Del and Mladen review ‘Cosmos’
“Cosmos” Starring Tom England, Joshua Ford and Arjun Singh Panam. Directed by Eliot and Zander Weaver. 128 minutes. No rating available.
I spent the better part of my senior year in high school hanging out at my friend David’s garage. David was whatever you called a computer geek in the 1970s, and his garage was a trove of junk – boxes and bundles, cables and capacitors, all of it lying on the floor, hanging from the walls, spilling out of containers and littering the desktop where his ham radio sat. It had the class-action lawsuit smell of dangerous carcinogens and looked like a Jawa sandcrawler that had been ransacked by Imperial stormtroopers. We loved it.
“Cosmos” has a similar feel. It’s chock full of computer equipment, radio gear and bins with batteries and cables and God knows what, but it’s really about three guys and their niche interest – astronomy – and I will warn you front and center: It’s not for everybody. Most of the movie takes place behind the steamed-up windows of a Volvo stationwagon, and no, get your mind out of the gutter. It’s about bonding, friendship, and every other box that must be checked before a movie can earn the Steven Spielberg stamp of approval.
I can go two ways with this review. I can talk about “Cosmos” being a set piece with glacial pacing until you are thrown into the tacked-on, hair-raising final 5 minutes. Or I can talk about the fact that it was written, directed, lighted and photographed by two young brothers in one month for a total cost of $7,000. Avenue No. 1 leads to a C+ rating. Avenue No. 2 is a solid A. I am trending to No. 2 because “Cosmos” is blessed with something most movies don’t possess these days:
I’m talking about the intangible love endowed by creators who care about what they are doing, a love that can’t be articulated but somehow becomes obvious after the few minutes. “Cosmos” has a heaping helping of love, and that counts for a lot.
The story is about three astronomy buffs who head into the English countryside one night to hunt for a passing asteroid. Yet there’s tension – Roy (Arjun Singh Panam) was laid off from his engineering job just as a satellite he designed is lofted into orbit. His friend Harry (Joshua Ford), who worked for the same evil company and is the leader of their ad hoc stargazing group, the Astro-Nuts, replaced Roy with Mike (Tom England) when Roy stopped turning out. Mike is a radio astronomer and the misfit of their geeky troika.
During the night Mike sends a message into outer space and strange happenings commence – the message returns, a void is detected orbiting the Earth, and Roy and Harry hash out their differences – with an assist from Mike, who aspires to be a fully fledged member of the Nuts. To say anything else would spoil the movie.
Sound boring? Not to a SETI fanatic sporting a 5-inch reflector with a tracking motor and a crosshairs-illuminated spotting scope, hence the caveat: This movie is not for everyone. For those who might have hung out with me and David in his Jawa junk bin of a garage, it’s a gem.
But about that last 5 minutes. Ahem, guys: You totally abandoned the movie’s voice when you tacked on that last 5 minutes. And the payoff was, shall we say, a letdown? Only a person who has had an asteroid named after him or her could appreciate the payoff.
The two guys who made this movie are brothers Eliot and Zander Weaver, a pair of movie-loving Brits in their early 20s who said to hell with college, we’re making movies! “Cosmos” was shot mostly in a garage in a month with the bros doing all the work, and again, the total funds expended were $7,000. I expect that’ll attract the attention of a few beancounters.
Their talent for moviemaking is obvious: “Cosmos” has the look and feel a movie costing 10 times as much. Acting and direction are excellent, dialogue is excellent – it’s a well-done film and my jaw thudded against the desk when I read that $7,000 figure.
So I’m giving it an A, just because I want these guys to keep making movies.
Del claims to be only one of two people on the planet who are perpetually skeptical about what they read on the Internet. But, he accepts the claim of the Brothers from Britain that “Cosmos” only cost them $7,000, or is that pounds, to make? If the latter, “Cosmos” was an $8,750 production. That’s a difference of 22 percent. Can I trust the souls, motivation, and marketing of the Brothers and their allegedly low-budget Indie attempt to make a serious movie as does Del or is “Cosmos” a feint? Maybe the movie is designed to dupe utopians such as Del, who go on to praise it, and, as word spreads, gets the Brothers a big budget for a much bigger movie bankrolled by Hollywood, Bollywood, or some Asian studio laundering money for the Chinese Communist Party or Kim Jung‑un.
“Cosmos” is a decent movie, whether you subscribe to Del’s Avenue 1 or Avenue 2 perspective, and nothing more. It succumbs to all the tropes you expect in movies: tension among characters; a dangerous and spooky outdoors; and some type of looming malfunction that risks everything the protagonists have accomplished.
Of those tropes, the first is the least objectionable. People are stupid. Who knows what triggers their moods and feelings and reactions and whatever other phenomena our yoga‑practicing society now identifies as maladies. When this “Cosmos” character dislikes that “Cosmos” character, though the latter had nothing to do with the former’s misfortune, I shrug and wonder when the story will get interesting again. A character’s backstory is never interesting when the genre of the film is sci-fi or war. When creating a movie about a radio signal from outer space, which was done well in “Cosmos,” or the invasion of Okinawa, I prefer the sole focus to be the actor’s response to the imagined scenario. That the person being portrayed by the actor is a father or mother, abused as a child or spoiled, or struggling with the death of finance matters nothing to me. When you have aliens responding to a signal from Earth that was sent 20 years earlier, I’m in for the ride for the duration of the movie. The hook is detecting the signal and what comes next. There’s no reason to distract the viewer by introducing the trifling, pathetic concerns of unsatisfied lives. We’re Homo sapiens and unsatisfied with everything. Move on. Show me what happens next without interfering with the story by shifting to a memory of getting fired from a job or whatever.
Introducing a frightening forest scene to the film as two of our heroes move in separate directions to plant antennas was a mistake. The locale for the film is the U.K. outside a large city with SETI‑like satellite dishes and their control station nearby. We’re not talking the Congo rain forest here. What were the dangers that our trekkers faced? Attack by a rabid raccoon, a deranged rat, the Queen’s Yorkshire terriers? Oh, no, there’s a dip in the terrain. Damn, don’t walk into that tree. Shit, was that a velociraptor pack? The effort to portray physical danger in the movie was silly. It still sticks in my craw.
The adventure during the last, oh, 10, 15 minutes of “Cosmos” is contrived because it was triggered by a cliché technology trope. No need to introduce a spoiler, but here’s a clue: Pay attention to the Volvo wagon’s headlights, which were on during much of the movie with the engine off, and then ask why the vehicle’s power supply wasn’t the answer to the problem facing three aerospace engineers. Oh, of course, the movie included the obligatory loss of cell phone or walkie-talkie communications and even a wild‑ish car ride to help pace the movie’s melodrama.
Yes, you should watch “Cosmos,” though it’s a B-. Those moments when the movie focuses on the discovery of the alien radio signal, pinpointing its locale, and corroborating its authenticity are very good. Much of the rest is spittle. If you want to watch low-budget, A‑level sci-fi, catch the time travel piece “Primer.” Pay attention to the brief dialogue about two-thirds into the film while the time travelers are hiding in a motel room to avoid meeting themselves.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.