Science Fiction

Midnight Special 

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Midnight Special (2015) – Drama | Science Fiction 

Directed by: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton 

How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video

Jeff Nichols makes a habit out of taking his viewers into a different dimension. Take Shelter lifted Michael Shannon into an otherworldly acting status and Mud further solidified this decade’s Matthew McConaughey dominance. In both of those films, it was easy to get completely absorbed into the stories. His characters, often seemingly simple people, can be frustrating, yet immensely likable. Shannon is fighting paranoid schizophrenia in Take Shelter, stricken with visions of an imminent worldwide storm threatening his family’s safety. In Mud, McConaughey quite literally takes shelter in the forest on an island in Arkansas. While both stories stay grounded, there are times in each which border on the unbelievable. I don’t want to say this film is unbelievable, but Nichols definitely has jumped into another genre with this effort.

Midnight Special tells the story of a young child with extraordinary powers and his father (played brilliantly by Nichols alum, Michael Shannon) who does everything he can to protect his son from all those who threaten his existence. From the beginning, the film is exciting, unnerving and incredibly mysterious as it ramps up toward the heart of the movie. There’s a creepy religious cult, car chases, shit crashing to earth from space and some breathtaking CGI that is refreshingly done right in today’s world of graphic overabundance. While it might not reach the emotional levels that Nichols’ previous two offers do, Midnight Special has earned its place in the world of modern Science Fiction.

The film’s ensemble is one of the most impressive elements of Midnight Special. Joel Edgerton shines as Shannon’s old friend, driving and protecting the father and son throughout the film. Adam Driver is not a huge part of the movie, yet provides some of the little humor that pops up. Kirsten Dunst makes an appearance, which seems questionable at first, until I remembered when she rocked the hell out of the transcendent Melancholia. This is not quite the emotional rollercoaster that Melancholia is, but it’s easy to compare elements of the two. I get annoyed by child actors quite often, but Jaeden Lieberher does a great job as Alton, the film’s focus as the young boy with supernatural abilities. Whenever I see Sam Shepard’s name in the credits, I know I’m in for a treat. He does not let down in Midnight Special, as the leader of the cult. His character is unsettling, and walks the tightrope that begs both empathy and hate.

As I mentioned previously, Jeff Nichols has a knack for creating his own worlds. Like Steven Spielberg, you know when you’re watching one of his movies. David Wingo (who has worked with Nichols on all three of his features) and his music in the film, oppressively drones at your emotions, only ramping up when the action does. The beginning of Midnight Special is strange, but delivers an important sense of wonder, much like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not much is said for quite a while and we as the viewers are left wondering where the story might move next. Little by little, the story comes together and is pieced together much like a 1980’s sci-fi flick (ala Spielberg) would be. Nichols ultimately abandons his typical penchant for leaving us suspended by the time the film comes to an end, but it still leaves enough to probably require a second viewing.

Midnight Special is the ultimate display of just how much Nichols is capable of with the appropriate budget. With more than three times the amount of money he was given to make Take Shelter, Nichols created a golden Science Fiction film that does not forget to keep the human element an active part of the story. While I feel it does not quite reach the level of Take Shelter and MudMidnight Special is a spectacular visual treat that lovingly takes from exciting sci-fi of yesteryear. If you haven’t yet experienced Jeff Nichols’ cinematic worlds, do yourself a huge favor and soak all of these in.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: Melancholia, Take Shelter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982) – Science Fiction | Action

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

How I Watched: Blu-Ray

Best Line: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

The first time I saw Blade Runner, it was playing on cable in standard definition and it was the spectacularly underwhelming theatrical version. For those unfamiliar, Blade Runner has had a tumultuous history, and seven versions exist that we know of. I really enjoy Ridley Scott’s films, but after seeing that cut of Blade Runner, I had no real intention of watching any other version as it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. What I did take note of though, was the world that Scott had created as well as the incredibly cool Vangelis score. So when I heard that a sequel was being made by a director that I really respect (Prisoners‘ Denis Villenueve), I thought I’d give The Final Cut a try. And god damn, I’m glad I did.

Perhaps it is not fair to dislike a film for something as minute as voiceovers, but when it comes down to it, this is the main culprit behind my disdain of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. Harrison Ford’s narration is cheesy and comes across as condescending, as if we’re too stupid to follow the storyline. It almost reveals too much about Ford’s character Deckard, and strips away the natural mystery that Scott intended for the audiences. It’s a ham-fisted approach and honestly changes the tone of the entire film. Luckily in The Final Cut, this narration has been completely removed.

It’s obvious how much influence this film has had on the genre of Science Fiction. The neons and electronic score, flying cars, cascading skyscrapers, hyperrealistic androids and dystopian future are all on full display throughout Blade Runner. It’s easy to see why many consider this the peak of Sci-Fi film. Truth is though, this movie is more closely related to noir fims like L.A. Confidential or Chinatown.

The themes that Blade Runner address are deeply philosophical and grow exponentially larger once the film’s antihero Roy Batty (a ridiculously good Rutger Hauer) is introduced. Like many throughout history, Roy is consumed by the philosophy of what it is to be alive and those limits we must all face. I have a feeling that Ridley Scott underestimated Hauer’s acting chops and there is tragically too little of Roy Batty by the time the credits roll.

The set design is perhaps, Blade Runner‘s greatest cinematic achievement. The slow zooming aerial shots are incredibly breathtaking, and though at times you can tell that these shots feature scaled models, the detail is amazingly unbelievable. Scott created a world (with the assistance of H.R. Giger) that was almost revolting in Alien and a good amount of that carried over in Blade Runner. I’ve always been impressed with the dreamworlds in Terry Gilliam’s movies (none more than Brazil) and I get the same feeling from the set design in Blade Runner.

The score by 1980’s electronic virtuoso Vangelis, is one of the most important additions to the movie. I cannot imagine any other score than this synthesizer-soaked soundtrack sweeping over the shots of the dark dystopian metropolis. The neon-lit rain and absolute darkness are accompanied perfectly by the music and it gives a feeling of such wonder, that you can’t help but want to visit this insane landscape.

I’ve heard that “The Director’s Cut” version of the film is the next best way to go if you can’t get your hands on The Final Cut. Unfortunately, this version was not actually supervised by Ridley Scott and instead was rushed out to the public by the studio in 1992. I picked this version up on Laserdisc a few years ago, but did not watch it in fear of being let down by what was left out compared to The Final Cut. All I can say is, if it’s your first time seeing this movie, be safe and make sure it is this Final Cut. The theatrical version is relatively terrible to this and if you enjoy Science Fiction, you owe it to yourself to see The Final Cut.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Looper, Total Recall (1990), Brazil