Sunday, October 06, 2002

Movie Reviews

Saturday night I watched a couple good movies; The One & The Time Machine. To follow are my reviews and thoughts about the scientific and philosophical premises in the movies.

THE ONE (2001), cast: Jet Li, Carla Gugino, Jason Statham, Delroy Lindo

“Yu Law is a fugitive capable of traveling among the various universes that comprise the Multiverse. He has discovered that if he kills his counterpart in one universe, his victim's life energy is distributed among the surviving "Laws" in their respective realities. Craving more power, Yu seeks to kill all of his counterparts and become "The One." Yu is pursued by two Multiverse Agents (Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham), who want to stop him before he kills his final victim - Gabriel Law, a young, highly-professional police officer living in LA.

There's just one little problem - no one knows what will happen when it gets down to "The One." Some believe it could destroy the Multiverse itself!”

The Plus Side – Some great kick-butt action scenes. Jet Li is an amazing martial artist. Some of his moves are enhanced due to his absorption of his alternate selfs energies (movie magic) but it doesn't take away from their impressiveness.

The final fight scene where Li confronts himself is great. At first you are scrutinizing the film, trying to look for a mistake, but you quickly get caught up in the action and forget that Jet Li isn't really fighting himself. That is where special effects really shine. If you can get the audience to suspend reality, you've won. Again Li's fighting skill shines here. He even gives us a sampling of his fighting knowledge by switching techniques. He may not be best in the world, but anyone who can do even half of what he can...hell a quarter of it, has my respect.

The supporting cast was decent with a few familiar faces. Nothing Oscar worthy, but certainly plenty adequate. I didn't expect to see Oscar winners in here.

The Negative Side – The story is a bit hooky. As soon as they started talking about “The One” I couldn't help but think of the Highlander franchise. Not so much because of story similarity, but because of those two simple words, “The One”. It works, just not much ring to it. Call me picky.

The worm holes and multiverse bit of the story was really messed up. It's obvious the script writer didn't consult a physicist or if so the advice was ignored or not believed. I'll go more into this below. Suffice to say the sci-fi part disappointed me.

Jet Li's evil character was supposed to be super-human to a point, but they pushed it too far. Since the good and bad ones were the last two, their energies should have been identical, but they weren't. The evil one could do more things. Some too far fetched. Dodging some bullets was acceptable. Avoiding shotgun blasts and machine gun fire was something all together different.

The Kids? - The movie is rated PG-13 and I think thats a safe rating. There is a little blood and some over the top violence. The final scene where the two Li's are fighting is no worse than the fighting you'd see on an episode of Dragon Ball Z. However some of the earlier scenes are a big rougher. The evil one has little remorse and is quite vicious. Some of the spectacular attacks were really something to behold, but they were also a bit “hardcore.” Lets just say that you sit there thinking, damn, that dude isn't getting back up. I guess we have a certain amount of detachment when someone in the movies is killed by a bullet. But when a dude is smashed between two motorcycles like someone might smash a fly between his hands, that makes you go, “Oooo! Damn!” Kick the kids out of the room until the final match between good and evil. At that point they are safe. The action then becomes so quick and impossible that even if the kids wanted to, they couldn't imitate it!

Alright, so back to the “science” of this movie. To put it simply, it's not even science fiction, it's just fantasy.

They can predict worm holes, forecast them. They have devices as small as a watch that can open them. The terrible power required to open a worm hole could not come from a watch! Hell the power would rip this planet apart. Being a theoretical science the scientific knowledge that we do have is all mathematical. Consider the movie Contact, where they had an enormous gyroscopic device to produce the energies necessary to open a tear in the fabric of space-time. I'm sure someone could come up with an excuse for how the watches could produce that much power, but I promise you the writer had not considered that.

This brings me to a bigger flaw. There were a total of 124 universes in the multiverse. Where did they come up with that number? Let us consider the concept of parallel universes. There are two variations on this theme. One, our universe is one of an infinite number of universes that all sprang forth from the big bang. Ours is but a single bubble in a bath full of them. None stable, but some more so than others. Some pop, collapsing, making room for others to grow. Others aggressively incorporating smaller weaker ones.

This is the theory this movie would HAVE to take. Our universe or the primary 'Alpha' universe in the movie would have 124 'bubbles' touching it. But the fact remains that the others could have 123 more touching it. Or more. Or less. Regardless, there is still an infinite number. I cannot begin to explain the math, but basically the Omniverse, God if you will, is searching for the ultimate universe. The one that is stable and strong. But when you are looking for one in an infinity, the search will take forever. -grin-

The second theory is a bit easier to grasp. Consider for every choice there is a new branch a new universe created. Perhaps another galaxy millions of years ago came close enough to our own for its gravity to affect the interstellar dust in our galaxy. Perhaps it brought enough dust together for our solar system to start. What if that galaxy had been a little bit off? Our solar system would have never been created. There is a split. In one universe it did, in another it didn't. And there are an infinite number of variations. Think about the choices you make in a day. They seem mundane, but they effect you more than you realize. Do you eat the bagel in the morning or not? If you do, you won't be really hungry and can make it until noon and go to lunch then. If you don't eat it you'll be hungrier and want to leave at 11:30. At noon a semi-truck runs a red light and smashes your car, sending you to the hospital, changing the course of your life. Leaving at 11:30 you get your food and drive back to see the clean up of the accident. Those are only two variations of that one choice. Each variation, each choice, creates a new universe, branch of existence. This has huge implications surrounding time travel (to be discussed in my next movie review).

So if there is an infinite number of universes there can never be just one. Their premise is that if a parallel you dies the energy is distributed between the rest. No problems so far. In an infinite parallel universe omniverse, the energy is distributed to an infinite number of you's, thus the difference is negligible. In the 124 universe multiverse the differences are highly noticeable. The problem is, of course the number of universes and also that everyday people, even those not knowing the scheme of things, like those in this movie, would notice an increase in strength, speed and intelligence when one of their counterparts dies in an accident or other means. There is the possibility that a “one” could happen purely by accident. One of the worries was that the multiverse would come to an end if this happened. But simple probability would show this is actually more likely than not. Consider there are roughly 5 billion people on this planet, 124 universes. I'm sure some mathematician could come up with the figure. I'm not one.

The Bottom Line - A good action flick regardless. Worth seeing for the over the top fighting.

THE TIME MACHINE (2002), cast Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory

Another incarnation of the classic H.G. Wells novel. This time directed by Simon Wells, great grandson of the author, better known for directing children's cartoons like; An American Tail – Fievel Goes West, Balto and Prince of Egypt. This however is not a children's cartoon.

The Plus Side – The core values of the original story are still present. The additional aspects lend more realism to the story without taking away from it. Roger Ebert said the wonderment was missing, to paraphrase. Sorry Mr. Ebert, but your age is showing. The original novel is over a hundred years old, roughly 107 years old. A LOT has happened in the way of science in that time. Much of the wonderment that would have existed when that book was released has been diminished by the realities of the world. But more on that in a bit.

Samantha Mumba, a pop music star from the UK, makes a beautiful entrance into the movie world. I hate to be crude, but her natural beauty and sex appeal kept my attention. Her dress was not unsuitable for children, yet pleasing never the less.

The special effects and scenery were very well done. If you have ever played the game Riven, sequel to Myst, then you'll be able to guess what the land is like. Dwellings hanging off cliffs, wonderful use of bamboo and other similar items. It was a pleasant environment.

The Negative Side - The cast is primarily made up of new comers. Jeremy Irons is always a great addition, but his part is small and rather dull. His character wasn't as lame as the one he played in Dungeons and Dragons, but he lacked the spark of evil that was needed for his role.

The story derivate greatly from what people are familiar with. I've seen the other movies and read the book, though admittedly it's been awhile since I've done either. Because of that fact I will reserve judgment on that aspect. However there were some obvious additions. The moon blowing into pieces because of a lunar excavation accident is one, though well constructed. The library of tomorrow, played by Orlando Jones, was something that added continuity and a little humor, but wasn't needed. But I suspect it was added to give some realism to our near future, 2037 was the date I believe.

The Kids? - Well yes and no. This movie is rated PG-13 as well. Most of the movie is fine, but there are a few scenes that most parents wouldn't want their kids to see. The Morlocks are pretty intense and would very easily scare small children, especially if you have a nice loud surround sound audio system. There is also a scene where we discover just what the Morlocks do with the Eloi. You don't see it exactly, but there is enough evidence to make it really clear and a little grisly. It won't both most adults or teens, but children may be disturbed by it. In this sense it's really a shame. This is a classic story that should be required reading for any child, teen or adult. A side note, there is no sexual content. Samantha has a skimpy chain-mail-like shirt on but her hair is arranged strategically so that it is titillating but not overly revealing. This should not stop parents from watching this movie with their kids, the violence and scare-factor should.

Now for the fun stuff...
Earlier in my review of The One I mentioned how an infinite number of universes are created by every variation of a choice. This is troublesome for time travel.

Think of a tree. This is your life. The factors leading to your conception are branches off other branches. Your life represents yet another. In this movie Alexander, the “hero” tries to travel back in time to save his love from death. Ok so he made, I believe, three years of choices. Many variations of his existence had branched off from that point. But he goes back to save his love finally. He returns before that branch divides infinitely. Is he the only one of an infinite number of future possibilities to create a successful time machine and journey back? If he is, what if he changes the course of his and his finances' lives and his future never exists. If she never dies, he has no reason to develop a time machine, thus he wouldn't be there to make sure she doesn't die. Oops, a paradox. Ah but wait. He didn't save her in his past, but a parallel past. His original time line still took its course with its infinite variations within itself. Not only did he go back in time, he traveled to a different parallel dimension. There is no way he could have returned to his exact time line either. Going back in time is seemingly possible. Going forward may not.

By changing the past, he placed himself on a different branch of time, a different parallel universe. To return where he originated, he would have to go back to where he made his change and then find the correct route back to his place in the “tree”. However this would be fruitless as his mission would have still failed. His love would still be dead and nothing would have changed. All he did was waste precious moments of his own life.

If he did not choose this path how could he move forward? The choices had not been made yet. There are an infinite number of possibilities yet unexplored. How could he move forward to a time that was not yet written? Certainly the future he had lived had existed and still did exist in its own universe, but this new one that he was a part of. The one he created by saving his love had not gotten that far yet.

It's mind boggling to think about. Moving through time is likely best left to the way it works now. We live it. We are slowly trudging to the future on our own two feet.

They had this guy going over 800,000 years into the future. Dinosaurs lived about 155 million years, and humans have been around roughly 100,000 years so far. That means the human race is nearly a million years old at the end of this movie. Lets be honest people, do we really expect to survive that long? How many times in the past century did we come inches from destroying ourselves? Ok so the Cold War is over, but the Pandora's box that is nuclear science is open. No way to close it now. We are already opening the next Pandora's box with genetic and biotech engineering. The human race was forced to start over in this movie, but are we really as hardy as we think we are. Only time will tell.

One of the main themes Wells wanted to get across in his novel was the dangers of a caste system. That thankfully was still included in this movie. The Eloi were food, intelligent but technologically lacking. The Morlocks were workers, hardy but dumb. They were controlled by the Uber-Morlocks with mental telepathy. It's only three-tiered, but the danger is still clear. If less educated laborers are not allowed to grow, they soon become more and more slaves. The middle class, intelligent but kept down by the higher levels are stuck in perpetual limbo fed by atrophy and lies only to be the “food” of the lower classes when they are unhappy with the system. The highest cast gives the lower classes a middle class scape goat while they live safe and sound growing more powerful on the backs of those below them.

Do you see the relevance now? Better be a very smart Eloi or you're gonna get eaten! Only when the apathy fades and the lies are not believed will the Uber-Morlocks be defeated. Morlocks, if you don't like where you are, don't blame the Eloi, go for the real enemy.

The Bottom Line – This movie can be intense and fun to watch. It's a slow start but builds momentum. Watch it as if you have never read H. G. Wells or seen any of the prior movies and you'll enjoy it a lot more.

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