Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review of "Another Earth"

Jeannine and I were mulling over which of two movies to see yesterday -- "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" or "Another Earth". They're both, to varying degrees, in the science fiction genre, which is typically not Jeannine's favorite, but she chose "Another Earth" because what she'd read about its more intimate, human story appealed to her.

So off we went to Amherst CInema, found seats in an uncrowded theater, and settled down to watch something which boasted at least an intriguing premise -- what looks to be a duplicate of Earth is discovered in our solar system, and this planet parks itself seemingly in Earth Orbit, so that it appears to be roughly as far away as the moon.

Note that I said intriguing -- not logical or scientifically sound.

No matter… on with the show! Caution -- spoilers ahead!

A bright young woman is accepted to MIT, and gets drunk at a party. Driving home, she is drunk and distracted by the other Earth, and plows into a car (which, for some odd reason, is parked in the road… I could not figure that one out -- I don't remember seeing any traffic lights to indicate that they were stopped for that purpose… it just seemed like on a relatively straight stretch of road, this car was stopped for no apparent reason), killing a pregnant mother, her young son, and putting the husband into a coma. The young woman is subsequently sent to jail for four years, and when she gets out, she discovers that the husband has come out of his coma and gone back to his career as a brilliant musician. She decides to go to his house and apologize to him for killing his wife and child (and unborn child, too), but chickens out at the last minute, making up a cover story on the spot about her being the representative of a house cleaning business which is offering a free initial cleaning. After a bit of hesitation, the guy (whose name is John) takes her up on the offer, and thus begins what one other reviewer described as a "dour melodrama".

I wish I'd thought of that description, because that's just what it is. As the young woman -- who is named Rhoda -- comes back again and again to clean the guy's house (he's paying her by this time, even though she doesn't cash the checks), they start to establish a relationship, which eventually becomes physically intimate. She still hasn't told him that she was the one who killed his wife and kid(s), though.

No, she waits until she has gotten her seat on a spaceship to Earth 2 to do that.

That's right -- through a "Why I Should Get A Seat On A Spaceship To Earth2" essay-writing contest, this ex-felon house cleaner (she also has a job cleaning a high school) somehow wins over all other entrants on the planet the coveted ONE available seat on the "United Space Adventures" ship heading to Earth2.

I should point out that before this happens, the nature of Earth2 is revealed on a TV show in which we see and hear a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researcher trying to contact Earth2 by radio… and she does, and the person she contacts is -- wait for it! -- HERSELF. Or, I guess, a more-or-less exact duplicate of herself on the other world.
So now we know that Earth2 is basically Earth1, with possibly -- as we learn through a convenient TV interview with a theorist of some nature -- some variations.

And this gives Rhoda her inspiration -- and the "big idea" at the heart of the movie -- to offer her ticket up to John, because -- as she says to him after he gets wicked pissed at her when she reveals she's the drunk driver who killed his family -- maybe, on Earth2, "they're still alive" (or words to that effect).

Subsequently, he takes the ticket, gets on the ship, and blasts off to Earth2. We never find out what happens there, because the movie ends a few minutes later, after what I suspect the film's director thought would be a "twist ending" worthy of comparison to that of "The Sixth Sense". I won't say what that is, just in case anyone reading this decides to go to see this movie.

Jeannine turned to me after that final scene with a "Is that IT?" look on her face. In fact, I think she SAID exactly that. 

This is one of those movies which starts from an intriguing premise with considerable possibilities, and goes exactly nowhere. There are logic holes aplenty, and they eventually make the whole shaky edifice of the story collapse under its own ludicrous weight. I'll just point out two of the biggies.

We're told that this second Earth in our solar system has been known about for at least four years, and for some part of that time has been huge and visible in the sky, apparently no further away than our moon. And yet, in all that time, there have been no manned or robotic NASA (or private) missions to it, no concerted effort to make radio or laser contact with it, no study of it with the Hubble Space Telescope… in short, NOTHING has been done to establish the true nature of Earth2 until this TV show with the SETI researcher talking on a radio somehow makes contact.

But probably more ridiculous is Rhoda's grand idea when she gives up her spaceship ticket to John, that "maybe your wife and kids are alive on that other Earth, so that's why YOU should go instead of ME". The idea, obviously, is that this could be a way of miraculously restoring him to the bosom of his family.
Well, okay… but what if HE is alive on the other Earth as well? What is John1 supposed to do when he gets there -- kill John2 so he can have his family? 
(Let's not even get into the absurdity of Rhoda being able to casually GIVE her ticket to someone else, like it's a freakin' subway token.)

I wanted to like this movie. I mean, it has things I like in stories -- parallel worlds, redemption through sacrifice, the possibility of changing fate -- but it makes a mushy mess of these concepts.

I will say this, though -- for a low-budget movie, the compositing of the image of Earth2 in the sky of Earth1 was very well done, and probably the best and most evocative visual in the whole movie. Oh, and I am grateful that the self-consciously "arty" shaky camera and blurred images in the first few minutes of the film seemed to give way to more conventional, clearer imagery for the rest of the film. My eyes appreciated that. -- PL

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