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“Another Earth” is Not the Indie Sci-Fi Film You’re Looking For

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

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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