Our Dinosaurs, Ourselves: A Review of Jurassic World

by Gary Westfahl

If you are wondering whether or not you should see Jurassic World, here is this reviewer’s advice: either pay the exorbitant price of admission to watch the film in a theatre, or never bother to watch it at all. Viewed on a small screen, the way I watched the other Jurassic Park films, this fourth installment’s shrunken dinosaurs will not be impressive, and the flaws that ...Read More

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Star-Crossed Horizon: A Review of Tomorrowland

by Gary Westfahl

In the final analysis, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is a film that one yearns to love, but not a film one can actually love. In contrast to a superbly crafted piece of entertainment like Mad Max: Fury Road (review here), the film’s pacing sometimes seems awkward or hesitant, and its back story is poorly explained and not entirely logical. One wishes to argue that none of this really ...Read More

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Mad Maxine and Her Marvelous Machines: A Review of Mad Max: Fury Road

by Gary Westfahl

I must begin by acknowledging that my memories of the first three Mad Max films – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max II (aka The Road Warrior) (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – are fading and fragmentary, so I cannot provide a detailed exegesis on how this fourth film continues, expands upon, or contradicts its precursors. Yet I suspect that most of the people now ...Read More

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Methuselah’s Daughter: A Review of The Age of Adaline

by Gary Westfahl

In many respects, Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline is exactly what it announces itself to be: a classic Hollywood “women’s film.” And one expects that, as in The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) (review here), a seemingly novel trope borrowed from science fiction – here, the secret immortal pretending to be an ordinary person – would be deployed in a perfunctory manner solely to generate an ...Read More

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Dead, and a Rival: A Review of The Lazarus Effect

by Gary Westfahl

While the uninformed sometimes see science fiction solely as a genre of spaceships, aliens, and amazing gadgetry, one should also remember that there is a long tradition of medical science fiction, focused on posited advances in the ways that humans are created, nurtured, and treated for various health problems. Such stories can be traced back to nineteenth-century progenitors like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) ...Read More

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A Myriad of Texts, Reloaded, or, The Cliché-Hoarder’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Review of Jupiter Ascending

by Gary Westfahl

It is the sort of project that might occupy the energies of individuals eager to provide novel entertainments for YouTube: gather bits of footage from every single science fiction film you can recall, and creatively edit them together so they collectively offer a somewhat new, and somewhat cohesive, narrative. Of course, if you had access to vast sums of money and the resources of a major studio, ...Read More

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The Tolkienator, or, Thorin Hacks Again: A Review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Gary Westfahl

A functional review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies could be brief and blunt: if you would enjoy spending two-and-a-half hours of your life mostly watching various imaginary beings (and occasional humans) being slaughtered, with increasing frequency and viciousness, then you should definitely go see this film. If you find this prospect appalling, you might avert your eyes during the film’s endless battles and ...Read More

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“The Revolution Will Be Televised”: A Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

by Gary Westfahl

Most people watch films because they want to be entertained, and they read reviews in order to learn whether a new movie is entertaining. In the case of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, one can quickly address those individuals’ concerns: yes, it is a bit slow-moving at times, as the screenwriters are contriving to stretch the plot of one popular novel to generate two ...Read More

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2014: A Grand Ole Odyssey: A Review of Interstellar

by Gary Westfahl

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar begins in a setting that should now be familiar to contemporary filmgoers, what I have elsewhere termed the Grapes of Wrath future: a world that has largely been driven back to the simple technology and impoverished lifestyle of America’s Great Depression. In this case, a changing climate and virulent blights are turning the world into an enormous Dust Bowl, forcing governments to pressure most ...Read More

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“A Hunger for Games?”: A Review of The Maze Runner

by Gary Westfahl

By any reckoning, most of today’s young people have been treated throughout their lives with a tenderness and kindness that is unprecedented in human history. All sorts of once-acceptable adult behaviors now regarded as potentially harmful, ranging from spanking to leaving children alone at home, have been vigorously discouraged or criminalized, and the entire educational system has been revamped to avoid doing any damage to children’s developing ...Read More

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‘A Black-and-White Movie, in More Ways Than One’: A Review of The Giver

by Gary Westfahl

The chief virtue of The Giver, perhaps, is that it will encourage more people to read its inspiration, Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), a novel for young readers that is nonetheless profound and magical and would not be out of place in a college class focused on utopian and dystopian literature. If the film as a whole is less impressive, that is largely because the executives ...Read More

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‘Carrying That Weight’: A Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Gary Westfahl

The original series of Planet of the Apes films took on the character of a cycle, as apes from the first two films traveled back in time to instigate the events that were seemingly leading, in the fifth film, to the emergence of the world of the first film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, properly characterized as the second film in the third series ...Read More

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“If You Get It Wrong, You’ll Get It Right Next Time”: A Review of Edge of Tomorrow

by Gary Westfahl

From one perspective, Edge of Tomorrow is simply the latest, and strangest, in a long series of films about D-Day, strategically released on the seventieth anniversary of the daring assault that led to the Allied victory over Germany. Again, we observe American and British forces landing on the beaches of Normandy, confronting despicable enemies, and ultimately achieving victory. Its protagonist, an inexperienced soldier who feels ill-prepared to ...Read More

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Dinosaur Train Wreck: A Review of Godzilla

by Gary Westfahl

So, if you’re longing for the experience of watching an enormous dinosaur trample his way through a contemporary city this weekend, access your Netflix account, or find one of the few remaining DVD rental stores, and check out a Godzilla movie. Any Godzilla movie. The original 1954 film is, of course, a must-see, preferably the version without Raymond Burr (though his edited-in performance has its moments); films ...Read More

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The Colossus of Northern California: A Review of Transcendence

by Gary Westfahl

One of the quirks of renowned magazine editor John W. Campbell, Jr. was his fondness for story titles consisting of a single abstract noun, as illustrated by classics like Isaac Asimov’s “Reason” (1941) and Clifford D. Simak’s “Desertion” (1944) and obscurities like Norman Spinrad’s “Subjectivity” (1964) and Joseph P. Martino’s “Persistence” (1969). He probably believed that such titles imbued his publications with an evocative aura of profundity ...Read More

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“No Easy Way to Be Free”:A Review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

by Gary Westfahl

Like The Hunger Games (2012) (review here), its wildly successful precursor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a film that makes few demands on its expected audiences of young viewers. They are expected to bond with plucky heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), whose affections are intriguingly torn between sweet boy-next-door Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and rugged tall-dark-stranger Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). They are expected to despise the ...Read More

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Winners and Losers: A Review of Ender’s Game

by Gary Westfahl

In several respects, Ender’s Game represents precisely the sort of film that I have been calling for in recent reviews, since it rejects the simplistic and unrealistic world view of melodrama, refuses to divide the universe into virtuous heroes and despicable villains, and explicitly endorses efforts to understand and reconcile with apparent enemies. The film’s pacifistic philosophy recalls the admirable sentiments of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek ...Read More

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“It’s Time to Go Home”: A Review of Gravity

by Gary Westfahl

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is not only an excellent movie that people should see, but also an excellent movie that people need to see, to learn about what they have mostly been missing in the last half century of films about space travel – namely, the actual experience of living in space. True, there have been other “spacesuit films” that I have examined at length, but it is ...Read More

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Heaven Off Earth: A Review of Elysium

by Gary Westfahl

Anyone reviewing Elysium must begin, I suppose, by addressing the controversy du jour surrounding its release, namely, the extent to which the film is a disguised portrayal of contemporary America and its political issues. Certainly, despite their protestations, such suspicions of a covert agenda cannot be surprising to writer-director Neil Blomkamp and his cast; after all, when you describe the agency protecting the space station of the ...Read More

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In the Oceans of Madness – Intelligence: A Review of Pacific Rim

by Gary Westfahl

Perhaps I am suffering from a form of dementia induced by excessive exposure to cinematic explosions and high-tech battles, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Pacific Rim, despite the very low expectations that I brought to the theatre, and I would heartily recommend Guillermo del Toro’s production to anyone long enamored of science fiction films. This is because, in contrast to most of the noisy blockbusters that ...Read More

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‘This Man Is Not Our Enemy’: A Review of Man of Steel

by Gary Westfahl

In the first version of an earlier review, I mistakenly described a moment from a film preview as part of the film itself – an inexcusable error, to be sure, but an understandable one, given the way that all contemporary action films increasingly blur together in one’s mind, each rigidly adhering to the same monotonous conventions. Figures with magical powers or high-tech vehicles race and chase each ...Read More

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Father Doesn’t Know Best: A Review of After Earth

by Gary Westfahl

Based on their track records, one cannot approach a science fiction film starring Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan with extreme optimism. Despite occasional ventures into more subdued projects, Smith has specialized in mindless, action-packed spectacles that, like roller coaster rides, provide immediate excitement but nothing worth remembering. And Shyamalan doggedly crafts puerile contrivances masquerading as thinking man’s cinema, infused with purported profundities recalling the ...Read More

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Heroes and Villains: A Review of Star Trek into Darkness

by Gary Westfahl

J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek into Darkness is such a superb piece of cinematic entertainment that it seems a shame to say anything critical about it; yet after the adrenalin rush dies down, and one begins to think about the film in the context of the entire Star Trek franchise it is so triumphantly sustaining, certain misgivings do begin to emerge. For despite Abrams’s energetic, and largely ...Read More

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Five Ways of Approaching Oblivion: A Review of Oblivion

by Gary Westfahl

Since Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is both an entertaining and interesting film, a reviewer faces the pleasant challenge of finding the best way to explore its provocative virtues and revelatory flaws. At the moment, I can discern five appropriate descriptions of the film: as a typical sci-fi action film; as yet another response to the September 11 attacks; as an outgrowth of earlier science fiction films, especially 2001: ...Read More

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Lawrence Person reviews John Dies at the End

(Howard was under the weather, so it’s just me solo this time out.)

John Dies at the End is a weird, silly, lightweight, low-budget science fiction comedy. If you’re in the mood for that, you’ll enjoy it as long as you dial your expectations knob down to modest.

In the frame story, white protagonist David Wong (which just happens to be the name of the author of the novel the ...Read More

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Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person review The Hobbit

Both: Split decision. Howard doesn’t like it, while Lawrence thinks it’s pretty good (but not great). Both agree it’s markedly inferior to The Lord of the Rings: The Movie Trilogy (henceforth known as LOTR:TMT).

Howard Waldrop: They’ve been trying to make The Hobbit as a movie since the ‘60s (at one time to star the Beatles, with Ringo as Sam Gamgee). I’m sorry that didn’t happen—it would ...Read More

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Somber and Silly Symphonies: A Review of Cloud Atlas

by Gary Westfahl

In a way, one hates to criticize Cloud Atlas, for it is a film that clearly reflects the good intentions of many talented people determined to respectfully adapt a complex novel to the screen and provide audiences with a drama that is both emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking. Yet despite its ostensible virtues, the film is not quite the masterpiece that its creators wished it to be, ...Read More

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“Twentieth-Century Affectations”: A Review of Looper

by Gary Westfahl

There are at least three approaches one might take in evaluating Rian Johnson’s Looper. Considered in terms of what the film aspired to be – a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that would earn its creators lots of money – it seems a likely success: the film provides more than enough of the thrills and excitement that today’s audiences crave, and it admirably does so with a story that ...Read More

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Memories of Philip … and Arnold: A Review of Total Recall

by Gary Westfahl

Hearing that a new version of the 1990 film Total Recall was being produced, one naturally hoped for a film that would be closer to the text and spirit of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” than the first adaptation, largely a violent rollercoaster ride tailored to match the proclivities of its star Arnold Schwarzenegger; and a reviewer would certainly like ...Read More

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Restoring Balance to the World: A Review of The Dark Knight Rises

by Gary Westfahl

For certain theatre-goers in Aurora, Colorado, as everyone knows, the real world intruded quite unpleasantly into the fantasy world of the film they were enjoying, The Dark Knight Rises, and their tragic experience will inevitably color subsequent critical reactions to the film. Despite some suggestive evidence – the killer dyed his hair like, and identified himself as, “The Joker” – it is far too early to ...Read More

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Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person review Prometheus

Both: We really wanted to like this film, but the screenwriters made every character except the protagonist an idiot.

Lawrence Person: This is a prequel to Alien. It starts off in prehistory, depicting a very human-looking alien watching a saucer leave, then swallowing some icky living black goo, then dissolving into the rushing waters, where it’s replaced with animations of mutating DNA strands, presumably seeding Earth with ...Read More

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Star Makers, Slimed; Or, ‘A Dash of DNA and Half a Brain’:A Review of Prometheus

by Gary Westfahl

If Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a disappointing film, as I will argue, it is at least an interesting disappointment, offering unusual insights into both the powers and the limitations of science fiction in pondering what one character calls “the most meaningful questions ever asked by mankind.” The film also provides an illuminating lesson about what happens when a director attempts to wrestle with such questions while simultaneously ...Read More

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