Can Cool Ships, Exotic Creatures, and Lava Gun Blasts Save This Trope-Saturated Sci-Fi?
Zack Synder’s “Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire” premiered on Netflix on December 21, 2023. The first part of a two-part story spans a total of 134 minutes. With the Premium Netflix plan, subscribers can watch ‘Rebel Moon’ in 4K, Dolby Vision HDR, and Dolby Atmos audio. To get Dolby Vision your TV or screen must support the HDR spec (or at least a device that translates to HDR10). To get Atmos your audio system must support the format and include height element speakers placed in height positions for the full effect.
“Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire” is certainly paced like a TV show or limited series rather than a movie. But it also relies heavily on cliches and tropes found in numerous feature films.
Some Star Trek inspiration might be noted in the way a futuristic society (the Imperium) visits a seemingly primitive and earth-sowing people (the Veldt). Although, in the early Star Trek series the directive of the Federation was to not interfere. In Rebel Moon, the directive of the invading population is to exploit. Even so, we’ve seen this story numerous times. A fairly recent movie that comes to mind is “The Chronicles of Riddick,” but you can go further back to the directive of House Atreides in the 1965 novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert.
We already mentioned Star Trek, but Star Wars inspiration is also evident. The Creature Cantina scene in the first act stands out even more as unoriginal. Not only do the heroes walk into a bar filled with dangerous-looking non-humans, they are also trying to arrange transportation. It’s not the Millennium Falcon, but the pilot is a swashbuckling Han Solo-type except with an Irish accent and a hoodie (reminiscent of the character Aragon in LOTR who also sat quietly in a bar).
The cliche doesn’t seem to stop, ever. The entire scene involving the taming of a giant flying bird (called a bennu) and subsequent riding of the beast is a lot like Deaneries and her dragons (not that GOT is the earliest reference to make, but the matting and computer-generated imagery is contemporary). One might also make a reference to the animated feature “How To Train a Dragon.” in which the creature becomes dangerous to anyone who threatens it. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of film and literary references that could be made.
The CGI work in ‘Rebel Moon’ is quite impressive though, and this is where the film is hard not to turn off regardless of the “I’ve seen this before” feeling. The scene when Tarak, the blacksmith who tames and rides the bennu, falls off and jumps back on from a cliff edge is tricky to do with any realism, but works. The bennu itself is a nice piece of 3D modeling.
The mining colony of Dagus is a gorgeous bit of sci-fi imagery that impresses on a large screen, especially in 4K with HDR. Layers upon layers of moving objects merged with 3-dimensional space create a painterly scene worthy of pausing for a few minutes. But again the story hits a wall of cliche. The spider creature the team encounters is an unoriginal mash of the Borg Queen from Star Trek TNG and Shelob from “The Hobbit.” The ensuing fight with “Harmada” is just superfluous, and the responses from the heroes (and supposed warriors) as they watch one woman, the cyborg swordmaster Nemesis (Doona Bae), fight the creature is just laughable.
In Rebel Moon, we are consistently being thrown new characters without any background or introduction, so it’s hard to find empathy or interest in their motivations. We’re expected to find empathy in the character mentioned above, Nemesis, after just a minute of screen time. And yet, she saves the heroes from Harmada just on a whim?
So is this heavily cliched story worth watching for its audio and visual qualities? Absolutely! The 4K Dolby Vision imagery is stunning. The sharpness (even if just streaming at 20 Mbps) is never questioned. And, the contrast ratio is good with deep color depth that’s enhanced with Dolby Vision. The color grading, although on the darker spectrum of values, switches from worlds seamlessly. One thing about Zack Snyder is he knows how to make nice pictures.
The Dolby Atmos audio is also a dynamic mix of dialogue, effects, and music that hits brights and lows as well as any streaming title. Low frequencies in bass speakers and subwoofers fill the sound space when ships arrive and explosions occur. The sounds of pulse weapons engage side, rear, and height speakers in an immersive convergence of effects. Subtle ambients add to the new environments, experienced best with surround sound but also with Spatial Audio headphones headphones.