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Blu-ray Reviews
Monday, 05 December 2011 00:00
TO (2001 Nights)Two volumes of an old science-fiction manga series get the Vexille CG animation treatment here, which pits my dislike of that style of animation directly again my love of all things science fiction. In this case, the good guys win...

1 - Elliptical Orbit
It's 2068, and mankind has begun to spread to the starts, with an establish lunar colony and the first colony outside the solar system, at Alpha Centauri, also now in operation. The Flying Dutchman, a colony cargo ship, has just returned from its 15-year (Earth time) round-trip to the Alpha Centauri colony, carrying on board enough of a valuable ore to power the Earth for over a decade. But such a valuable cargo makes the ship a tempting target for those who feel that Earth's remaining resources aren't being distributed fairly...

First downtime in 15 yearsAttackers

2 - Symbiotic Planet
It's been 27 years since interstellar travel for the masses became practical, and the Great Advance began - with Earth's resources running out and the planet on its last legs, true colonisation of other systems, beyond just mining outposts, has begun. Not all of those colonies are leading peaceful lives, though, and on a world where the native lifeforms have brought symbiosis with each other to amazingly high levels, the human interlopers just can't get along, with rival colonies from Earth's European and Asian ethnic groups teetering on the edge of war. With contact between the two groups strongly discouraged, young lovers Ion and Alena are taking a risk by contacting each other across the divide - but when Ion is inadvertently exposed to native spores and begins to transform, in the style of the planet's symbiotic life, into something no longer entirely human, he realises that he may also have stumbled on a solution to the planet's human conflict...

Romeo & JulietNot quite human

2001 Nights was a series of 19 short stories, all told within the same universe and sitting on the same timeline but otherwise unconnected, that tended towards the 'hard' style of science fiction, sticking to science that was generally plausible but wrapping stories with a moral to them around all that technology. In a way, that makes it almost the perfect subject matter to use CG animation on - it may not be great at rendering people (I doubt I'll ever get to like the completely unnatural way that human characters look when done in this style), but hardware and scenery is a different matter, and it's only a few minutes into the first of the two stories here before you get to see what can be done, as the space station Midnight Bazooka slides past in a stunningly good-looking scene. Hell, put your humans in space-suits and even they begin to look good. As a visual hook to the stories being told here, it's a good one.

The stories themselves aren't bad, either. Both take the approach that, wherever you may put humans, human nature is still human nature: there will be haves and have nots, those who will resort to violence instead of peace. Elliptical Orbit is my personal favourite of the two, partly because it gives more of an opportunity to show off the hardware, but also because as well as dealing with humanity's age-old problems it also looks at a newer one caused by humanity's new leap to the stars - a trip to Alpha Centauri may take 15 years to those observing it on Earth, but through a combination of relativistic effects and the use of 'suspended animation', to those on board the Flying Dutchman it's only a 2-year trip. When the ship comes back, then, the crew are reunited with friends who are now considerably older and (in some cases at least) wiser than they are, which proves to be a difficult situation for all concerned. Not a new subject - just look at Ripley in Aliens for another woman out of her time - but always interesting and handled quite well here.

Symbiotic Planet relies less on the science fiction setting and more on basic human nature. A new world, difficult to tame and therefore with resources currently in short supply - the perfect situation to allow two groups of colonists from different ethnic background to reignite old rivalries. The story in this one feels a little more contrived, particularly the effects of the spores that infect Ion and in the way that the story eventually deals with them. But again the setting, a world with a style of life well out of sync with what humans are used to and comfortable with, provides plenty of interest.

My main issue is that both episodes would have done with being a little longer - feature-length, even - to make the most of what they had to work with. They both feel a little rushed in reaching their conclusions, and left me thinking "Wait, is that it!?" when the closing credits ran. But that doesn't take away from them being thoroughly enjoyable while they lasted. And hey, a CG-animated feature that I actually liked is also a first. Great stuff, and an easy recommendation. Check it out.

Rating - ****

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