• Film reviews

    #472 – Ancient Relic (2002)

    Ancient Relic (2002)

    Film review #472

    Director: Sebastian Niemann

    SYNOPSIS: At an archaeological dig site in Israel, archaeology student Steffan Vogt stumbles upon an unbelievable discovery: a 2000 year old skeleton that has a metal implant, and the instruction manual for a video camera that has not been commercially released yet. Alongside it, a note detailing the existence of a video recording made of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. While most of the crew believe it to be some form of hoax, Steffan believes that the only possible explanation is a time traveller that went back into the past to film the momentous occasion. When a secret order starts to take control of the dig and silence anyone that knows about this discovery, Steffan teams up with Sharon and Joshua, who were also at the dig site, to uncover the truth about what is happening, before they too are silenced…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ancient Relic (Also known as The Hunt for the Hidden Relic, or The Jesus Video) is a German 2002 TV movie based on the novel by Andreas Eschbach. The opening of the film shows an archaeological dig site in Israel, where one of the students at the site, Sebastian Vogt, accidentally stumbles upon a burial site that’s full of mystery: a 200-year old skeleton that has signs of being form the present, such as a metal splint on his legbone, and the instruction manual for a video camera. Most of the archaeologists believe it is some form of hoax, but Steffan believes that the only possible explanation is that it is the work of some time traveller. A handwritten note accompanying the skeleton suggests that they actually videotaped the crucifixion of Jesus, which would be irrefutable proof of his existence. When Steffan tries to investigate further, he is shut out by a mysterious group who arrive and take control of the discovery. Steffan tries to sneak in and get more information, but starts to be hunted by this group as apparently he now knows too much. Steffan goes to fellow archaeologists Sharon and her fiancée Joshua, and the three attempt to unravel the mystery and find the video camera before they are killed. The plot is pretty typical conspiracy, ancient order, religious stuff; with secret groups trying to get a hold of the supposed video recording of Jesus as it would apparently be a weapon of such power, that if it disproved the existence of Jesus, western civilisation would simply collapse. I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, as I’m sure people that didn’t want to believe evidence that doesn’t fit their worldview can just call it a hoax and move on. Most of the elements of the story are left pretty vague, including these ancient orders and what they actually do. It’s probably something that’s more fleshed out in the book, but instead this film just opts for constant chase scenes and stalking that never really goes anywhere, and never arrives at the interesting bits, such as actually seeing the content of this recording, which is saved until the very end, and reveals a “surprise” twist that is entirely predictable, and just leaves open more questions that it answers.

    The characters are all pretty uninteresting. Steffan just a young, well-built lead that can do all the action sequences and take a lot of cuts and bruises. His opening trait that he is an atheist doesn’t really play much of a part in the story, although obviously as the whole “Jesus video” thing starts emerging, he starts to question his atheism in a very predictable fashion. The love triangle between Sharon (the only female character), her fiancée Joshua, and Steffan is entirely without note, and again very predictable. The villains are basically henchmen of this secret organisation, and are never given any character development, or motivation, because we never get a clear sense about the purpose of this organisation.

    As mentioned, we don’t see the contents of the video recording until the very end, and as a pay-off it doesn’t really deliver something satisfying that required nearly three hours of build up. The aspect of time travel is barely explored, and only explained through exposition and recordings that have no direct effect on what’s happening on-screen. The whole idea of a camcorder recording Jesus also seems a bit unbelievable, particularly it’s being able to work two thousand years later. The most notable aspect of the production is the English dubbing, given that this was originally a German production: The dubbing is terrible, and none of the voices have any real emotion or direction, which is constantly distracting from any drama on screen. Overall, Ancient Relic has an interesting story and fits into that genre that the Da Vinci Code really popularised. It is however, not a great example of the genre: the organisations and conspiracies are intangible and don’t really connect to anything specific, the mystery is very generic, and the pay-off isn’t worth it. I’m sure the novel is a lot more interesting than this poor adaptation, and I would suggest checking it out if you like these sorts of stories, because this film adaptation won’t satisfy.

  • Film reviews

    #19 – Solaris (2002)

    Solaris (2002)

    Film review #19

    Director: Steven Soderbergh

    A psychological sci-fi movie delving into the human mind…

    Chris Kelvin is a psychologist on Earth in an unspecified time in the future. One day he receives a visit from emissaries from the DBA, who give him a message from an old friend, Dr Gibarian, who wants him to come aboard the space station orbiting the planet Solaris to help them with the strange phenomena that is happening there, which is making the team not want to leave. The security team that went there did not report back, and Chris is to be sent as a last resort to rescue the team.

    When Chris arrives at the station, he finds Gibarian has committed suicide, and most of the team have disappeared. The only surviving members are Snow, and Dr. Gordon. The survivors are reluctant to explain what is going on, and Snow suggests to “sleep with the door locked”. While sleeping, Chris dreams about his deceased wife Rheya, and how they met. When he wakes up, he finds her there: Seemingly real. He is reluctant to accept this, and tricks her into an escape pod and jettisons it into the planet.

    When Chris falls asleep again, Rheya reappears, and this time Chris is more convinced and lets her stay. This creates a tension between him and Dr. Gordon, who believes these creations to be a threat to the human race, and why she does not want to return to Earth with one of them on board. Eventually, after learning of what Chris did to her the first time she appeared, she commits suicide. This is partly because she is made from Chris’s memories, and he remembers her as she was when he found her dead by killing herself. However, she begins to regenerate and heal herself. She has no more reason to live, and wants Dr. Gordon to kill her using a special device. Chris won’t allow it, but when he falls asleep, she goes the doctor and is destroyed.

    After this, Chris and Dr. Gordon find the body of Snow, and they realise the one they have been talking to is an imposter, who killed the original Snow in self-defence when he first appeared. The use of the special device Gordon used to kill Rheya is causing the station to collapse into the planet, and the fake Snow they escape. On the way to the escape pod, Chris makes a decision to stay onboard, deciding he would rather stay with the memories of his wife. The film ends ambiguously, with the two reunited in a place where “Nothing that happened matters anymore”…

    Solaris is an adaption of a Polish novel by Stanisław Lem, which was previously made into a film in 1972, to much critical acclaim. This adaption takes a different approach to the story, focusing more on the human interactions, rather than the original concept of the inadequacy of trying to communicate with an alien species. Because of this, the science-fiction aspects are very much toned down in favour of giving the movie a more “Hollywood-esque” appeal. Having an established actor such as George Clooney heading the cast is something one does not see in science-fiction films very often.

    The film has a hint of 2001: A space Odyssey in its plot and set design. There is some ambiguity with regards to the reality of certain sequences, with dreams and flashbacks being neatly interwoven throughout the film (Which I have see before in films such as BrazilEight and a Half, and Nineteen-Eighty-Four). It is a very easygoing and light film: There are no intense action sequences or the like, but a bit of thinking and deduction are required on part of the viewer in order to work out everything that happens in the film.

    The film is considered a decent one, even though it lost money at the box office (About ten million dollars approximately). It has appeared on lists of best remakes, and was generally well received. One person that did not approve of the film was the author of the original novel, who stated:

    As Solaris‘ author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images. This is why the book was entitled Solaris and not Love in Outer Space.

    The sacrifice of the scientific and philosophical elements of the original novel were perhaps necessary to getting the movie produced, and getting an “A-list” actor such as Clooney on board. While some of those elements still remain, it has been heavily diluted, and focus shifted onto a much more human-centric plot, which one reviewer described as giving the audience something science-fiction films don’t normally give: Emotion. So in conclusion, Solaris makes an attempt to create an emotional science-fiction and many believe it generally succeeds, though perhaps at the cost of being defined as science-fiction? That is up for debate…