It’s 2158, and the Earth has long since been destroyed. Survivors of humanity have drifted through space on two Interstellar Arks for seventy years, looking for a planet capable of sustaining human life, to limited success amid desperate measures. Spaceship Icarus is racing to deliver a special cargo when it crashes on a strange planet, resulting in severe damage to the ship and the death of the majority of those on board. With time running out before the ship’s life support shuts down, the Icarus‘ captain (Tedi Nicoletos) must make a choice that will impact the mission and the lives of the few remaining survivors.
First, the positives. Paul Nicoletos’ Icarus Down looks quite nice, with the digital effects we’ve come to know and love from our contemporary sci-fi tales rendered flawlessly. The score is wonderful. The inside of the space ship, the outfits and even the behavior of the ship’s computer bring us exactly what we’d expect after years of primer with other projects such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Pitch Black and the like.
My main issues surround the ambiguity, and thus complexity, of the narrative. Whenever a new futuristic sci-fi universe is created, there is a tendency to set the stage with either exposition or opening text with a brief history to let us know the context around what we’re about to see. Sci-fi shorts can suffer in this regard when their context is extremely complex for their running time, as is the case here. I get wanting to set the stage, but here the stage is set for the entire narrative universe, to the detriment of the specific tale we’re about to see.
A tale that is quite ambiguous, honestly. We know the ship crashes, we know the damage sustained by ship and crew, and we eventually know that the ship was making a delivery of a case, but that’s all we really get. How that ties into the opening text history lesson isn’t entirely clear, nor is the reason the ship crashed in the first place. Thus, and maybe by design, we have to attach ourselves to the humanity on screen, and how they handle their predicament. All the other elements might as well be MacGuffins, which may precisely be the case.
As far as focusing on the emotional developments, the film does have another bright spot. The captain is forced to make a particularly rough decision, and whether it is for naught or not, I won’t reveal here, but it is intriguing to watch. The acting does get somewhat overwrought, but considering the situation, I’ll let that slide. Overall, while I didn’t necessarily get why the mission at hand was so important, or even the complexity of the relationships that make one life more valuable than another, the emotional connection still establishes and the film remains interesting, if confusing, for its short run time.
Bringing it back to the complexity of the contextual narrative, however, when the actual story seems removed from that world, and even resolves itself in such a way as to feel like the opening of a larger tale (where that context could be better established in a more natural way), the need to set the stage with so much textual information early on seems superfluous. Honestly, I’d have preferred more focus on the individual mission, and maybe even more natural expository moments, than the opening text. More about the characters’ relationship to one another would’ve been nice; I’ve seen that information spelled out in the synopsis of the film after the fact, but it’s not in the film, so it doesn’t come across.
In the end, I think Icarus Down is a quality, polished production that left me wanting a less frustrating narrative experience. I can only applaud the art direction and effects-work so much, when really they’re not raising the bar so much as making sure to match it, and thus settle comfortably in with their contemporaries. Maybe a longer work, or more stories to come, will make the entire experience that much better, but right now the first step, while confident, is also shaky.
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