Behind the (Para)normal

A quick look behind the lens of my sci-fi short film parody

I have been enthralled by the marriage of science and the supernatural in the much beloved sci-fi show The X-Files. I created this short parody for the additional purpose of marrying the rational with the absurd. I think that is what good comedy is all about — using hyperbole and irony to expose the absurdity of so much of what passes for normal. I think the paranormal is really about demonstrating that what is normal is actually eccentric, and that what seems outrageous is actually reality.

Such is life…

After shooting the raw footage, it was not two weeks later that I suffered a house fire. (Dan, my roommate at the time, plays “Artie.”) The fire had threatened the very existence of the footage on an external hard drive. I found the drive buried in rubble afterwards. With the aid of science and prayer, the files on the drive (miscellaneous and otherwise) were fully recovered, and I continued to finish the film over the ensuing months.

With the help of some pretty awesome friends (including those featured in the film), I got back on my feet in my non-fictional life. Editing this short was therapeutic. It was a lot of fun working with a musician friend, Brian A. Emmons, to score it, and he captured the essence of the real X-Files theme without duplicating it exactly, something which copyright lawyers everywhere can rest easy about.

Posted on June 30, 2017 .

The Martian: A review of Ridley Scott's rather down-to-earth film

The Martian is a rather optimistically told story about a single man isolated on an entire planet. I say “optimistic” because a movie review I read prior to watching the film said the same thing. And the word stuck with me as I watched with a kind of reprieve at the fact that no one dies in this film. I’ve seen too many movies lately in which, inevitably, someone dies. The movie’s villain dies. A beloved character dies. Hundreds of innocent extras die. Killer robots die en masse. So perhaps some of that is a good thing. But a movie that’s directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien) should be presumed to feature some kind of wildly stylized violence and shrouded in dark, foreboding undertones. Even Exodus: Gods and Kings, was weighty and bloody under the hand of Scott.

The entire premise of that movie, staring Moses and God, is the salvation of the Hebrews from slavery through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea—and yet the film is hardly “optimistic” in its execution, preferring to stew in a somber, emotionally detached tone. Yet the parting, or departing, of the Red Planet is surprisingly different. A science-fiction film that could easily offer bleak, scientific rationalism and existential angst about the nature of relationships (Kubrik, anyone?) might have gone that way but it chose a different path which makes the film far more personable and relational. Rather than feeling the shear gravity (pardon the space pun) of Matt Damon’s isolation, the movie sets up an inevitable rescue right from the start. Damon’s character is able to make video journals so as neither to remain silent nor talk to a volleyball the entire time (Robert Zemeckis’ Castaway). He seems strangely calm as he contemplates survival for an unknown amount of time. The focus of the film, therefore, is not about Damon’s survival as much as it is about the entire desire of humanity to rescue him, and how people will invest literally hundreds of days and billions of dollars in a global effort to save one person. Almost sounds religious, and the obvious necessary reliance on a crucifix in one scene in the film seems to imply weightier themes.

I could play with weightier themes all day, and I think science-fiction lends itself so readily to similar discussions of existence and meaning. It’s movies that offer commentary on existence and meaning I like, and thus I can stay honest when I say I’m not into science-fiction, but damn, if some of my favorite movies weren’t in the genre —Apollo 13, Interstellar, The X-Files … Batman counts, right? I digress. But though Damon’s character exclaims that he thought he could die at some point, we don’t really see his hopelessness. We see a stick-to-itiveness on his character’s part despite obstacles and his sincere joy at communicating with other humans right up to the exciting and climactic rescue scene. 

But Ridley Scott does make sure you know this is not a movie produced by Disney. It feels good, but it’s not a “feel-good” movie — that is, it’s not sentimental and trite, but cosmic (space pun again) in its outlook. One obvious non-Disney moment is Damon’s self-surgery on a wound to his abdomen. I don’t know what it is about Ridley Scott and do-it-yourself surgical procedures (as in Prometheus), but he seems rather comfortable with unabashed displays of physical injury. I can never stomach blood and horror for its own sake, but for some reason, I’m “just alright” with contextualized bloodshed as long as we’re advancing the plot. And Scott is a master at presenting cruel features of reality in the most matter-of-fact ways, like watching the National Geographic Channel and seeing a lion eat an antelope. Fact of nature, right? Any other director would play up the gore for shock effect (I think even Spielberg tends to do this) or cut away squeamishly as if violence had no physical or emotional consequences. But for this film, Scott presents even joyful features of reality in the most matter-of-fact ways, leaving a film that’s sincere in both its science and altruism.