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2001: A Space Odyssey (#110 of 29)

Review: The Swapper

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Review: The Swapper
Review: The Swapper

The Swapper’s core mechanic is a gun that creates clones of the player, allowing one to transfer his or her consciousness into any of the clones at will. It’s an idea hinted at and sneakily hammered home by ship logs and the hive-minded alien intelligence you encounter across the game. Slowly, it begins to dawn on you that every clone created isn’t just tabula rasa on legs, but a fully formed human being, who may or may not have its own consciousness and knowledge of your goals. Throughout the game, advancement is contingent on sending hundreds, if not thousands, of these clones to harsh, ignominious, bone-crunching death to solve its puzzles, with zero caution thrown to the wind, thus rendering even using the gun an act of cruelty and horror.

As a gameplay mechanic, it’s a fine idea that’s been floating around the headspace of many developers over the years (even the last Mario platformer on the WiiU had a variant on this), and one so simple to craft a game on top of, that you may wonder why no one thought of it before. It makes the fact that the developer is called Facepalm Games feel like an industry-shaming joke. As a piece of the overarching story, however, it’s a factor that allows The Swapper to transcend the sci-fi smorgasbord of ideas that fuel it into something greater, which would be the case even if the puzzles weren’t as frustratingly diabolical as they are.

Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

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Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s <em>Under the Skin</em>
Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s <em>Under the Skin</em>

When cinephiles discuss films of the aughts that were mysteriously unloved or misunderstood, a title that often comes up is Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, a taboo tale crudely summarized as one of resurrection and cradle-robbing love. It was a bold work that required time for its formal merits to be processed and appreciated; however, few of its champions probably thought that they’d have to wait so long for a follow-up from the director. It’s been 10 whole years since Birth first bewitched us, and only now is the next entry in Glazer’s oeuvre within reach. Starring Scarlett Johansson in a performance that’s netting her international raves, Glazer’s Under the Skin looks to be an elliptical sci-fi flick of Kubrickian proportions, taking an intoxicatingly artful approach to the Species formula of a sexy, predatorial female alien (Johansson) roaming the earth. Yesterday, the film’s official cosmic one-sheet debuted. Today, A24 released its first U.S. trailer.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Under the Skin
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s first film since 2004’s Birth, Under the Skin has discernible reference points (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Chris Cunningham’s Rubber Johnny), and yet, this peculiar film is the most original feature at Toronto, and possibly of this year. It operates within a sublime netherworld immediately recognizable as being sprung from Glazer’s imagination, where, previously, the soul of a man was reborn in a 10-year-old boy and caused woman to nearly lose her mind, and before that, where a frightening, oft-hilarious psychopath wreaked havoc on the sanity of a man suffering an existential crisis over his former life as a criminal.

Now, in the gray, desolate coldness of Scotland, an extraterrestrial played by Scarlett Johansson seduces young Scottish men into a black hole where they meet a most unusual death. Given her pouty, coral-pink lips, chic black bob, alluring friendliness, and voluptuous breasts, the alien siren has little difficulty luring men back to “her place,” a decrepit building that, once inside, resembles the blanketing black nothingness of a virtual training game from The Matrix. Here, she walks into the darkness while slowly disrobing, the men following suit, unaware that the closer they reach her, the deeper they step into a never-ending inky ocean that swallows them whole.

Los Angeles Film Festival 2013: The Expedition to the End of the World, Europa Report, & In a World…

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Los Angeles Film Festival 2013: <em>The Expedition to the End of the World</em>, <em>Europa Report</em>, & <em>In a World…</em>
Los Angeles Film Festival 2013: <em>The Expedition to the End of the World</em>, <em>Europa Report</em>, & <em>In a World…</em>

Much of the imagery in the Danish documentary The Expedition to the End of the World derives its power from the way it seems to transcend time. One of the first things we see is a schooner wandering through a sea of fog, cutting its way into an expanse of water and ice as if touching down on another planet. Filmmakers Daniel Dencik, Janus Metz, and Michael Haslund-Christensen accompany an expedition of scientists and artists to the northeast of Greenland, where melting glaciers have given access to areas almost completely untouched by human hands. “What are we going to call this place?” asks the expedition’s geographer.

The film’s visuals are exquisite, with the cinematography capturing the beautiful desolation of the landscape and lending a grandiose cinematic charge to the whole enterprise; one man comments on Stendhal syndrome as he gazes upon the mountains and sweeping plains. Tracking shots of the schooner at full speed evoke the qualities of old naval epics, and we see gargantuan walls of ice collapse as if lifted from some other more fantastical story. The decision for the expedition to use a wooden sailing ship swaddles the whole thing in a thick layer of romanticism, driving home the point that even in the age of satellites, these men and women are following in the footsteps of centuries past.