Review of Aquaman (2018)

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This film is from the DC stable of comics, with Aquaman already introduced in the recent Justice League films. Here he has his own movie. This was released November 21, 2018, by Warner Brothers Pictures, and it’s the 6th installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films. It was directed by James Wan, and stars Jason Momoa as Aquaman, with Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Nicole Kidman. This review contains spoilers.

Princess Atlanna of Atlantis washes up during a storm and carries on a romance with lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry that produces a son, Arthur. Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis, leaving her son behind. However, she sends her advisor Nuidis to see that he is trained in underwater arts. Although Arthur is Atlanna’s firstborn and has a claim on the kingship, he is rejected by Atlantis for being a half-breed and makes a life on the surface instead. Arthur fights off a group of pirates attacking a Russian vessel and makes an enemy of David Kane (Black Manta). Orm, Arthur’s younger brother and current King of Atlantis, contracts with Kane to attack Atlantis as a pretext for war with the surface world. Orm’s bethrothed Mera refuses to accept the idea of war and goes to the surface world to find Arthur. Reluctantly, he sets out with her to find the symbolic Trident of Atlan, which will allow him to depose Orm and claim the throne of Atlantis. Can Arthur find the trident and defeat Orm to prevent the war?

This film has done really well at the box office (currently $1.1 billion worldwide), maybe just because people like to watch Jason Momoa do his thing. It’s CGI heavy, as you could expect from the heavily underwater setting, and it moves right along, without any slow spots where you might fall asleep. There are some thrilling fight scenes. The ending is emotionally satisfying, and the audience at my showing actually applauded at the close.

However, as often happens with high-budget action movies, the special effects here take a toll on what the movie can accomplish. I wasn’t thrilled with the script, or the vision of Atlantis as a high-tech underwater city. If it’s that scientifically advanced, then why are its social and political structures so backward? I got the feeling that the CGI displaced the human storyline here, which ended up being pretty thin. There was something of a whiplash effect at the beginning as the director tried to quickly lay out the background, jumping from Princess Atlanna to the pirates without any transition. Plus, the editing was really poor, where in one shot Arthur is bare-chested and in the next he’s got his shirt on. This budget was actually on the low end for DC, so maybe they didn’t have enough money to reshoot scenes like that. And last, I gather that Mera and Curry are supposed to develop a romantic relationship, but instead we get a sort of annoying-kid-sister vibe from the two of them. Atlannta and Orm are cold fish. There’s just not a whole lot of chemistry anywhere in this movie. And who came up with that hair color for Mera? It’s a sort of hot, hot, hot pink. Ick. This is watchable and maybe satisfying, but actually pretty messy.

Three and a half stars.

The Mohs hardness scale for SF

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The Website TVTropes has published an article here that recommends a hardness scale for science fiction. For some reason, a particular author isn’t credited, so I guess “staff” is responsible for this wonderful suggestion. For anyone not up on their geology, Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness ranks the scratch resistance of different minerals by using harder minerals to scratch softer ones. This scale was developed in 1812 by German geologist Friedrich Mohs. Regardless of lack of precision, the test is simple and very effective for geologists with only a field kit who are trying to identify piles of dirty rocks.

So, on to the Mohs scale for SF: Because there is often some contention about whether SF is really hard or not, the staff at TVTropes proposes to scratch SF stories with something like a piece of quartz to see what rubs off. Here’s the scale they’ve come up with:

1.0 Science in Genre Only: The work is unambiguously set in the literary genre of Science Fiction, but is not scientific. Examples: DC and Marvel universes, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

2.0 World of Phlebotinum: The universe is full of Applied Phlebotinum, but it’s dealt with in a fairly consistent manner. Examples: E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, Star Trek: The Original Series.

2.5 Subclass of WOP: Stories are generally sound, but the physics aren’t our own. Often a philosophical exploration of a concept no longer considered true, or never true in the first place. Tricky to classify. Examples: Aristotelian physics, two spatial dimensions.

3.0 Physics Plus: Multiple forms of Applied Phlebotinum, but the author tries to justify these with real and invented natural laws. Examples: David Brin’s Uplift series, Battlestar Galactica (2003).

4.0 One Big Lie: Provides counterfactual physical laws and then explores the implications of these principles. Examples: Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth, Robert Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold.

4.5 One Small Fib: Stories have a single counterfactual device (e.g. FTL travel), but the device is not a major plot element. Examples: Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity, Close to Critical.

5.0 Speculative Science: Science is genuine speculative science or engineering, and the author’s goal is to make as few errors with respect to known fact as possible. Examples: Robert L. Forward’s Rocheworld, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

5.5 Futurology: Stories that try to predict the future, extrapolating from current technology. Examples E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

6.0 Real Life (aka Fiction in Genre Only): Also known as non-fiction. Examples: The Apollo Program, World War II, Woodstock.

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