Sci-Fi: Out There

Sci-Fi: Out There
Science fiction tends to yield more consistently thoughtful, or at least ambitious, work than many of its genre peers. This year's collection is sometimes more concerned with visual trickery or neatly executed, but ultimately hollow or redundant sentiments.

Pixels is a sheer technological graphic experiment. You've probably seen it on YouTube already: a pixel cluster explodes out of an abandoned TV and begins transforming the city into '80s videogames. It looks cool, but says nothing.

Trying a variation on the theme of the world passing you by, Dissonance starts with the noisy din of traffic then introduces a woman looking for temp work. Unable to find a job pertaining to her field of study (extinct languages), she ends up flipping burgers. Suddenly, time speeds up to a blur, day turns to night and back ever faster and the woman becomes resigned to her fate until she sees a man jumping onto a subway car. Following his lead, she finds her way back to regular time.

Next up, justified Native vitriol reminds us why our ancestors were assholes in File Under Miscellaneous. No longer wanting to be a man, the narrator visits a grim operating room in a dystopian future. The purpose of the gory procedure becomes abundantly clear as post-op, the Native language voiceover merges into English, driving home a damning comparison between the Holocaust and colonization.

Artificial Paradise Inc. takes the futurist view of machines overrunning nature. A jellyfish robot programs a replicator to spit out mechanical friends to watch video screens of extinct organic habitats with.

Upping the art design quality, but floundering to tell much of a story, is the videogame cut-scene-esque Rosa. The gritty, gothic cyber punk look is appealing and the fight sequences are entertainingly choreographed, but it fails to serve a clear purpose beyond visual stimulation.

For a ham-fisted parable about treating soldiers as chess pieces, we have Tin Soldier. A man is struck by lightning, awakening to find a bloody knife in his hand and a fellow solider nearby with his throat slit. Obvious signs of mind control are forcing him to black out and compelling him to kill. Will he overcome the unseen forces driving him? Will we care? Not really.

Peaceforce 2032 is by far the strongest sci-fi offering, not surprising, considering it's based on George Orwell's short story Shooting An Elephant. Moral ambiguity and the manipulative desires of people trying to survive or control positions of power make this tale of a good solider in post-war Denmark trying to figure out what constitutes a "right" course of action, or if there even is such a thing in this world, compelling viewing.

A hand drawn, black & white cartoon entitled Umbra follows. Taking its title very literally, following an eclipse, a space man notices dozens of tiny versions of himself falling into the darkest part of his shadow. Horrified, he runs, perpetuating the very cycle he's trying to avoid.

To wrap up the program, Yuri Lennon's Landing On Alpha 46 follows an astronaut's descent to the titular moon of Jupiter. A fixed cam rests on Yuri's face during the landing, with English subtitles clarifying crackling messages from mission control. The camera trails the astronaut out of his spacecraft as he traces a mysterious signal. Finding the source raises existential questions like, "How can I bring you back to yourself?" Any potential answers are stomped out of existence by a massive cosmic blunder.