“Steal from one,” the old saying goes, “and you’re a plagiarist. Steal from many, you’re a bloody genius.”
Something like that.
Writer-director Steve Stone almost makes a sci-fi fan viewing party game out of the antecedents for his thriller “Deus,” which is about a spacecraft sent to investigate a freshly-arrived “sphere” in orbit around Mars.
There’s a hint of “Contact” and a movie that Carl Sagan must have seen before writing it, “When Worlds Collide,” in its uber-rich oligarch (veteran character actor Phil Davis) who is writing the checks.
The ship’s design mimics “2001” and “2010” and “Alien,” which also provide generous inspirations for portions of the plot. That can be summed up by a line a character says in response to the single word the “sphere” transmits as its identification — “Deus.”
“How do we know it isn’t what it says it is?”
I caught elements of “The Black Hole,” “Event Horizon,” “Dark Star” and a movie that predates even that one, “Satellite in the Sky,” whose penultimate image haunts me, even though I only saw it once on TV as a child.
But after all that borrowing, and after rounding up “Pitch Black” and “Stargate” alumna Claudia Black, “Eastenders” veteran Richard Blackwood, the always-working Scot David O’Hara (“Braveheart” to “Agents of S’H.I.E.L.D”) and Davis (“Vera Drake,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Cassandra’s Dream”), Stone fails to get his players to perform the urgency and shock of this “discovering, ” ofand fails to convey any sense of the momentous event he’s showing us.
The oligarch may tell the crew of the good ship “Achilles” — yes, the engine-bearing pod of the structure is called “The Heel” — that they’ve been sent to solve “the greatest mystery ever encountered by the human race.” But damned if any of these astronauts act like it. Just another day, another punch of the timeclock.
Talk about “quiet quitting.”
Black plays the scientist on board the girder-linked ship, with Blackwood the skipper, and O’Hara, Charlie MacGechan, Crystal Yu and Branko Tomovic as the crew.
They’ve left an Earth in mid-environmental collapse to go check out this thing that’s parked itself in orbit around Mars.
It is what is says it is? And even if it is, should they, as Ulph (O’Hara) suggests, “blow the f—er up?”
The ultimate question in a sci-fi movie, really.
Predictably, somebody on the crew goes all messianic and crazy upon encountering the god sphere. People die. And dead people park themselves in our heroine’s head when she gets nearer my deus to thee.
The generally blase performances are a mild distraction from the parade of tropes — “hibernation” cryo-sleep pods, hexagonal halls and sliding doorways, a lot of darkness and few if any actual places to sit. Not much “strapping in for landing” here. And one crewmember is…a blogger? What, the podcasting fad is over in the near future?
The ideas the film wrestles with are more down to Earth than religious, and interesting enough. And the approach to the plot and the production design kind of hold your interest.
But the cast seems to have bee directed into narcolepsy. There’s nothing here that they’d care to wake up and get us involved with.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Claudia Black, Richard Blackwood, David O’Hara,
Charlie MacGechan, Crystal Yu, Branko Tomovic, Lisa Eichorn and Phil Davis
Credits: Scripted and directed by Steve Stone. A Darkland Distribution release.
Running time: 1:30