Friday, June 16, 2017

Spectral (2016)

I had heard that Netflix doesn’t actually produce stuff in house.  Rather, they contract with studios to make stuff.  Apparently, Spectral is a bit different.  Universal Pictures had produced the film for another distributor.  When that deal fell through, Netflix saved the day and brought the movie to their streaming service.  In some ways, this is good.  Someone gets to see their script make it to a screen, even if it’s not the big screen.  The bad news is that it has the reputation of essentially being direct to video.  In the case of Netflix, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  They’ve had some offerings I’ve liked, such as The Little Prince and The OA.

The movie starts with Clyne debating the use of technology as weapons while working at DARPA.  Since he’s no longer necessary for the project he’s working on, he can be sent to a war zone in Moldova.  Why Moldova?  Clyne has to sign a nondisclosure agreement to find out.  The military there is fighting an enemy that’s invisible and has taken out every military person sent at them.  The hypothesis is that the insurgents there have some sort of invisibility cloak, but that doesn’t explain how bullets pass through them or how the enemy can pass through walls.

What they do know is that the enemy does show up on goggles and Clyne has a very powerful version of those goggles, which he brings with him.  When they go out, Clyne gets a good look at the enemy, which appears to have human features, like a face.  The scary part is that they can jump from third- or fourth-story windows without being hurt.  No one has any idea how to stop them.

So, how do you stop the perfect enemy?  It’s by chance that Clyne picks up on several clues that let him figure out what’s going on.  He’s able to modify his machine so that it emits light to make the ghosts visible.  He’s also able to make weapons out of parts he happens to have available.  He and his military escorts even figure out where the specters are coming from.  He’s able to save the day rather efficiently.

There was a line I saw once:  I’m not sure if you have too much medication or not enough.  That’s the case here.  I’m not sure if the movie runs too long or isn’t developed enough.  If the running time was shortened, you could have a nice episode of an anthology series like The Outer Limits.  If the plot was developed enough, you could have a better feature-length film.

The movie was good on a lot of technical points.  The effects are great and the basic plot is pretty solid.  It’s just that there are very few side stories.  We don’t have Clyde talking with any of the military people about their childhoods, for instance.  There are no bonding moments.  The story is a straight line from Clyde going to Moldova to Clyde saving the day.  There is a sort of beginner feel to the story.  It’s like you put a first-person shooter fan in a room with a Final Fantasy or Resident Evil fan and told them to come up with a script.  I’m not saying that I could have done much better.  It’s just that the story lacks a certain depth.

It’s not exactly a war film, as it doesn’t deal with war directly.  It’s a sci-fi/horror film that uses a war zone as a backdrop.  If you’re into sci-fi or horror, but not that much, this is a pretty good film for you.   The story’s easy to follow, at least.   It’s not particularly scary for most adults, but is not a movie for children.  The ghosts are pretty scary, as they look vaguely like people and tend to kill many of the secondary and background characters.  It’s also set in a war zone, so there’s that.

It‘s interesting to think that this could have been released in theaters.  It used to be that Syfy was known for bad movies.  I’m not saying that Netflix will pick up this honor, but it seems that Netflix can afford to be less selective.  They have had some good titles, such as The OA and The Little Prince.  However, this one is maybe less so.  It’s enjoyable, but isn’t really that dynamic.

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