The Classics are must-see, must-read, must-play works revered by The Verge staff. They offer glimpses of the future, glimpses of humanity, and a glimpse of our very souls. You should check them out.
The Left Hand of Darkness is a classic by almost any measure: it’s award-winning, having grabbed the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1970; and it is genre-defining — famed literary critic Harold Bloom said that it was this book, more so than even Tolkein, which had “raised” fantasy to the stature of “literature.” Most of us out here in the real world, though, have long known that the distinction between literature and sci-fi / fantasy is a semantic one, and yes, Ursula K. LeGuin’s books are fine proofs of that, though they’re far enough off the beaten path of popularity that it’s just possible you’ve never read one. That’s all about to change.
This weekend was a slow weekend in terms of reading, but I did see two of the big science fiction movies of the summer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Snowpiercer.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the reboot of the classic franchise. Now, I haven’t seen any of the original movies. The only experience I had with the series prior to Rise was Tim Burton’s less than stellar attempt to reboot the franchise. Rise was a good movie. Dawn is a better movie.
Dawn takes place ten years after the conclusion of Rise, where we find ninety percent of humanity has been decimated by the Simian Flu. Caesar has become the leader of the evolved Apes and has brought them ten years of peace and prosperity. The apes have almost allowed themselves to believe humanity is gone when who should show up but a gun-toting, ape-hating human and his group of well-meaning friends. Needless to say the initial encounter isn’t nice for either side.
The first half of the movie is brilliant. I don’t really have a single complaint. The world is built, the rules of new societies are defined, and the tension grows more palpable by the minute. The buildup is perhaps the best feature of the new movie. Naturally we empathize with the humans at first. But as the movie goes on, there are groups of apes that we can identify with perhaps better than any of the human characters. Caesar just wants to bring peace to his family. Koba, Caesar’s war chief and friend, hates humans for all of the testing they did on him and his kin. He still bears the scars of his torture and his mistrust of the humans grows as the movie progresses. And who can blame him? Humans did some pretty terrible things. So naturally there is a growing tension between Caesars side and Koba’s growing ranks of supporters that peaks in one of the film’s best moments.
If the first half is brilliant, the second half is a little underwhelming. It plays out kind of how you’d expect. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but this criticism is in no way saying the film is bad. It’s still quite good. I just would have liked something a little more unexpected. That being said the very end of the film is powerful and very nicely sets up the next in the series. Also, Andy Serkis did incredible work as always.
Snowpiercer finally came to a theater in my town and I jumped at the chance to see it. Having recently read the graphic novel (and discussing it here), I was itching to see if the film was as good as the internet said. And it was.
Snowpiercer borrows the world from the graphic novel, but it tells its’ own unique story. The snowpiercer is a train that houses the last surviving remnants of humanity. A supposed cure to global warming took a bad turn and froze the world. The only place humanity can survive is on a train that is perpetually circling the globe. The class system is present and the tension between the classes is even higher than in the book. This leads to open rebellion led by Curtis(Chris Evans) to take control of the front of the train.
Evans is a little stiff in the beginning of the movie, but once the action starts rolling he loosens up and really takes control of the role. The film is a great example of action with a purpose. This movie isn’t a mindless action movie. This film uses the action to tell a story of desperation that is mirrored in the brutality of the fight scenes. One of my favorite scenes in the movie pits the low class armed with makeshift clubs against an army of upper class soldiers wielding axes and spears. It’s gruesome, but during this scene we get some of the best character development for Curtis and his comrades.
This movie is smart, action-packed, emotional and just a joy to watch. The ending slows down just a touch too much, but it doesn’t detract from the movie. It may seem like I’m overselling it, but I genuinely think this is one of the best science fiction movies in recent memory. It’s a breath of fresh air in the post-apocalyptic genre and a much needed one at that.
The thing at the end with the polar bear was my one complaint with the movie. I understand that it represents a sustainable ecosystem, but I don’t think it really jives with the established universe. Also, I would be a fool not to mention another favorite of mine also directed by Bong Joon-Ho: The Host. A fantastic monster movie that I recommend to anyone who enjoys monsters or movies.
So anyway, that’s been my science fiction for the weekend. If you want to tell me that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the Empire Strikes Back of ape movies, or if you want to gush with me about Snowpiercer, feel free to message me or tweet me @left4turtle.