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Runtime 115 minutes.

The first of a proposed trilogy, this is an inscrutable sci-fi excursion that is filled with tension and outstanding special effects and production design without making a bit of sense.

From director Alex Garland, who created the outstanding Ex Machina (2015), some of the scenes intended to terrify are so grotesque they could pass as homages to Alien, and come close to crossing the line to satire.

Based on a novel, Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, the idea is that there is an area (“Area X”) called The Shimmer that has been somehow contaminated by an alien crash. It’s been blocked off, but several expeditions have ventured forth to try to discover the “strange and destructive forces emanating from it.” All of the expeditions have been conducted by men, so the new one is conducted by women.

One of them, Natalie Portman, has a husband, Oscar Isaac (who co-starred with Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina), who is the only survivor of any of the expeditions, and he’s in really bad shape. So Natalie wants to go in to discover what the heck is going on in there and she’s joined by a bunch of women—Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny.

Although Isaac is mentioned as a co-star, he’s just a token, seen at the beginning and the end, and that’s it. He couldn’t have been on the set for much more than a few days.

The problems of this film for me are many, not the least of which is that the ending raises more questions than it answers (none). My question coming out of the film was, “What was that all about?” Why make a film that raises a mystery of what’s going on and then give an unfathomable ending that leaves the viewer nowhere but asking, “Huh?” In the final analysis, this ending renders the movie as little more than pretentious nonsense.

Despite the amazing effects, it’s shot so darkly that what could have been stunningly beautiful, isn’t. Then there are the characters. Maybe someone could find Portman sympathetic, but the rest of them don’t establish any feeling of empathy whatsoever.

This is like going to a whodunit and when the movie ends not having a clue whodunit.

If this is the future of sci-fi, include me out.

Ultimate Expedition

Runtime 8 30-minute episodes

“Ultimate Expedition” airs on YouTube Red.

Ultimate Expedition is YouTube Red’s newest adventure competition series. This one shows eight celebrities, none of whom had any climbing experience signing up to climb to the top of Mount Tocllaraju in Peru.

In addition to spectacular scenery and production values (the quality of the visuals is outstanding), each participant talks about how he or she feels at various times throughout the experience. They voice their enthusiasm for the project upon arrival, but also their trepidations and hardships throughout.

The expedition consists of eight people, three women and five men of varying ages and backgrounds. The only constants among them are that they are successful in other fields and they have no experience in climbing a mountain.

I love mountain climbing movies and this is one of the best. And one reason for that is that it’s not scripted. These are real people, not actors. To make it even more dramatic they are all like you and me, none had never attempted mountain climbing or any other type of climbing for that matter. They are pure novices.

The Expedition leader warns them at the outset that this is a dangerous undertaking, revealing that eight people had already died this year attempting to scale the mountain.

Watching how they challenge and push themselves up to and beyond the limits of their endurances is fascinating. This is TV at its best.

Currently playing on YouTube Red.


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