot if you can.

Extant

Extant

Another cancelled series… I started watching Extant earlier this year, and rushed through the first season. It tells of an astronaut called Molly Woods, who returns from a 13 month solo mission in space… only to find out that she is pregnant. It sounds quite Alien-esque, and takes a little while to pick up, but it had me gripped by the end of the season, especially as it got a little creepier. Unfortunately after the second season, it was axed.

Have you watched any of these films or TV shows? What did you think? What are your favourites of 2015?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Ex Machina and the Question of Artificial Intelligence

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Please be aware that this post will contain spoilers for the film Ex Machina.

It was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of the film Ex Machina this past January. I finally made it to the cinema – and left feeling so unnerved. Ex Machina was not quite as I expected, although not at all in a bad way. It was more the fact that I wasn’t expecting the film to be so creepy, or to make me really think about so much of the film’s matter.

If you are unaware of the plot of the film, here is a brief synopsis:

Programmer Caleb wins an internal competition at the company where he works and is invited to spend a week at the mountain estate of the company’s owner, Nathan. On arrival, Caleb finds that the place is a state-of-art facility. Nathan gives him a non-disclosure contract to sign. Then he explains that he is assigned to evaluate the reactions and emotions of artificial intelligence in a female body called Ava. Caleb interviews Ava, and she uses a power outage to tell him that he should not trust Nathan. Along the day, Caleb is involved by Ava and plots a scheme to let her flee from the facility. Meanwhile Nathan tells him that he has been manipulated by Ava. Who is telling the truth? (from IMDB)

Or let the trailer set the mood:

After several sessions, the AI, Ava, begins to question Caleb about himself. She wants to learn about a person and therefore form a friendship through those bonds. Although the way in which she approaches making those bonds is not how natural friendships form, she is aware of how they work. Ava also asks why she cannot go outside. Later in the film, we see that Nathan’s previous AIs also asked this question, even demanding to know why and becoming aggressive and violent. Nathan is at first, a reclusive genius. Then his darker side emerges: he is an alcoholic, he seems to have ulterior motives for his AIs at times, and he has no qualms about psychologically terrorising Caleb.

Ava seems to grow rather attached to Caleb. He is, as Nathan says, the first man she has seen that is not Nathan, who is ‘practically her father’. It therefore only seems natural that she takes great interest in him, flirting with him, showing him her new clothes and analysing his microreactions for attraction. As she says, she is ‘testing him’. In the finale of the film, Caleb helps Ava escape. During the escape, she stabs Nathan with a kitchen knife. Did she do this because of his cruel behaviour, or because she saw his death as her only way out? She clearly has information on the concept of death, and knew how to kill Nathan. Was this something programmed into her, or something she picked up?

In a heartbreaking twist, Ava also abandons Caleb, leaving him locked in the house with no way out. This raises the question: was it her intention all along to use Caleb to escape? Did she truly have no interest in him? Or did she decide at the spur of the moment that it was best if she went alone, after what happened with Nathan? The film raises many questions that science fiction films of the past have raised, but the way of presenting them and the results of the ‘experiment’ is very haunting.

The lighting, setting – remote, modern and sterile – and music add SO much tension and atmosphere to the film. The soundtrack is truly outstanding, and sends chills down my spine. For a science fiction film, it’s less about the special effects and super technology (apart from Ava herself, obviously), and more about why we want things like this in our lives.

Have you seen Ex Machina? What did you think?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Space Opera

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Continuing my discussion of some of my favourite elements of science fiction, space opera is my final post on this subject. And just to clear things up, here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, and often risk-taking as well as chivalric romance; usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons and other sophisticated technology.

Space opera is what I think of when I think of science fiction. It feels like the ‘classic’ sci-fi element and covers so many different possibilities: space travel, colonisation, alien contact, adventure, action, exciting technologies, a dash of romance. Many of the early works of science fiction fit the space opera sub-genre.

Here are some of my favourite space opera reads:
The Empress Game House of Suns Ender's Game

The Empress Game is a fairly recent release, and my review of it will be posted next month. House of Suns is an epic, sprawling space opera for fans of hard science fiction, whereas Ender’s Game is aimed at Young Adult audiences onwards. I’ll be sharing my thoughts of the film adaptation in a post next month.

And some space operas I’d love to read:
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Dark Run Inherit the Stars

I can DEFINITELY think of a space opera video game, because it is one of my absolute favourites: Mass Effect. This game sees you traversing the universe as Commander Shepard, gathering your forces to defeat an ancient alien race known as the Protheans, who are hellbent on destroying all civilisation. I discussed my love for the series in a previous Sci-Fi Month post from 2013, which also included a guest post by one of the ‘Story Doctors’ who worked on the game. In fact I seem to have discussed the game quite a lot, as searching for ‘Mass Effect’ on this blog comes up with five pages of search results… So if you’re looking for a good, solid science fiction video game that lets you explore space and communicate (and er… more…) with aliens, then Mass Effect is the game for you!

Mass Effect

And of course, we can’t discuss space opera without mentioning Star Wars…

Who else is excited for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Just a few people I think… The Star Wars films are classic space opera, adventure with a dash of romance. I remember when I was young, my dad sat me and my sisters down and showed us the original trilogy shortly before we went to see The Phantom Menace in the cinema. Although that film is ignored by many a hardcore fan, I love it because it felt like my way into the Star Wars universe – it felt less complex than the original, which was good as I was young at the time, and I LOVED pod-racing. However, that film has one massive flaw and I won’t tarnish my blog with his name 😉 Whatever you think of the Star Wars franchise, there’s no denying its impact on the space opera sub-genre.

Are you a fan of space opera? What does the term mean to you?

podrace gif

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: It’s The End of the World As We Know It

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

A common trope of science fiction is to show the Earth greatly transformed, or even completely destroyed, in some way. Our poor planet has been used and abused throughout the history of the genre. Here’s a brief guide to the (post-)apocalypse, or dystopian future, covering books, TV, films and video games.

Aliens

Mass Effect The 5th Wave Defiance The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells War of the Worlds Independence Day The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham 826847

In these titles, Earth is either destroyed or invaded by aliens. In the latter, it is altered to a state where it is unrecognisable: either through the collapse of society and government, or destruction of large portions of the planet. Sometimes the extra-terrestrials are aggressive, sometimes they are just inquisitive, and other times we’re not even aware of them until it is too late.

Mass Effect, The 5th Wave, Defiance, The War of the Worlds (plus the 2005 film version), Independence Day, The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Illness/Disease

The Passage by Justin Cronin Blindness Oryx and Crake Partials by Dan Wells Parasite I Am Legend by Richard Matheson The Stand Children of Men The Strain

These titles show an Earth ravaged by illness, disease or plague, including technological viruses and biological warfare. In many of them, the illness transforms humankind into something else, often zombie or vampire-like creatures.

Humankind

The Hunger Games Divergent The 100 The Years of Rice and Salt Unwind The Man in the High Castle How I Live Now A Canticle for Leibowitz

Science fiction frequently shows how humankind causes its own downfall, often through war or revolt. This is a particularly popular theme in current Young Adult dystopian fiction, although it’s not exactly a new trend in the genre. This is one of the more frightening sides of sci-fi: how we become our very own worst enemies. Occasionally, it shows a glimpse into an alternate future or past.

Natural Disaster

2012 The Day After Tomorrow The Maze Runner by James Dashner Deep Impact Armageddon The Drowned World

This could also technically come under ‘Humankind’, because most of the time the natural disasters are caused by people, namely through global warming and climate change. This category includes these as well as other things such as asteroids/meteors, tsunamis, earthquakes etc.

2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Maze Runner, Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Drowned World.

Brainwashing/Government

1984 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Fahrenheit 451 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand V for Vendetta

Another terrifying thing about science fiction is how government is often portrayed. Often it is shown as being a totalitarian or ‘Big Brother’ society, a term coined from George Orwell’s 1984. Citizens often have very little freedom, or even free will, having been brainwashed into behaving in certain ways.

Machines/Artificial Intelligence

I Robot Robopocalypse Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick Love In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Prey Neuromancer

Okay, maybe there’s a lot of scary things about science fiction – another one being the very thought of the Earth being overrun or overtaken by machines or artificial intelligence. Many a sci-fi tale tells of the invention of some fantastic new technology, only for it to become sentient and rise up against mankind.

Can you think of any other titles that would fit in these categories, or any categories that I have missed?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Time Travel

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

As an archaeologist, time travel is an exciting thought. Being able to go back in time and see if your theories are right? Being able to experience those past cultures and civilisations that you’ve studied and obsessed over for years? Yes please. This is one of the main reasons why I love science fiction that features time travel. However, the thought of heading to the future is just as thrilling. I’m always eyeing up the technology on screen in sci-fi films and shows – how cool would it be to get a chance to use some of it?

But the thought of travelling through time is also terrifying.

What if you get stuck in the past or future, unable to return to your own time? What if you change something in the past, however unknowingly or however small, and it has huge consequences on the future? Or even if they are not consequences that affect you, they could drastically alter the life of someone else. What if the people of the past or future see you as a threat or an enemy?

To enjoy time travel in science fiction, you often have to forget about these questions, and just accept it as it is presented. It is such a fantastic element, and I’ve read so many wonderful books featuring time travel:

All Our Yesterdays (All Our Yesterdays #1) by Cristin Terrill The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Of course that’s not all of them – it would take forever to list them all! Those are just recent reads or particular favourites. And there are several titles involving time travel that I really want to get my hands on:

Loop The Time Machine 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Of course, I don’t just love time travel in my books.

One of my favourite television shows, Doctor Who, is based around the concept of time travel. I discussed my love for the show in the first Sci-Fi Month, and also wrote a short guide to the series for new fans. However my interest has waned a little with the Twelfth Doctor, and that’s something I’ll be discussing this month.

Hmm, sorry Doctor, but I won't be taking your reading advice.

Hmm, sorry Doctor, but I won’t be taking your reading advice.

And not forgetting films!

One of my most recent favourites that used time travel was Looper. It was clever in that it didn’t feel too high tech for most of the film, with the majority of it set in an isolated farm house surrounded by cornfields. Now I feel like that is something I should rewatch this month…

I’m having slightly more trouble thinking up video games that feature time travel though. Most science fiction video games that I’ve played involve space travel, rather than time travel. Can anyone help me out here?

If time travel was possible, there’s a chance that my career would become irrelevant. What would be the point in researching history and archaeology, digging up evidence or hunting through ancient documents if you could just travel back to a certain period in time and see what actually happened? So maybe it’s for the best that time travel is fiction. 😉

Do you enjoy science fiction with the element of time travel? What are some of your favourite titles?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Dinosaurs in Science Fiction

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

It’s something that has cropped up again and again in science fiction, and will probably appear even more so with the revival of a certain Jurassic franchise. Dinosaurs have appeared many times in science fiction, through various formats. Here’s a look at the impact they have made on the genre.

The Jurassic Park/Jurassic World series

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton Jurassic World

The Jurassic Park/Jurassic World series is, ultimately, a tale of man playing god. In the original novel by Michael Crichton, scientists have discovered how to recreate dinosaurs, using DNA extracted from mosquitoes trapped in tree sap. One ingenious businessman by the name of John Hammond decides to open a ‘theme park’ where visitors can, for a rather extortionate fee, see real life dinosaurs in the flesh. However, before it can open it must be approved by several professionals, which is where paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sadler come in. Taken to the island, along with chaotician Ian Malcolm, they soon realise that this business venture is not one they can really approve…

Jurassic Park was adapted into a film in 1993, and was followed by two sequels: Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. Jurassic World is the beginning of a new part of the franchise, and is not directly based on Crichton’s work, apart from the basic ideas of the first novel. It is set twenty-two years after the first film, and the park has been running successfully for ten years. In order to prevent business going stale and people losing interest in dinosaurs, the Jurassic World team have decided to create their very own dinosaur, a hybrid of various different types. And as you’ve probably guessed… well, considering past events, probably not a good idea.

I absolutely LOVE the Jurassic Park/World series. So maybe the second and third films aren’t amazing, but they’re still a part of it. Jurassic Park has been one of my favourite films for a long, long time, and Jurassic World is definitely getting there. They are thrilling and sometimes silly, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them. I still get chills when the camera zooms in on the cup of water at the front of the Jeep, rippling in response to the T-rex’s heavy footsteps.

Terra Nova

Terra Nova

Just like Firefly, Terra Nova is another television series that was cancelled far too early… At only one season long, it packs in so much more than many series do in ten seasons. Set in the 22nd century, it shows a future where overpopulation and declining air quality have caused problems. In answer to this, an operation has been set up to send people back 85 million years, after the discovery of a time rift. Sent in groups called ‘pilgrimages’, the ‘pilgrims’ set up a colony know as Terra Nova, or New Earth. The series follows the Shannon family, a policeman, his doctor wife and their three children. However, it doesn’t just focus on the Shannons, but weaves in the stories of others in the colony.

Whilst you don’t necessarily see dinosaurs in every episode, they do appear quite frequently, often adding a sense of fear or adventure. Some are recognisable, others were made up for the show. Unfortunately, Terra Nova was cancelled after the first series, and although Fox tried to sell it to another network, nothing happened. This means that the finale leaves a LOT of unanswered questions and possibilities for where the show could have gone.

ARK: Survival Evolved

ARK: Survival Evolved

I NEED THIS GAME. ARK: Survival Evolved is a fairly recent video game, where the player finds themself stranded, naked and alone, on an island. You must explore, gather resources, and stay alive. One slight problem though: the island is full of dinosaurs. An open-world sandbox game, Ark: Survival Evolved allows you to tame and ride, or kill dinosaurs, team up with other players or work on your own, and try to find the best way to survive.

Er… do I really need to explain why I want this game? You can ride a pterodactyl. Or command your own velociraptor team just like Owen. Why would you not want it?! If you need further convincing, just take a look at the trailer:

It would take forever to discuss all books/films/television series/video games that feature dinosaurs, so I’ve just picked a selection! Do you have any particular favourites, whether they’ve made this list or not?