Space Milkshake (2012)

Ducked! Ahahahahahahaha

Ducked! Ahahahahahahaha

Sci-fi comedies have a long and glorious history, starting (to all intents and purposes) with “Dark Star” in 1973. With its crew of slackers and oddballs, it showed that space wasn’t all clean corridors and humanoid aliens, but dirty underwear, things breaking down and weird beachball-with-feet aliens. We fans of both genres are living in its debt, and the makers of this film are definitely doing so too.

Robin Dunne, Billy Boyd, Kristin Kreuk, and Amanda Tapping are our heroes, the crew of an orbiting sanitation station, sort of a rubbish bin / recycling centre for all the junk left in space. They keep the space lanes clear but they’re seen as no better than the garbage men of earth. Bog-standard incompetence and petty jobsworth-ness on their part leads to an unscheduled transport getting blown up, and it contains two things – a rubber duck and a blue glowing time cube (the deadliest machine in the universe, so we’re told). One quick beaming to an alternate universe later, the duck starts mutating, while still retaining the personality of Tapping’s ex-boyfriend (and the voice of George Takei), and a robot double of Kreuk’s beams on board, kills her and starts behaving very oddly.

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There’s little in life worse than an unfunny comedy, and sadly for way too much of its running time that’s what this is. These people are all awful to each other, with the exception of Dunne as he’s the new guy on the station, and that snark and unpleasantness is used in the place of jokes and funny situations. You can tell where the jokes are supposed to be, but unless you think unnecessary rudeness is hilarious then you’re not going to get a great deal.

There’s also a lack of care over the finer points of the film, which worries nerds such as I. People making monstrously large words in Scrabble is a pet peeve of mine (you only have seven tiles, dammit!) and when they make a big point of the computer voice having changed, there’s a scene where it’s changed back and no-one seems to notice. Still, in the history of movies very few people have ever said “I would have loved that hilarious film, except for a lack of verisimilitude when it comes to Scrabble” so ultimately it didn’t matter.

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Gives an unrealistic expectation of how much fun this film was

The acting is absolutely top-notch, as you’d expect from a cast such as this, full of TV and film veterans. Boyd pokes a little fun at his Lord of the Rings role, while suffering from a mild case of Small Man Syndrome; Kreuk does well with her two roles; and clearly Tapping and Dunne must have had fun working on TV show “Sanctuary” together for four years, as they’re both producers on this. All four of them are clearly capable of comedy, but I feel the problem isn’t them so much as the writing. And now I feel bad because it’s a low budget movie made with several Canadian tax benefit packages, and was filmed in a little over two weeks…but then “Dark Star” had a tenth the budget of this and was a classic.

I love that people are making more sci-fi movies now, and they’re trying to do different things with them. And this certainly isn’t a bad movie, but it’s just not quite good enough. I presume there’s a hilarious story behind the title, too, but I don’t care enough to find out what it is. Still, I’d be happy to watch this cast do something else together, and given it’s the director’s first movie, he may improve too.

Rating: thumbs down (sorry)

EXTRA: The film’s website is remarkably similar to the film, having lots of little games to play which look fun but are in fact sort of boring and pointless.

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The Last Days On Mars (2013)

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I love science fiction. Not as much as my mate Julian, who will pretty much watch anything with a spaceship in it, but enough that I’ve seen a heck of a lot of sci-fi films and TV series. So the current mini-trend for “indie” sci-fi is pleasing – “Europa Report” (review coming soon), “Moon”, “Gravity” (okay, not really indie) and now this, among others, are trying to do interesting things with the genre. But does this one succeed?

At some unspecified point in the future, humankind’s got its act together enough to organise 6-month people-led missions to Mars. There’s 19 hours left before this crew’s trip is over and they get to go home, and it’s safe to say tensions are building among the crew. Kate (Olivia Williams) seems to be the most hated of the lot, but the desperation of some crew members to be the person who discovers life on Mars is causing everyone to be a bit stressed out. The first half hour of the film is really good, sketching out characters quickly and building a sense of tension well. The film cleverly shows the future to be a lot like the present – people have their petty jealousies about wanting to be the first person to find alien life, all their equipment is breaking down or worn out, and so on.

Without wanting to spoil it too much, they find something, and that’s when people start falling apart. Quite quickly, too. I can sort-of understand how big a deal it is to the characters, but you’d have to hope that these people would be subject to the strictest psychological profiling and testing before being sent out, and I just don’t believe some of them would have passed it. Also, one of them talks about going home to his young kids…would they let someone on a mission that lasted (with travel there and back) 18 months if they had young kids? But, this isn’t the moment where the film turns and becomes something rather odder. When a crew member, taken over by Martian bacteria and turned into some sort of weird space zombie, stabs one of his friends in the stomach with a screwdriver is when the film takes a lurch to the left.

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve seen “Dark Star”, the amazing John Carpenter sci-fi comedy. Well, “Last Days On Mars” is, for its first half, “Dark Star” played as drama, and its second half is “Dark Star” played as horror. It’s a surprisingly close fit, too. The one thing it doesn’t rip off is the timescale of the film – in “Dark Star”, they were years along into a seemingly never-ending mission, whereas in this they’re hours from getting to go home.

This film’s best and worst thing is its cast. Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams and Liev Schreiber are all long-term seasoned film pros, with Williams being the standout for her portrayal of a character who’d be a nagging unsympathetic shrew in lesser hands. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are lesser hands, and the gulf is immediately apparent when any of them interact with the A-team.

I can’t believe no low-budget film company has made “Space Zombies” yet which, if directed by a guy like Paul WS Anderson or Christopher Smith, would be amazing. Unfortunately, this just isn’t. The high water mark for real intelligent sci-fi remains “Solaris”, and while it’s a good thing that people are trying to do this sort of film again, it’d be nice if they were a bit better.

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