October 25th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

ENERGY Greens' silence on folly of wind and solar power

CLIMATE Link between climate and CO2 is far from clear

CANBERRA OBSERVED Our farmers under siege from government policies

EDITORIAL Can Australia avoid economic stagnation?

SOCIETY The colossal cost to society of no-fault divorce

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH Gardasil and fertility: are we sterilising our teenage girls?

UNITED KINGDOM Tories' bid to promote same-sex 'marriage' in schools

EUTHANASIA Will assisted dying apply to 'just a few'?

EDUCATION A high school curriculum that teaches the truth about communism

Reality dawns as Asian myths torn apart

Language is the core of our civilised society


CINEMA A sharp and witty science-fiction thriller

BOOK REVIEW A literary lament for lost love

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A sharp and witty science-fiction thriller

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, October 25, 2014

A science-fiction thriller, Edge of Tomorrow (rated M), is reviewed by Symeon J. Thompson.

Edge of Tomorrow is a well-hewn science-fiction war thriller with a deft dose of humour and depth. What seems like a simple yarn rapidly becomes more complex, and characters arise where caricatures might reasonably be assumed. Adapted from a Japanese novel, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, this action film succeeds in engaging more than just the audience’s adrenaline.

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt

star in Edge of Tomorrow

An asteroid has hit the Earth, bringing with it a vicious alien race that seems only interested in bloodshed. These “Mimics”, as they are called, are laying waste to Europe. The only human soldier to have successfully challenged them is Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the “Angel of Verdun”, wielding some sort of electro-sword, and garbed in a red-splashed armoured battle exo-suit. 

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an advertising executive who’s been sent by the U.S. military to help “sell” the invasion of Europe against the Mimics, as masterminded by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). On being told that he will be embedded with the troops, Cage shows his cowardice and tries to escape. He’s tasered and wakes up at the forward base, where he discovers that he’s been shanghaied and will be sent over with the first wave. 

As the human forces try to fight against the aliens, it becomes apparent that they were expected and a massacre begins. While fighting, Cage kills a larger different-looking Mimic and is killed, getting soaked in its strange blood in the process. 

One might be forgiven for thinking this the end of the movie — after all, he’s accepted his fate and is fighting. Except that...

After the blackout, Major Cage reawakens at the forward base, ready to be shipped out. This happens again. And again. And again. Every time he dies he wakes up at the start of the day.

Eventually, the Angel of Verdun discovers this on the battlefield, and tells Cage to find her when he awakes. This he does, and learns from her and her mad scientist, Dr Carter (Noah Taylor), that the type of Mimic he killed in his first engagement, an “Alpha”, is able to reset the day, and that because he imbibed the Alpha’s blood, he too can now reset the day.

The setup evokes a number of well-regarded films. 

The landing on the beach brings to mind Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line. The training sessions with the brutish Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) are reminiscent of the first half of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The constant repetition of the day is the premise for the 1993 Groundhog Day and the acclaimed 2011 sci-fi thriller Source Code. The powered exo-suits and alien nasties echo Starship Troopers, Independence Day and Ridley Scott’s Alien series. 

This liberal borrowing may seem like a recipe for confusion, or proof that the creative team lacks originality. However, that is not the case. Although artistic types may claim that the worth of a work is to be found in its “originality” and “uniqueness”, that is not true.

Genuine creativity usually comes about from the combining of a variety of different elements into one coherent whole. J.R.R. Tolkien called it sub-creation, to create anew from that which had already been created. It can be seen in many of the great stories of the human experience, from Shakespeare to Alexandre Dumas to Pixar. T. S. Eliot emphasised this notion in his famed essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, and, for those who have tried to read his works, they know that the elements he draw on were many and varied indeed.

As the saying goes: “Stealing from one artist is plagiarism, stealing from many is masterful research.” The more elements drawn upon, which are then drawn into an elegant and harmonious arrangement, the more interesting a work will inevitably be. Craftsmanship is still required for a work to succeed, and this “re-combination”, as it is called by Maria Popova, the curator/creator of BrainPickings.org, still requires discernment. 

There is also no guarantee that a work that results from such an approach will be popularly successful. Jim Jarmusch makes movies that draw on many things. However, he likes to focus on something somewhat different. In his early film, Down by Law, starring Roberto Benigni, John Lurie and Tom Waits, a large part of it is dedicated to a prison escape — which is never actually shown.

Edge of Tomorrow is a sharp and witty sci-fi thriller about a coward learning to become a hero. It draws on a range of sources, and so connect with a range of audiences. It serves as a reminder that no matter how hard we try, perfection will always be just outside our grasp, but that we can continue to do better. And its a rollicking good yarn.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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