(On TV, September 2016) I’m all for low-budget Science Fiction … but I like it best when it’s actually Science Fiction. For all of Another Earth’s nattering about the discovery of a parallel Earth on the other side of the Sun (shades of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), the bulk of the film plays as a stripped-down low-budget drama about grief and guilt that has nothing to do with its central SF idea. The Science Fiction element truly comes in focus maybe ten seconds before then end of the film, exactly where most genre SF stories would really begin. Up until then, it would have been possible to tell more or less the same story using non-SF elements without really threatening the integrity of the story being told. This shying away from the implications of a big SF idea is frustrating—there’s a sense that the film stops when it should be starting. To be fair, this sense of missed opportunities is also obvious in writer/director Mike Cahill?’s subsequent I Origins, giving the impression of a filmmaker who works his way to an idea and then doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s even more frustrating given that much of Another Earth is effective as a low-key drama. Once you get past the limitations imposed by the low budget (including a muddy picture quality), there’s an effective story here about a guilty woman getting closer to the man whose life she has destroyed, and what happens when he discovers who she is and what she has done. Had the film followed that plot thread to a conclusion without bringing in the SF element, I would have been marginally happier with the results. Both Brit Marlin and William Mapother do well in the main roles, and the film does let its drama breathe even at a maddeningly slow pace. But as it stands, with its abrupt flip into SF moments before the end, Another Earth feels like half a film.
(On Cable TV, July 2015) Aaaargh: So much potential, so close to being exceptional. At a time when science-fiction films are far more about spectacle than actual exploration of scientific issues, it’s refreshing to find a film that, at least, tries to grapple with a world-changing premise in a relatively realistic way. There are times where I Origin’s low-key approach is a delightful change of pace, and if the movie could have sustained that tone, then we’d be looking at a far more interesting result. But a good chunk of the film is either too silly or too obviously manipulated by writer/director Mike Cahill to inspire full admiration. I’ll let much of the initial setup pass, as a young impetuous scientist meets a striking young woman and then reconnects with her through an amazing chain of coincidences. If the film wants to start foreshadowing destiny-related themes, that’s fine. The first of the film’s problems comes at the end of that sequence, though, with a scene so gruesomely morbid as to create more incredulous laughter than sadness. After that, the films plod quite a bit – the protagonist is so obviously arrogant that it’s a given for his atheistic convictions to be shaken as the film goes on. And so I Origins tips its hand very early, making the rest of the film feel like an often-tedious exercise is going exactly where we think it’s going to go. I recall more or less the same core idea developed far more engagingly in Science-Fiction short stories. Here, there’s no sense of discovery as much as long series of confirmations of what we already suspect: it doesn’t help that the film more slowly enough for viewers to race past it. I still like much of the film’s layered thematic symbolism, its willingness to occasionally nod toward real science and a refreshingly low-key approach. But it’s not very well-served by a fairly dull premise that seems to be holding back on more interesting extrapolations. Wikipedia says that I Origins serves as a prequel to another film, but frankly I’d be more interested in seeing I than meandering in its prequel.