Figure 1 - Robbie Amell as Renton
Figure 1 – Robbie Amell as Renton

I apologize for missing last week’s column, but my wife had just returned from Missouri where she’d gone due to a family issue, and I had too much on my mind. I’ll try to be more consistent from here on in.

If all goes well, today’s column will coincide with the opening of Vancouver’s home-grown SF convention, VCON (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) This year’s theme is “Muppets, Puppets and Marionettes” and, in keeping with that theme, the “Marionation GOH” is Jamie Anderson, whom you may know from British “Marionation” TV shows like Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5 and my favourite, UFO. All those series (and more) were started by Jamie’s father, Gerry Anderson, back in the sixties. The Author GOH is Robert J. Sawyer, whose latest novel is Quantum Night; the Film Designer GOH is Eric Chu, who’s worked on shows like the recent Battlestar Galactica; the Magazine Editor GOH is Karl Johanson, editor and publisher of Neo-Opsis; the Art Director GOH is Stephanie Johanson, AD for the aforementioned Neo-Opsis; the Godzilla Fan GOH is Stan Hyde, from Monster Attack Team Canada; and our Toastmaster is the ever-popular writer, blogger and musician Spider Robinson (and, as Truman Capote used to say, “personal friend of mine!”), who will emcee the Costume Contest, give a reading and lead the popular Beatles singalong on Saturday! How’s that for a bunch o’ stuff? Very few local cons can boast a lineup like that, let me tell you! (And furthermore, I’m not on the concom and don’t get paid for saying this.)

Figure 2 - ARQ poster
Figure 2 – ARQ poster

Okay, what would you say about a movie where the guy wakes up to a 6:15 or so alarm clock, does a bunch of stuff, and when he wakes up again, it’s the same day! Are you thinking Groundhog Day, by any chance? Well, I sort of was, too… only this one is more like the recent Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow. It’s set in the future rather than the present, and… well, let me set the scene for you. Renton, played by Robbie Amell (Figure 1), wakes up in bed next to his ex-girlfriend Hannah (Rachael Taylor,  Figure 3). The holographic bedside clock says 6:16. (We don’t know she’s his ex-girlfriend yet, but we learn in fairly short order.) Three men wearing what look like gas masks, burst through the door and Renton is knocked down, though not quite out. Renton is dragged into another room and, back to back with Hannah, tied to a chair. The leader of the people holding them — from an underground group calling themselves “The Bloc” — threaten Renton and Hannah, demanding that he turn over his “scrips” (an incorrect usage, as far as I know, of the word “scrip,” meaning — basically — something that stands in for actual money. I think the plural of “scrip” is “scrip.” But I could be wrong) from The Torus Corporation. The leader, we learn, is called “Father,” and there is a “Sonny” and a “Brother” and a “Cuz,” though it appears Cuz touched a whirly thing (the ARQ) in the room and was electrocuted before the group broke in on Renton and Hannah. The three give Renton five minutes to make up his mind and leave the two tied to the chairs (well, actually “zap-strapped”) while the group goes to see what there is to eat in the house. And here’s where the action starts!

Figure 3 - Hannah (Rachel Taylor) in ARQ
Figure 3 – Hannah (Rachel Taylor) in ARQ

Renton tells Hannah that the ARQ is a working perpetual motion machine he designed while working at Torus. Torus shut down the project as an impossibility, so Renton stole it and ran. Renton thinks the Bloc members are after the ARQ rather than the scrips. Hannah urges him to comply with their demands. Renton manages to free himself and Hannah, but he is killed while trying to escape. He wakes up gasping at 6:16 a.m., obviously on the same day. Catching on quickly, after freeing himself, Renton asks Hannah to help poison the intruders with a cyanide gas bomb. Hannah tells Renton she couldn’t do it, but she is shown to be working with the Bloc members. Renton surrenders the scrips, but Sonny shoots him anyway (“He’s seen our faces.”). Through several iterations, we learn that Renton’s world is a future dystopia; the air is unbreathable (which is why the Bloc members were wearing filter masks when they broke in), and the ARQ — besides being the reason time is looping — may be the salvation of the world through its free energy. And the Torus Corporation is trying to (dare I say it?) rule the world! They go through several iterations of the day until one morning, Hannah remembers the previous day!

And here, dear reader, I have to quit, because we’re headed into full-on spoiler territory, and I’d like you to enjoy this as you see it. (By the way, it’s a Netflix movie.) By the way, Amell is a cousin of the guy who plays the Arrow on TV.)  I’m not sure it would be a 4-out-of-5 movie; I wasn’t totally thrilled by the ending, so I’ll give it ¤¤¤ 1/2. (Is a half-star cheating?)

Figure 4 - Kingsglaive Poster
Figure 4 – Kingsglaive Poster

Now we come to an all-animated — 3D graphics & “mo-cap” animated — movie: Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive. And we’ll ask the same question we’ve asked since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001: “Are we there yet?” By “there,” I mean have we gotten to the point where 3D graphics, with or without motion capture (mo-cap), can create believably human characters and populate a whole movie with them? Sadly, the answer is still “not quite there.” Dang it! Now, I don’t keep up with the whole Final Fantasy thing; the 2001 movie was the first all-3D graphics full-length movie (not a cartoon, like Care Bears or Smurfs or whatever) that I know of, and it was fascinating! (The plot and characters less so. Oddly enough, my friend Dean Wesley Smith got to do the novelization of that movie.) We have come so far in the last 15 years that it’s exciting and frightening to realize that in a few scant years we will be able to create, and animate, fully human-seeming computer characters; either brand-new computer actors or recreations of well-known (but dead) movie icons. Unfortunately, while the animators can recreate every single facet of known physics, from materials and lights that look real, reflections, transparency, weight and so on, they still haven’t gotten humans right. There are a couple of things that are dead giveaways: one; the characters’ eyes don’t focus right. (Example: when I first started watching ARQ, I thought maybe it was animated, because Robbie Amell also doesn’t focus right (see Figure 1). There’s not a whole lot of difference between his eyes and Aaron Paul’s character, Nyx Ulric’s eyes, in my opinion (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 - Aaron Paul's Character (Nyx Ulric) in FF XV
Figure 5 – Aaron Paul’s Character (Nyx Ulric) in FF XV

Another difference between animated 3D mo-cap characters and real people is that they still can’t grasp objects correctly. It will take a heap o’ programming the intersections of objects as well as IK (inverse kinematics; used in programming movement realistically) to get that one right. But those are two things that stand out immediately; I believe humans are programmed genetically to recognize the “difference” in other humans (and human-like objects) quickly. It could be a survival thing; I don’t know. (For a fascinating look at one facet of that programming, specifically racial relations, check out Steven Barnes’s blog. He has thought deeply and long about human relationships. Free plug, Steven!) The third thing is animation of the face when the characters are speaking. Just not realistic! Anyway, aside from those major quibbles, FF XV: Kingsglaive is close enough to be disturbing at times. The rest of the animation is freaking stellar: the materials, the lighting, the reflections, and so on. The 2001 movie used a render farm of something like 300-400 computers; this one literally could not have been made at that time. Again, however, the plot is pretty ridiculous unless you’re a FF game player. (And maybe so then, too.)

For those of you who don’t know, a “glaive” is a short sword. And, somewhat like in Dave Duncan’s King’s Blades novels, the Kingsglaives are sword wielders bound supernatually to the ruler of Lucis, King Regis. (Some of these names are ridiculous; “Lucis,” meaning “light”; “Regis,” meaning “ruler.” Not much advance on “He-Man” or “Skeletor,” eh?) One power the Glaives (meaning the men, not their swords) have is teleportation; they can throw the sword and teleport to wherever it lands. That’s kind of cool, and is used to great effect during the movie. But I digress.

The land of Lucis has held against the power of the land of Niflheim (a Norse word meaning a kind of hell-world full of darkness and mist) thanks to their non-physical wall, powered by the King and a mystical crystal thingy. But the ruler of Niflheim wants it all, and proposes a truce with Lucis; he’ll wed the captive princess of Tenebrae (meaning “shadow”) to the son of King Regis, Prince Noctis (“Night” — see what I mean about these names?); if Lucis cedes Tenebrae he will be allowed to hold on to Lucis itself. But machinations are in progress.

The plot was simplistic and obvious; the characters more or less the same, but the animation was so good I watched the whole thing even though it was disappointing. Voice actors included Lena Headey (Cersei in Game of Thrones), Aaron Paul (Jesse in Breaking Bad) and Sean Bean (Ned Stark, also Game of Thrones, briefly). You may have different standards; you might either like it more or not finish watching. I  give it a solid ¤¤¤. I can’t wait until I can give one of these 3D animations with humans five stars!

When it comes to movies, I’m kind of an odd duck; thanks to years of watching any and every TV show and movie that had some kind of connection to SF/F, because there was so little of it out there, I can often be convinced to watch movies all the way through that just aren’t that good. Which is silly nowadays, as we have more SF/F than a single person could ever watch in a lifetime. Still, you know where I’m coming from, and I hope you derive some value out of my reviews. And now I have to go get ready for VCON, and practice some Beatles on both guitar and ukulele! See ya!

I like comments on my columns. I really do; I have learned stuff from comments by my readers, so please! Throw me a comment — either here, or on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. I might not agree with your comments, but they are all welcome. And don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment; my opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week, Ghu willin’ an’ the crick don’t rise!

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