This past weekend I attended the 33rd Annual Ohio 24 Hour Science Fiction Marathon which has a really long name but feels a lot shorter than the 24 hours it lasts. If you're interested in in-the-moment reactions to each of the night's films check out my youtube, but right now I want to focus on the one indie film we watched Jesse O'Brien's Arrowhead.
Arrowhead looks good and is well acted. The effects are often quite good. Unfortunately, plot-wise Arrowhead feels like a lot of great ideas that don't necessarily gel together, at least in the version of them we're seeing. I don't want to crap all over O'Brien here, he's got a passable enough eye for directing genre fiction, and he's got a few great ideas that could have developed differently. He's also had, from hearing him tell it, a rather complicated path through production and distribution that he's had to deal with while also editing the film into a coherent story in which I'm sure there's been a lot of executive meddling. Jesse, if you somehow read this, you've got talent.
But even more unfortunately, the moral of Arrowhead is atrocious and I've got to complain about it. So spoilers ahead for an Australian film currently only available on DVD in Germany.
Our main character, Kye (Dan Mor) has apparently gotten himself into prison as a member of the resistance. He's here to help break out the leader of the resistance Tobias Hatch (Mark Redpath), in an effort to eventually free his father who is slated to be publicly executed on the next Liberation Day. In a rather exciting opening scene the resistance prisoners are all doing hard labor while chained to a machine that will drag them into a pit of spinning blades if they fail to cooperate. Liberation Day used for executions. Creatively murderous prison system. We've got hallmarks of a totalitarian government and a rebel hero to boot.
But here's the problem. By the end of the film Kye realizes the Hatch has lied to him, that Hatch really is the mass-murdering terrorist the government claims he is and therefore worthy of death, and that his father probably isn't worth saving.
This is all done against a thrilling story of alien-mutation and planetary time dilation!
But still the moral of the film seems to be that 1) terrorism is bad, and 2) if a clearly totalitarian government tells you that your family and friends are evil and should be publicly executed that government is ultimately correct.
Now maybe stories don't need to have morals. Maybe I should just enjoy a thing for what it is and not try to learn a lesson from it.
But the best sci-fi, or at least the sci-fi I connect with most, says something about life or society, for better or worse. Alien is anti-corporate. 2001, The Thing, and Solaris are existential in their own ways, dealing with what it means to be human.
If Arrowhead is trying to be great science fiction, then the message it's giving is one that the current world needs no help learning, and rather desperately needs some help unlearning.