Make no mistake, ‘Battle in Space: The Armada Attacks’ (‘BIS’) is a unique take on the science fiction space opera genre, and though it veers into cliché it still manages to stand out amongst its contemporaries not so much in what is shows; but rather how it delivers the story.
As an indie film, BIS presents an admirable idiosyncratic format, forgoing a standard long form narrative and instead opting to deliver a set of short stories. The directorial duties are shared by Sanjay F. Sharma, Toby Rawal, Scott Robson, Andrew Jaksch, Lukas Kendall, and Luis Tinoco – and like a box of chocolates, each offers their own unique flavour in storytelling, design and composition. With the exception of the first short Battle In Space: The Armada Attacks (evidently which shares the title of the film) each of the remaining four chapters possesses its own distinct title: The Hermes, The Agamemnon, The Perses, and The Caronte.
The overarching tale describes one of the expansive achievements of humankind having successfully colonised parts of space in the year 2400. However, such successes soon become threatened by an alien invasion – fostered by, of all things, space wizards. These magic wielding aliens possess the power to commit interdimensional travel, leading them to besiege the human race.
The first short film Battle In Space: The Armada Attacks (introduced by Doug Jones) concerns missing (perhaps abducted) children on a now dystopian earth, with a former cop Jack Dawkins seeking to locate his own daughter.
The second short film The Hermes quickly evolves from a somewhat comical interrogation to an entertaining heist themed plot, with the protagonist Jamie, teaming up with a mysterious stranger to locate a crystal.
The third film The Agamemnon tells the tale of astronauts investigating relay stations on a deserted planet, with shades of body swapping and flashbacks thrown in for complicated measure.
The fourth film The Perses is somewhat reminiscent of Rand Ravich’s underrated thriller The Astronaut’s Wife, that is if it was directed by a young Christopher Nolan; and although derivative, this was the most memorable piece given its overall style.
Finally, with The Caronte we are treated to an action packed set piece that has a female space lieutenant working furiously to escape an alien attack. This would have been the most compelling story, if not for the inclusion of flashback story concerning an adolescent sharing more than just the story nexus with this space lieutenant.
Admittedly, I am not well versed in the space opera genre as some of my fellow FCS alum, however the strength of BIS’s narrative structure was just enough to pique my interest. The use of different directors is indeed a novel approach, with this delivering a diverse interpretative quality in its story telling.
The downside of this however, is clearly that it can be jarring for the viewer. At times it does struggle with cohesion and pacing, further marred by questionable acting in places. As an audience, we are given little time to invest ourselves in the characters and hence this impedes our appreciation for each hero or villain. With the exception of the female X-wing pilot in The Caronte, most of the other actors are forgettable, and this may be largely attributed to a weak script and direction, rather than their thespian abilities.
Yet by the same token, the way each story has been framed surprisingly develops a universe through the central themes of adversity, courage and sacrifice. As the whole premise of an extra-terrestrial invasion is an overdone cinematic trope, the deliberate choice of short interconnected films aims to deliver a unique experience – and it almost manages to achieve this. A rag tag bunch of rebels taking on a large alien invasion is certainly nothing new, and perhaps without the deliberate episode structure, this film may have been passed over.
Yet to its credit, the short stories in BIS are reminiscent of those anthology horror films such as the excellent ‘Twilight Zone: Movie’ (1983); and even the obscure but highly recommended Bollywood film, ‘Darna Mana Hai’ aka Fright is Forbidden (2003), which is one of my personal favourites. In BIS, each story arc attempts to create a new narrative thread that ultimately provides unique insights into the circumstances faced by each character. It should also be noted, that with the exception of famed body actor Doug Jones (known for his unforgettable collaborations with Guillermo del Toro) BIS doesn’t boast any notable stars and as such some of the performances can be hit-or-miss. In addition, there is little in the way of creative cinematography to overcome the outdated and lacklustre special effects, undoubtedly attributed to the limited budget.
BIS has a clear audience in mind, and unless you are a dedicated pundit of the genre, this may not appeal to you. And yet although riddled with flaws, it is a commendable first effort in consolidating what is essentially an ambitious ensemble driven movie. It offers each director the opportunity to further refine their craft and hopefully commit new methods into a forthcoming sequel.
Battle In Space: The Armada Attacks is now available on DVD, VoD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.