Chimera Strain


Shades of sci-fi.

(2018) Science Fiction (Vertical) Henry Ian Cusick, Kathleen Quinlan, Erika Ervin, Jenna Harrison, Karishma Ahluwalia, Jennifer Giulameti, Raviv Haeems, Kaavya Jayarm, Lawrence Sampson. Directed by Maurice Haeems

 

There exists a jellyfish (Turritopsis) in nature that is virtually immortal. Poor scientist Quint (Cusick) is desperately trying to harvest the secret of the creature’s immortality in order to save his wife (Ahluwalia) and children from dying of a rare genetic disorder in a hard science sci-fi film (which went under the title Chimera during its initial festival run) from first-time writer-director Haeems.

He allies himself with Masterson (Quinlan), a billionaire who wants to save her own dying husband and is willing to see that Quint finishes his research, despite the fact that some of the research he needs – into stem cells – is forbidden by law. As Quint becomes more desperate, he begins to descend into madness, having long conversations with his comatose wife while his patient colleague Charlie (Harrison) looks on. Can Quint save his family and find the secret to immortality? And what price will he pay to find it? How far is he willing to go to save his wife and kids?

This is the kind of movie that wants to be a thinking person’s sci-fi film, but forgets that you need to have a viable story. Characters act against type and engage in tangential conversations that are ultimately meaningless to the plot other than to deliver philosophical broadsides to the audience. The movie looks nifty enough with a kind of world-going-to-the-dogs look to it, and lord knows the actors are doing their very best but they often look puzzled, as if they can’t figure out the dialogue they’ve been given to speak.

There are a lot of really deep concepts here (some cribbed from sources as diverse as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Modern Science), but sadly Haeems only gives them lip service rather than a deep dive. With a more experienced writer this might have been a really compelling science fiction opus.

REASONS TO SEE: Ideal for those who love esoteric science fiction.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many platitudes, not enough character development.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nudity and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the characters were all taken from the classic Henry James story Turn of the Screw
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hoopla, Redbox, Roku Channel, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Replicas
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin

The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52


The deep blue.

(2021) Nature Documentary (Bleecker Street) Joseph George, Joshua Zeman, John Hildebrand, John Calambokidis, Christopher W. Clark, Ana Sirovic, Bill Watkins, David Rothenberg, Bruce Mate, Daniel Palacios, Robert Dziak, Vinal Virga, Kate Micucci, Cate Muret. Directed by Joshua Zeman

 

In 1989 as the Cold War came to an end, technology used to monitor Soviet submarine movement detected something unusual; whale song on the 52 Hz range, much higher than what whales normally communicate on. Marine biologist Bill Watkins tracked the sound for some fifteen years afterwards, noting that the sound came from a single whale with nary a reply.

After a 2004 New York Times article, the imagination of the public was captured. While scientists wondered if this might signal the existence of a heretofore undiscovered species of whale, the public began to see 52, as it was popularly known, as a symbol for the increasing isolation people were feeling in these tech-savvy times, and celebrating their own uniqueness. Artwork, songs, essays and even tattoos were generated by folks who were captivated by the story of a cetacean, endlessly searching the ocean, calling out and waiting for a response that never came.

Few were as captivated as documentary filmmaker Joshua Zeman (Cropsey) who wanted to find 52, which as one scientist put it, “finding a needle in a haystack would have considerably better odds.” He put together a campaign to fund an expedition, but could only raise enough for an expedition for seven days.

The film chronicles the expedition, and adds quite a bit of background material, ranging from the effect of giant container ships on whales (their passing through the shipping lanes creates a kind of noise pollution that makes it nearly impossible fo the whales, who rely on sonar, to communicate) to the ravages of the whaling industry (not for the faint of heat or weak of stomach) and the effect of 52 on popular culture. Comedian Kate Micucci contributes a song, and perhaps most compelling of all, musician David Rothenberg jams with the whales on clarinet.

Overall the movie is a bit disjointed. The story flow just isn’t there as Zeman goes off on tangents that at times feel like filler. The best parts of the movie, other than Rothenberg’s “jam sessions,” is watching the scientists go about their business, and their excitement at the prospect of finding the answer to a question that previously had none. You might want to watch the movie all the way to the end – there is a graceful coda that is uplifting and might just put a smile on your face.

We have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, even those in the animal protection business can sometimes attribute emotions to animals that they may or may not be able to feel. There’s no way to truly know if 52 feels loneliness; what does he/she have to compare it with, after all? But be that as it may, this is a truly fascinating documentary that is well worth the visit.

The movie is currently in theaters, but will be available on most major streaming platforms beginning Friday July 16th.

REASONS TO SEE: Fascinating and uplifting. Always interesting to watch scientists in their element.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not presented in a really organized manner.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some upsetting animal cruelty images and brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leonardo di Caprio, who contributed $50,000, was given credit as an executive producer. Much of the rest of the funding came from a Kickstarter campaign.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Lions
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Chimera Strain