The annual Sol Invictus competition is underway, and rival academies from Earth, named after different astrological signs, have transported their best students via slipstream gate to an alien planet to compete. The first team to accurately locate Earth’s sun in the sea of stars, as seen from the competition planet, wins. This time, however, something has gone horribly awry.
Only a small group of students, a mix of all the academies, has made it to the planet… which may not be the correct planet. Despite the strange conditions, the lack of supplies and the obvious fact that something has gone wrong, the remaining students fall in with the one academy with the most members, Gemini, in an effort to finish the race; because no one gets to go home, until someone successfully finds Earth’s sun.
And all is going to plan, if not swimmingly, when the small group is savaged in the night by some nocturnal beasts, leaving an even smaller crew of students alive. Now without any true majority or team leader to follow, the remaining students must band together to end the race and survive. Which is easier said than done, as almost everyone still seems to have the glory of being the winning team member in his head, and doesn’t always act for the good of the group.
Sol is sort of what would happen if the cutthroat government of The Hunger Games set up an academy tournament a la The Amazing Race in the not-so-near future. I use those two pop cultural touchstones because they’re the most immediate, though you could compare to any sort of challenge where students from rival academies with fierce loyalties are pitted against each other in a race for glory amid dangerous conditions. I’m not sure how many students do or don’t survive this race normally, and perhaps it goes off without a hitch the majority of the time without casualties, but the selfish way in which almost every student acts leads me to believe that, if the environment doesn’t do the students in annually, their competitors will.
Which leads to my main problems with Sol, revolving around the uneven performances that most often are reflecting the contradictory nature of many of the actions and motivations in the film. When things start out, most of the students don’t know exactly what’s going on, so they focus entirely on winning the race. When it becomes clear that there are some severe problems to deal with, like lack of food and attacks by the indigenous wildlife, the few surviving students’ motivations still seem to fluctuate between being crowned the winner and just surviving. Fluctuating to an almost irrational extent.
Which is fine, there is still growth to be had, but at a certain point characters begin making decisions that are entirely destructive and selfish and then, minutes later, are seen being trusted by the very people they just screwed over (or attempted to screw over). When one character’s actions directly leads to the death of another, for example, it’s surprising when that same character is seemingly embraced back into the fold as if nothing horrible had just happened because of him. I’m being vague so as to not spoil anything specific, but this group seems populated almost entirely by two-faced a******s. Even the ones you start to root for, at some point, do something self-serving and wrong for seemingly no good reason. But perhaps that’s how they’ve been raised (I mean, the entire race itself is suspect, you know).
All that said, however, for the most part I really enjoyed the film. The effects work gets the job done, and stays minimalistic while still being successful. You get the idea that this is the future, the film has some nice flash to it, but it’s not a show piece devoid of any feeling or personality. While I did have trouble finding anyone in the film to really relate or connect with, there are enough hints at the beginning of the film that I knew who was going to turn out to be the one to really keep an eye on, and for the most part, despite the contradictory moments had by most of the rest of the characters, the one hero’s arc remained pretty steady.
Overall, Sol is a very competent film, though also sometimes frustrating due to the way the characters behave. Still, the overall project shows skills and promise from the filmmaking team. For me, I just needed a more consistent narrative; I’m not talking hand-holding through the story, just more consistency in character. And that doesn’t mean I wanted one-dimensional characters devoid of complexity, I just wanted that complexity to make a bit more sense.
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