Sci-Fi-London: Monsters in the Planetarium

As I trudged up the stupidly steep hill in Greenwich park, I wish I could have said the moon was full and the stars were shining. I wish I could have seen them. Sadly, the stars, moon, planets and comets were less then visible behind the smoggy atmosphere that covers London like thermal blanket. I did attempt to squint into the sky but it was raining. Plus, I was a little bit puffed out and had to content myself with regulating my breathing and trying not to slip all the way down. Luckily, me and my companion had donned sensible footwear; not just for an extraterrestrial extravaganza, but also for a more terrestrial trek.

When we got there, The Royal Observatory loomed like a superior peacock. If buildings were alive, this one would definitely be smug and satisfied. You could just imagine the intelligent works going on there, the old scientists sitting at their telescopes, quoting latin and discovering new planets before sipping fine whisky and having a game of backgammon. But once inside, the fans took over the fine.

There’s something about sci-fi fans. On the bus or sitting in McDonalds, they’re just regular Joes. But put them inside an observatory and they just jump out at you, like friendly martians. It must be something in the atmosphere. And there were a fair few of them scattered about as I walked down the spiral staircase (I was expecting a tractor beam) to the planetarium where strangely dressed stewards were on hand to point us in the right direction. They looked a bit like this:

Feeling a bit alienated (wahey!) amongst the mutants in their matching garb, I went into the Planetarium but I still couldn’t help wanting to be part of their get-up. Where could I find a mask and paper boiler suit at such short notice? But I decided to suck it up and decided that the paper suit wouldn’t be very practical given my sharp elbows. Paper rips.

Prior to the screening of Monsters, we were given the chance to experience Astrobiology, a new science of life. I wasn’t that bothered by it as I was focussing my excitement on the Gareth Edwards film, but I was persuaded otherwise. And boy was I glad! Rooftops would not be high enough to shout about this! I know it sounds geeky, but when you next hear the term “Astrobiology”, get IN there, my son! If anything, it makes you realise how isignificant humans actually are and how there is SO MUCH other stuff out there. Just a little fact for those of you interested: there are more stars out there than all the heartbeats of all the humans EVER! Yeah, I feel sick as well.

So, sat in the planetarium for longer then we should have (some poor soul collapsed outside and we had to wait for an ambulance), I awaited the start of Monsters. I’m not sure how many of you have ever set foot in a planetarium, but it’s pretty special and an amazing environment to screen a film. The seats are all at a forty-five degree angle, so that you can see the dome around your head. It’s brill!

The film itself was also quite something! Set in Mexico, Monsters focusses on the journey of a photojournalist and his boss’s daughter as they travel through the infected zone to the safety of the US border. But the infected zone is a dangerous place; it’s riddled with “creatures” after a NASA probe collecting samples crashed there.

It’s not only an enjoyable film, but the minimalist production makes you appreciate how something great can come from something small. Like an oak tree. Gareth Edwards filmed the low budget Monsters himself, using two actors (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) and two sets of notes to shoot from; one for emotional responses and one for plot developments. The rest of the film depended on coorporation from the locals when asked to be included. Gareth must have been somewhat of a silver-tongued devil in order to charm the South American villagers.

With no script, Monsters relies on the power of the actors to take charge of the improvisational space, taking us on their journey, not just through the infected zone but with each other. It’s a nice idea but I’m not entirely sure they pull it off. Certainly, they manage to create some tension, but they seem to be lacking something. But not to worry as the film is not just a boy-meets-girl story, there are CREATURES who come out at night. But rather then go down an Alien route where monsters pop out of every nook, cranny and stomach, the creatures have more of a subtle role. And Gareth, being an Emmy-nominated visual effects editor, used his tight budget and skilled hands to create his weird octopus things. Plus, the relationship between the creatures is more believable then that of the humans. Hang your heads in shame.

So if you’re a fan of science fiction or feel an affinity to Gareth for doing things on the cheap, then Monsters is being screened again as part of Sci-Fi-London on Saturday 16th October at The Apollo, Piccadilly. Not only that, but the G-Dawg will be there himself! He’ll be chatting about the film, showing some behind-the-scenes clips and explaining how he made it on $15,000. Bring you pad and paper in case he lets slip a few money saving tips.

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