Friday, February 5, 2016

The War Without

Any author who chooses “aliens invade earth” for the plot of a book or a screenplay displays a either courage or hubris, for it has (as the phrase goes) “been done.” HG Wells’ 1897 novel War of the Worlds alone has been brought to the screen more than half a dozen times. Coming up with some original twist or perspective is getting ever more difficult. Wave after wave of new fictional aliens continue to wash over us nonetheless. Some presently are doing just that in theaters in the suitably titled The 5th Wave, based on the Young Adult novel of the same name by Rick Yancy.

In YA fiction, dystopias are the order of the day. Teen readers don’t seem to view their futures as very bright – or at least they have no patience for fiction that does. Whether they are right about that or not (there are credible arguments either way) novelists such as Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and James Dashner (Maze Runner) have tapped into their sentiment as have the movies based on them. They also tap into distrust of adult authority and disgruntlement at a world with too many rules. The protagonists, naturally enough for YA fiction, are teens – and nowadays they usually are young women. (F. Paul Wilson’s Jack series is one of the few to buck that trend.)

Chloe Grace Moretz plays the protagonist Cassie in the film adaptation of The 5th Wave. When the alien party-crashers arrive at earth they trash the house. They want the whole planet for themselves, but they want to scrape off the humans while still leaving the place livable. So, after killing off a bunch of humans in four massive but not planet-destroying ways, they turn the survivors against each other in order to exterminate the last of them. Cassie just wants to survive all of this and to reunite with her little brother from whom she was separated. As for romance, YA films – other than deliberately raunchy comedies – struggle with the current paradigm of gender relations among young people in which male initiative in romantic matters is problematical. The screenwriters for The 5th Wave handle this playfully. The two young men to whom Cassie is attracted consist of one who is clueless and one who longs for her but who is a paragon of restraint. In one scene there is a reversal of the old trope of a male character voyeuristically peeking at women bathing in a lake: Cassie hides in the bushes and spies on the pretty bathing Ethan (Alex Roe). The guys in the movie who do ogle without comment a hard-nosed young woman soldier (not Cassie) are appropriately punished by her.

Moretz is an appealing and competent young actress who is no stranger to off-beat parts, e.g. Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, the vampire in Let Me In, a werewolf in Dark Shadows, and Carrie in the remake of Carrie. By comparison her character in The 5th Wave is almost normal, and she handles it about as well as it can be handled. The film doesn’t try to be deep in any way and it doesn’t explore epic themes other than the heroine’s journey, which is hard to avoid in the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable adventure/disaster flick with likable actors.

The 5th Wave is not near the top of the best YA dystopia list: The Hunger Games still occupies top spot. But it’s not at the bottom either. It is reasonably good workaday scifi: not great but not awful. Two sequels are planned, though ticket sales, as always, will determine the ultimate fate of the series.

A casual Thumbs Up

Trailer – The 5th Wave

The Pretenders – Space Invader (1979)


  1. As I've gotten older I feel like I'm turning into an old fuddy duddy or highly jaded. I seem more and more to agree with Sturgeon's law who author Harlan Ellison gleefully quotes often, "Ninety percent of everything is shit." But I feel the same way most of the time. What's odd is that I find others on the web loving the series or TV show.

    As an example I tried both The Expanse (space opera) and Colony (alien invasion), and yes, I was already skeptical as these are already pretty worn thin tropes. I started out wanting to like The Expanse, but it's basically a mystery, that's expanded (no pun) and strung out into a space opera with talking heads, character development, but not enough action(for me) or pretty mundane dialogue. It's turning into a space opera Lost.

    With Colony I had less hope for, alien invasion (eyeroll)... First off I didn't like their main character, Josh Holloway from Lost, with his grizzled appearance. I didn't make it past the first episode.

    That's not to say I don't enjoy some things, but I'm always looking for something fresh, and they're out there but not always genre specific. I guess we all just have different things that excites us. For me it's been stuff like: The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Fargo, Jessica Jones (somewhat), True Detective (first series), Louis CK, Game of Thrones, and a few others.

    Sometimes I think Hollywood totally misses the point. They want a success like Star Trek, but yet don't use the template that worked best for the series (action/adventure) like the original series. Heck, I'd love for a space opera to come along and mimic that or even the original Battlestar Galactica, but for whatever reason I don't think it's going to happen. I would love it if Netflix would create a Grimjack comic series. He was sort of an Escape from New York type anti-hero set in a trans-dimension universe. That could even be done fairly low budget.

    Going back to your post, yes there are a lot of YA adventure post apocalypse yarns, written by adults for the young crowd. Perhaps that's more a fad than anything. Soon I'm sure something else fresher (at least in presentation) will come along.

    1. There is nothing wrong with a little action/adventure.

      The term “science fiction” apparently was coined by author William Wilson in 1851; “Scifi” appears in print in 1955 but was used conversationally much earlier. Science fiction long preceded the existence of the term of course. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” counts, as perhaps even does “A True Story” by 2nd century AD author Lucian, which includes a trip to the moon and a battle among extraterrestrials. The two authors most responsible for popularizing science fiction, however, are Jules Verne and HG Wells. They succeeded by writing rousing tales. They often were philosophical – HG in particular was downright didactic – but they didn’t let it stall their stories.

      Public tastes fundamentally haven’t changed so very much since their day, and modern writers and screenwriters with commercial ambitions would do well to follow the example of Jules and Herb. “Star Trek” TOS indeed did that. If an author has some intellectual point to make, that’s OK; we’re more than willing to listen if we’re not being bored. “Caprica” is an example of a series that was too message-heavy to be commercial. It was well-written, well-produced, and clever, but episodes seemed less like scifi than like a theology symposium.

      As for YA, yes I suppose apocalypses are a fad in the way that vampires were a decade ago. But I think that the fad is this one rather than some other really does reflect some pessimistic mood presently in the air.

  2. I really like Moretz. She's never been the weakest part of a movie, and often she turns out to be the best part of it. This one looked interesting, and had some clever concepts. But I heard that romance angle ends up slowing the film down too much. But when you're based on a YA series, you kinda know that going in.

    Alien invasion movies can be fun. The one that I don't get is "Independence Day". That movie just felt like it was cobbled together from greatest hit scenes from older films. But man was it popular. I'm now running into folks who are very nostalgic about it. And if I mention that I don't care for it too much... well they act like I just broke their favorite toy.

    But now that I think about it, "Independence Day" did the same thing "The Matrix" did, took visual styles and scenes from other movies and anime and combine them into something new. Well at least "The Matrix" was tried to do something new. "Independence Day" feels more like a rip off movie with a huge budget and the gall to say it was all an homage. Yeah, shot for shot "homage" of "The Empire Strikes Back", I believe it.

    See, not bitter about it at all. ;)

    1. I like Moretz too; another flick worth seeing in which she gets to play a normal teenager (without aliens this time) is "Laggies" which I reviewed last May.

      It seems common for YA female characters to be torn between two guys. I wonder how much the authors consciously ape "Casablanca" in this: Ilse waffling between Victor and Rick.

      I'm not a big fan of "Independence Day" either, even though it is expensively impressive visually. I'll always trade budget for a better script.