2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey

Rating: 10/10

“What the HECK did I just see?” was my first reaction to this film. Its bizarre visual effects, classical music, philosophical design, and surreal scenes make it one of the best movies I’ve ever watched, and certainly the most mind-boggling.

I had just viewed (not for the first time) the Star Wars saga—all six episodes—less than a week before watching this film, so, needless to say, it vastly changed my expectations of a great science fiction film. Even though Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) was released nine years after 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), both are very compelling.

The main shock is the focus on art rather than action. The first half hour is a very slow, creative one: something that a viewer would either love or hate. There’s no dialogue or any speech until the second section of four. Director Stanley Kubrick truly understood the meaning of “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A slowly moving picture with music is worth even more.

The film becomes more conventional when we encounter HAL, the supercomputer and main antagonist (though it is revealed in 2010: Odyssey Two that HAL’s malfunctions in the first episode were caused by its faithful following of contradictory human orders). Here is a nice philosophical, future-predicting moment—even with today’s technology, HAL is science fiction and not a real machine.

HAL

That. I had definitely seen it before, but hadn’t the slightest idea what it was until I watched 2001.

At the end, i.e., from the Star Gate scene onwards, the film becomes extremely mind-boggling. The best to which I can compare it would be this Magritte painting:

Magritte

That’s a pretty accurate representation of the ending without giving away anything.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon

Rating: 7/10

A surprisingly good film. By the way, I watched this on the Chicago–Beijing flight.

This animated film had a very convincing plot, excellent plot twist, and a good mix of Viking customs with dragon lore and fantasy. I was delighted by the film’s humor as well, especially in the protagonist’s name—Hiccup—and in the blacksmith’s tone that is jolly no matter the situation.

Hiccup is one of the best animated heroes. This was overall an enjoyable film in every regard. I wasn’t particular impressed by the music, however, though it might be in part due to the airplane’s constant noise, but it was still enjoyable.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3

Rating: 9/10

The only reason I’m not giving this a 10 is because, for me, it does not top the original Toy Story (1995), which is a beautiful film in every respect. This third movie retains mostly the same level of brilliance; however, in the latter half—when the toys were at Sunnyside daycare and when they were making their escape—there were just a few parts that were very predictable, almost unimaginative.

The specific part I didn’t like was at the end of the conveyor belt scene, when the toys were to avoid falling into an incinerator. The beginning of the conveyor belt scene was very nice: to escape a shredder, the toys grab hold of metal objects which are magnetically attracted upward—and even better, Woody and Buzz save Lotso, the main antagonist, out of compassion. Lotso is helpful and seems to turn to the good side, but within a minute turns bad again, leaving the other toys to perish in the incinerator. This I felt was a rather simple characterization of Lotso, and that part and the parts immediately after are very predictable.

That said, the previous paragraph is just some mad, futile criticism for the sake of criticism, solely because I can’t reason out why I liked the original Toy Story better than this one. Perhaps the plot in general was too similar to the first: the main idea is to escape from a building, only the antagonist is changed from Sid (in the first) to Lotso (in the third). I admit I haven’t watched the second.

For some reason the third film evoked more nostalgia for the first film rather than for my life, even though I am exactly in Andy’s position—I just graduated high school, and shall be off to college in less than a month; like Andy, I must leave behind many things. For me, the best moment of the movie came not at the very end, though that was certainly the most emotional, but rather at the escape from the incinerator, when the three-eyed alien toys operate a crane to rescue the others. This is most certainly built in as a reference to the first film, in which the three-eyed aliens were precisely with Andy and Buzz in such a claw crane game (those booths where you operate a claw but always fail to pick up any toys with it), whereupon Sid picks them up. This turn is joyfully ironic because it is now the aliens operating the crane.

The ending is definitely a sad, emotional one, and it will probably be a classic film scene. But because of my blog’s audience, I definitely don’t want to spoil the ending here. Especially for those of you who just graduated in the class of 2010—watch this movie.

Splice (2010)

Splice

Rating: 9/10

A very original sci-fi movie. It pushes the boundaries of science, reality, and ethics, and although it’s perhaps not as field-changing as 2001 or Star Wars, it is certainly innovative in its plot content.

I normally don’t post movie trailers here, but I make an exception here, for this is one trailer you gotta see—it does a surprisingly good job:

What’s really startling is that the trailer’s right—it ISN’T like anything we’ve seen before. The plot is basically that two genetic researchers illegally splice human DNA into a mix of other animals’ DNA, and the result is a creature named Dren (‘nerd’ backwards). Splice is a very believable movie—it could easily happen five or ten years from now, and it’s very scientifically accurate.

Now, onto the rating. The cinematography and acting are fine, and the music is adequate, but there could be more scientific exploration in it: not that the science is wrong, but that there isn’t enough of it. Regarding such science topics, the film covers DNA splicing, accelerated growth, female compassion versus male aggression, natural sex change, nonhuman intelligence, and nonhuman emotion. That might sound like a lot, but it felt inadequate, playing more like a horror movie than science fiction.

Philosophically, however, the movie is very rich. In our current time there are already the issues of animal cloning and human cloning; this movie elevates this with a human-animal hybrid. Another question raised is that of experimentation—to what degree should a scientist become emotionally attached to an experimental organism, as opposed to terminating the organism’s life when it becomes dangerous? Also, as posed in the trailer: Is it morally justified to work on an illegal project because somebody else is probably working on it too? How far should we step out of scientific protocol for academic competition, or perhaps for a more noble goal: to make an important discovery?

There is also, unavoidably, the very disturbing question the film raises about sex. Or as the director put it: “very unconventional sex.” Warning: Spoilers be here, although you probably want to continue reading this paragraph anyway just because of the topic. To be sure, sci-fi films in the past have indeed brought up this topic involving humans and androids (e.g. Blade Runner, though in this case, depending on interpretation of the movie, the human could have been actually an android), but never before involving humans and human/animal hybrids that are the result of DNA splicing. There are two twists as well—first, Dren changes from female to male, and thus has sex with both Clive and Elsa. Second: the original human portion of Dren’s DNA was spliced from Elsa herself. Does that make it incest?

Splice is overall an unconventional film. It very nearly deserves a 10, but it could have covered more in the scientific area. For this I give it a 9, which is so far my highest rating of any film of 2010.

Youth in Revolt (2010)

Youth in Revolt

Rating: 7/10

This is one weird but witty movie. Nick (played by Michael Cera, perfect for this role) and his alter ego (also Cera) are both hilarious, either in being awkward, as in the first case, or in being a super rebel, as in the second.

A few parts of this movie are done very well—there are some very witty and nicely placed remarks—but most of the film is nothing special.

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid

Rating: 7/10

Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan are amazing actors. The fight scenes are excellent; however, there is not enough of it—the beginning and the middle of the movie are rather slow. This is more than compensated in the last 15 minutes, a scene that is one of the best in film history.

Everything about the last scene is convincing: story and character development, acting, pace, emotions, music. I would rewatch the movie just for the finale.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Rating: 2/10

This is a boring horror movie, which is almost a contradiction in terms. The plot is extremely simple: a bunch of teenagers get killed by Freddy. There is very little meaningful character development, and each death is predictable and unsatisfying. Many non-horror movies, such as The Terminator, are scarier than this.