I love science fiction in all of its forms: books, movies and TV, and video games. I grew up reading Asimov and Clarke, loved 2001 and Star Trek, and spent far too much time playing Space Invaders and Asteroids. In the decades since, each form of media has influenced the others: first awkwardly (like the CD-ROM "interactive movies" of the 1990s and the painful video game movies like Super Mario Bros) and then later more cleverly and subtly.
Edge of Tomorrow feels like a movie that is so well-executed, with all three mediums blended together so seamlessly, that it may be the perfect science fiction film for our age.
The movie stars Tom Cruise as Major William Cage, a "media relations" officer who wants desperately to avoid actual combat. Unfortunately for him, the world’s military is preparing for an invasion of France in order to push back alien "Mimics" who have overrun Europe. The surly General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t much like Cage’s type of officer, and railroads him so that he ends up at Heathrow airport, assigned to a squad that is getting ready to land on the beach with the first attack wave.
Although the attack was meant to be a surprise, the Mimics are ready for them and the soldiers come under heavy fire. Cage, who has has no combat training, is unable to even take the safety off of his powered battle suit. He and the rest of the misfits who make up "J Squad" are overwhelmed by Mimics and quickly killed. Cage manages to take an unusually large blue Mimic with him by exploding a mine, and dies with the alien’s blood on his face.
He wakes up at Heathrow airport again, seemingly transported a day back in the past, although he remembers everything that has happened. He is unable to avoid his fate, however, and ends up shipping out again and getting killed again, albeit in a slightly different way. At this point the movie starts turning into a much grittier version of Groundhog Day, with Cruise taking on Bill Murray’s task of trying to figure out a way to escape his predicament. In one of his loops he runs into Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a military heroine who had led her troops to humanity’s only significant victory against the Mimics in Verdun. Before they both get killed, she tells him to seek her out when he wakes up.
The rest of the movie involves the two soldiers trying to work together to figure out why Cage is time-looping and how they can use that information to fight the Mimics. Because of the military and science-fiction theme, the repeating day mechanic starts feeling less like Groundhog Day and more like the feeling of playing a difficult video game where you have to respawn at the beginning of the level. Director Doug Liman said in an interview that the parallel was intentional, explaining that the movie is just the latest in a series of video game-inspired films he has directed, starting with The Bourne Identity.
Edge of Tomorrow is based on the Japanese young-adult novella All You Need Is Kill. The film keeps most of the character and plot elements, although it transfers the setting from Japan to England and France. It’s a solid science fiction flick with everything you might want: aliens, time-travel, and futuristic soldiers walking around in advanced battle armor. Despite the fantastical elements (such as time travel) it remains science fiction because it attempts to explain these effects through scientific principles and not supernatural intervention. The writing is crisp and the actors (particulary Emily Blunt) are believable and human.
I saw the movie yesterday with my wife, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. It was the perfect Father’s Day activity and everyone enjoyed it. Definitely worth seeing.
Steve Jobs lived a fascinating life, and there has been no shortage of writers wanting to tell his story. The latest attempt, the movie Jobs (2013) starring Ashton Kutcher, is a mixed bag. The movie comes so close to being great, but misses where it matters.
What’s wrong with it? I don’t think it’s the acting. Ashton Kutcher is actually an underrated actor, and he clearly spent a lot of time observing Jobs and mimicking his posture, voice, and mannerisms. He did a really good job conveying the intensity of Jobs’ emotions and outbursts. The other actors were also excellent—Dermot Mulroney was particularly good as Mike Markula. There were some nice cinematic shots and decent music.
The only thing left to criticize is the writing. The screenwriter, Matt Whitely, was given one of the most interesting businessmen and visionaries in modern history and failed to tell a compelling story about him.
The movie starts off in 2001 at an “Apple staff meeting” that looks more like a typical Jobs product launch event. An older Jobs introduces the iPod with his usual stirring words about how it will “change the world”, and the crowd bursts into applause.
Then we immediately jump back in time to the 1970s. Jobs is in university, talking to his friend Daniel about how he dropped out but is still auditing classes. Then, out of nowhere, a man appears and steals Jobs in order to talk at him. Who is he? The movie never explains it. I’ll call him “Professor Exposition” because that’s what he does. He then disappears forever.
The third person we meet in a movie shouldn’t be a throwaway character. The audience needs to get on board quickly to figure out what the movie is about. Instead, Jobs wanders off and meets a girl named Julie, who he immediately sleeps with, and then she’s never seen again! Instead, Jobs takes the acid tablets that Julie gave him and shares them with Daniel and his girlfriend (who, despite later giving birth to his child, is never actually named in the film).
After taking the acid, Jobs complains about being adopted and then goes dancing in the fields while hearing music. This acid trip scene is interspersed with shots of him sitting in university classes watching bad educational films about IBM computers. It feels clumsy and thrown together. Then he and Daniel go to India, which means another montage that goes on a little too long.
These are supposed to be formative experiences that shaped Jobs’ entire life, but there is no coherent message in the montages.
The movie then jumps to Steve working at Atari and upsetting the engineers there, and then leads to him getting his friend Steve Wozniak to build a Breakout game, emphasizing how Jobs screwed his friend out of $2500. Then Woz shows him the computer he’s working on, which will become the Apple I.
The essential points of these scenes are factual, although the movie gets a lot of little details wrong. The worst offender is the Homebrew scene.
Homebrew was essentially the incubator for Silicon Valley’s home computer industry in the mid 1970s. In the movie, Woz has to be forced by Jobs to demonstrate his computer, whereas in reality Woz had already showed it there himself before Jobs knew about it. Worse than that, the movie shows the Homebrew audience as being completely unimpressed with the Apple I, when it was at least on par with other products that were being shown at the time. The nerd in me screamed when the presenter after Woz began introducing a RISC chip, which wouldn’t be invented until the 80’s at Stanford University!
Some scenes are decent. I enjoyed seeing Jobs negotiate with Paul Terrell, the owner of the hobbyist Byte Shop, to buy 50 Apple I boards even when he thought he was getting fully assembled computers. The introduction of Rod Holt, the iconoclastic power supply engineer, was well done. I liked the part where Mike Markula shows up, meets the Apple employees working out of Jobs’ parents’ garage, and gives them the funding to start Apple Computer. But the scene where Steve denies the parentage of his daughter by his nameless girlfriend seems thrown in and doesn’t connect to the rest of the narrative.
Then, with no buildup, we jump first to Steve giving a speech at the Westcoast Computer Faire, and then immediately jump again to Apple as a large company.
At this point, the movie goes full throttle in promoting the legend of Steve as inventor-of-everything. Xerox PARC isn’t mentioned at all; instead the idea of the GUI seems to have sprung directly from Jobs’ head. He callously fires an engineer who doesn’t share his vision about fonts. In fact, the Lisa computer mimicked a lot of what PARC had already done. Jobs’ genius was to get his engineers to refine and polish these ideas.
We get some scenes where Jobs screws his friend Daniel out of founder’s stock right before the Apple initial public stock offering. These scenes further the storyline of how Jobs was an asshole, but doesn’t do anything to explain why he was that way, or how his behavior affected his life. Instead, we suddenly get… DUN DUN DUN… the antagonist, in the form of venture capitalist Arthur Rock.
Rock is portrayed as a caricature, an evil ignoramus hell-bent on destroying everything Apple and Jobs stood for. We don’t get any nuance about how Steve’s views didn’t always line up with reality. Instead, we get ridiculous lines from Rock like: “IBM has moved on to minidex (??) and so should we” and “I think it’s time to reconsider the viability of the personal computer”. At one point he says, after the introduction of the Lisa and the Macintosh, that “IBM beat us to a better product by two years!” This is all utter nonsense and babbling, but the movie just rolls right along to Jobs’ hiring of John Sculley from Pepsi to be the new CEO of Apple. Then we get a confused series of events leading up to Jobs being ousted by the board in favor of Sculley.
This moment is arguably the most important part of Jobs’ life, and the movie makes a muddle out of it. We need to know exactly why Jobs would be cast out of the company he founded. Sure, it happens a lot in real life for no real reason, but this is a story. It’s the job of the writer to make sense of things.
Instead, we just skip ahead to 1997 (Steve’s creation of NeXT gets a single sentence, and Pixar gets nothing at all) and see poor Gil Amelio struggling with Apple’s decline and inviting Jobs back into the company. Mike Markula arranges for Steve to come back in a consulting role and a new chairman of the board sets up a new coup to let Steve take control again. We see Steve “discovering” industrial designer Johnny Ive hiding in an office somewhere, and he tells him to put the speakers on the inside of the iMac, presumably the single most important design decision that will make the computer a smash success. “But Steve, they’ll never let us do that!” Really? He also takes the time to complain about his “piece of junk” Sony Discman, which I guess is supposed to tie in with the movie’s first scene. It’s suggesting, of course, that Steve “invented” the iPod in his head, fully-formed, at that moment. You know, the way he invented the GUI and everything else.
In fact, Steve even gets to invent (and personally record) the “Here’s to the strange ones” commercial that was actually voiced by Richard Dreyfuss. He can do anything, it seems.
Steve then gets rid of Mike Markula and the rest of the board, gives some more inspiring speeches, and we fade to black with the text “In 2012 Apple became the most valuable company in the world”. Neat! Would have been nice to have seen how Steve accomplished that. It would have been even better to have seen how Steve was able to do it only because he had learned from his past experiences and his mistakes.
Ultimately, every movie has to find the core of the story it wants to tell. It seems that this movie wanted to tell the story of how Steve singlehandedly invented Apple Computer, had it stolen away by evil people, and then took it back. That’s a story, sure, but it’s not the most interesting one. It doesn’t tell us anything about Steve the person. It doesn’t tell us how he had to learn when to be an asshole and when not to be. It doesn’t show him struggling in the wilderness during his NeXT years to learn these lessons.
Jobs (2013) is a movie that is done in by poor writing. It didn’t have to be this way. We can only hope that the upcoming Aaron Sorkin movie does a better job telling the story of an interesting man’s life that is more engaging to watch.
I'm a writer and occasional programmer. I write science fiction stories and novels.
I am the writer for the upcoming documentary series Arcade Dreams.
I also write technology articles for Ars Technica.
I'm the creator of newLISP on Rockets, a web development framework and blog application.