The Cube Trilogy

The three movies in the Cube trilogy (Cube, Cube 2: Hypercube, and Cube Zero) are a bunch of psychological horror/thriller/sci-fi B-movies. I don’t know many people who have seen them. If they sound familiar, maybe it’s because you saw them on the shelf of your local video store or a friend mentioned them to you. You wouldn’t be faulted for not picking any of them up. There’s no well known writers, directors, or actors, and they all had very limited theatrical/festival runs, if at all. But I wouldn’t bring up some unknown thrillers from years ago without reason. With the exception of the third (prequel Cube Zero), these are really good movies.

Cube

Cube

Cube. The first. The best. It came out in 1997 (11 years ago!) and is still one of the better movies of it’s genre. 6 people are thrown into an enormous cube, made up up thousands of smaller cubes (about 14x14x14 feet). Some of the rooms are safe, but some contain deadly booby traps. Obviously, these victims want out, and thus try their luck going from room to room, always hoping the next one is the exit and wondering what the hell is going on the whole way through. We get to see the true nature of each person as little by little, they lose their sanity. The movie was actually filmed in a single 14x14x14 foot room, using various colors and angles to make it appear like they’re in physically different rooms. Actual claustrophobia, what a great way to get actors into character.

Cube 2

Cube 2

Cube 2: Hypercube gets an extra dose of sci-fi and dials down the gore. The cube in Cube 2 is much more different than the original. First of all, it’s not just a cube, but a hypercube (or tesseract), which is a 4 dimensional cube. I’m not even going to bother explaining it, but they attempt to give some sort of reasoning in the film (and you could also try reading the Wikipedia entries on hypercubes and tesseracts). In addition to adding an extra dimension, the cube also looks different and has very different booby traps. Everything is bright and white, as opposed to the dirty, dingey cube of the original. And gone are the blades and flames from the first, here we have an entirely new set of traps that aren’t easily explained. They involve a different type of physics which allow for things like rooms with variable time speeds and centers of gravity. The second film in the trilogy isn’t quite as good a movie as the original, but it makes up for it by going crazy with the whole 4th dimension thing. Honestly, Cube 2 could have been a much worse movie than it actually is and I would still love it based on the premise alone.

Cube Zero

Cube Zero

Cube Zero (released in 2004, only 2 years after the second film) was kind of a dud and a sad way to end the trilogy. There’s still some of the same “people in the Cube” thing, but we get the added dimension of outside people. We see the regular guys who keep an eye on things in the Cube and I think we’re supposed to feel some pity for them, or at least not hate them, because they’re not directly at fault for such torture but rather they’re “just following orders.” If Cube Zero had to be made (which it didn’t, the mystery was part of the allure), it still had such potential, answering everyone’s questions about the who/where/why/how, but unfortunately, not many questions are answered (not the right ones anyway). And it’s far too cheesy. The writer was either trying too hard, or not enough. I’m not sure which. The two workers we see for most of the time have such forced dialogue, it’s absurd. And their characters are sooo cliche. If you’re going to watch these movies, it’s probably better if you skip this one. Unless you are really grasping at straws for some answers, in which case, have fun, but don’t expect much.

As great and original as these three movies were, I think the idea has been exhausted. There’s only so much you can take of watching a handful of people go through the same booby trapped rooms over and over again. It was fun while it lasted, and we got something of an explanation in the end, but please don’t do any more. Not that that’s stopped film makers before, but here’s hoping they leave this one alone.

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I Heart Robots

**This post contains minor spoilers**

I have been excited about the newest installment in the Disney/Pixar juggernaut for about a year. Last June, my theater opened Ratatouille, Brad Bird’s masterpiece about a rat who wants to be a chef. A preview of WALL-E came attached to Reel 1 of that film, and because Ratatouille played at the theater for seven weeks, I saw it at least 100 times. Now, as the title of this post suggests, I go gaga for all things robotic, cybernetic, artificially intelligent and so on. This might explain my undying affection for Darth Vader and Cylons…although not Commander Data for some reason. Too pasty perhaps? I digress.

So, I spent the whole year more or less wound up about WALL-E. I mean, he’s too cute right? This robot’s got personality, and even though he’s a big hunk of metal, he’s easy to love.

Which, for a movie like this, is a must. There isn’t much dialogue, so connecting with these robotic characters relies heavily the audience interpreting their body language. Which brings me to point number one about this film. The animation is mind-blowing. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but the wide shots of the abandoned Earth are breathtaking, both visually and emotionally. And the details of WALL-E’s life on Earth are so meticulously crafted in the script and executed in the animation, that it’s impossible not to feel like this more or less mute robot is an individual with a personality. Enter EVE, the love interest of the story. EVE is sleek, rounded, and, well…deadly. Of course, it’s love at first sight.

Which brings me to my only gripe about the film, which is actually pretty similar to my main gripe over one of Pixar’s other films, Monsters, Inc. Why so heterosexist? I didn’t notice this at first, but my wife mentioned it, and she’s right. This is a story about robots. Do they have to be a boy and a girl? Could they not be a touch more androgynous? Robots, in the WALL-E universe anyway, don’t need to exchange genetic material to reproduce. Why do they need a sex? I suppose that a lot of humans are only in their comfort zone when boys and girls are in love, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’m not suggesting a film about blatantly gay robots (although that would be awesome!) but perhaps in a film about robots in love, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to suggest that love comes in more than one variety. Monster’s, Inc. presented a similar quandry–maybe not heterosexism so much as just sexism. In a film in which the male main characters are a giant technicolor yeti and a green walking eyeball, the female monster is a svelte, busty, sex pot. So even female monsters are subjected to impossible standards of beauty. Remember that Boo. Remember that.

Moving on.

The strength of this movie is that it’s way more than eye candy. I think most viewers have come to expect this of Pixar. And I should note here that some of my favorite films are from Pixar, but I don’t love everything they’ve done. Cars was pretty limp for me. And I wasn’t as bowled over by Toy Story as the rest of the world seemed to be. Finding Nemo was a good film, but didn’t resonate with me they way Brad Bird’s contributions to Pixar’s oeuvre have. So I don’t go into a Pixar film expecting greatness. Because while the animation is always outstanding, not all of the stories have been. And they set the bar pretty high with last year’s smash hit Ratatouille. So WALL-E was poised to take quite a fall if it wasn’t a grand slam.

But it is. At it’s heart, this film about robots is about making human connections, and how existence is vacant without them. Of course the film examines this on an individual scale through the characters of WALL-E and EVE, but it also expands outwards and looks at the remainder of humanity, whose connections to one another have vanished as robots tend their every need and whose connection to home, to Earth, has been severed as well. So the film asks us, what happens when we lose our connection to our home? What happens when we are no longer able to engage with our fellow human beings? What happens when we absolve ourselves of our responsibilities to our planet and to one another? The answer in the film is extreme, but it’s worth thinking about.

And while the movie makes you think, it also acknowledges its space opera heritage usually in hilarious fashion. Sigourney Weaver voices the ship’s computer as a shout out to Alien and Aliens (two of the best films ever made), and AUTO, the ship’s auto pilot celebrates everyone’s favorite overbearing AI, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don’t want to give too much away, but every sci-fi fan should see this film. Sci-fi imagines our future, specifically influenced by science and technology, and even though WALL-E is a G rated cartoon, it’s also excellent sci-fi.

A few people I’ve talked to have said that they didn’t think kids would enjoy this film–that it was too adult, too hard to follow–that without dialogue, kids wouldn’t get it. But the whole point of WALL-E is that connecting with other people and with the world at large is about paying attention–being engaged. And if viewers are engaged, regardless of their age, they’ll get it. Because the language of this film is the primal and universally understood language of physical expression. And kids get that. And I’m not just speculating here. Nearly 1000 kids have seen WALL-E since it opened at my theater. And judging by their smiling faces and frequent promises to return for a second viewing, they’re loving it!