Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: Europa Report

Europa Report film poster
Europa Report poster and stills ©2013 Magnolia Pictures, all rights reserved.

In 2007, new NASA research suggested that underneath the vast ice sheaths of Jupiter’s moon Europa lay oceanic water, which is a key element to support life. The Galileo probe, which had been orbiting the moons of Jupiter since December of 1995, was constantly orbiting and swooshing near the sixth largest moon in the solar system, collecting pictures and data that could prove the existence of liquid water. Then in 2011, scientists hit a proverbial jackpot—evidence for two liquid lakes the volume of the North American Great Lakes underneath a region of jumbled ice blocks termed the ‘Conamara Chaos.’ Even in the wake of such exciting discoveries, critical budget cuts severely threatened NASA’s space program, including the Mars rover and Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. This same time frame gave concurrent rise to private space travel, led by the commercial venture Virgin Galactic and ambitious research company Space X. The merger of limitless industry resources with the possibility of uncovering alien life seems like a perfect Hollywood pitch. Such is the scenario explored in the brilliant documentary-style sci-fi thriller Europa Report. A full ScriptPhD review under the “continue reading” cut.
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Defiance Breaks Sci-Fi Mold

Defiance television show and video game images are ©2013 NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

SyFy channel’s new show Defiance is breaking the mold in every way. An unusual combination of fantasy blockbuster, small town mystery and sci-fi action drama, Defiance takes place on a decimated, post-apocalyptic Earth set several decades into the future. After an alien invasion and war, hmans try to co-exist with a group of aliens that are both friend and foe in a small town literally defying the odds. ScriptPhD.com was extremely fortunate to have access to one of the head writers of the show, as well as its official science advisor. In our interviews, we delve deeper into the backbone of this sci-fi hit, which is a terrific, engaging story, paired with colorful characters and the clever incorporation of science to support the plot. More after the “continue reading” cut.

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Oscar-nominated Documentary a Landmark for Science

How To Survive a Plague film poster and stills ©2013 Public Square Films, all rights reserved.

The history of science movies nominated for Oscars is not a very long one. Aside from the technical achievement awards or an occasional nomination for acting merits, the Best Picture category has historically not opened its doors to scientific content, save for notable nominees “A Clockwork Orange,” “District 9,” “Inception” and “Avatar.” A documentary about science has never been nominated for the Best Documentary category, until this year, with How To Survive a Plague, Director David France’s stunning account of the brave activists that brought the AIDS epidemic to the attention of the government and science community in the disease’s darkest early days. “Plague” set history last weekend by becoming the first “Best Documentary” nominee with an almost entirely scientific/biomedical narrative. More importantly, it also established a standard by which future science documentaries should use emotional storytelling to captivate audiences and inspire action. ScriptPhD review and discussion under the “continue reading” cut.
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REVIEW: Looper

Official Looper film poster, and all movie stills below, ©2012 Sony Pictures Entertainment, all rights reserved.

In the year 2042, time travel has not yet been invented. But by the year 2072, that is no longer the case. Nevertheless, it is outlawed, inaccessible to all but the most powerful and violent gangs in an economically repressed dystopia. Due to scientific advances of that era, it is impossible to dispose of a body without a trace, so the criminal gangs use the time travel to execute their “trash,” sending the bodies back in time to be executed by hit men called Loopers. The body vanishes from the future, but never existed in the present. Unless something goes terribly awry. Such is the setup of Rian Johnson’s bleak, brilliant sci-fi film Looper, a shrewd commentary on how we use technology, the value of a human life and whether a destiny can be changed. It is easily the best sci-fi film since 2010’s Inception, and surely one of the best of this year in any genre. Full ScriptPhD review, below.
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REVIEW: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture ©2012 McGraw Hill Professional, all rights reserved.

This past weekend, over 130,000 people descended on the San Diego Convention Center to take part in Comic-Con 2012. Each year, a growing amalgamation of costumed super heroes, comics geeks, sci-fi enthusiasts and die-hard fans of more mainstream entertainment pop culture mix together to celebrate and share the popular arts. Some are there to observe, some to find future employment and others to do business, as beautifully depicted in this year’s Morgan Spurlock documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. But Comic-Con San Diego is more than just a convention or a pop culture phenomenon. It is a symbol of the big business that comics and transmedia pop culture has become. It is a harbinger of future profits in the entertainment industry, which often uses Comic-Con to gauge buzz about releases and spot emerging trends. And it is also a cautionary tale for anyone working at the intersection of television, film, video games and publishing about the meteoric rise of an industry and the uncertainty of where it goes next. We review Rob Salkowitz’s new book Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, an engaging insider perspective on the convergence of geekdom and big business.
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Selling Science Smartly: ‘Pink Ribbons, Inc.’ and Breast Cancer as a Profit Industry

Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen Foundation made headlines around the world after their politically-charged decision to cut funding for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood caused outrage and negatively impacted donations. Despite reversing the decision and apologizing, many people in the health care and fund raising community feel that the aftermath of the controversy still dogs the foundation. Indeed, Advertising Age literally referred to it as a PR crisis. If all of this sounds more like spin for a brand rather than a charity working towards the cure of a devastating illness, it’s not far from the truth. Susan G. Komen For the Cure, Avon Walk For Breast Cancer and the Revlon Run/Walk For Women represent a triumvirate hegemony in the “pink ribbon” fundraising domain. Over time, their initial breast cancer awareness movement (and everything the pink ribbon stood for symbolically) has moved from activism to pure consumerism. The new documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. deftly and devastatingly examines the rise of corporate culture in breast cancer fundraising. Who is really profiting from these pink ribbon campaigns, brands or people with the disease? How has the positional messaging of these “pink ribbon” events impacted the women who are actually facing the illness? And finally, has motivation for profit driven the very same companies whose products cause cancer to benefit from the disease? ScriptPhD.com’s Selling Science Smartly advertising series continues with a review of Pink Ribbons, Inc..
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REVIEW: Prometheus

Prometheus poster and stills ©2012 20th Century Fox, all rights reserved.

It has been three decades since Ridley Scott’s acclaimed sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner practically reinvented the genre, and he has not made another sci-fi film since. “The reason I haven’t made another sci-fi film in so may years,” he says “is because I haven’t come across anything worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength. Prometheus has all three.” With such heightened expectations, one would expect a bold, daring, all-encompassing storyline from Scott. Loosely based on elements from Alien, and originally intended as a prequel to that film, Prometheus meets many of those expectations, especially in visual and action content, while falling short on others. Full ScriptPhD review, under the “continue reading” cut.
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New Comic-Con Documentary Celebrates Fandom and The Rise of the Geek

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope poster and all film stills ©2012 Wreckin Hill Entertainment, all rights reserved.

Every July, hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the city of San Diego for a four-day celebration of comics, sci-fi, popular arts fandom and (growingly) previews of mainstream television and film blockbusters. What is this spectacular nexus of nerds? Comic-Con International, of course! From ScriptPhD’s comprehensive past coverage, one can easily glean the diversity of events, guests and panels, with enormous throngs patiently queueing to see their favorites. But who are these fans? Where do they come from? What kinds of passions drive their journeys to Comic-Con from all over the world? And what microcosms are categorized under the general umbrella of fandom? Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock attempts to answer these questions by crafting the sweet, intimate, honest documentary-as-ethnography Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Through the archetypes of five 2009 Comic-Con attendees, Spurlock guides us through the history of the Con, its growth (and the subsequent conflicts that this has engendered), and most importantly, the conclusion that underneath all of those Spider-Man and Klingon costumes, geeks really do come in all shapes, colors and sizes. For full ScriptPhD review, click “continue reading.”
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REVIEW: Wide ‘Awake’: New Sci-Fi Series Takes on Sleep Science

Awake, and all images and screenshots, ©2012 NBC Universal, all rights reserved

As far back as last summer, when pilots for the current television season were floating around, a quirky sci-fi show for NBC called Awake caught our eye as the best of the lot. Camouflaged in a standard procedural cop show is an ambitious neuroscience concept—a man living in two simultaneous dream worlds, either of which (or neither of which) could be real. We got a look at the first four episodes of the show, which lay a nice foundation for the many thought-provoking questions that will be addressed. We review them here, as well as answering some questions of our own about the sleep science behind the show with UCLA sleep expert Dr. Alon Avidan.
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Editor’s Selection: Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema

Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema book cover ©2011 MIT Press, all rights reserved

Read through any archive of science fiction movies, and you quickly realize that the merger of pop culture and science dates as far back as the dawn of cinema in the early 1920s. Even more surprising than the enduring prevalence of science in film is that the relationship between film directors, scribes and the science advisors that have influenced their works is equally as rich and timeless. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (2011, MIT Press), one of the most in-depth books on the intersection of science and Hollywood to date, serves as the backdrop for recounting the history of science and technology in film, how it influenced real-world research and the scientists that contributed their ideas to improve the cinematic realism of science and scientists. For a full ScriptPhD.com review and in-depth extended discussion of science advising in the film industry, please click the “continue reading” cut.

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