“TERRIBLE TWOs” MOVIE REVIEWS: THE 5TH WAVE and TO HELL AND BACK, plus SOMETHING OLD….

Figure 1 - 1952-05 IF cover by Ralph Joiner

Figure 1 – 1952-05 IF cover by Ralph Joiner

I’m still reading old SF zines: an IF here, an ASTOUNDING SF there, an AMAZING STORIES somewhere else. When I was in high school, I loved anthologies (STAR SCIENCE FICTION 1-5 (or more), edited by Fred Pohl; THE BEST FROM GALAXY, many volumes, edited by H. L Gold; THE BEST FROM F&SF, edited by several Fermans, Avram Davidson and probably others; anything edited by Groff Conklin—like THE END OF THE WORLD, or by Ted Dikty and Everett BleilerYEAR’S BEST SF (again, many volumes); etc. ), and all those anthologies drew their material from the magazines. The ones I’m reading now are a bit older than the ones I read in high school by a couple of decades, but there’s still a wealth of—not only stories, but also information, in them.

The other day I was reading IF (Figure 1) of May 1952; the cover illo was for a story called “Jungle in the Sky,” by Milton Lesser. The cover, by someone named Ralph Joiner, was workmanlike but rather unexciting. I was looking forward to reading the story, because Milton Lesser had written several Winston Juvenile novels, Stadium Beyond the Stars being one I remembered. Coincidentally, when I visited Dr. Alan E. Nourse, who also wrote a Winston Juvenile (Trouble on Titan, cover by Alex Schomburg) at his home in North Bend, WA, Alan had the original cover by Mel Hunter for that Lesser book on his wall. Alas and alack! The story in IF was dreadful; not only bad SF, but sexist as hell. For example, the captain of this spaceship, a woman, who’s been captaining her ship for years, starts out by saying “What’s the matter, are you old fashioned? This is the twenty-second century, the enlightened century, remember? There’s nothing a girl can’t do if she sets her mind to it. A recent survey shows that forty-percent of the homemakers in the U.S.N.A. are men, sixty percent women. Okay, it’s only logical that some of the remaining forty percent of females have some tough jobs, too.”

That’s pretty good for the 1950s, right? But later, in the story, after facing some rough stuff on Ganymede, the same woman says “I guess I’m growing soft,” she panted. “Maybe—I don’t know—maybe training and muscle ­toning from infancy aren’t the answer. A gal just isn’t cut out for rough and tumble fighting.” Her hand flashed up to her forehead, the back of it resting against her brow. “Ooo, Steve, catch me—”

She fainted in his arms.
Ouch. Even given the sexist nature of the fifties, that’s going some. Oh, well.

Figure 2 - Fantasy Times 1955

Figure 2 – Fantasy Times 1955

But there was something else in that magazine, a guest editorial from a fan, James V. Taurasi, who ran a newszine (the forerunner for today’s Locus) called Fantasy Times. Among other things, Taurasi says

…Fandom is not organized under one unit, as many readers are led to believe, because the members of science fiction fandom just can’t agree. They—like the general readership—have different ideas of what a story should be, and their likes and dislikes differ a great deal. No one group of fandom will give the editor any idea of what to print, but fandom as a whole will give the editor a good idea of what the readers want. And unlike the regular readers, this group will not just stop reading the magazine if they are displeased. Fandom will howl plenty and make sure the editors know about it. A wise stf editor will keep himself informed on what fandom thinks of his magazine, and thus know what his readers think.

…Like any other group, fandom has its own quota of crackpots who drive not only the rest of fandom, but the professional editors, to the nearest bar. But fandom has a way [of cleaning] its own house and these crackpots either change their tunes or drop out. Fandom also has a way [of cleaning] up the professional field when the editor gets out of line and forgets that he is supposed to edit a science fiction magazine. Certain editors have found out what it is to have a large .group of fans on their necks. The pressure that fandom can bring about is enormous. With their 200 plus amateur magazines and thousands of letters, they can make and have made many an editor cry “uncle” and wish he had never gotten off the straight and narrow path of science fiction. All in all, we have a unique situation found in no other field of literature. A situation that will lift our brand of literature to heights never even dreamed about in other fields. A situation where both the editors and readers gain. A situation that could never be applied to any other field. Fandom—the watch-dog of science fiction.”

Does any of the above sound even vaguely familiar? Sure, we don’t have as many magazines as they had in 1952—the so-called “pulps” were on the trailing edge of their heyday—and even fanzines have felt the pressure of economics and things like “teh interwebz”; there are fewer print fanzines than the 200 cited by Taurasi, but plenty of online zines. And, of course, SF/F has informed and/or influenced much if not most of the mainstream now—not only fiction, but fact. (At least once a week I see something in the press that says “[This thing] used to be the province of [“sci-fi,” or “science fiction”], but today it’s a reality.”) The phrase most of us used to be tagged with, that of reading “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff,” has nearly disappeared. But we still have our crackpots, to quote Taurasi. And among those, I count those who are attempting to game the Hugos. I have—as I’ve shown here and said before—a fondness for the old SF/F, when it’s well written. Dang near anything by certain writers—like Ted Sturgeon, for example—stands out and would probably pass as modern writing today, but might be stomped on as too P.C. It’s okay—because I believe in my heart of hearts that fandom will survive this, SF/F will survive this, and life will go on.

Figure 3 - The 5th Wave poster

Figure 3 – The 5th Wave poster

I really enjoy alien invasion stories and the like, if they’re well done. So when I saw a poster for something called The 5th Wave, starring Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Carrie [the remake], Hugo, The Equalizer, etc.), I wanted to see it. Now, Kick-Ass was kind of fun and a light-hearted take on the modern phenomenon of ordinary people trying to be “superhero” vigilantes (in spite of Nicolas Cage’s mugging); Kick-Ass 2 was a disappointment, having lost the light-heartedness of the first movie. Carrie was a totally unnecessary remake—the original, with Cissy Spacek, being the best possible adaptation, IMO, of the Stephen King book, which was episodic and written through letters, newspaper clippings and the like, as I remember. (The Equalizer was just okay; I still prefer the original Edward Woodward series, though Moretz was good in the movie, and I really liked Hugo.) Overall, I’m about 50/50 on her as an actress. But I read somewhere a tagline that went something like: “They survived four alien invasion waves, but can they survive the fifth wave?” Sounds good, eh? The movie, I found out later, is based—like most YA “disaster” films—on a book, the first in a series. Hmm. Echoes of Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc. (By the way, the latter three probably failed because they didn’t have Jennifer Lawrence, in my opinion. She personally—along with a few minor actors like Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Woody Harrelson, and so on—brought that series of movies up from the mediocre.)

Okay, I normally don’t post spoilers except for really bad movies; I will probably drop one or two in here, because this film qualifies as bad on most counts. First off: the setup stinks, uses bad SF tropes, and is totally inconsistent. You have an alien species* that appears one day over the Earth, and just circles the globe for ten days—tracking longitudinally over the Midwest in the US—and not responding to any hails or attempts to contact. That’s okay; it’s been done before. Then (first wave) it sends out an EMP that destroys all electricity, electronics and so on all across the globe. I find that one a bit hard to swallow. Second wave: the aliens apparently have some way of creating earthquakes that create giant (200-foot-high in most places, it looks like) tsunamis even in Ohio, where a local lake (unnamed) nearly overwhelms our 15-year-old (or so; Moretz herself is 18, I believe) heroine and her seven- or eight-year-old brother with a mini-tsunami. We are told, via voiceover, that all coastal cities and all islands have been overwhelmed (with all electronics, etc. gone, how would anyone know?). All right, their   credibility is fraying pretty badly right now. Wave number three: “Cassie” (Moretz’s character’s name is Cassiopeia) says in her voiceover—yep, there are voiceovers; a cheap way to establish facts, in my opinion—that there are seven birds for every human on Earth, and the aliens found a way to “transform” avian flu so that it affects nearly everyone, and the birds carried it to every continent on the planet. Then most of the EMP/earthquake/tsunami survivors, those who weren’t naturally immune, got avian flu and died, except for a few who got sick then survived. And all this happened, apparently, in a few weeks. (I should mention the CGI, which is pretty good, overall, by the way.) Credibility almost shot to hell by now; however, even though Cassie’s mom is a doctor, she’s the only one in the family of four—just how virulent is this supposed to be?—who dies from this virulent flu. Then the family moves, with the other survivors in their town, to a summer camp site out of town (if they named the Ohio town, I missed it. It’s somewhere within 100 miles or so of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.) They showed the camp sign, but for all I know, it was “Camp Wannahockaloogie”; it didn’t register.

The real movie begins with Cassie running through a woods carrying an automatic weapon of some kind; she comes to a clearing by a road where we can see an abandoned gas station ahead; instead of staying low and running quickly across the road—which is what most people would do—she kind of saunters across the road, not really looking for threats. Why not? One wonders. There’s a telling scene inside the gas station; we learn that she has a hair trigger (odd, considering how incautiously she approached the station); in a standoff with an injured man she shoots him, mistaking a shiny cross in his hand for a weapon. We learn in a flashback—with voiceover—that she was the typical high-schooler, concerned with the school’s quarterback—pardon me, running back; partying and that sort of thing. The running back is played by Nick Robinson. Then all the waves happen and she’s at the camp with her dad and little brother.

Figure 4 - Nick Robinson and Liev Schreiber

Figure 4 – Nick Robinson and Liev Schreiber

Then, one morning, a bunch of jeeps and schoolbuses show up, and Liev Schreiber (Colonel Vosch) announces that the U.S. Army (what? Not the Air Force? Isn’t Wright-Patterson AIR FORCE Base an “Air Force” Base? Or did I miss something again?) is here to save the day and kick alien ass; the schoolbuses are there to take all the kids to Wright-Patterson first, then they’ll come back for the adults. Because she has to leave the bus to get her little brother’s teddy bear, Cassie misses the bus; all the adults were gathered together in the camp’s mess hall for an announcement; she arrives in time to hear the end of it. The announcement is that the Fourth Wave is happening now: the aliens can get into people’s brains and take them over; there are tests that work on children—so the ones going to Wright-Patterson are safe, but the adult tests take much longer. Some of the adults object, with guns in hand, to whatever B.S. Colonel Vosch is spouting, and a gunfight erupts (with Cassie observing through a crack in the outside doors. When all the shooting is over, Col. Vosch and his remaining men stride to their waiting jeeps and take off; Cassie goes in to find her father dead, along with all the other adults and a few soldiers. If this all sounds long on the page, it moves fairly quickly on screen; enjoy, because a lot of the rest of the movie drags.

Long story short: kids are being groomed by the Army to be soldiers (yeah, 7- to 15-18-year-olds); they will be sent out as Earth’s last line of defense. In all of this, there is no word, and apparently no interest, in how or why the U.S. Army was not affected by the EMP (and where the dang Air Force is, ‘cos it’s an Air Force Base) which, considering it caused world-wide damage, would probably—if it were even possible—overcome normal EMP “hardening.” And nobody remarks on it. Huh. The kids, one of whom is the high-school running back Cassie had a crush on, are shown another kid with an alien in his brain—strangely enough, though it’s bigger than a fist, it seems to be able to occupy the forefront of his skull comfortably enough, and to put its tentacles throughout his brain. How did it get there? We’re never told; we are told, however, that they’ve tried all kinds of things to kill the aliens, and the only thing that works is to kill the host. The kids are encouraged to do so with the captive “others,” after they’ve all had tracking chips implanted in their necks.

The action switches back to Cassie, who has been shot in the leg by a sniper while walking openly down a four-lane highway on her way to find her brother at Wright-Patterson, only ducking when the alien “drones” fly overhead. Again with the “not really paying attention to what’s going on” stuff! She rolls under a car for cover; for some reason, she rolls back out, ignoring the automatic weapon she dropped, and spins around, emptying her .45 automatic as she circles. The pain becomes too much, or something, and she falls, apparently comatose, on the ground; only waking later to find herself in a bed with a bandage on her leg and an IV in her arm. Here she meets Evan, who appears to be about five years older than she, and the obligatory love triangle happens, with shirtless bathing in a river (him, unfortunately for me) and sex in an abandoned car. *More spoilers here* The “others,” as the alien-controlled humans are called, are patrolling the woods looking for humans to kill; the drones help them to find survivors. Evan, we find out, is a “sleeper,” planted by the aliens (also called “others,” confusingly) years ago in preparation for this invasion. He is a human-alien hybrid, though he professes to be favouring his human side.

Are you sick of this yet? I know I was getting pretty tired of it by the time Cassie and Evan reach Wright-Patterson. Know only that nothing is really resolved at the end; we’re sure that the kids—who have been told that they are fighting the fifth wave, but whom we find out–**major spoiler, but the viewer has already guessed this by now in the movie**—that Col. Vosch and his Army guys are all “others” and the kids (who are the Fifth Wave) are given little helmet-mounted viewers (with convenient lights, so they can be targeted by their targets, I guess, in the dark) which supposedly mark all humans without tracking chips as “others”… but really put fake “others” in the brains seen through the viewers… make sense? No? Me neither.

And there will be (if the movie is successful at the box office) sequels (because the fight against “the others” is continuing), as there were sequels to the aforementioned movies. Please help this movie be unsuccessful. Don’t go see it.

Figure 5 - Hell and Back poster

Figure 5 – Hell and Back poster

Finally, I started watching this movie, Hell and Back, because it was stop-motion animated, and its voice cast included Mila Kunis (Jupiter Rising), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Michael Peña (who was stellar in Ant-Man!) and Susan Sarandon (Rocky Horror Picture Show and so much more!). I’m a big fan of stop-motion; I’ve even done a couple of short ones myself. So with this cast and a stop-motion picture, how could I lose? I thought. So I watched it. Or at least as much of it as I could stand. This may be the most juvenile, unfunny piece of junk I have seen in several years, making The Fifth Wave look a lot like an Oscar nominee. If there was a penis, poop, sexual reference or other fifth-grade joke that wasn’t made in the approximately half of this that I watched, I must have missed it. I make it through an awful lot of bad movies, but I didn’t make it through this one. Example: “My sh*t just took a sh*t and sh*t my pants.” Intellect of the highest order. The stop-motion is fair to middlin’, but the story is terrible and weak. Three slackers own a pier-side amusement park which is on the verge of closing. One of them breaks a blood oath to Satan, made in a jocular fashion, and is hauled off to Hell. Satan, by the way, judging from the board meetings between him and his demons, is no kind of a manager. The remaining two ne’er-do-wells journey to Hell (à la Orpheus and Eurydice) to retrieve said partner, who has meantime managed to convince Satan that someone else could be sacrificed in his stead because he’s gonna help clean up Hell and put it on a more profitable (in terms of lost souls) basis. Satan, by the way, has a crush on an angel named, if I got it right, Barb, who comes to visit him. The ne’er-do-wells seek out Orpheus (who looks a lot like Don Quixote), because he’s supposedly an expert in retrieving mortals from Hell. And so on. About the 500th juvenile joke I gave up. Save your money. This one’s a stinkeroo… unless, of course, you really are 15 or so, in which case you might find it funny.

If you can, please comment on this week’s column. You can comment here or on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all welcome; and please don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment. I value opposing points of view too. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

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