‘The Expanse: The Fallen World’ Is Just A Show About People In Rooms, Talking

A little while ago, I wrote an article about how ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is just a show about people in rooms, talking. Needless to say, even people who didn’t like the show were not convinced by my arguments. But I stand by them, and the latest episode of ‘The Expanse’ is the reason why.

Spoilers for Season 3 of ‘The Expanse’ from her on out, along with gratuitous comparisons to ‘Discovery’. You Have Been Warned.

Last week’s episode, ‘Dandelion Sky’, was pretty explosive from a narrative perspective. We got a pretty huge, if vague, infodump on the origins of the Protomolecule; Holden made it to the centre of the mysterious station; we got to see Gunny again; we had a lot of backstory for Melba, the tacky rich bitch who needs to get some respect for herself; every ship in the region got frozen in place; and in general the whole storyline advanced significantly.

This episode, ‘The Fallen World’, is nearly the exact opposite. We learn virtually nothing new, most side plots stand still, and very little of the story develops in a significant way.

And it was my favourite episode so far.

Of the entire run.

To explain why, we need to look at probably the story that takes up the bulk of this episode: Drummer and Ashford, the captain and first officer, respectively, of the Belta battleship Behemoth.

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First off, you’ve got great performances by Cara Gee and David Strathairn. Strathairn is almost unrecognisable with his sheriff’s moustache, burn scars and thin, scruffy hair – roughly 22 astronomical units from his appearance in ‘Good Night and Good Luck’. Strathairn is also typically brilliant, and as much as I love Gee’s tough, uncompromising performance as Drummer, the august Strathairn steals most of the scenes in which they appear together.

Immediately following their confrontation at the end of last episode and then the sudden deceleration of all ships in the area, in this episode Drummer and Ashford are pinned at opposite ends of a farming… machine… thing, and are both suffering from painful and potentially lethal injuries. The machine is mag-locked in place, so even though there’s no gravity they can’t move it to free themselves.

Cue some wonderful hateful cooperation between the two as they work together to save themselves. It’s almost entirely just the two of them talking (and occasionally singing), and this is where the first comparison to ‘Discovery’ comes in.

Because Ashford and Drummer aren’t just talking – there’s a mountain of context to what’s going on between them. For the last half of the series, since Ashford’s introduction he and Drummer have been circling and snapping at each other like dogs competing to be the Alpha of the pack. And that tension shapes every exchange between them as they’re stuck here, slowly dying, attempting to escape a painful death. The physical peril is more of a framework from which the real drama between the characters is hung.

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In contrast, most of the scenes in ‘Discovery’ lack that tension, and the drama usually comes from the situation rather than from the characters. And I hate to say it, but that is a Star Trek trend that started way, way back in the days of ‘The Next Generation’ and, later, ‘Voyager’. It’s unfortunate that so much of the plot progression occurred in those shows, around a conference room table, where a group of people who are all friends discuss some made-up problem, and what drama there is is squeezed out of the imaginary peril in which our crew finds themselves.

Here, aboard the Behemoth, not much even happens, but we learn so much about these two characters as nothing happens. They tell us about their pasts, their motivations, hell, they spend five minutes just talking about clothes, and we still discover more about them than we did about Beverly Crusher by the end of ‘All Good Things’. We also get to see how resourceful these two Belta leaders really are, as they try a whole variety of jury-rigged and desperate solutions to their situation, and that leads me onto the next comparison to ‘Discovery’.

Do you remember in the first season of ‘Discovery’, when the crew are faced with a really, really difficult task that they’ve never done before, and they spend a few minutes talking about how dangerous it is beforehand, and then they try it and it works first time with no problems? You should, because it happens on at least six separate occasions.

  • Early on, Lorca has a plan to jump into combat with the Klingon ships bombing the dilithium planet, bait them into attacking Discovery and then jump away, leaving a load of bombs which completely destroy every Klingon ship. They try it once and it works flawlessly without them taking any damage or casualties.
  • Shortly after, Burnham is given the task to save the Tardigrade, so as her first resort she launches it out of the airlock. This works flawlessly and the tardigrade immediately rejuvenates itself before fucking off.
  • Later, the crew needs to get the cloaking calibrations off of the Klingon Ship of the Dead, which they do without getting hit or damaged.
  • Then, they need to fly a perfectly-timed manoeuvre through the middle of the Mirror Universe’s Emperor’s flagship, which they manage flawlessly without getting hit or damaged.
  • Then, they need to instantly terraform a planet into a spore-plant farm, something never done before, and they manage it flawlessly with a five-minute special effect.
  • And finally, they need to end the war with the Klingons by having an low-ranked Klingon torturer threaten Qo’Nos with a super-bomb, and this plan works flawlessly and with no resistance from anyone, resulting in an immediate end to the war.

This is absolutely Not a Trek trope, where the usual scenario involves the first solution failing horribly and resulting in LaForge shouting excitedly with his head tilted up by thirty degrees ; Riker putting his foot up on the side of Data’s console to get maximum camera coverage of his crotch; Picard denying Worf’s request to fire the torpedoes and Troi gasping a few times for good measure.

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The point is, it’s more exciting when something doesn’t work than when it does. In ‘The Expanse’, everything is on the European Extreme difficulty setting. Need to move a space farm tractor thing? Someone’s going to have to die. Forget to lock your toolbox properly? You’re going to end up with a power drill as a permanent part of your anatomy. Want to bone some rich racer chick that you’ve never met? Well I hope you like Venus, my friend, as well as crashing into Venus at relativistic speeds.

And that’s what I love about this show – the writers are not afraid to draw from the enormous pile of deadly situations that can occur at literally any moment in space. In point of fact, every single problem encountered by our heroes in this episode is a result of a very simple, very basic principle of physics – that things in motion like to stay in motion, and making them stop means applying a force. A very large force, if the things are moving very fast.

A few episodes ago I wrote this article, covering how well ‘The Expanse’ nails its storytelling, and in it I predicted that the events in that episode were setting up a dramatic event for a character later in the series. Well, I was nearly right – I just didn’t anticipate it being a setup for large chunks of the Earth, Mars and Belt navies getting their crews pancaked to death all at once.

But it’s true that thanks to the second episode of this season setting up momentum and Newtonian physics as major antagonists early on, we now get to see what happens when alien magic-tech gets involved. The alien station brought every fast-moving object to a halt at the end of last episode, and the results are not pretty. Not only do we see scenes of first-law carnage in the corridors of the U.N.N. Thomas Price, but we learn that the M.C.R.N. Xuesen lost a third of its crew instantly due to the near-instant deceleration, with another third badly injured. Alex is left napping in a cloud of his own lasagne, and Amos is finally revealed to be a mere mortal when Naomi finds him with a gorgeous shiner and a concussion in the Rocinante‘s engine room.

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What’s worse is that now that none of these ships can use their engines to accelerate, the clean-up has just become that much harder. A U.N.N. doctor tells Anna that without gravity, artificial or otherwise, blood can’t drain from wounds and all sorts of things that usually happen when a body heals stop happening, and whilst I’m not a space doctor, I assume that this is a realistic medical concern in zero-g. This kind of attention to detail is charming and grisly, and again emphasises just how horrific space travel can be.

We get a tragic example of just what weightlessness means when Anna attends the wounded Tilly. As Tilly cries in pain and anguish, the tears cling to her eyes instead of falling. It’s a beautiful, very subtle visual effect, and a mark of the real love that goes into even the smallest detail when making this series.

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Unrelated ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ still. Look, all I’m saying is, ‘The Expanse’ pays attention to the tear ducts of a minor character, where other shows don’t even use a spellchecker.

(I also feel the need to bring up the character Tilly, here, and the fact that the same name is used in ‘Discovery’. It seems like the sort of thing that might just be a coincidence, but it’s such an unusual name, and she first appeared in the book ‘Abaddon’s Gate’, which was released in 2013, which leaves me thinking this is just another example of the latest Trek series “paying homage to” and definitely NOT “plagiarising” ‘The Expanse’.)

And speaking of Anna, we again get more scenes of her just wandering around being a generally decent person. And this feeds back into my earlier point, because a lot of what Anna does is be in a room, talking with someone, and yet there’s always more to it than that. She offers her assistance as a nurse to the above-mentioned U.N.N. doctor, who promptly tells her to bog off before explaining the gruesome fate awaiting casualties in zero-g. It’s an expository conversation wrapped in a grim and hopeless medley of suffering.

We then follow Anna on her pursuit of Melba, the manifest avatar of wealthy privelege. Melba murders people just so she can murder other people, and whilst her ultimate target is James Holden, that doesn’t allow me to forgive her for going on a violent crusade of sabotage just to impress her war-criminal father. She’s a goddamn uptight sack of tasteless trash and whilst I’ve greatly enjoyed her story so far, if I met her at a barbecue at a mutual friends’ house I’d secretly wipe every burger bun on my smelly arse just in the hope that she might eat one of them.

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Anyway, Melba “Shithead” Mao (that entire family is a train wreck, by the way) EVAs her way to the Roci just so’s she can ruin more things for everybody, thinking that Holden might actually be there, and she runs into Naomi (the real hero of the show when Gunny isn’t on-screen) and we get the one action scene for this episode, and it’s very quick and it’s very brutal.

Melba attacks Naomi with her ‘Aliens’-esque powerloader spacesuit, and it’s a very one-sided fight between a walking crane and an unarmed Belta. Naomi barely manages to evade Melba’s attacks, using the lack of gravity to attempt an escape, but Melba catches her and begins choking her to death. She gets interrupted by Electric Anna, but this whole scene is another great example of the superior action sequences of ‘The Expanse’.

First off, it’s dynamic. Every action changes the nature of the fight. Melba launches herself at Naomi. Naomi dodges, and uses a mag-lock to pin Melba in place. Melba rips herself free as Naomi deactivates her mag-shoes to leap across the room and up to the exit hatch. Melba grabs her, and drags her back down to the floor, and that’s it, the fight is now over, and Naomi’s nearly killed. Now compare that to this trash:

In the above, Lorca, Burnham and Georgiou all fight in what is a very technically impressive bit of choreography, except that they spend nearly three full minutes beating, punching and stabbing each other and at the end, they’re all still just standing there, seemingly on full hitpoints, and nothing about their situation is radically different from when they started. Lorca even gets a knife thrown in his back at one point – he takes a moment to pull it out, then goes right back to fighting at full effectiveness. There are explosions, swinging swords, knives, phasers, and the scene is ultimately resolved by Lorca getting stabbed in the back whilst standing still.

Then we look back to ‘The Expanse’, and the fact that Holden has a bloodied nose for, like, three episodes after getting in one brief fistfight. Every action in ‘The Expanse’ has consequences, and as such every action in ‘The Expanse’ has weight.

In ‘Discovery’, if you scroll back up to that bullet list I made of the impossible tasks that they achieve flawlessly, you’ll notice something odd – not one of those tasks is relevant in any subsequent episode. The dilithium planet is saved and never seen again; the tardigrade is healed and vanishes for the rest of the season; the crew get the cloaking calibrations, then return at a point where the data is irrelevant anyway; the Emperor’s ship is destroyed, and we never revisit the Mirror Universe; a planet is terraformed, and then never mentioned; a new dictator is installed in the Klingon Empire, and that’s at the end of the season, so we’ll have to wait and see if that one gets any further look-in.

And if you think it’s petty of me to keep bringing up ‘Discovery’ in my reviews of ‘The Expanse’, then I need to explain that first, ‘Discovery’ invites the comparison through all the “homages” it pays to ‘The Expanse’. And secondly, the two shows are like mirrors of one another. They’re both futuristic, serialised sci-fi adventures following small crews in larger universes, both to the background of cosmic war with unknown technologies.

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But every stumble ‘Discovery’ makes highlights every triumph that ‘The Expanse’ achieves. The crew of the Rocinante follow a richly compelling narrative that is propelled not by numerous secret identities and shocking plot twists, but by simple character-driven decisions and interactions, and by the unflinching application of long-term consequences to short-term actions.

My fascination with ‘Discovery’ was driven by how succinctly it captures so many pitfalls and shortcomings of modern storytelling – a microcosm of “narrative by hashtag”. My fascination with ‘The Expanse’ is driven by how expertly it tells a story without resorting to cheap tricks and flashy effects – in fact, it’s very, very difficult to highlight any small part of ‘The Expanse’ because so much of it is layered and built off of what has come before.

My absolutely favourite single moment of this entire season was shortly after Amos spaced the reporter and her creepy camera guy, and he says to Holden quite casually “I’m sorry I put them out the airlock, I should have told you first,” and Holden responds with a very off-hand “That’s alright.” That exchange had me in stitches, just because of all the disagreements Amos and Holden have had in the past, and all the weird shit they’ve been through now means that Amos apologising for spacing two people is handled as though he’s apologising for leaving the kitchen light on all night. And I absolutely cannot explain to anyone how much joy those two lines of dialogue brought me because NOBODY WOULD UNDERSTAND.

There’s a load more I could talk about in episode, and the season so far, such as Gunny remaining the best character, or the continued beautiful visuals, or the fact that this episode is nearly entirely female-led, or just the fact that Alex listens to country music because OF COURSE Alex listens to country music. But I’ve gone on enough. Now I just want to wait patiently for the next episode, which I have no doubt will somehow be even better than this one.

‘Jupiter Ascending’ Is The Same Movie Three Times Over, And Is Also Just An Overblown ‘Dune’ Fan-Fiction

Have you ever seen ‘John Carter Of Mars’? If you came to this article to decide whether or not to watch ‘Jupiter Ascending’, I can provide a solution straight away, and that solution is to go and fucking watch ‘John Carter of Mars’ because it’s the same fucking film, except that it was done first and is better in every measurable way. It’s funnier, smarter, better paced, just as batshit crazy and is far, far more deserving of two hours of your life than ‘Jupiter Ascending’, which I can only assume is ironically named because of the frequency with which people are subjected to gravity throughout the whole bloody film as a substitute for actual threat.

First things first, everything in this film has a stupid name, worse than anything that ever dribbled out of George Lucas’ wretched approach to nomenclature. ‘John Carter’ also features lots of silly names, but ‘John Carter’ was based on a bunch of erotic pulp space opera novels from the 1920s. ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is based on the Wachowskis having no creative restraint, and as such has no excuse for being so inaccessible.

The story itself is simple. Mila Kunis is a genetic duplicate of a dead space queen who had three garbage children each with a horrifying sexual attraction to her. Earth is a completely ordinary planet in a galaxy full of millions of others, but is still also somehow the most important planet in the story, because it’s Earth, or something. The three children are all thousands of years old and willing to murder each other and their own mother over control of the Earth, because it’ll boost their profits by eight per cent, Or Something. The three children all send mercenaries to capture Mila because she is the legal inheritor of Earth, as laid out in her own will before she was murdered by her own children, OR SOMETHING.

The point is, there’s nothing special about Earth. Sean Bean is really keen to point out that there’s nothing special about Earth, except for it being the birthplace of the genetic plagiarism of Space Queen Kunis and also important enough for three of the most powerful people in the galaxy to dedicate weeks of their time and a shitload of angst to owning it. Because it turns out that they all have stocks in a massive Spice-market, except the Spice is made from people and not sand worm larvae. It’s Soylent Spice, and Earth is one of many Arrakises across the Galaxy, and at this point it becomes clear that with all of the elaborate costumes, ridiculous names and mystic bullshit, ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is just a teenage ‘Dune’ fan-fiction that got a bit out of hand, ‘Fifty Shades’ style.

But I’ve already whittered on enough about a lot of narratively-null trash, so let’s get down to the real issues.

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That headdress is approximately the 563rd most ridiculous thing in this film.

One is that the eponymous Jupiter never actually ascends. I mean, she physically gains elevation at a few points, but she’s exactly the same person at the end of the film as she was at the beginning. Her lack of agency is staggering, because random shit just keeps happening to her, or maybe because of who she is, but she never does anything. I think at the end she punches Eddie Redmayne a few times, but that doesn’t seem so hard given that his body is basically a series of plastic coat hangers tied together with shopping bags.

I mean, at one point she just about chooses not to marry the skeevy space prince who states he doesn’t give a shit about her but heavily hints that he really wanted to fuck his mum, and also makes pretty fucking clear that he’s going to wait about three nanoseconds after the wedding ceremony before stabbing her in the brain and using her pancreas as a sex toy, inheriting all of her property anyway. So she made that decision for herself, I suppose.

She also tells Eddie Redmayne to fuck off when he makes the generous offer of letting her abdicate her space throne and all of her space power and space wealth so that he can almost immediately harvest Earth, killing everyone and turning them all into Soylent Spice. So she also has that going for her. She goes from someone who is occasionally taken advantage of by her family to being someone who will Not be taken advantage of by her evil incestuous space family. How Empowering.

No, all the agency in the entire affair rests with Channing Tatum, aka The Plasticene Muscle Man, who is some kind of dog-person with magic ice skates and A Dark History. And this leads into probably the biggest problem with ‘Jupiter Ascending’, its structure. Laying out the major plot developments:

  1. Mila Kunis is bored on Earth.
  2. She gets captured by creepy space aliens, and is rescued by Running Wolfman.
  3. She finds out she is a space queen.
  4. She gets captured by her creepy space daughter, and is rescued by Running Wolfman.
  5. She gets captured by her creepy space son, and is rescued by Running Wolfman.
  6. She gets captured by her other creepy space son, and is revealed to have been the mastermind behind her own ascension to the space throne, and in the epilogue is shown ruling Earth as a cruel and vindictive tyrant for a thousand years.
  7. Just kidding, she gets rescued by Running Wolfman.

Seriously, those are the plot developments. An hour of dull exposition, interspersed with pointlessly lengthy action scenes, followed by the same fucking plot three times over. I honestly believe the Wachowskis got bored after writing the second act, and just hit ‘Ctrl+V’ a couple of times and then auto-corrected some of the names. It was so repetitive that it could’ve fooled you into thinking it was a strange rehash of ‘Groundhog Day’ or ‘Edge of Tomorrow‘ but made with about one sixteenth of the talent.

So you end up with this bloated two-hour mess which manages to multiply its mediocrity through repetition. I would love to credit the creativity that went into the visuals and the costumes and so on, but the story itself is so fucking void of captivation that I can’t bring myself to do so. Stories don’t have to be original, but when they start plagiarising themselves I start to lose patience.

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The Padishah Emperor and Alia At- nope, sorry, wrong franchise.

The villains were all stupid to the point of being impotent. Eddie Redmayne will happily kidnap and murder, but won’t just fucking harvest Earth when he could because “it wouldn’t be legal.” Creepy Space-Incest Boy wants to kill Whining Houndbum, so rather than shooting him in the heart or just locking him in an airtight box for three days, he leaves him his energy shield and his magic ice skates, then blasts him out of an airlock filled with emergency spacesuits, placing him roughly at the “Bond Villain” level of evil competence / ability to achieve objectives.

The action scenes took forever and were pointless. During one, I wandered off, did a bit of washing up, went for a piss, got changed (unrelated to the piss), hung some laundry out to dry (still unrelated to the piss) came back and it was the SAME fight scene and NOTHING HAD CHANGED (I didn’t piss myself). Martial arts films can get away with shit like that because their fight scenes are daring displays of acrobatics and staggering precision. The Wachowskis fill the screen with CGI lasers and spaceships which make it impossible to follow what’s happening and which were put together by legions of underpaid graphic artists, whilst the directors presumably go home to huff the smell of one another’s socks and practice high-fiving.

There was a weird montage scene where Mila Kunis, allegedly one of the most powerful people in the galaxy, has to go through about three hundred different registry offices to get a piece of paper which actually grants her the title – which is ultimately achieved through a pedestrian level of bribery. Like, to become the ruler of Earth you just need to slip someone a tenner and wink at them, Or Something. Anyway, it’s weird and pointless, lasts far too long and is basically just the same joke over and over. The only other time you see shit like this is in films based off books with a need to include lengthy written segments as efficiently as possible. Aesthetically and structurally it seemed identical to other scenes in the ‘Harry Potter’ series, for example, but that makes no sense because ‘Jupiter Ascending’ isn’t based off a book but rather a vomit stain on the floor of a petrol station toilet.

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I think this is the scene where she catches him licking his own testicles and barking at a cat.

Like all terrible films these days, ‘Jupiter Ascending’ picks up and then drops plot threads like a grubby-fingered hippy trying to find the best avocado in the discount salad aisle of a suburban corner shop. Sean Bean betrays Drooping Cheekbone and then they’re best friends again, all within the space of eight minutes. Tuppence Middleton has Queen Kunis captured, so she can show her a statue of her pre-dead self, watch her get undressed and take a bath, and then, I don’t know, she doesn’t seem to want to actually use Mila for anything except just having a bit of a chat. You’d think she could’ve just called her.

A lot of people have piped up about Redmayne’s own peculiar brand of skinny-Blessed scenery-chewing, but the fact is it could’ve been one of the strongest points of the whole bloody film. His two siblings – Middleton and The Other Bloke – both deliver such standard performances that the only clue they’re from a different culture, nay, planet, to our own, comes from their costumes. They’re meant to be aristocrats, dozens of millenia old and in charge of hundreds of thousands of star systems, but they don’t present any differently to any other scheming Earth-bound homo sapiens. Meanwhile, Redmayne delivers a quite alien persona that comes close to selling the notion that he might be from another world. If the rest of the cast had gotten on board with his approach, I’d be willing to give the film a bit more slack.

There are plenty of other things that make me foam at the liver when I think about this shitshow, from the boring performances delivered by every actor that wasn’t warming down from playing Stephen Hawking, to the fact that Tunneling Moleman or Maudling Humdrum or whatever he’s called actually gets WINGS at the end, because of all his “good deeds” Or Something. Christ, you’d never have thought that a film that steals material from ‘Dune’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘John Carter’ and now fucking ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ would ever make a good story, and ‘Jupiter Ascending’ proves that you would be absolutely correct, it doesn’t make a good story, it in fact amounts to three separate helpings of the same turd-flavoured sorbet heaped into a soggy sugar cone, sprinkled with gold flakes to make it look pretty.

Sean Bean was alright in it, I guess.

A Review of the movie ‘The Martian’ (2015)

‘The Martian’ is lovely. It’s warm and comforting and funny. It’s Ridley Scott doing Space again, but instead of messing it up with rampant philosophy and the Monster Mash, he strays away from the pitfalls of ‘Prometheus’ and keeps everything focused around the humanity of the characters involved.

The book upon which the film is based, by Andy Weir, is sublime. It covers the intricacies of spaceflight in sumptuous detail, all the things that can go wrong in a tiny pressure vessel millions of miles from home. Of course, the film can’t afford the same level of scientific insight in a manageable run-time, but it more than makes up for it in in other ways.

Okay, this is starting to look like an actual review rather than my usual inane ramblings, so let’s get back to our regular transmission.

‘The Martian’ makes ‘Gravity’ look like a dildo. Where ‘Gravity’ drains four D-cells in an attempt to vibrate you to satisfaction as reliably as possible, ‘The Martian’ offers the benefits of a sensitive and considerate lover that tends to your needs and actually maintains eye contact for most of it.

Indeed, ‘The Martian’ only ramps up the tension and the drama right at the point of climax. It moves at different speeds to satisfy its audience, rather than the “On/Off, all-or-nothing” approach of ‘Gravity’. ‘The Martian’ understands that you need laughter as well as stimulation; it understands that pounding the G-Spot like a Rousey Cannonade is just a part of the overall process.

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Just a few of the awesome cast of ‘The Martian’. Notice how it’s only the guy on the right who even resembles a marital aide. And even HE gets a better character arc than anyone in ‘Prometheus’.

This even applies to the cast; Bullock and Clooney are there just to stimulate the right areas, appendages extending the film’s main oscillatory function. But Damon and Chastain, Daniels and Wiig, Ejiofor and Bean all bring their own charm to the affair, their own interest; they’re the wandering lips and searching hands that remind you that this is the real thing. Even Donald Glover’s minor role is perfectly realised by the young actor; he’s sadly outclassed by more experienced colleagues, but even though it’s not exactly what gets you going you still appreciate the film’s openness to experimentation.

Oh yes, ‘The Martian’ will try Butt Stuff.

And, whereas ‘Gravity’ finishes on the oh-so-subtle imagery of its protagonist swimming upwards into the light (METHAPHORICAL), ‘The Martian’ offers you a quick but fulfilling epilogue to each of its characters. In essence, ‘The Martian’ helps you clean up afterwards, where ‘Gravity’ just gets a quick wipe before going back in the drawer.

Comparing these two films is arguably unfair; you ought to know with ‘Gravity’ that you’re just going in for a session of instant gratification; it’s a simulation of the best bits of the real thing, but it’s never going to be as satisfying. No, ‘The Martian’ has much more in common with the genre-defining ‘Apollo 13’.

Indeed, you could well view ‘The Martian’ as the modern-day successor to Ron Howard’s 1995 tour de force. It takes full advantage of contemporary special effects and uses them to tell an amazing story that actually leaves you feeling inspired and hopeful, and it has so much scientific authenticity that if feels like it’s based on a historical event.

‘The Martian’ is invested in the story it tells, and its authenticity extends to its characters, the stories that they each will tell once it’s all over. In a short space of time it presents a different perspective for each of them, but flawlessly ties them all together about the fate of the eponymous hero. Each person there has a different reason for caring about the same thing, and with some deliciously clever acting and a few light directorial touches, it explores each character exactly as much as it needs to. By the end I felt like I knew even minor characters, like the low-ranking satellite operator, better than I did the main protagonists of much more extravagant movies. Like fucking ‘Gravity’.

I just hope Scott takes his successes here and applies them to his inevitable ‘Prometheus’ sequels. If there’s one fucking thing those movies will need, it’s some sensible characterisation.

A Review of the movie ‘Gravity’ (2013)

I didn’t think it was possible for a film to somehow be less scientifically accurate than ‘Pacific Rim‘, but so many people praised ‘Gravity’ for its ambition that it’s not too surprising that it achieved that mantle.

‘Gravity’ looks amazing, and so perfectly showcases the visual journey of the single-most-unlucky person alive that it will leave you breathless. Breathless from the sheer spectacle of it, and breathless from laughter.

‘Gravity’ is the story of Dr. Mrs. Sandra Spacewoman, and her desperate struggle to regain a career after the dizzying heights of ‘Miss Congeniality’. I’m sure Sandra Bullock’s a lovely person, I’ll bet she vaccinates her children and hardly ever kills dogs just for fun, but I have always struggled to accept the premise that she’s an actor.

She seems to just Be In Movies, smiling and being nice and not really actually, y’know, portraying a character or anything. Maybe I’m being unfair. I’m not saying she’s a bad performer. It never looks like she’s reading her lines from an off-screen cue-card.

But put her next to someone like Anne Hathaway or Scarlet Johanssen… Let’s put it this way. Emily Blunt in ‘Adjustment Bureau’ is not the same Emily Blunt in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. Have you ever seen Sandra Bullock being anyone other than Sandra Bullock?

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Sandra Bullock, here playing her seminal role of “Sandra Bullock”, which critics say is even better than her last role as the character “Sandra Bullock”, or even the ever-memorable and charismatic “Sandra Bullock”, from ‘Every Movie She’s Ever Been In’.

My irrational distaste for S-Meister B aside, ‘Gravity’ is exhausting. That’s almost a credit to the film itself; I left the cinema feeling almost as tired as Spacera Blastoff’s character presumably felt, but for the wrong reasons. Every scene stretched my suspension of disbelief to breaking point.

The fanciest, most realistic effects in the world don’t make the string of incredibly unlucky events that follow each other (all within the space of an hour) any easier to believe. I greeted each new development in the story with a dismissive “Yeah, right.”

Partly that was due to my space-nerdery telling me that Things Don’t Work Like That In Space. The story kicks off when a rogue Russian missile blows up a satellite, which creates a debris cloud which then systematically destroys every single man-made thing in the solar system, apparently.

But Starra Blofeld’s a tough cookie, and she survives each new disaster that befalls her. She gets to the shuttle, but it’s been wrecked. She makes it to the ISS, but Jean-Luc Picard’s pulled a drive-by “Self Destruct” on the thing, seemingly, as it immediately starts collapsing around her.

She escapes the lethality of the space station (have we really had people living on it for years? That thing’s a deathtrap, apparently) to go some other places, all of which are equally terrible and deadly.

Apparently, every space program around the world is run by the same tribes who built all of the temples in the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy. All space things are apparently rigged to instantly kill the first person to set foot inside of them. Maybe it’s an allegory for Australia.

She has a baffling moment of respite where she briefly turns into a werewolf. I guess it’s always a full moon in space. Once she’s done with that, she does what any other sensible human being would do and decides “God has a plan for me, and that plan is short-term, so I will obey his wishes” and turns the oxygen off.

Sadly, that’s not the end of the movie, as Clorge Mooney reappears (we’ll get to him in a bit) and gives her the pep-talk she needs to get her shit together and get out of this Space Jam! Some more stuff blows up spontaneously, she lands in a pond, credits roll.

I could write for days about the scientific inaccuracies and plot-holes in this film. I really could. I won’t. Just go play Kerbal Space Program for half an hour and you’ll get the idea.

What I do want to write about is the only other character with a face in the film, George Clooney. And isn’t it a lovely face? Let’s look at it for a moment.

George-Clooney-579440
Prozac for the soul, this guy.

Wasn’t that lovely? I think so.

In ‘Gravity’ he plays the experienced, about-to-retire Manstronaut who knows what’s up, who rescues Sandy Bumhole initially and later reappears to her as a dream-ghost, giving her the inspiration and drive she needs to Not Die A Pointless Death.

He’s mostly a loose stereotype, played with great charisma, obviously, but it’s his significance to Bullock’s primary character that irks me. The story could’ve been about the Toughest Girl In The Galaxy, about her own will and drive to keep going, keep surviving, and it just about is.

But for me, it gets side-tracked by Gooney’s reappearance at that critical point. Now, it’s about a Girl Who Is The Toughest In The Galaxy As Long As She Has The Example Of A Man To Inspire Her.

I mean, this is a really minor point, and it works more-or-less fine in the film, but could we have had a woman in Jorge’s place? ‘The Martian’ had Jessica Chastain to prove that you can have a capable badass female astronaut who takes names and kicks arse; would it have been such a stretch to have, say, Sigourney Weaver as the veteran, the one who saves Panda Hillock and later inspires her to keep going? THAT could have been neat.

Or maybe just have Shandy Bulmers inspire herself into survival. Maybe she looks at a picture of her dead daughter and decides “No, somebody needs to remember her”. Or maybe she just looks out at the stars, realises internally that her life is shaped by more than the things that happen to her, and decides that she’s going to go down fighting no matter what.

I dunno, maybe this isn’t the place for advancing a feminist agenda. But maybe “First All-Female Science Fiction Movie” might have been a better title to have than “Somehow Less Realistic Than Giant Robots”.

Oh, and in the final scene, she starts swimming up to the water’s surface after having landed in a pond, and a piece of seaweed starts to wrap around her leg, and people in the cinema, myself included, actually started laughing.

I would have enjoyed this movie more if the creators had been brave enough to have the main character get drowned by seaweed.

Then they could have called it ‘Buoyancy’.