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Posts Tagged ‘IO’

Even in our confuzzling world of social media and streaming-on-demand, some things, it seems, will never change. A few months ago I looked at the early 80s space western Outland, a film which was known for most of its production as Io. The name-change was made mainly because people kept looking at paperwork relating to it and mis-reading the title as ‘Ten’. Someone should have mentioned this to the makers of the shiny new rhymes-with-Get Clicks SF film IO: I googled this movie and the first comment I found on it was along the lines of ‘Shoulda changed the name I thought it was called 10 like the number LOL’. So it goes, I suppose – I have more of an issue with the all-caps styling of the title (just a bit shouty, if you ask me), but to each their own.

At least Outland had a good reason to be called Io, as it is set on the volcanic moon of Jupiter which has that name. IO‘s reason for being called IO is more tenuous. I suppose the plot just about justifies it, but I still think it’s mainly because the producers thought it was a cool-sounding name. Certainly no-one ever goes to Io, although they certainly talk about it a lot; the significance of the moon is largely emblematic in a script which is clearly trying hard to be about Profound Things.

The film is directed by Jonathan Helpert, and is set in a post-apocalyptic not-too-distant future. Something has caused a profound change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, rendering it toxic for most forms of animal life; we are told of people dropping dead in the street at the time this happened. Now the planet is mostly wrapped in a poisonous veil, with only a few areas of high ground left habitable. Most of the surviving population has decamped to a space colony orbiting (wait for it!) Io.

However, our main person of interest, Sam (Margaret Qualley), has not. She is one of the few people left on the now empty and silent planet – the daughter of a scientist (Danny Huston), she is attempting to complete his work by creating a genetically-modified species of bee capable of surviving in the new atmosphere of Earth. She divides her time between working on this and making trips into the nearest city, which is of course deserted, and in her spare time exchanges email messages with her off-in-space boyfriend Elon (presumably named after the well-known litigant).

This early, world-establishing section of the film is mildly intriguing and certainly interesting to look at – this is one of those SF films with minimal ‘overt’ special effects and a tiny cast, so they can really put the budget to work in realising the empty city, which is rapidly becoming overgrown by mutant vegetation. The look of the thing is always impeccable, although you are always aware that this is a film trading in ideas and images already established by other, more prominent movies. I’m not sure whether it’s entirely fair to say that IO is very visually derivative – perhaps it is better to suggest that it mostly operates in terms of imagery which has acquired a sort of archetypal quality in recent years.

Anyway, everything changes for Sam (i.e., the plot kicks into gear) when word comes in over the radio that another Earth-like planet has been discovered only ten years away and a mission to it is being launched. One consequence of this is that shuttle traffic between Earth and Io is going to cease, and if Sam is going to escape she needs to get to a launch site in a matter of days. Matters are further complicated by the arrival by balloon of a stranger named Micah (Anthony Mackie), who says he’s come to see her father. Can they make it to the shuttle in time? Are they sure they even want to?

Hmmm – perhaps I was trying too hard to be generous when I suggested that IO isn’t actually as derivative as it seems, because on reflection it does feel very much like something stitched together from ideas and imagery from a bunch of other recent science fiction films, some of them quite distinguished, others definitely not. There’s an odd smorgasbord of Interstellar, The Martian, Oblivion and After Earth going on here, although I should make it quite clear that IO wants to be a serious and thoughtful movie – basically, there are no monsters in it.

I suppose we should be grateful for this. I myself am wont to grumble that all mainstream science fiction films tend to be action adventure movies (another reason why the Star Trek movie franchise is much less interesting than it should be), and occasionally trot out the related statistic that – a few years ago at least – around 50% of all SF movies were also, by any reasonable metric, horror films. So the fact that IO has such noble ambitions is obviously laudable.

It’s therefore simply a shame that the actual movie isn’t more palatable, because unfortunately the words that leap to mind when describing it are ones like ‘stodgy’, ‘dull’, and ‘predictable’. There is not a single plot development that isn’t easily guessable, which really just turns watching the film into an exercise in checking your answers. The tone of the thing is just barren – it has none of the leavening humour of The Martian or the vaulting metaphysical ambition of Interstellar. Now, to be fair to IO, it never quite topples over into outright silliness, which is no small achievement for an SF film that takes itself quite as seriously as this one does, but after a while you start to lose patience with the endless scenes of abstract dialogue and the film’s obsession with using Greek mythology as a metaphor for something-or-other obscure.

Oh well, there is a long and honourable tradition of SF films which aspire to be thoughtful, even profound, and basically just end up being impenetrably obscure and rather hard work to sit through, and IO is a decent enough 21st century addition to their number. But I have to say that, other than the general look of the thing, there is not a single element of the film I can single out as being particular distinctive or praiseworthy – not the plot, not the dialogue, not the performances, not the direction. It is like a study in hitting the targets of minimal competence – this is a movie which is not actually bad in any respect, but it really has nothing to commend it beyond that.

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