Monday, 26 April 2010

Slick Swiss Sci-Fi


‘‘What happens to those who find out they’re living in a simulation ?’’

An intelligent and highly engrossing Sci-Fi movie from Switzerland, with visual and audible working parts analogous to a fine Swiss time piece.

The future of planet Earth seems destined to the desolate dusts of oblivion. A plague of epidemic proportions has swept the globe and all forms of life are dying. The once green and prosperous world is now barren and bleak. Mankind has reached out to the stars and vast space stations orbit the Earth, as well as farther reaching planets. The technology to use light speed now exists in this future time, along with the ability to safely use cryogenics to suspend life on long destinations.

Orbiting planet Earth is a space station the size of Manhattan, its vitality lighting up the dense darkness of space like New York city at night time. This Metropolis is where the remnants of mankind’s majority now exist. There is still sickness and disease but thanks to the global governmental system there is a perfect life to strive for on the perfect world of Rhea.

Blade runner (1982) like giant screens fill the minds of the populace with hope of a better life. Work for the system and commit to the cause and the reward may be a place in the Shangri-La that is Rhea. But, at what cost and to what end ?.

Doctor Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) signs up on a four year contract as a medic aboard a cargo ship. Her dream is to acquire passage to join her sister Laura, and her son and daughter, at their picturesque homestead on Rhea. Along with a minimal crew Laura is designated a cryogenic split shift with the rest of the ships compliment, their destination deep space Station 42.

Like any government this future one is targeted by militant factions looking to bring them down. The space lanes and cargo traffic have been hit often with what is broadcast as terror attacks, and acts of major sabotage. The leader of the activist group is Klaus Bruckner, deemed an infamous terrorist and enemy of the people. For the protection of outgoing cargo transportation sky marshals are designated to the teams. Aboard Laura’s ship is assigned Samuel Decker (Martin Rapold). His authority over rides even the captain of the vessel in time of threat to the ship and crew.

The cargo ship is transporting material to build a new space station, and part of the crews daily routine is to carry out routine diagnostic checks, to maintain optimum efficiency in arriving at their destination in good time. Three years and eight months into the journey Laura Portmann’s shift is underway, and an unanticipated turn of events begins to play out.

Laura goes about her daily routine carrying out the necessary checks and procedures, interspersed with a regular fitness routine and occasional message relays to her sister. Her video diary is to share her thoughts with her niece and nephew, living in the perfect haven of Rhea with their mother, Laura’s sister. The delay in response takes weeks, but is still very much welcomed as a distraction from the cold dankness of the huge space sarcophagus she is travelling within. One day, however, a message she sends is responded to literally moments later. How can this possibly be !?.

As the days go by Laura’s solitary shift gives her cause to explore the ship a little deeper than before. An unusual patter of clanking sounds leads her to a high security restricted area. She feels ill at ease, and even more so when she believes that she sees movement through the thick glass window panel of the heavy duty steel restraining door. The captain of the ship and the sky marshal are pulled out of cryogenic suspension, and together the three of them investigate beyond the door. It is the main entrance to the cargo compartment, where what is being transported is stored. The climate control temperature beyond the door is well below freezing !. Due to the size of the bay the three of them are designated by the captain to split into three, in order to each take equal portion of the nine sectors to investigate. Portmann raises concern that all of them should stay together. Her concerns are merited moments later as she witness the free fall decent of her captain dropping to the ground a multitude of metres below her. He is dead upon impact. His condition verified back in the medical lab by Laura as she verifies his cause of death from fractured skull and multiple fractures to the spine. What she also discovers during the autopsy is that the captain has an artificial eye !.

Upon removal she connects the eye to her computer and is able to reconstruct the last few moments of what the captain saw before his tragic fall. What is displayed upon the screen is sight of a containment area that reads Biohazard !.

Investigation of the cargo by Portmann, Decker, and two other members of the now fully awakened crew, Vespucci and Prokoff, reveal that rather than construction materials the transported cargo on board is actually humans !. Doctor Portmann insists that one of the containers is taken back to the ships medical lab for further investigation. Against the judgement of the once second in command and now newly self appointed Captain, Anna Lindberg, Laura pulls the occupant out of artificial suspension. What she awakens is a young girl, and what she discovers is that this innocent child is hooked up to a computerised highway. A world of tranquillity, completely opposite to the dark void environment that humanity is existing in. Could it be that this young girl and the mass multitude of fellow cryogenically entombed people are all part of a linked hub. A community of the persistently sleeping, yet consciously aware in a state far removed from reality !?.

The now in charge designated captain Lindberg does her own investigating and discovers that whilst everyone else was confined to the assigned configuration of their cryogenic chamber rota, it seems that sky marshal Samuel Decker has been freely coming and going during the entirety of the ships durational undertaking. She confronts him and accuses him of sabotage. He is placed under arrest and forced back into cryogenic sleep for the remainder of the journey. Before he is hauled off he tells Portmann that they are not headed for Station 42, but in fact are bound for Rhea !.

Soon after Laura asks auxiliary crew member Miyuki Yoshida to use her expertise with computers to do a search of the ships logistics. She reveals that they are indeed not destined for Station 42 at all. More alarmingly she confirms that a ships pre-destined flight path cannot be altered once it is computed into its binary coding, therefore their flight plan has not been changed during the journey. Wherever they are destined is not what they were informed of at the outset !.

A short time later one of the crew turns up dead, and Decker is once again free from his cryogenic containment. There must be someone else on board the ship !.

The look and feel of this relatively low budget production is exemplary. Hollywood blockbusters afforded this attention to detail at likely twenty to thirty times the cost would be proud of the outcome. The effects are actually cleverly kept at a minimal, but when deployed are exceptional. The majority of the film centres around the Cargo ship and its occupants. The handful of characters helps keep things taught, as all of them are to a degree suspicious of the other. The central roles are that of Doctor Laura Portmann and space marshall Samuel Decker. As the movie progresses Deccker’s true purpose for being aboard the transportation ship unravels. Portmann is striving for the dream that all of humanity is seeking, a perfect life upon Rhea. The government is feeding the surviving populace a dream, something to strive for, but also manipulating the truth. In a true global ongoing plight to keep balance, even in this future time, the message seems to be that man has learned little from his past failures.

Planet Earth is described as being completely bereft of being able to support life, yet an under lying factor of hope plays out throughout the movie. Is Earth’s re-colonization now more of an economical downturn for a thriving government than an ethical priority to re-establish a birthright ?. Is the creation of a fantastical environment this futures addiction, no better than drugs ?. This then is indeed a thought provoking Science Fiction movie bordering on future science fact. Eerily enigmatic in its allure and cerebrally stimulating in its demure transience between reality and pseudo actuality.

Come the finale Laura holds the key to unlocking the true ecosystem structure of Rhea, and its blinding beauty holds the future of humanity within its diffident dystopia.

Seek Cargo out wherever you can, be it at a film festival or late night showing at a small town cinema venue, but if you can do see it on the big screen. To be cinematically enveloped by true sound and vision is the very best way to experience this tremendous slice of succulent Sci-Fi nourishment.

Movie Rating: 7/10
Review: Paul Cooke
Cargo (2009)
Director Ivan Engler & Ralph Etter
With Martin Rapold, Anna-Katharina Schwabroh,
Michael Finger,Claude-Oliver Rudolph,
Regula Grauwiller, Yangzom Brauen,
Maria Boettner, Pierre Semmier,
Gilles Tschudi & Noa Strupler


  1. Wow, this was something I had no idea was out there, but it sure sounds great. I'll free up space in my living room for a little extra Cargo!

  2. It's a real gem David. Needs picking up & released to a general audience. Sci-Fi fans will lap this up & movie goers looking for something to stimulate rather than wash over them will be mesmorised. A refreshing slice of genuine cinema pleasure.

  3. 君子如水,隨方就圓,無處不自在。 ..................................................