Posts Tagged ‘doppelganger’

The 6th Day (2000)

05/04/2011 1 comment

What is more badass than Arnold Schwarzenegger as a military guy? Arnold Schwarzenegger as an ex-military family guy. What’s more badass than a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it once? A movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it twice. The real question, though, is whether or not a movie with two Arnolds in it can still pull off a deep philosophical discussion of the implications of human cloning and still be badass. Let’s find out.

The 6th Day is a sci fi thriller film directed by Roger Spottiswoode, in a near-future where animal cloning is commonplace but human cloning has been outlawed. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Rapaport, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, and Robert Duvall.

It is the year 2015. Cloning technology is sufficiently advanced that animal cloning is commonplace (leading to the recovery of a number of endangered species and a virtual end to world hunger), every child has grown up with a cloned Re-pet (a genetic copy of a pet that has died), and cloned human organs for transplant are becoming mainstream. However, the cloning of a complete human is forbidden by “6th Day” laws, named for the creation story in the Book of Genesis which states that God created man on the 6th day. Cloning is still a highly divisive issue, however, with cloning protestors appearing regularly outside Replacement Technologies, a firm that specilizes in cloning. Ex-military family man and charter pilot Adam Gibson has his doubts about the moral implications of cloning, but he has other things to worry about right now: It is his birthday, and he has been hired as transportation for Michael Drucker, the CEO of Replacement Technologies, who is headed on a ski trip. On his way to pick up Drucker, Gibson is informed that his daughters beloved dog has died, and his wife instructs him to have the dog cloned as a Re-pet. Gibson’s buddy Morgan offers to take his place on the charter so Gibson can get the Re-pet, and the two part ways. Then things start getting really complicated. Gibson returns home after running a few errands to find that, um… he’s already home. He barely has time to digest the presence of this doppelganger before he learns that people want to kill him, and for good reason – he has been illegally cloned. Since the existence of two Adam Gibsons could have serious consequences for Replacement Technologies, one of them has to go. Unfortunately for them, they don’t realize that this is Arnold Goddamn Schwarzenegger, and clone or not, they’re both going to be very difficult to kill…

This is one of those movies that flew in under my radar. When it was in theaters, I saw maybe one or two ads for it, and then nothing. I found it again after it came out on home video, and decided to give it a shot. It was… enjoyable. While it was not your typical Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, it had thrills and chases and explosions and, of course, Arnold being a badass dad. Twice. However, despite its early lip service to the moral and philosophical implications of mainstream cloning processes, such as whether a cloned pet is still the same pet, and a related brief existential crisis regarding whether the cloned Adam is still fundamentally Adam, ultimately The 6th Day remains an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie through and through, with all that implies. He’s a badass. People try to kill him. He outwits them. Shit gets blown up. The only thing about this movie that does not fit into the mold of a typical Arnold movie is the fact that both Adams genuinely love the family of Adam 1.0, which sets up a Papa Wolf sequence of truly epic proportions, wherein both Adams become Badass Dad squared.

The supporting cast was decent, but the mooks bordered on self-parody at times, due to the fact that since they could be brought back in a matter of hours through the miracle of cloning. The head villain didn’t seem to think he was evil,though after a few scenes of dialogue the actual amount of altruism in his project (very low) became clear. Amongst the hero, Arnold was… Arnold. He is a badass with a family and an existential crisis. That makes Arnold upset, and when Arnold gets upset Arnold breaks things. Adam’s buddy Morgan is a loser with a holographic programmable porn star for a girlfriend (raise your hand if you know someone who would have a virtual pornstar housemate given sufficiently advanced technology). Meanwhile, Adam’s wife and daughter are wonderfully believeable given the movie’s setting, like his wife winning an argument by simply not acknowledging her husband’s protests, and his daughter wanting the Latest Cool Thing that all of her friends has (though why any sane parent would buy one of those creepy-ass Sim-Pals for their child boggles the mind).

In the end, The 6th Day is an enjoyable sci fi thriller with slightly more depth than your average Arnold movie, but not quite enough to rise above the brand of being an Arnold movie. If you like hard(ish) sci fi paired with thrilling chase scenes, check this one out. If you want a deep discussion on the meaning of life and death in a world where cloning is commonplace, try something by Philip K. Dick.


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

With every successful movie, there is a good chance that the studios will want to repeat their success. Occasionally, this may result in an unrelated film being repurposed as a sequel, but more often the same people will simply make a sequel. As sequels go, there are three basic types:

  1. Sucky sequel: This sequel falls short (often far short) of its predecessor’s level of quality, and comes off as an obvious, half-assed money grab.
  2. Equivalent sequel: The sequel does not fall short of its predecessor’s level of quality, but neither does it improve on things.
  3. Improved sequel: A rarity, the improved sequel not only meets but also exceeds the quality of its predecessor, taking the concept in new directions that still fit with the established storyline.

In a pleasant surprise, this film finds itself in the third category. And it kicks all kinds of ass.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a science fiction action film directed by James Cameron, and is the first sequel to The Terminator. It stars Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, and some really cool CGI effects.

It has been eleven years since Sarah Connor was last menaced by the (nearly) unstoppable Terminator. John Connor, the future savior of humanity, is now a troubled youth of ten, living with foster parents in Los Angeles after his mother was arrested for trying to bomb a computer factory and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. Even though he spent his entire childhood being prepared for the impending apocalypse, John isn’t sure what to believe now. Little does he know that in the future, Skynet is going to make another temporally-assisted attempt on his life, this time with the T-1000, a newer and more dangerous model of Terminator composed of liquid metal, with the ability to mimic anything it touches, including people. Fortunately, the human resistance is able to send back yet another guardian, this time a familiar face – a T-800 identical to the one who previously tried to kill Sarah, but reprogrammed to defend John. The two converge on John in a desperate race, and their mutual target is about to learn that his mother’s crazy rantings are anything but delusional…

When I first saw this movie, I hadn’t seen the original in years, but I heard all the hype about the groundbreaking computer generated effects – only two years since The Abyss, in which Cameron also used groundbreaking CG effects, except the hard way. It was amazing to see the advances in CG since then, even though in the fifteen minutes or so of transformation time the T-1000 had, only a relative handful used CGI. And it looked amazing. As the first movie which had a major character be partially (and in a couple scenes completely) created in CGI, the results were impressive and eye-popping. Even though morphing effects had been in use since Willow, and CG-created characters were as old as Young Sherlock Holmes, this time through it looked amazing. Arnie, of course, gets enhanced with old-school makeup effects and animatronics, and the two types of effects mesh well.

The acting was also superb. Linda Hamilton, having previously played Sarah as a meek little mouse of a woman being menaced by things that technically hadn’t happened yet, buffed up to play Sarah Connors, Mother of the Human Resistance, and I could easily believe that she was a little unhinged, albeit with a very good reason – she’d been beaten over the head with a really bad future, she was having nightmares about the impending nuclear apocalypse, and she’d been told that her son was the only thing standing between humanity and its own annihilation. The movie does make it clear that even though John loves his mom, her behavior does not make her a good mother. If anything, it makes her borderline psychotic, to the point that she nearly tips over the edge into the same territory as the focused, emotionless killers whose creation she was trying to prevent. The opens the door for a surprisingly philosophical discussion about humanity, as the inhuman T-800 turns out to be a more dedicated parental figure to John than even Sarah was. Robert Patrick makes an effective rival Terminator as well, sleeker and faster than the T-800, in effect a leopard compared to Arnold’s grizzly bear. Also, sharp-eyed fans of the first will recognize Earl Boen reprising his role as Dr. Silberman, the police psychiatrist in the original, now responsible for Sarah’s care in this one (and about as effective), though of course he gets belted across the face with the truth in a very satisfying sequence at the psychiatric hospital.

It is very rare to find a sequel that improves so drastically upon the first, but it is not surprising to find that James Cameron managed to pull it off. If you enjoyed the first but felt it needed something more, watch Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and then just sit back and enjoy the action.

Moon (2009)

Having an existential crisis can suck. Having an existential crisis when you’re 240,000 miles from home can be even worse. Being virtually alone on the far side of the moon for three years with a computer as your only conversational partner can do that. Just ask Sam Bell.

Moon is a British science fiction film focusing on a man who experiences a personal crisis as he nears the end of his three-year contract mining Helium-3 on the far side of the moon. It was directed by Duncan Jones stars primarily Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. The film was nominated for two BAFTAs in 2010, and Jones won the award for “Outstanding Debut by a British writer, director or producer”.

Lunar Industries employee Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three-year contract to work on a largely automated lunar mining base, overseeing the automated harvesters that extract Helium-3 and periodically sending the filled canisters back to Earth to be used for clean-fusion energy. Chronic communications issues prevent him from establishing live communications with Earth, but his wife, Tess, sends him periodic recorded messages updating him on her life, especially the birth and early years of his daughter Eve. Two weeks before his contract is up, Sam begins to hallucinate, his solitude having caused him to start going mentally sideways. During a routine trip out to collect one of the filled Helium-3 canisters, Sam sees a figure on the lunar surface. Startled, he crashes his rover, managing to get his helmet on before losing consciousness.

He wakes in the infirmary, and the base’s computer, GERTY (Kevin Spacey, channelling Douglas Raines) asks him if he remembers the crash that landed him there. He doesn’t, but Gerty reassures him that this is normal. However, Sam suspects that something is not right when he overhears a live communication between GERTY and Lunar Industries executives, and learns that a rescue team has been dispatched, and GERTY has been instructed not to let him outside. Sam is forced to find his own answers about what is happening at the Lunar Industries base, and what he learns will shake his world to its core…

I was genuinely surprised by this movie. I’d previously seen Sam Rockwell playing psychos or obnoxious twerps, but Moon demonstrates that he is a genuinely skilled dramatic actor in his own right. Like many movies where a single character carries the bulk of the action, Rockwell had his work cut out for him, as the only other characters were GERTY and… himself. Onscreen, he is funny and heartrending in turns, as he tries to come to terms with the truth behind his situation. Spacey’s choice of the HAL 9000 “calm and reasonable” voice was well-done, as it immediately had vintage sci fi fans on their guard, expecting calm sociopathy later even as GERTY seemed to want to help Sam solve his problem. The set design was beautifully sterile, offering beautifully empty lunar vistas and a possible glimpse into near-future mining operations. The story itself unfolded slowly, with a well-paced patience that allowed the audience to get to know and care about Sam Bell, and want to stay right there with him as he came to terms with his own existence on this sterile ball of rock.

If you want a quiet, contemplative hard sci fi film without a lot of action and with a lot of introspection, try Moon. It’s an unexpected treasure that will probably become a long-lasting classic.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.

Some recruitment tools are obvious: A firing range. A standardized test. A military training course. Other training tools, not so much: an arcade game cabinet in a trailer park. Alex Rogan doesn’t know this, of course. All he knows is that he wants to do something more with his life than bounce around with the same people forever. Little does he know that opportunity is about to knock.

The Last Starfighter is a science fiction adventure film directed by Nick Castle and written by John R. Betuel. It stars Lance Guest, Robert Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, Dan O’Herlihy, and Norman Snow. In addition to Tron, this movie has the distinction of being one of the earliest films to use extensive CGI for all the special effects that were not makeup or concrete props, a decision that ultimately brought the computers they had at the time to their knees.

Alex Rogan (Guest) is an average teenager living in the secluded Star Light Star Bright trailer park with his mother and little brother. He feels trapped, working as the sole handyman for the trailer park and hoping to go to college in parts distant, but in the meantime his sole method of escape is playing Starfighter, an arcade game that has the player defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada in space battle. It says something for how little goes on in the trailer park that when he beats the current high score, it is noteworthy enough to bring everyone running to witness the event. Shortly afterwards, Alex is approached by a man identifying himself as Centauri (Preston), the creator of Starfighter, who invites Alex to take a ride with him. Alex accepts, but soon discovers that Centauri is a disguised alien who whisks him off to the distant planet of Rylos, leaving behind an android named Beta (also Guest) to impersonate the new recruit and ensure his absence goes unnoticed.

Upon arrival at Rylos, Centauri leaves Alex to discover a number of further surprises: the characters and locations depicted in the Starfighter game are real, depicting an actual war between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Armada, led by the traitor Xur, who quickly proves himself to be batshit insane in addition to hating his father, Ambassador Enduran, the commander of the Star League. The Ko-Dan Emperor has promised Xur rulership over Rylos in exchange for the secret to getting past the Frontier’s force fields – and, incidentally, if this should come to pass, Earth would (eventually) be in grave danger as well. The Starfighter game was intended as a recruitment tool to find those with the “gift”, but was actually supposed to go to Las Vegas. Alex, as the recruit with said “gift”, is expected to pilot a Gunstar alongside the rest of the Starfighters to defend the Frontier. Alex does what anyone would do under these circumstances: He has a panic attack. However, Alex will soon discover that there is no escaping his fate, and he will need to search within himself for courage befitting a Starfighter, and completely disregard the complete and utter mess the naive Beta unit is making of his social life back home.

I recently watched this movie for the first time in decades, and while the effects were relatively unimpressive by modern standards, they were light-years ahead of what anyone else had done with computers up till then. The innovation of making photorealistic CG effects rather than simple ray-traced objects (as they had done in Tron and Star Wars) allowed them to create almost the entire exterior of Rylos within a computer, much to the computer’s dismay. For much of production, the computers simply weren’t powerful enough to render the numerous spaceship effects before they were put to film, and the animators had to develop new software and invent new techniques to make the fledgling effects viable. Of course, real props had to be made for scenes where the actors had to interact with the ships, but overall the two blended well. The creature effects were otherwise traditional latex masks, offering the viewer a diverse cross-section of alien races for Alex to discover and almost get killed by (once by complete accident). In particular, Alex’s eventual co-pilot Grig was well-done, though I could only imagine how uncomfortable the reptilian latex mask had to be after a while.

Of course, all the effects and monsters in the world can’t make a good movie without good acting. As with many movies from the early 80s, the human actors had their work cut out for them, as they were the key to making the monsters and CG believeable – and in this they largely succeeded. Guest’s dual role as the bewildered Earthling teenager Alex and the bumbling android doppelganger Beta demonstrated decent diversity that leaves me a bit disappointed that he apparently hasn’t been in much since. Robert Preston’s last role as Centauri is essentially Harold Hill from The Music Man, only from outer space – a quick-talking con man who knows how to get things done, even if it means forcibly recruiting an unsuspecting video game enthusiast for an interstellar battle.

Overall, while the effects were a bit dated, they were well-done for their day and well-supported by the story and actors, the true test of a good sci fi movie – not the number of alien creatures and special effects. The Last Starfighter has all the story elements that the Star Wars trilogy had already established, and while the story is evocative both of Star Wars and The Sword in the Stone, it manages to blend everything together into an enjoyable wish-fulfillment fantasy epic.

Dave (1993)

You all probably know the tale of The Prince and the Pauper: a working-class guy who just happens to be the spitting image of somebody rich and important is asked to take the place of Rich and Important Guy. Think that couldn’t work today? Ivan Reitman disagrees.

Dave is a comedy-drama film written by Gary Ross and directed by Ivan Reitman. It stars Kevin “Silverado” Kline, Sigourney “Alien” Weaver, Frank “Superman Returns” Langella, Kevin “Transformers” Dunn, Ving “Pulp Fiction” Rhames, and Ben “Suspect Zero” Kingsley.

Dave Kovic (Kline) runs a temporary employment angency in Washington D.C. By chance, he bears a striking resemblance to U.S. President Bill Mitchell (also Kline, only an asshole), which he uses during side jobs impersonating him in such things as car advertisements and supermarket openings. He’s just an ordinary guy, who is about to be asked to do something extraordinary in service of his country. Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Langella) approaches Kovic to act as a presidental body double to help conceal Mitchell’s extramarital affair with a White House secretary, having Kovic appear as the President while the real deal is off sweating up the sheets. However, during the course of the ruse, Mitchell’s extracurricular activities cause him to suffer a severe stroke, leaving him in a coma with no prospect of recovery, and the hapless Dave in his place to keep up appearances. Only Alexander, Communications Director Alan Reed (Dunn), and Secret Service Agent Duane Stevensen (Rhames) are aware of the ruse; First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Weaver) largely ignores her husband, utterly despising him. One should note that Kovic has no clue how to be a politician; this is both a good thing and a bad thing.

As Dave settles into his role, he plays the President they way he thinks the Commander in Chief should act – helping the common people, just as he did in his previous job. He has his accountant help him rewrite the United States budget to allow funds for a previously cancelled homeless shelter program, over Alexander’s protests, and he finds himself rapidly falling in love with the First Lady, his own “wife”. However, he is largely unaware of a plot to implicate Vice President Gary Nance (Kingsley, in one of his few truly benevolent roles) in a fraud that Alexander and Mitchell perpetrated. Once Nance is out of the way, Alexander plans to have Dave nominate him as V.P. and have a very convenient second stroke, landing Alexander in the Oval Office.

I don’t watch many comedies, but I found this movie to be charmingly funny. Kline as Kovic was a humble, good-hearted everyman uncorrupted by the customs of politics as usual, while Kline as Mitchell, in the character’s brief scenes, was a smug, opportunistic bastard, the sort of politician you love to hate – and he was convincing as both. Weaver was a sharped tongued defrosting ice queen as the First Lady, initially hating her “husband” out of habit but eventually being charmed by his simple kindness. And Frank Langella, whom I’d previously seen as that creepy guy with an offer in The Box is a persuasive manipulative bastard. Ving Rhames, as always, plays Ving Rhames, a no-nonsense badass who doesn’t take any shit, even from his supposed charge.

This modern-day take on an old story was also surprisingly fresh for its more modern setting. While a ruse of this magnitude might seem implausible at first, the amount of security surrounding the President would make this surprisingly simple (see Vantage Point for another example). Watching Dave stumbling through his new life is well-rewarded when he finally got his feet under him, and further rewarded when the American public starts coming around to this new, revitalized President Mitchell, making me hope that Kovic could be a hundred times the President that Mitchell was – and in his own way, he was.

If you’re looking for a charming comedy featuring a new twist on an old plot, I recommend this movie. Dave does not disappoint.