FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
Earth and its inhabitants are in trouble. Oceans are acidifying and sea levels rising at the fastest rate in 2,000 years. Biodiversity is in freefall, ecosystems are stressed to breaking point and like a deer caught in the headlights, humankind is watching this tragedy of its own making unfold, paralyzed by indecision and greed.
But forget reality; the aliens are coming. Again. And in that ever so familiar Hollywood narrative, we will be blasting our way to victory – well, at least Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and a few square-jawed heroes will. I confess I haven’t yet seen Cowboys & Aliens (out at the end of the month), but it’s a pretty crazy proposition having an alien invasion taking place in the Wild West of 1873. “The coolest version of the Western, meeting some bad ass aliens,” is how producer Ron Howard describes the reportedly $100million movie.
I’m sure there will be wall-to-wall special effects and the good guys – the humanoids – will win. It’s probably the usual unadulterated escapism, of course, tapping that sense of unease about the state of the planet, without tweaking our conscience. And what better way to do that than to kick some interplanetary scumbags from here into some other solar system so we can leave the cinema feeling we’ve put the Earth to rights. Maybe Cowboys & Aliens will prove me wrong, but Hollywood has a way of breeding low expectations.
Another Earth (out July 22) takes a more sensitive approach to our planet. As much a slowly unfolding and artfully framed human drama as sci-fi, the film features two Earths: the one we know and live on and another Earth that looms ominously overhead in the sky for much of the film. Earth number two is apparently a duplicate, inhabited by our other selves. Much of the film is concerned with how two damaged individuals begin to recover from a horrific car incident: one a drunk driver, burdened by guilt and regret, the other a victim, consumed with grief. The fatal incident occurs on the eve of the discovery of the new Earth, but you must wait to discover the significance of this planetary doppelgänger.
Really, one Earth should be quite enough. Especially if you’re trying to film it all at the same time, which is exactly what Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald decided to do with his ambitious Life in a Day (out July 29). With the help of tens of thousands of YouTubers, he and his team compressed 4,500 hours of footage from 192 countries down to a single feature documentary. Pieced together like a collage, the film unfolds in chronological order, moving from midnight onwards. It captures all aspects of the human experience around the world as it happened on July 24, 2010. The film has had warm reviews – one critic likened it to “an extended pop video” – although perhaps due to its sweeping coverage, reviewers have found it difficult to invest emotionally in the subject matter.
In Liz Garbus’ new documentary, the late US chess champion Bobby Fischer is the alien. Bobby Fischer Against the World (out July 22) has been lauded for capturing the high drama of the Cold War “Match of the Century” between Fischer and Russian chess champ Boris Spassky, as well as the subsequent spiral downwards of the ingenious, but mentally disturbed protagonist.