Wednesday 21 August 2019

Netflix's sci-fi dud Another Life suggests the algorithm is malfunctioning

1 star

Another Life, Netflix
Another Life, Netflix

Pat Stacey

One of the main criticisms levelled at Netflix’s science fiction series Another Life, which has received a crushing 6pc rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the most critically reviled series in the site’s 20-year history, is that it’s too derivative.

There’s no arguing with that. There are times when the writers look like they’re on a mission to pack the 10 episodes with every single sci-fi trope they can think of, all of them begged, borrowed or stolen from vastly superior films and TV series.

You don’t have to dig too deep — or even scratch the surface, come to that — to find elements of Interstellar, Arrival, Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Solaris, The Thing and many more we don’t have sufficient space to tick off here. They’re glaringly present from the first couple of episodes onward.

The thing is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being derivative. Of all genres, sci-fi is the one most suited to cannibalising its own past. After all, there are only so many variations on a theme you can make.

Two of the best sci-fi movies of recent years trade heavily in familiar tropes. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina takes its cues from innumerable tales featuring creepy androids, yet it’s still a terrific film.

Duncan Jones’s Moon is deeply indebted (and doesn’t try to deny it) to two sci-fi classics, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. But that doesn’t stop it being a stone-cold classic in its own right.

The problem with Another Life is not the lack of originality; the problem is that it’s simply awful in almost every respect.

Netflix already has far too many sci-fi series as it is. The best of them, such as Star Trek: Discovery, are bought in from other broadcasters.

Netflix’s original productions have, on the other hand, ranged from the middling (Altered Carbon, Lost in Space) to the mediocre (Nightflyers, already cancelled after a single season).

But Another Life out-stinks even the worst of those. It’s dire. The script is boring and the dialogue clunky. Most of the characters are unappealing and/or annoying. The special effects are nothing special and you could fly the Starship Enterprise sideways through the gaping holes in the plot.

A few decades from now, an alien artefact lands on Earth (the kind of ropey digital effects work you’d expect to see in a 1980s series running on the SyFy channel) and forms into a crystalline structure. The landing occurs conveniently close to the home of scientist Erik (Justin Chatwin), who’s engaged in the search for alien life, and his wife Niko (Katee Sackhoff), an astronaut.

While Erik tries to communicate with the artefact, Niko is sent on a space mission to explore its origins. She’s in command of a crew of petulant, squabbling twenty-somethings, apparently chosen for their hotness.

None of them looks capable of steering a Nissan Micra into a spot in an empty car park, let alone guiding a starship into deepest space. By far the most grating of all is Jessica Camacho as the surly, petulant communications officer, who seems incapable of obeying the simplest order without flouncing off like a spoiled teenager who’s been told she’s grounded for a month.

If Another Life were a spoof called Instagrammers in Space, about what happens when a gang of shallow social media influencers are blasted into the void, it would be a work of genius. Unfortunately, it takes itself deadly seriously, to the point of unwitting self-parody.

The script relies heavily on People Doing Extremely Stupid Things. When Niko’s second-in-command engineers a mutiny, she doesn’t kick his disloyal arse out the airlock door, but gives him a second chance. He shows his gratitude by trying to murder her.

At another point, a couple of crew members decide to flip open their space helmet visors while exploring caves on an unknown planet.

I could go on, but I won’t. Neither, I suspect, will Another Life once people get wind that it’s a stinker.

Another Life is available to stream on Netflix.

Herald

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