Latest movies pinpoint opposing fear factors
But in the wake of technological advances, the discourse on what raises the hairs on the back of viewers’ necks has changed.
Mutant creatures are giving way to Internet viruses, identity theft and events from the future.
For some time now, filmmakers have been testing out whether it is the unknowable or the experienced threat that gets hearts racing.
This weekend at the box office, two blockbusters, “Transcendence” and “Godzilla,” will battle it out with two very different methods of stirring up panic.
The former puts the limelight on a highly intelligent, invisible threat that is gaining power by the minute. The latter remakes the pioneer of “giant monster” films that is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the film industry.
Both promise a modern visual spectacle, and it will be interesting to see which of them triumph.
Fear of the Unknown
With Wally Pfister, the cinematographer behind “Inception,” at its helm, “Transcendence” promises big things. The abstract title sets out to blur the line between the cyber world and real life, similar to what “Inception” does for dreams and actuality.
Then there’s the Johnny Depp factor. “Transcendence” is supposed to be the film that reminds viewers that there was once substance behind the actor who has brought more kookiness than talent of late.
The film’s opening sequence unpacks a lot of potential as Dr. Will Caster (Depp) presents his idea of building an omniscient, sentient artificial intelligence, or as one of his opponents puts it, “playing god.”
But just before his dream of linking the core criteria of “being”- which the film defines as self-awareness - and artificial intelligence, Caster’s mortality is challenged when he is shot by an anti-technology extremist.
But death is short-term as his wife Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany) manage to upload Caster’s brain online.
It’s a revolutionary idea but a hard one to buy into. Even the characters in the film are left wondering about the legitimacy of the feat and, unfortunately, the argument supporting the notion fails to transcend.
The film asks for a lot from the viewers. It wants them to forget proof, take a leap of faith and believe in Depp’s computer man as an ever-present demigod who has the power to heal people and build an army.
These are just some of the many blanks that the viewer must fill in for themselves, all of which detract from the real issue - that the film doesn’t point out why or how the all-knowing Caster is meant to be the enemy.
The A-list actors that assist Depp’s computer persona are no lightweights. Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy give faultless performances.
But their reactions to the threat come off as exaggerated. It may be a serious situation, but it’s one that no one else really understands.
And through the notion of humans versus an omniscient computer, the emotions evoked are more annoyance than terror, kind of like when you lose your wallet.
Fear of the Known
Creatures that tower over skyscrapers are a proven formula in horror films.
And while it’s been seen time and time again, the threat of a monster that can destroy an entire city with one swipe of its tail is still a big one.
In “Godzilla,” directed by Gareth Edwards, the crew manages to hit a nerve that seems more relevant today than ever - nature does strike back.
New foes are spawned, and what is terrifying about the plot is that the monsters in the film have adapted to the landscape of humanity and will not be contained.
As species do, Godzilla acclimatizes to different situations, periods or surroundings. The giant swims, glides and dives at whim, and while it’s not out to intentionally hurt people, it cannot be controlled by them.
The film portrays a creature so in tune with its natural instincts that even when shots are being fired at him, he goes on his way.
Then there’s the human element of the movie. From Bryan Cranston to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the cast make it clear that if a threat is made to their loved ones, they will put their lives on the line to protect them.
It seems that size does still matter: you can unplug a computer, but you can’t outrun a predator.
With subtle messages about the risks of tampering with nature, “Godzilla” serves to remind that natural disasters (whether induced by man or not) are something that no technology can fully predict or prepare for.
By CARLA SUNWOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]