"Another Earth" is Not the Indie Sci-Fi Film You're Looking For

by Christopher Campbell
July 22, 2011 3:11 AM
9 Comments
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This review was originally posted January 26, 2011, after its world premiere at Sundance. It is being republished now for its theatrical release.

“Another Earth” was being linked to “Moon” long before anyone had seen it. Wishful sci-fi movie fans are constantly seeking the next smart low-budget genre film that trades in a lot of special effects for well-written science fiction, and thanks to mind-bending vets like “Primer” and “Moon,” the Sundance Film Festival is one of the places to occasionally look.

Going by the synopsis, “Another Earth” seems to promise similar elements of space travel and doppelgangers. But what it actually delivers is only illogical background details on the discovery of a counter-earth, which unexplainably is moving closer to our own planet, as a way of raising “what if?” hypotheses for the film’s main characters, survivors of a car accident drawn together by guilt and deception.

In short, it’s just a familiar grief and remorse drama set entirely on Earth rather than a modern day “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" (which could do with an indie remake). Both Slashfilm and Gordon and the Whale beat me to the punch in calling the film a sci-fi version of “Bounce.” I’d have preferred another “Sliding Doors,” if we must think of Gwyneth Paltrow movies.

As a moody romance drama, it kind of works, though it’s highly predictable and never feels entirely believable. However, the sci-fi stuff requires much more suspension of disbelief, and any intelligent fan of the genre is going to be counting plot holes and asking questions by the score. Even the last minute, viewed by some as the best or only good part, left me more frustrated in how gimmicky and wannabe-twisty it is.

To be completely frank, if anything “Another Earth” is most like a super low-budget M. Night Shyamalan film without any of the suspenseful moments that have made his films tolerable in the past. The way we learn significant things regarding the discoveries of and communication with the other planet could have been more thrilling (parts of the film had me wanting it to actually be more like "Signs," which should say something), and the address of counter-earth theory and the philosophical ideas associated with it should have been more in-depth.

Not without its fans, “Another Earth” might be the most divisive film of Sundance this year. People seem to either really love it or really hate it. I think the latter is made up more of geek blogger types wishing it was better sci-fi (whether that means smarter or more prominent) and the former is people focusing more on the drama, themes and performances. I find myself in the former category disliking it for both the weak sci-fi and the weak drama.

For a more interesting Sundance ’11 film with a slight sci-fi element, I’d recommend the light documentary “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles,” which follows an investigation into a history of an enigma involving street art and scientific theories about resurrecting the dead on Jupiter. It’s only as sci-fi as a non-fiction film can get, and there is nothing more than reference to theories. But for a sci-fi fan, it’s a whole lot more satisfying than the minimalism-as-underdevelopment thing going on with “Another Earth.” Fans of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the puzzling Internet phenomenon of alleged time traveler John Titor will at least be able to appreciate certain aspects of the detective doc. That could be the film sci-fi fans are looking for.


"Another Earth" opens today in limited release.

Recommended If You Like: "Bounce"; "Signs"; "21 Grams"

("Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" debuts on VOD August 1)


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9 Comments

  • Lucky | December 3, 2011 2:55 AMReply

    This movie is not trying to be a super sci fi or dramatic in your face special effects blockbuster. If your looking for that, go see a Hollywood made crappy script, with a storyline I could find in a trash dumpster.

    This movie is a slow drama, but with much to offer thats will touch the inner part of your soul. The ending of the movie has all the answers that you would need. If you cant see the deep hartfelt meaning the movie is trying to slap in your face, you should look deeper into your self as you are lacking life, because there is more to a movie then effects and a meaningless story line that you get from most other movies out there. This movie should make you think about your life and bring you a smile and much more!

  • Andy H. | August 2, 2011 1:24 AMReply

    I saw the film yesterday (Aug. 1st) and after writing the following I had another thought.

    1.It may be the first 92 minute film to feel like a three hour film.
    2.It provides the best showcase ever for an unknown who would have been loved by Ingmar Bergman, who has genuine appeal, and who has mastered soap opera timing.
    3.It ranks with successful films such as The Blair Witch Whoozits in the use of camera operators with terminal Parkinson’s disease.
    4.It introduces the tragedy of a man who might have gone on as a brilliant economist but forsook that opportunity to become a director with a gift for irritating audiences.
    5.It shows that contemporary audiences will accept just about every mistake an editor can make.
    6. It proves once and for all that what’s loved at Sundance is fairly certain to be garbage and that a segment of contemporary audiences will accept anything that is weird and amateurish.

    My afterthought is really an addition to point No. 2. It was Brit Marling who let this mess survive so far. Her "honest" face intrigues the viewer and if Hollywood ever regains its smarts lost decades ago, they'll make much use of her while denying her the right to write any more scripts.

  • R. Welsh | August 1, 2011 12:34 PMReply

    Definitely take a look at the "Space 1999" episode from 1974 called "Another Time, Another Place"

    http://www.space1999.net/catacombs/main/epguide/t06atap.html

    Now what is interesting, in 1964, "The Outer Limits" aired an episode called "Soldier", which had been adapted from a 1957 Harlan Ellison story. Ellison was successful in his suit against the producers of "The Terminator" (yes the the "I'll be back" film) for an undisclosed amount, and Terminator now gives acknowledgement to him.

    Same should happen for "Another Earth".

  • quality movies | July 25, 2011 9:33 AMReply

    Another Earth' is one of the most low-tech, low-budget, scaled-down and engrossing movies ever to hit theaters.

  • Another crappy sci-fi film - STOP IT. Move away f | May 28, 2011 5:51 AMReply

    Have we seen the end to smart but fun science fiction? SciFi Channel produces crap (arguably fun for someone, but smart for no one). Theatrical releases tend to present themselves as smart but not fun, they think they have to be moody and contemplative (boring) to be smart. Where is the next Jules Verne or H.G. Wells? The next George Melies or George Pal? Gerry Anderson's JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1969, originally titled Doppelganger) was loads of fun (as were his TV shows UFO and SPACE 1999). George Lucas produces fantasy (not anchored to earth's history) and STAR TREK is really its own genre by now (plus man can't live on STAR TREK alone despite the attempts of many). The rest have been either this type of slop, overblown remakes (with too much of this type of slop) or comedy spoofs that mock the genre (MEN IN BLACK). COWBOYS & ALIENS looks promising, Disney's JOHN CARTER OF MARS (the best and most influential sci-fi book series ever) looks impossible (its been cannibalized by so many for so long -- see Star Wars films, Avatar -- its tough to sell it now as original) and Speilberg's remake of Pal's WHEN WORLD'S COLLIDE seems an appropriate title. Maybe we have seen the end.

  • Christopher Campbell | May 13, 2011 9:12 AMReply

    Hmm, good point that I overlooked. Things like this confusion happen during festivals. I'll clarify, a bit at least.

  • Dodger | May 13, 2011 8:03 AMReply

    "People seem to either really love it or really hate it. I think the latter is made up more of geek blogger types wishing it was better sci-fi (whether that means smarter or more prominent) and the former is people focusing more on the drama, themes and performances. I find myself in the former category."

    Huh?

    The rest of the review seems to indicate you hated this film, but these three sentences say you loved it. ("The former category" is what you just described as "People... [who] ... really love it".)

    Cognitive dissonance now ensues.

  • Christopher Campbell | January 26, 2011 10:17 AMReply

    Yes, oops, typo. Thanks for spotting that and letting me know.

    I've never seen it all, actually, but I'm interested in doing so after watching this.

  • V. Sparrow | January 26, 2011 9:39 AMReply

    I believe the title ypu're trying to reference is 'Journey to the Far Side of the Sun', not 'Far Side of the Earth'.

    And I agree -- it could do with a remake, with some new, added alter-Fringe ideas.

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