Wednesday, February 29, 2012

3 short paragraphs: Cargo

2009, Ivan Engler & Ralph Etter -- Netflix

Cargo is a recent entry in the "quiet space thriller" genre and a part of the climb of Deutscheland cinema out of the art-school ghetto and into populist entertainment.  Its story is a slow-burning sci-fi set about 250 years in the future.  The Earth has been relatively vacated, deemed uninhabitable, while most of the remaining population lives aboard industrial city satellites, orbiting the planet.  There's a sense of a status quo, office jobs and the like, but also of tremendous poverty.  The bright hope is RHEA, the "new Earth", but only for the rich, and the lucky who win the lottery.  There are lengthy multi-year export missions that transport cargo to gateway space stations being built along the path to RHEA, during which only one crew member is active at a time, the rest hibernating in a stasis pod of sorts.  The only real threat to the mission is mechanical failure or sabatoge, as an extremist group called the Luddites try to convince the offworlders that Earth is inhabitable again and that an organic lifestyle is preferable to a caged one.

The film's central figure is a doctor looking to earn enough to make her way to her sister on RHEA.  It's mid-way through her cargo ships' 8-year voyage, whilst she's on duty, that things start going wrong.  Upon investigating she discovers many things going wrong with the ship and awakens the rest of the crew.  But suspected sabotage is not the only thing amiss on this ship, as the doctor discerns that their mission isn't exactly what it appears to be.

Like Pandorum which I wrote about a few weeks back, films like these live in the shadows of the classic claustrophobic space films like 2001, Solaris, and Alien.  Cargo sticks more to the sci-fi elements, rejecting almost any sense of the fantastical, more Silent Running, less Mission to Mars.  It sticks to its dirty, gritty, tired, run-down aesthetic and show a crew of people who have all but abandoned hope for humanity.  The only bright spot is RHEA, but it's so far out of reach for almost everyone that it acts more as an insult than a dream or aspiration.  Its foundation is the grim future of humanity if one takes the extremist leaps of global warming and the like, but its hope, though minute, is that there's a strong enough desire to recoup what we've lost.  It's a more dire, far less whimsical version of WALL-E in this regard, but equally finds its own distractions in its mystery to not be so overtly a message movie.  The effects are largely acceptable, though never exceptional, and the sets are effective, if underwhelming, but fitting for the tone of the picture.   Not an original story by any means, but well told and well put together to be engaging viewing for fans of the genre.  Otherwise, Cargo is likely too dull and lifeless (and subtitled) for the layman.