The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Bourne Supremacy</strong> (2004)

(In theaters, July 2004) I wasn’t a fan of the first film (dull, unremarkable and not quite as sophisticated as it thought it was), but this sequel is a bit better. Stepping off the event of the first film with nary a regard for the plot of Robert Ludlum’s eponymous novel, The Bourne Supremacy reprises the elements that made the success of the first film (a competent but remorseful assassin, a gritty car chase and European locations) and reheats them once more. While the story is generally more enjoyable the second time around (with some impressively close ties to the content of the first film), the direction has taken a major step backward: I don’t think that there’s a perfectly still shot in the entire film, what with its constant use of unsteadied hand-held cameras. The result is highly annoying, and quickly becomes a confusing mess as soon as the action starts. Otherwise, well, there are a few unexplained plot shortcuts (how did he obtain those cell phone numbers?) and a few lengths here and there. A solid but generally tepid thriller.

13 Going On 30 (2004)

<strong class="MovieTitle">13 Going On 30</strong> (2004)

(In theaters, July 2004) Surprisingly enough, this film avoids to be as cringe-inducing as the premise and trailers initially suggested. A large part of this achievement rests on the shoulders of Jennifer Garner, nearly perfect as a 13-year-old who wakes-up as her 30-year-old self. Her enthusiasm for the material and bouncy delivery does a lot to overcome the obviousness of the material. The first fifteen minutes (the obligatory “age 13” prologue) aren’t particularly interesting and for a moment, it looks as if the film is headed straight to the dustbin. Fortunately, things get a little better afterwards, with plenty of amusing material and heart-felt romance to liven up everything. Things take a turn for the worse by the end, as the screenplay draws itself in a corner and has to the resort to the worst possible ending in order to salvage a happy ending. Sadly, in doing so, it negates a good portion of the film and, most annoyingly, allows everyone to ignore the consequences of their actions. Eeew. But what else to expect from this kind of film? Coincidences, continuity errors and stupid movie tricks (you know; the kind of stuff no one ever does in real life) abound, showing a production laziness that further heightens the impression that this isn’t something to care about.

The Shores of Tomorrow (Chronicles of Solace #3), Roger MacBride Allen

Bantam Spectra, 2003, 493 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-553-58365-4

It’s not uncommon for third volumes of trilogies to make up for lacklustre middle tomes. Heck, it’s not unknown for conclusions alone to save entire series. But what’s not as common is for trilogies to dissolve as blandly as the Chronicles of Solace does in The Shores of Tomorrow.

Actually, allow me to rephrase that: There is nothing strictly wrong with the way The Shores of Tomorrow wraps up the material first explored in The Depths of Time and The Ocean of Years. Nothing at all; the story of Solace is decently concluded, there’s a happy ending, characters get what they deserve and we finally see the logical implications of the series’ pet concepts.

But what could have been done in fifty pages was stretched out to nearly ten times that. Worse: beyond the obvious waste of time, this lack of concision ends up harming other areas of the trilogy.

If you can muster up the courage to go read my reviews of the trilogy’s first two volumes, it’s obvious that even from the first book, the series had serious pacing problems. Developments that could have been shown in a few lines took entire chapters to unfold, with preciously few marginal gains as far as pure entertainment was concerned. This tendency reaches an apex of sorts in The Shores of Tomorrow, especially when you consider the NovaSpot ignition sequence, a tense plot point that ends up spread over 90 pages of fluff.

It gets worse when you consider the useless plot threads that are carelessly thrown in the mix. Despite the “Chronicles of Solace” designation for the entire series, there’s little doubt that the real story told here is the one of Anton Koffield and his quest to uncover and then understand Oskar DeSilvo. All else is sideshow, which becomes increasingly intrusive as the third book unfolds and the action is indefinitely delayed. Book One had its share of sideshows, and they make a return here; Any competent editor would have cut the “Elber Malloon” scenes, so peripheral are they to the book’s main story. But no; they’re all there along with even more filler. I buy trilogies with the assumption that they contain enough material for three books; here, it becomes obvious, after the fact, that the Chronicles of Solace is a two-book, maybe even a single book’s worth of intrigue.

I can understand a deliberate and careful pacing when it’s leading up to something worthwhile, or when it’s sustained to enhance suspense. But there’s no real reason to delay anything in this story, especially given its race-against-the-clock quality as a failing world is at stake.

But this slow-poke pacing has another effect that may be even more disastrous: It allows the reader to think about the story as it goes along, and even start to out-think the writer. When Oskar DeSilvo outlines his grand unified theory of terraforming, cultural stagnation and technological development, we’ve been waiting for it so long that it comes off as obvious and maybe even trite. The “solution” to the terraforming crisis was implicit at the end of volume one, and the characters were just too blind to see it. Allen stretches his central concept so much that he nearly snaps it. The whole “Chronological Patrol” concept, already iffy at first glance, suffers a lot from the extended story treatment; I doubt that it would have been as unconvincing in a single zippy 400-page novel.

The other thing that bothered me about the trilogy’s intellectual climax is that it acknowledges humanity’s thirst for knowledge and innovation, and then immediately says that it can be delayed indefinitely. Not bloody likely, and that reflects badly on the series. Again; I doubt that I would have been so severe in the context of a short story or a single novel, but trilogies demand a higher degree of scrutiny.

Take scissors, start cutting, end with a 500-page singleton and maybe the Chronicles of Solace would be worth a recommendation. As it stands now, there’s far too much build-up for too little pay-off. There are a few good ideas, the second volume has nifty material and the ending is suitably optimistic, but frankly, you could read three better single novels for the time and money you’d otherwise spend on this series. It’s no wonder if the last two volumes didn’t even get a hardcover edition.