The Colony (2013)

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*. Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting is sometimes referred to as the “bible” of screenwriting, and even though there are plenty of people who object to its over-schematization of the art of the screenplay, it does lay out some basic principles and conventions with clarity.
*. The best known of these is the three-part structure: setup, confrontation, and resolution (or beginning, middle, and end). The three sections are separated by “plot points”: “any incident, episode, or event that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around into another direction.”
*. The Colony was ripped by critics for its general lack of originality, but it was this tripartite structure that struck me the most. The setup introduces Colony 7 and what’s going on. Just over 20 minutes in to the film, the team leaves the colony. That’s a plot point. The confrontation has the team arriving at Colony 5 and finding out what happened there. The feral feast is revealed at the exact midpoint. Then with just over twenty minutes left, another plot point: Sam arrives back at Colony 7 to begin the third act. You couldn’t draw it up any neater.

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*. I can’t say I like the movie much. The interior sets are the most interesting part. Inside is all industrial grunge, and it works pretty well, but outside we’re stuck in a permanent CGI winter that doesn’t even look all that cold. The actors are often underdressed and I don’t recall ever seeing their breath.
*. Yet again an opportunity to deliver an environmental message about climate change is avoided. How did we manage to end up with a snowball Earth? Nobody’s sure.
*. Apparently the “weather modification tech” didn’t work. Indeed, it may have been counterproductive. When they showed us that machine I was really hoping they weren’t going to reintroduce it and have it play a role like the Martian atmospheric controller that surges into life at the end of Total Recall. Well . . . not exactly. But close enough.
*. One cliché I can’t stand in these movies is the survivor (here he’s Leland) who could easily explain what’s going on to the rescue team but for some reason just can’t get around to it. He can ask for food. He can show the team the video broadcast from the group with the functioning weather machine. But when it comes to providing some useful information, like what happened at Colony 5 and what potential dangers might still be hanging around, he can only jibber moronically about how “they” are still out there. This makes no sense at all and it’s silly to drag out the reveal in such an obvious and awkward way.

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*. When it finally comes, the reveal isn’t that surprising. The feral cannibals are mindless antagonists, and not even very believable.
*. Much is left unexplained. How do the ferals get out of Colony 5? How do they get across the abyss after the bridge is blown? How do they track the others, especially when it’s always snowing and windy, so that their bootprints would disappear in minutes? When does Kai find the time to do her make-up? Did they think they might actually make a sequel?

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