Actually, the Force Is Sleepwalking: A Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Gary Westfahl

An introductory disclaimer: although I have repeatedly watched, vividly remember, and still cherish the first three Star Wars films – which I still insist upon calling by their original titles, Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) – I could never force myself to watch any of the three “prequel” films in their entirety, and I have no familiarity with

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Rebels Without a Clue: A Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

by Gary Westfahl

As I review The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, one major challenge will be to avoid repeating what I said while reviewing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) (review here) – because, as their titles indicate, they are two parts of the same film, planned simultaneously and largely filmed at the same time. (There is absolutely no pretense that this is a separate

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‘A Huge Moment for NASA’ … and Novelists: A Review of The Martian

by Gary Westfahl

Let me immediately say that Ridley Scott’s The Martian is the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time, and it can be enthusiastically recommended as involving and uplifting entertainment. Most of the credit for its success, though, should go not to director Scott or screenwriter Drew Goddard, but to Andy Weir, whose novel The Martian (2011) provided them with a marvelous blueprint for a successful

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An Un-Amazing Story: A Review of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

by Gary Westfahl

Fans of James Dashner’s young-adult Maze Runner novels will be very surprised by the film adaptation of its second novel; for while the film version of the first novel, The Maze Runner (2014) (review here), was generally faithful to Dashner’s text, this sequel, while it borrows some characters and incidents from the novel, is essentially telling an entirely different story. And it is interesting to explore why

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The Fifty Years Later Affair: A Review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

by Gary Westfahl

If anyone is wondering why a science fiction film critic would be interested in reviewing a film version of the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), it is important to recognize that when the series debuted in 1964, it represented one of the few opportunities for viewers to watch science fiction of any kind. The Outer Limits (1963-1965) was in the process of being killed off

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Old Whiners in New Bodies: A Review of Self/less

by Gary Westfahl

As a film, Self/less has several significant virtues: it is fast-paced and involving; it is unpredictable; it features excellent performances by an actor expected to provide them (Ben Kingsley) and an actor not expected to provide them (Ryan Reynolds); and its science-fictional premise, while not without questionable aspects, is developed with unusual care and consistency. However, while praising director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters David Pastor and Alex

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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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

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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

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