Tuesday, April 22, 2008

MILLENNIUM CRISIS (2007) d. Andrew Bellware

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Creating a “pure” science fiction film (aka “hard sci-fi”) is a daunting task. Beyond the fact that only a small percentage of the viewing population find science fiction appealing, that tiny slice of the pie is a very tough sell. Most are experienced sci-fi readers and movie-goers and as such they have formed exceptionally crystallized opinions on what is quality and what isn’t. Most have read master works by Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, David Brin and other luminaries, and have watched 2001: A SPACE OYSSEY, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, STAR WARS and other influential cinema. To win over such a class of film lovers, all the elements of a sci-fi film equation have to be superbly crafted, from the story, to the acting, the sets, visual effects and even the score. Few sci-fi films ever measure up and most are consigned to an ever-increasing scrap heap of celestial garbage. MILLENNIUM CRISIS gets part of the formula right and when one considers how miniscule its budget was, the end result is modestly yet surprisingly appealing.

MILLENNIUM CRISIS is the story of Aurora and her unwitting involvement in an inter-galactic plot to ignite a war between the Terran and Andromedan star systems. Aurora is unknowingly manipulated by powerful, seductive and diverse powers bent on utilizing special “talents” she does not even know she possesses. As the plot thickens and aliens, androids and political adepts vie for her skills, Aurora is lead on a journey throughout the cosmos and deep within herself as she solves mysteries and discovers answers internally and externally.

When examining a film like MILLENNIUM CRISIS, it is essential to determine first whether the glass is half empty or half full. If you look at this flick as being like the half-empty glass, you won’t like it and will miss some of its small but worthwhile strengths. Straight to dvd companies like Shock-O-Rama have little money to spend and sometimes even fewer resources to utilize. At times, that can lead to misery epochs like DARK CHAMBER, which I could not finish, but it can also lead to unforeseen little gems like CHANTAL which I reviewed some months ago. The financial purse of MILLENNIUM CRISIS was spent on the “appearance” and “atmosphere” of the film and on that note, they got things very right. The interior set decorations are surprisingly creative and well considered. Since the interiors were small and shot tightly, their impact is startlingly convincing. Mixed with some judicious use of exterior location shooting, large scale and small scale visual computer effects using systems like Final Cut Pro and some very moody, wonderfully gaudy and ever-changing lighting schemes, the end-result does feel futuristic and is reminiscent of films like BLADE RUNNER, but more like some of its lesser cousins. The constantly shifting hues and tones, blended with soft and grainy filters and augmented with smoke/fog machine use went a long way to establishing an “otherworldly feel” that helped ameliorate the many weaknesses of MILLENNIUM CRISIS. Finally, to have this pleasantly updated “80s direct to VHS” feel modernized with a soundtrack that mixed contemporary ambient and techno scores did even more to keep this film from being a feature length version of BABYLON 5 or LEXX, both of which always felt like they lacked style and glamour.

When most of the available cash is going in the direction of the visual imagery, there are going to be glaring flaws elsewhere, and MILLENNIUM CRISIS has a few sinkholes. The story has none of the profound complexity, thought-provoking intensity and brooding reflection that science fiction must have when the plot is not dominated by “thrill a minute” action like TOTAL RECALL and its ilk. MILLENNIUM CRISIS has a simplistic “spy caper” underpinning made needlessly convoluted by adding names of species and planetary systems just to give the story some “sci-fi” authenticity. With the exception of Clare Stevenson and Ted Raimi, the cast is an admixture of actors who struggle with overdoing it and under performing. Clare Stevenson, who plays the main character Aurora, gets the introspective, vulnerable and ultramodern look and responses right, so that her character simultaneously “fits in” but also feels like “the fish out of water”. Her unexpectedly enjoyable performance does more to build conflict and add suspense than any of the plot twists and devices. It also doesn’t hurt that Miss Stevenson wears hear “new wave” red wig and her form-fitting purple suit with panache so that she is just as visually appealing as she is impressive in her presentation. Ted Raimi is a seasoned professional and is able to deliver his lines and respond to his surroundings with skill. Sadly, his character makes a late entry into the plot and by then, most of the poor acting done by the supporting and bit characters had left its mark. Add to the weak story and lackluster acting a series of intensely irritating and unnecessary flashy dissolves between character shots and some grating but thankfully rare hand-held camera work, and some of the hard won attractiveness of MILLENNIUM CRISIS was nearly negated by its lesser characteristics.

MILLENNIUM CRISIS’ extras menu is not crammed with amazing tidbits of a glorious nature but it does have a few crumbs of sweetness stuck in for good measure. A nine minute featurette called “The Stars of Millennium Crisis” and its short interviews with Ted Raimi and Clare Stevenson are quite illuminating when not overwhelmed with film clips. There is a very short EFX documentary of roughly 3 minutes that gives the viewer insight into the greatest strength of the film. A commentary track with director Andrew Bellware and producer Laura Schlachtmeyer is also pretty interesting. Of course, there are the ubiquitous trailers from EI Cinema that I can never keep from watching. As is often the case, some of those trailers are more pleasurable than the actual films.

When the makers of MILLENNIUM CRISIS set out to create their film, with precious few coins jingling in their pockets are even fewer truck beds filled with props and other movie-making essentials, they knew they had a “tough row to hoe” in front of them. They certainly did not expect to remake SOLARIS or even SILENT RUNNING for that matter. What they achieved is an atmospheric little film, if viewers are willing to look at the glass as being half full. If you sit down on some sunny day, with a good mood swirling about your head and some acceptance in your soul, you may be slightly entertained by this film. I’ve seen A LOT of very bad films and this isn’t like that. It requires a little patience and a lot of understanding as to what you are going to get out of it. Keep your expectations grounded and let your eyes be the primary sensory receptacle. Turn off the most analytical centers of your mind and treat this like the old “Ace Doubles” sci-fi books of the 1960s, a journey into pure escape mixed with a little amusement.


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