Del reviews ‘The Last Journey of Paul W.R.’

Image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“The Last Journey of Paul W.R.” Starring Hugo Becker, Lya Oussadit-Lessert, Paul Hamy and Jean Reno. Directed by Romain Quirot. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Unrated. Hulu.

Del’s take

“The Last Journey of Paul W.R.” is a visually arresting but spiritually obtuse commentary about many subjects, some personal, some cultural, some even scientific. But the viewer will decide if any of these arguments have merit and if the movie is as steeped in layers as it would have you believe.

Based on a short film by French director Romain Quirot, “The Last Journey of the Enigmatic Paul W.R.,” which premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, “Journey” tells the story of Paul W.R. (Hugo Becker), who is the only man who can save the world.

In the near future, man’s meddling with climate and his despoiling of the environment have led to catastrophe. Rising temperatures caused by fossil fuels have transformed the earth into a desert hellscape. France now resembles Morocco, where “Journey” was actually filmed.

Salvation arrives in the guise of a planetoid called “the red moon,” which contains a mysterious substance, Lumina, a highly energetic mineral that promises to solve mankind’s energy crisis. Unfortunately, the mining of Lumina has provoked a hostile response, a powerful electromagnetic barrier that surrounds the red moon and sends it on a collision course with the Earth.

Only one man, Paul W.R., for reasons unspecified, can penetrate the electromagnetic barrier and destroy the red moon. But hours before he is due to begin his mission, Paul W.R. flees, hiding among the thousands of climate refugees that populate desert France. He connects with a disaffected teenage girl, Elma (Lya Oussadit-Lessert), and together they embark on a quest to find a forest Paul remembers from his childhood, one that may hold personal salvation.

Bound up in this hegira is Paul’s father, Henri W.R. (Jean Reno), who in the American style neglected his sons and his dying wife to ensure mankind’s access to Lumina, and Paul’s brother, Elliott W.R. (Paul Hamy), who attempted to pierce the red moon’s veil and failed, coming away from that near catastrophe with a psychic ability to compel suicides. Elliott is pursuing Paul, ostensibly to bring him back for his flight to the red moon. But it is obvious a degree of sibling rivalry may result in a different outcome.

The movie is visually beautiful. Quirot composes scenes the way a poet might arrange quatrains. But lost in the images of desert and firestorms is a sense of purpose as Quirot struggles to decide which imperative will drive his movie – the larger issue of mankind’s demise or the dysfunctional dynamics of Paul W.R.’s family. Add to this muddle the presence of Elma, clearly a symbol for innocence, and the red moon itself, which may be a metaphor for Paul W.R.’s late mother, and the result is a film going in several different directions, none of them working with the other.

“Journey” is a European movie – a French movie – though at times it does lean toward the American sensibility for gunplay and fistfights. In the end it becomes a commentary about the power of the individual, and how one must remain true to his or herself. Or perhaps not.

I give this movie a grade of C+. It has lofty ambitions and beautiful scenery, but its lack of focus means few will appreciate whatever it was Quirot tried to say.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

[ Primary image courtesy of Free SVG ]

From Amazon:

Adventures in the Arcane is back! And we’ve expanded to eight thrilling stories. The characters you love from Volume I return, including Captain Argo, Dominic Ashwood, Waylon and Jester, Dempsey and Drood.

Our guest authors, including pulp legend Ron Goulart, bring you four terrific tales guaranteed to set your heart racing. Inside you’ll find femme fatales, vengeful ghosts, mysterious islands, and deadly dream worlds.

Lock your door, brew some coffee, and light a candle. Then open this book and prepare to be thrilled!

A Syndicate Production featuring the work of Mark Boss, S. Brady Calhoun, Ruth Corley, Mark Douglas Jr., Ron Goulart, Jayson Kretzer, Tony Simmons, and Del Stone Jr.

If you would like to order a copy of “Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II,” following this link.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at .

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Edge of Tomorrow” Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Directed by Doug Liman. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

Didn’t Mladen, at some point during one of his hyperbolic rants, swear he’d never see another PG-13-rated movie? Didn’t he say they were all crap?

Well, guess what?

He broke his vow and attended “Edge of Tomorrow,” the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, and after the movie was over you should have heard him, squealing like a little girl who’d just been given a peck on the cheek by Justin Bieber. He not only saw another PG-13-rated movie but he loved it.

Mladen, you phony.

His enthusiasm, however, is well-deserved. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a terrific summer movie, carrying the right balance of humor, tension, and spectacle. Your ticket-buying dollars will not have been wasted on this one.

In “Edge of Tomorrow,” an alien race we call “Mimics” has invaded the earth and is swallowing up Europe. Unless they’re stopped, mankind faces the same fate he inflicts on so many animal species of this planet. Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, is sent to the fight despite his credentials as a public information officer for the military. During the battle he kills an “alpha,” a particular kind of alien that, in dying, bestows him with the ability to restart the day each time he dies. (Believe me, there are no groundhogs in this movie, and if there were, they’d all be exterminated.) Through repeating his experiences he’s able to learn and survive a little longer, until he meets up with Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who underwent the same experience and learned there’s a very bad alien pulling all the strings. Their mission, which they choose to accept, is to exterminate that alien.

This movie presents so many pluses it’s hard to list them all. The writing is excellent. The dialogue is snappy, at times hilarious, at other times deadly earnest. Pacing, internal logic, respites from tension – they’re all handled with a canniness that speaks to the skills of the writers and the director.

Acting is top notch. Tom Cruise is a sympathetic and realistic character in the bones of the unwilling and frightened Major Cage, and he grows throughout the movie. Emily Blunt is a tough badass who has her vulnerabilities – and might I add it’s a pleasure to see a strong woman in a movie again – and Bill Paxton is funnier than his role in “Aliens.”

Speaking of which, the aliens in “Edge of Tomorrow” are truly alien. I take my hat off to the person who designed them. They look like nothing you’ve seen.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is not “deep,” meaning it won’t be in line for a best picture award. But it’s nice to see Cruise in a winner. It’s nice to see a movie that isn’t based on a sequel or a prequel or a remake of a remake. It’s nice to see a well-written, smart, funny and exciting film again. I was beginning to wonder if I ever would.

I almost clapped at the end of “Edge of Tomorrow,” and if a movie review can make a sound, that’s likely what you hear. Go see the movie. I’d rate it a solid A.

Mladen’s take

It would be easy to dismiss “Edge of Tomorrow” as a trite film because the trailers make it look and sound like “Ground Hog Day” meets “Halo.” But, that would be an error.

Despite its flimsy PG-13 rating, “E of T” is very good. The script and acting – Tom Cruise as Cage and Emily Blunt as Vrataski in the lead roles and Bill Paxton supporting as Farrell – were top notch. Plus, computer-generated graphics were used to enhance the plot, rather than conceal poor writing, silly coincidences that keep a weak story flowing, and crappy, underdeveloped characters typical of summer blockbusters.

Del summed the movie nicely, so I won’t bother. “E of T” is a film worthy of the big screen and big ticket prices moviegoers have to endure these days.

“E of T” is a sci-fi adventure built around its stars. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gun and grenade play and lots of CV-22-like machines blown out of the sky, but it’s the movie’s characters that keep your attention.

Cage transitions nicely from a selfish and naïve military public affairs propagandist at the beginning of the film to a man clearly thinking about someone other than himself by the end. He dies many times, often in funny ways.

Vrataski is tough from the get-go and the brains behind the operation to whack the Omega, a time-warping brain, that controls the Mimics, hyper-mobile alien troops that have conquered continental Europe.

“Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t perfect, but could have been – yeah, Del, here it comes – if the studio dedicated it to entertainment for adults by going R. Yes, the producers would have made less money, but, in exchange for less change, “E of T” could have gone down in moviedom sci-fi history as masterful. Was “Alien” rated PG(-13)? Was “The Matrix” rated PG(-13)? Was “District 9” rated PG-13? No, no, and no. More realistic battle scenes would have helped “E of T.” Vivid blood spray, graphic skin, muscle, and organ disintegrations after impacts by projectiles or crashes, full-bore cussing, and reproductive urge tension between handsome Cage and beautiful Vrataski would have burnished the movie’s credentials. Instead, we get sterilized deaths and constrained language even when Mimics are running amok and slicing through exoskeleton-equipped human soldiers.

Lukewarm rant aside, I would see “Edge of Tomorrow” again in the theater if I could afford it. And, “E of T” will become part of my Blu-Ray collection when it’s released for home viewing.

Though it troubles me to no end, I completely agree with Del on this one. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Gravity” Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

“Gravity” is a stunning spectacle of special effects and a riveting depiction of the human will to survive. But its characters are thinly sketched and their motivations contrived, which pulls the movie from the lofty realm of a classic to the merely good, despite the “buzz” and Oscar talk.

In “Gravity,” Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a mission specialist, on her first space shuttle flight. She and old hand astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are part of a Hubble Space Telescope repair team which falls afoul of a Russian anti-satellite test gone wrong. The ensuing cloud of orbiting debris, traveling at thousands of miles per hour, destroys their shuttle and leaves Stone and Kowalski in orbit – alone.

They must make their way to the International Space Station, and from there a Chinese space station, all the while dodging a killer cloud of orbiting junk and racing against the clock before their oxygen is depleted. At every turn their efforts are thwarted by the expected and unexpected perils presented by spaceflight.

The star of “Gravity” is not Bullock but the special effects. We did not see the 3-D version but I expect it is spectacular. Even in 2-D you feel as though you’re floating above the earth with nothing between you and the ground but 150 miles of vacuum and 50 miles of air. For sufferers of acrophobia (like yours truly) the view was sometimes sweaty palm-inducing. Never in a movie did I feel as though I were actually there, and the claustrophobia of being confined to a spacesuit with no option to pop the helmet and take a breath of fresh air was so pervasive it almost became a third character.

And “Gravity” is an edge-of-your-seat thriller to be sure. Pauses in tension are few, and you’ll come out of the theater with aching muscles as you tried to help Bullock push this way and pull that. In that respect “Gravity” strikes me as more of an “Armageddon” and less of an “Apollo 13.”

As I said, the characters are thinly sketched, which may have been a necessity given “Gravity’s” narrative structure. Still, we get to know Dr. Stone somewhat but nobody else, including astronaut Kowalski. As you might expect under the circumstances Stone has a fatalistic view of her outcome and it is amplified by the loss of a child, requiring that she be coached and encouraged by Kowalski. That struck me as contrived and unnecessary. No matter how highly educated and motivated astronauts can be, and no matter what their burdens, when the issue at hand is survival every individual will behave predictably, and try to live. Bullock’s character does evolve during the movie, and that’s what all good characters do: They change as a result of their experiences. But in Bullock’s case the change seemed forced.

I found it puzzling Cuaron chose to abide by some scientific principles and ignore others. After reading astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson’s enumeration of the scientific errors in “Gravity,” I came prepared to ignore them for the benefit of watching a great story. But during the movie I found myself distracted by the implausibilities.

Is “Gravity” the best movie of the year? Is Bullock’s performance worthy of an Oscar? I would say no on both counts. While “Gravity” is entertaining, and Bullock’s performance commendable, I didn’t come out of the theater with any lasting impression of either.

Still, it’s nice to see a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t based on some “blockbuster” premise make its way to theaters and do well at the box office. Maybe Hollywood can take a lesson from “Gravity” and return to making films from original stories.

Mladen’s take

(Spoiler alert)

“Gravity” is one of my worst movie-going fears realized, a film promising action but delivering little more than maudlin introspection.

The movie betrayed me. It also betrayed Del, though he doesn’t fully accept it.

Del summed the plot nicely. A series of improbable events sires both the prospect of our heroine dying alone in space or surviving despite implacable odds.

Had “Gravity” fulfilled its promise, what I would’ve seen was an intelligent, nicely configured middle-aged woman give fate the middle finger as she demonstrated what training, technical prowess, and a will to live can accomplish.

In response, fate would’ve contributed not only dumb-ass Russians inopportunely blowing up one of their own satellites to create a hypervelocity constellation of space debris holing everything in its path, but also micrometeorites, sun flares, gravitons, an atmosphere salient jutting far into space that threatened incineration if entered, and an interesting sidekick for Stone rather than the quasi-cowboy-like character portrayed by Clooney.

Instead, the film yields sequences of free-floating, spin-induced disorientation and bodies slamming into solid objects such as space modules. Each bit of extra-atmospheric action is followed by moments of a person talking to herself about staying hopeful and alive. Hell, Stone even references Heaven at one point, though earlier she had said to herself that she never prays. This “no-one-in-a-foxhole-is-an-atheist” triteness only added to the movie’s superfluous feel.

Efforts to convey the spiritual impact of what Stone and Kowalski, and then Stone alone, faced were as empty as the vacuum of space. Kowalski’s seemingly unselfish and chivalrous suicide was nothing of the sort because it was unnecessary.

Suicide comes along again when Stone, ensconced in a Russian – there they are again – Soyuz vehicle, decides there’s no chance of surviving. She turns off the capsule’s oxygen supply and begins to pass out when there’s a knock on the capsule’s door. It’s handsome Kowalski waving to her through the door’s portal. The silliness of it just about exploded my head.

Kowalski, of course, is a figment of Stone’s oxygen-starved imagination. The apparition, after he takes a swig of vodka craftily hidden aboard the capsule by one of Kowalski’s cosmonaut friends, tells Stone how to make the best of a very, very, very, very, very bad situation. Yes, the capsule’s main engine is out of fuel, but its soft-landing thrusters have the juice to get her to the Chinese space station, which has a fully functioning return-to-Earth capsule.

A fiery atmospheric reentry scene and near-drowning later, Stone swims to the shore of a pristine lake surrounded by an idyllic land, not a single artifact of humanity in sight. Stone is going to get a fresh start was the message of the film’s last scene.

Who cares?

Not me.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.

“Elysium” Starring Matt Damon, Alice Braga, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley. Directed by Neill Blomkamp. 1 hour, 49 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

It’s tough to criticize a movie where the poor and luckless prevail, because that’s the way the sentimental slugfest “Elysium” ends.

Elysium, derived from the Greek phrase for ideal happiness, is a space station orbiting squalid Earth. The planet in 2154 is a vast slum teeming with poverty, crime and illness. Elysium is a skyborne paradise for wealthies and their “med bays.”

Medical treatment is at the core of this film by the director of nearly perfect “District 9,” which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar a few years ago. The med bays are scanners that detect bodily maladies and then heal them.

And it’s a med bay that our not always heroic hero Max, played by Matt Damon, has to reach. He can’t buy access to the off-planet treatment, so he becomes part of a grand scheme.

Max, a reformed car thief, has been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at an Earth-located police android factor where he works. A med bay is the only way to repair his cells. From internally fried body to death is only five days, the extraction droid that pulled Max from the spot he was nuked tells him.
“Elysium” is a movie that requires that you pay attention because there are at least three subplots. The film also asks that you accept at least one far-fetched coincidence.

There’s a villainess, Elysium’s defense secretary Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster.

There’s her Earth-planted, off-the-books paramilitary spook and sadist Kruger, who develops an ambition of his own.

And there’s the other reason Max has to reach Elysium, the daughter of a not-quite love interest, Frey, portrayed by Alice Braga. Frey’s daughter, actress Emma Tremblay, has leukemia and needs access to a med bay, too.

Add a computer hacktivist, machine-to-brain data storage, exoskeletons fused to bodies, solid cussing and graphic violence, much of it the result of miniaturized smart munitions designed to take out individuals, and the result is a sci-fi fairy tale of a selfish man becoming selfless, of the masses finding what the wealthy had been enjoying for some time, eternal life.

In a med bay, not even the blown off lower part of a man’s head is immune from repair. As long as the brain is ticking and the body sufficiently intact, tissue can be repaired.

As with “District 9,” Blomkamp maintains control of CGI. It exists to enhance the story, not supplant it. And, as with District 9, the South African director likes to blow apart bodies.

“Elysium” tries to, and at the end, succeeds in tugging your heart. Its plot pulls you through the sometimes choppy story-telling.

But, the film’s real strength is the vivid portrayal of lives differentiated by access to money, health care included.

When the most recent United Kingdom royal was having a baby, she had it at an exclusive hospital with, no doubt, the best doctors and technology at her side.

The frenzied attention television and Internet paid attention to the birth in pristine conditions was appalling.

So, while the globe was fed imagery of a hospital in a fashionable neighborhood of London, I was wondering what it was like to give birth in a Syrian refugee camp on the border with Lebanon or Turkey or Jordan.

The precursors to med bays are here, now. Welcome to Elysium 2013, if you can afford it.

Del’s take

Mladen was right about one thing: “It’s tough to criticize a movie where the poor and luckless prevail,” … But that’s precisely what I intend to do. I found “Elysium” to be a simple-minded polemic about class warfare, a story that has been told more skillfully and entertainingly many times since the dawn of storytelling.

“Elysium” is a contrast in extremes. Reality as we know it is black, white, and all the shades in between. That quality is missing from Blomkamp’s stark vision of the future. What’s good is deliriously utopian, and what’s bad is worse than awful. As a result, it’s hard to take any of it very seriously.

Mladen has given you the basics of the setting, but I’ll elaborate: Earth has indeed been overrun by poverty, crime and illness, but it’s worse than that. Los Angeles is a slum built on a garbage dump, a Third World shantytown where even the basics of infrastructure don’t exist. People are subjugated by a violent police force of androids who arbitrarily beat and arrest people for minor infractions. Even Matt Damon’s parole officer, a robot, threatens him with arrest for being sarcastic (one of the film’s sparse light moments).

Then you have Elysium, the orbiting torus where the grass is green, every home is a mansion, and the citizens possess a gentility conveyed by wealth, status, and comfortable living, abetted by their medical bays that can cure every disease by simply “re-atomizing” the person’s cell structure. I’ll bet the folks behind Obamacare would like to get their hands on that one.

The price for admission is money, something the unwashed masses don’t possess. So in a crude parable of illegal immigration, people pay smugglers to get them aboard Elysium.

Except it isn’t a better life these people are seeking. It isn’t freedom from tyranny, clean water, fresh air, and opportunities to improve themselves that drive these people to Elysium. It is: health care.

Don’t get me wrong. Health care is important, especially when you’re terminally ill, as is Damon and the daughter of his former love interest. But in the sweep of human motivation, where empires hang in the balance, isn’t health care a tad farther down the list behind freedom and hope?

I’m not buying it. I’m not buying that rich people are evil, as the film seems to suggest. For every snooty scion who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, there’s another fellow who earned his wealth by coming up with a better idea and working his backside off to make it happen. For every rich snob who looks down his nose at folks in the lower tax brackets, there’s a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates who uses his wealth to better mankind.

Nor am I buying that people less financially endowed are hapless victims, doomed to suffer the whims of the wealthy. In fact, I find it insulting Blomkamp thinks so little of us. In “Elysium,” people who try to better their lives are beaten into submission, which serves neither the rich nor the poor. It doesn’t make any sense.

My biggest gripe with “Elysium” is it ignores the real problem. The film asks, “Wouldn’t life be better if the poor had access to the same level of health care as the wealthy?” I ask, “What about overpopulation?” “What about violence?” “What about pollution?” “What about all the awful oversights and neglected problems that caused the earth to become a foul wasteland?” All the health care in the world amounts to nothing if humanity is starving, living in a toxic environment, and deprived of hope.

In “Elysium,” the answers are simple. In the world I inhabit, they are far more complex. I could wish for a utopian fantasy, but that’s all it would be: a fantasy.

I’d rather my stories offer hope in a way that’s believable and realistic. “Elysium” offers neither.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Paramount Studios.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” Starring Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Peter Weller. Directed by JJ Abrams. 132 minutes. Rated PG.

Mladen’s take

After watching “Star Trek Into Darkness,” I decided to produce and direct my own movie. It’ll be titled: “Mladen Rudman Into Frustration.”

The most recent version of Star Trek left me feeling unsatisfied, as though I had ordered a steak but gotten cotton candy.

A few parts of the film were good; most others stank. The circumstance that allowed Scotty to stay alive to open the door of an air lock that permitted a commando raid on the bigger and badder version of the U.S.S. Enterprise was all stinkiness.

The scene was all the more stinky because it was crucial. Had Scotty not stayed alive, the film would have had no place to go. The End. An implausible scene that keeps a story going wrecks a movie’s authenticity.

And, there’s too much crying in the movie.

Here’s a rule all producers and directors should follow when building a science fiction adventure film.

A man cries only when he’s enduring extreme physical pain. Your large intestine twisted into a half-hitch knot being chewed by a pit bull is an example of extreme pain. Tears are warranted in that case. Everything else – a friend dying from exposure to radiation – is a prompt for murderous revenge without tears intervening.

“Into Darkness” suffers from the Great Malaise of Hollywood, which Del addresses indirectly. He wonders if “Into Darkness” would appeal to everyone but Trekkies, which is precisely the point.

The studio should have stayed focused.

The studio should have made it a movie that would be liked only by Trekkies and guys like me who appreciate a good sci-fi film though mostly unfamiliar with the lore of Star Trek.

Look, all I need to know is that the crew of the Enterprise has been tasked with boldly going where no one has gone before and, when necessary, blowing the hell out of nasty indigenous life forms.

That friendships exist can be established by the way an away team dodges death rays and demolishes starships. Or by the fact that a crew stuck on an interstellar vessel for months at a time hasn’t torn itself apart.

We all know that humans like to couple and endure the emotional ravages of relationships going awry. Who cares about Spock’s and Uhura’s dating woes when you’re at the edge of the Neutral Zone violating the Klingon empire’s sovereignty? If I want a dose of the touchy feelies, I’ll see a “Twilight” movie.

In fact, I resent their squabbling and I’ll tell you why. It happened aboard a shuttle approaching a Klingon planet. The shuttle scene should have been replaced by something “Into Darkness” sorely lacked – open space battles among ships floating in a vacuum. What I wanted to see was a cloaked Klingon warbird suddenly materialize to fire on the Enterprise.

Remember the Romulan starship Narada in the very good 2009 “Star Trek”?

Narada was massive, looked like a multi-bladed serrated knife and fired missiles that fired smart submunitions targeting an enemy’s most sensitive systems. Watching U.S.S. Kelvin wither under its fire, the scenes of obliteration outside the spacecraft were silent, was impressive and accurate.

Abrams tried to make “Into Darkness” a movie that pleases everyone – women, men, teenagers, dogs, sea cucumbers – and will likely end up pleasing almost no one.

Del’s take

What I would say about “Star Trek Into Darkness” is: Yet another movie ruined by writer Damon Lindelof.

How long will it be until studios bar their pitch room doors to this person? If M. Night Shyamalan is any indication, I guess we can expect a long and dismal tradition of “Prometheuses” springing from the keyboard of the overrated Lindelof, who seems to understand nothing about story structure, character interaction and pathos.

It’s a shame, really, because “Into Darkness” could have been a fine summer movie. Instead, it is a collage of spangly images held together by a thin gossamer of story, a web so insubstantial that very little gets caught and the audience leaves hungry.

Its saving grace is a script that allows for a little self-deprecating fun, and command performances by at least three cast members: Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Weller. Others praised Zachary Quinto’s turn as Mr. Spock (though he and Leonard Nimoy assemble a much better performance in an Audi commercial) or the ensemble Star Trek “family” members (Saldana, Anton Yelchin and John Cho).

I’ve never thought much of Pine as an actor but I admit, he seems to capture my notion of a younger, friskier James Tiberius Kirk, whose disregard for protocol and willingness to indulge in gut instinct chafes the collective neck of the powers that be.

Peter Weller walks a highwire between bad and good, what I call “reasonable evil” – a person who’s able to convince others of the righteousness of his cause without sounding like a lunatic. For me he evoked a memory of Sterling Hayden in “Doctor Strangelove,” a man who, when you stand back and look at the cold truth of his worldview, is obviously insane, but sounds somewhat reasonable – his words make a kind of sense that doesn’t bear close inspection.

Better, “Into Darkness” isn’t just dominated but overwhelmed by Benedict Cumberbatch, the mysterious trenchcoated figure in the posters and trailers. Had Cumberbatch been given room to move he might have become the most insidious movie villain since Hans Gruber of “Die Hard” infamy. Unfortunately, his screen time is limited, to the movie’s detriment.

The movie ties together some loose threads from “Star Treks” that preceded it, and I won’t discuss them here for fear of spoiling the surprises. Suffice it to say you should brush up on your Trek lore before venturing into the darkness.

Weaknesses? The real plot of “Into Darkness” orbits Weller and Cumberbatch, who are given the short shrift in favor of the unconvincing bromance between Kirk and Spock, the wildly unconvincing romance between Spock and Uhura, and the silly notion Kirk should be allowed to run amok and do as he pleases, disregarding the accumulated wisdom of the human race. It’s a wonder we ever got into space without him.

Special effects are first rate. London and San Francisco get a 23rd century dressing up, and Enterprise interiors look less like a deep space-going craft than a 21st century corporate high-rise – that is until you venture into “Engineering,” which resembles nothing more than a glue factory.

Overall, however, I couldn’t escape the feeling I was watching a fleshed-out TV episode of a show based loosely on the original “Star Trek.” Gone is the wonder of discovery, the “new worlds” and “new civilizations” that made the original series such a unique experience, replaced by an irritating Millennial approach to work and life: To hell with your rules and institutions; I’ll do what I want, when I want.

Trekkies will probably be disappointed, which is OK if you can deliver a product that pleases everybody else. It’s the everybody else I wonder about. Is there enough meat on the bones of “Into Darkness” to please the larger movie-going audience?

At this point I can’t say there is. Its skimpy storyline, which I place squarely on the shoulders of writers like Lindelof, doom it to mediocrity.

As Hollywood struggles to woo fans into theaters and away from Netflix, it does not need a $190 million tentpole that underperforms at the box office. “Into Darkness” may not do as well as the 2009 rendering of “Star Trek,” which would be bad news for hosting studio Paramount and JJ Abrams.

Let’s hope he keeps Lindelhof in a galaxy far, far away from “Star Wars.”

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and public information officer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Oblivion” Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. 124 minutes. Rated PG.

Del’s take

And why did they choose the title “Oblivion”?

Because that’s how long the movie is.

It’s nice to look at, though. And the cast does a credible job. Critics dismiss Tom Cruise as an actor but he’s good – if you saw “Collateral” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Melisso Leo carry their weight, with Leo’s part trending toward Clicheland at the end. Morgan Freeman stars as Morgan Freeman.

“Oblivion’s” problem, however, lies in its veneer of a story. Casual science fiction fans will appreciate its sleek look and original ideas. Everybody else will look at those ideas, recognize they’ve been done time and again, and wonder what the fuss was about.

Here’s the story: Mankind has fought and won a war with alien invaders, but in the process they’ve rendered Earth uninhabitable. Everyone has fled to a sanctuary on Saturn’s moon Titan. Left behind are Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Riseborough) who must oversee a fleet of drones that protects giant energy harvesters from scattered remnants of the alien invasion force. In two weeks’ time the harvesters will have collected enough energy to ensure mankind’s future on Titan. But a spacecraft crash lands on Earth and disgorges a crew of preserved human beings, including a woman Jack seems to remember from a former life. He begins to question everything he knows, including his current mission.

“Oblivion” relies on a couple of plot twists to deliver impact and I will not reveal them here. Suffice it to say the first act – no doubt intended as a character-building session by director Kosinski – is excruciatingly long and, dare I say, boring. Things pick up in the second act, and it was here I figured out what was really going on in the movie. The third act was mostly action-packed, though a word of warning: If trailers created the impression “Oblivion” is a grand-scale science fiction epic with sprawling CGI battles, think again. It’s mostly character-driven. Movie fans will recognize influences from “2001,” “Minority Report” and “Gattaca.”

Cruise is effective as the memory-wiped Jack struggling for rapprochement with the images he sees of a wife in a former life. Riseborough, his teammate, successfully evokes a slavish dedication to corporate dictates, at one point reminding Jack it’s their job not to remember. And Kurylenko brings to her role a sweetly devoted innocence that makes her worthy of Jack’s attentions.

Leo’s role, as the administrator of an orbiting station that monitors the drones, is constrained, but she nonetheless brings personality to her exchanges with the Earth-side crew until the very end of the movie, when she devolves into a caricature. Freeman has limited screen time and seems to channel Denzel Washington in “The Book of Eli.”

All of this is not to say “Oblivion” is a bad movie. But it’s not very original, it features long stretches of not much happening, and despite its beauty and the skill of its cast, it won’t create a lasting impression.

Mladen’s take

Walking from the theater, I asked Del, “What was the last good movie we saw?” We had just watched “Oblivion.”

“Cloverfield,” was the response after a few moments of thought.

Yet, Del has written a merciful review of “Oblivion.”

To be honest, I sympathize to some degree with his reaction. The actors sincerely and skillful portrayed their characters but were unable to subdue the movie’s weak script, clichéd ideas and too many subplots.

“Oblivion” is a sci-fi dystopian chick-flick fairy tale with some action.

Let’s start with the good.

The cinematography was lush and, somehow, sparing at the same time.

The special effects were very good.

Jack’s bubble engine-powered, high-performing V/STOL aircraft with a goldfish bowl cockpit was neat.

The autonomous spherical drones that protected gigantic water vaporizers were menacing despite their shape. Fast, heavily armed and assessing threats through HAL 9000-like sensor eyes, the unmanned combat aerial vehicles intimidated me not because of their role in the movie. They’re what the real mankind-induced future has in store for us.

Finally, there’s what the orbiting space station administrator would say when she finished giving Jack and Victoria their orders: “Are we an effective team?”

It’s exactly what many of us encounter during the course of a workday. A type of corporate cheerleading that’s all enthusiasm and smiles on the surface and brain-washing dogma beneath that reminds workers they better toe the line if they want to keep their jobs. Are you with us or against us?

Now, a few of the weaknesses of “Oblivion.”

Del mentioned that “Oblivion” has similarities with movies that came before it, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Minority Report,” and “Gattaca.” I add “The Matrix,” “Independence Day” and even “Battle: LA” to the list.

Maybe it’s impossible to devise a novel reason that aliens would invade earth. Maybe it’s impossible to end the invasion with other than nuking the mothership from the inside after gaining access to it through implausible deception. But, can’t someone, somewhere try?

“Oblivion” is a complex story. It weaves Jack’s nightmares with suspicions about the truth of his situation. For good measure, there are the battles that he has to fight with “scavs” whenever he has to repair a drone that has crash landed. And, another principal character is fully introduced about half-way into the movie.

Complexity doesn’t have to be bad. The problem is that it can be very tricky to develop as a screenplay. And, in the case of “Oblivion,” it took a long, long time to tie everything together. The effort including introducing a backstory to establish true identities.

As “Oblivion” dragged on, I became bored. Not even the questions that it raised periodically were enough to pull me back from the urge to look at my wristwatch.

I didn’t feel much sympathy for the characters when the movie ended.

And, I was thoroughly irritated by the arrogant dopiness of the lone, star-travelling alien that met its demise by ingesting a human-planted, uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction device. All the being needed was a couple of cloned TSA screeners and an X-ray machine to detect the nuke and it would have been on its way to destroy another planet in just a couple of weeks.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and public information officer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“Prometheus” Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron. Directed by Ridley Scott. 124 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

Going into “Prometheus” I warned myself against indulging expectations; I had, after all, been savoring this moment since learning “Alien” director Ridley Scott was returning to the creepy, Gigeresque universe he so famously created in 1979.

Coming out of “Prometheus” I again warned myself against expectations: The movie was probably not as disappointing as my gut reaction would have me believe.

After much reflection, I can’t help but feel “Prometheus” is so much less than it could have been. Visually, the film is gorgeous. But the script is a muddle, the score incompatible with the movie’s tone, and some of the casting decisions simply don’t work.

The plot is straightforward. A pair of archeologists (Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw and Logan Marshall-Green as Charlie Holloway) discover a kind of star map in the glyphs of ancient terrestrial civilizations separated by time and distance. A corporation builds a starship, the Prometheus, to visit the location denoted by the map, so that the company’s founder can discover the secret to life … and perhaps extend his own. Once there they find mankind’s progenitors were not as paternalistic as they expected. All manner of wriggling, predatory horrors put human beings at the bottom of the food chain as they plan a planet-wide buffet.

The film’s exteriors are lush, sweeping and grandiose, but the interiors convey nothing of the shuddery claustrophobia evoked by “Alien.” The technology seems far advanced from “Alien,” which takes place after “Prometheus.” I don’t have a problem with that: The Nostromo was a tired old factory ship with outdated technology; “Prometheus” is a brand-new ship of exploration, likely equipped with the latest gadgets and gewgaws, despite its 30-year handicap.

Michael Fassbender delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the amoral android David, and Charlize Theron is icily cool as the daughter of the Weyland Corporation’s founder. Less impressive are Sean Harris as the expedition’s geologist, and Rafe Spall as the team’s biologist. Neither display the kind of intellectual curiosity peculiar to scientists. Worse are Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, who are completely unconvincing in their roles as the expedition’s ostensible scientific leadership. Ridley Scott has a love of strong female characters, but in “Prometheus” Rapace seems lost and dependent, besotted with a perpetual starry-eyed, doll-baby affect that seems incongruent with that of a true Scott survivor type. And let’s not talk about the film’s science, or the scientific method. “Prometheus” abandons even the most cursory protocols any scientist worth his salt would follow.

But that’s partially the fault of the script, which at times tries to take “Prometheus” into the realm of “2001,” while mostly devolving to “Starship Troopers” or even “Lost.” Blame that on co-writer Damon Lindelof, an alum of “Lost,” who seems stricken by the idea coy logic flaws represent depth. A true brain tease provokes curiosity, not irritation. Gone is the stark, narrowly focused conflicts of “Alien,” “Blade Runner” or “Thelma and Louise.” In its place is a taco-pizza-cheeseburger of a story that satisfies nobody.

“Prometheus” may have strands of “Alien” in its DNA, as Scott hinted during the movie’s production, but it’s a recessive gene. You see little of the “Alien” genius and lots of what I would call “current” storytelling, which seems less satisfied with delivering a credible tale than setting up a sequel.

In space, nobody can hear you scream. But in movie theaters they can hear you crying foul, and that’s what I heard.

Mladen’s take

When I need Del to be merciless, he delivers a review that searched for a bright side to a dim movie. Del, can you hear me screaming in Fort Walton Beach, though we’re a couple of miles apart?

It was good “Prometheus” didn’t come with a money-back guarantee for the audience because the production companies that financed this unfathomable film would go broke. My review is short because I stopped paying attention to the movie about halfway through it’s all too long runtime.

“Prometheus” was billed as the prequel to “Alien,” one of the finest movies of all time, and that was a severe error. Though directed by the same man, Ridley Scott, “Prometheus” and “Alien” are worlds apart.

“Alien” is a sci-fi horror movie, pure and simple and completely engrossing. “Prometheus” is just gross, while suffering from an identity crisis. Is it sci-fi horror like “Alien” or sci-fi action like “Aliens”? In fact, it’s more like “Hostel” meets “Event Horizon” meets “The Human Centipede.”

Almost from the beginning, the movie starts to meander toward the unexplained.

There are 17 people aboard spaceship Prometheus, which is about 10 too many. Only a handful of the 17 characters are developed and all of them are, at best, mildly interesting or, at worst, unlikable.

There are metallic vases oozing black liquid, an aggressive slug breaking an arm and then swimming down the victim’s throat, and an absolutely foul scene were one of the protagonists endures a vividly portrayed Cesarean section inside a healing chamber and then fights the creature just pulled from her abdomen.

None of the scientists behaved like scientists, including the decision to reanimate in the open the head of a hominid-like being because it looked like something abnormal was growing from it when its owner died.

In “Prometheus,” events just happened that seemed unconnected or arbitrary. The story lacked cohesion. It failed to explain the reason our creators were so unflinchingly hostile to us, their children, so to speak.

“Prometheus” could have explored the questions it awkwardly raised. Is there God? Can science and religion co-exist? Is mankind a controlled experiment with Earth the incubator? Instead, we get a mish-mash of themes and banal dialogue.

There are no Oscar contenders in this movie. Not for script. Not for acting. Not for score. Hell, not even for visual effects. The movie was disappointing.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“The Thing” Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen. Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. 103 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

Let’s call Director John Carpenter’s 1982 film “The Thing, A.” Let’s call Director Matthijs Van Heijningen’s released-on-Friday movie “The Thing, B.” I do that for two reasons. Those are the grades each movie deserves – actually it’s A+ and B+, respectively. And, it’ll be easier to keep track of which movie I’m referring to because comparisons are inevitable. “The Thing, B” is the prequel to “The Thing, A.”

The “Thing, A” in one of the two finest sci-fi horror movies made. The other is “Alien.”

The formula for success is retained in “The Thing, B.” An isolated group of humans, in this case a multinational research team in the Antarctic. A creature that mercilessly and vividly parasitizes bodies. And, suspense.

My pal Del will probably disagree with the last attribute. Always grumpy and a quibbler, he’d exchange “suspense” for “cheap-shot fear” because there are at least three jump-out-of-your seat moments in “The Thing, B.”

To a degree, I agree with Del.

In the superb “The Thing, A,” the body-snatching, body-cloning alien is portrayed as an amorphous, almost cautious being. It’d prefer to nail you when you’re handy and lashes out only when pursued. That makes the creature scarier because it’s clearly thinking.

In the “The Thing, B,” the alien has a shape of its own. In its original state, the technologically sophisticated arthropod looks like an overgrown wood louse. And, rather than being an ambush predator, like say a praying mantis, it’s an aggressive stalker of anything that moves, like say former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney. That makes the creature more of a monstrosity.

There are implausible moments in the “The Thing, B.” The lead Norwegian scientist ignores American paleontologist Kate Lloyd, portrayed very effectively by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, when she urges that carefully controlled laboratory techniques, including isolation, be used to un-entomb the alien from the ice in which it’s frozen.

Also, the soundtrack used to frame “The Thing, B” is very weak. A day after seeing the film, I’m unable to recall its rhythm or tempo. This is in stark contrast to Ennio Morricone’s foreboding, subtly pulsing, and ingenious score in “The Thing, A.” Sometimes, simple is better. Much, much better.

But, let’s not quibble.

“The Thing, B” takes advantage of the unique elements at its disposal.

Computer-generated graphics are very good and used to enhance the plot, not substitute for it.

Van Heijningen imagines very nicely what would likely happen to a small group of humans confronted by a terrifying fact: If it walks like a human, if it talks like a human, if it behaves like a human, it might not be a human. The scientists act rationally and irrationally as each tries to avoid becoming food for the alien’s DNA. Most notably, as the situation at the Antarctic research outpost deteriorates, the Norwegians and Americans periodically rely on nationality as a source of trust to form us-against-them alliances, though the Thing is uninterested in which flag would hang above its next human victim’s grave. Assuming, of course, there’s anything of the victim’s own remains to recover.

There’s another reason to see “The Thing, B” while it’s in theaters.

Van Heijningen pays tribute, maybe it’s more like deference, to Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

To appreciate the gesture, make sure you’ve seen Carpenter’s film before seeing Heijningen’s and stick around for the credits. Many in the audience started to leave, only to stop, while standing, to watch the end of “The Thing, B.”

Del’s take

Despite Mladen’s warning that I “expect to be disappointed,” I sat down to watch “The Thing” with a degree of hope and not a few questions:

Billed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror-science fiction classic of the same name, would 2011’s “The Thing” merely replicate its masterful predecessor or bring something new to the story?

Would it scare me intellectually or, like so many “scary” films today, employ a CGI festival of fake gore and monsters jumping out of closets to generate cheap thrills?

How successfully would director Heijningen marry this film to – again – Carpenter’s 1982 horror-science fiction classic? (And I emphasize that Carpenter’s film is a classic despite the scorn of critics and moviegoers of the Reagan era. “The Thing” is a testament to tension done right. Heijningen stands much to lose by treading on such ground, as did the creators of the Keannu Reeves sapfest “The Day the Earth Stood Still”).

First, a word about “The Thing’s” lineage. In 1938 author-editor John W. Campbell wrote a novella for a pulp magazine, Astounding Stories, called “Who Goes There?” about a group of Antarctic explorers who discover a crashed UFO and its pilot frozen into the ice. They accidentally destroy the ship but recover the pilot’s body which, upon thawing, reanimates and begins assimilating the crew, mimicking their appearances and manners. What ensues is the familiar, creepy tale of a small group of human beings struggling for survival against a faceless foe, a story that resonates well with today’s terrorism-infused culture in which the enemy walks among us, unseen.

In 1951 “Who Goes There?” became a movie, “The Thing from Another World,” directed by Christian Nyby (although many consider Howard Hawks the real director). It was loosely based on Campbell’s story but deviated in significant and disappointing ways. In 1982 Carpenter’s iteration more closely followed the plot laid down by Campbell and featured nausea-inducing special effects and a depressing storyline that torpedoed the movie at the box office. Fortunately the movie survived in video, then digital form, to become a cult favorite and, dare I say, a mainstream draw for audiences inured to gory nihilism in moviemaking. Both movies effectively conveyed a building sense of dread that pitted an isolated group of humanity against an invisible enemy – in 1951 it was communism; in 1982 it was ourselves.

Along comes Heijningen’s prequel, which takes up a few days before Carpenter’s movie began. Kate Lloyd is an American anthropologist brought to Antarctica by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Thomsen) to examine a mysterious structure and “specimen” the Norwegians have discovered under the ice. When the specimen is recovered and an ill-advised tissue sample taken, shape-shifting hell breaks loose as the thing goes after the camp crew with the ultimate goal of reaching the larger world, where it can infect everybody.

I have a number of gripes with this “Thing,” some small, some not. The small stuff first:

Score: Marco Beltrami’s score is at best forgettable, at worst an opportunity lost. It conveys little of the tension so effectively embodied by Ennio Morricone’s score for the Carpenter film.

Continuity: As a period piece “The Thing” looks pretty much like a 1982 movie. Computer monitors are correctly hulking and snippets of popular music, from bands like Men at Work, reflect the flavor of the times. But then you have lines of dialogue from, let’s say, a character who’s been told to go and get something and answers, “I’m on it.” That expression wasn’t used in 1982 and I know this because I was around in 1982.

Who’s in charge? In Carpenter’s “The Thing” we knew from the first scene that Kurt Russell was in charge. Even when he wasn’t in charge, he was in charge. In this version Winstead oscillates between leadership and submission. You might think that’s an understandable consequence of a woman being immersed in a 1982-era all-male community, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Authority springs from viewpoint, and authority is not effectively conveyed through Winstead’s character. Sigourney Weaver has proved what an effective female lead can do within an all-male community.

My larger gripes include this iteration’s duplication of the Carpenter movie. At times I thought it was the Carpenter movie. Several scenes seem lifted directly from the earlier film, and the overall structure of “The Thing” copies what Carpenter did in 1982 – with some unfortunate exceptions:

While Carpenter filled his movie with quirky, quixotic characters – almost all of whom were dysfunctionally sympathetic – Heijningen’s prequel features only one person I actually cared about, a lethal deficiency for a horror movie. None of the characters stands out as an individual with a unique personality; they’re all just cardboard cut-outs filling roles as they scream their way down the alien’s gullet.

Worse, this version of “The Thing” does not emulate the brooding, palpable dread Carpenter built into his 1982 film. We are quickly thrown into the fray and forgettable people start dying, stalked by a malevolent force, yet another deviation from Carpenter’s classic. In that film you could almost feel a whiff of sympathy for the creature – it was, after all, a hapless castaway thrust into a hostile environment and was trying to survive the only way it knew how. But now we have a stalking predator that, if it wants to escape to the larger world and propagate, thwarts its own intentions time and again.

On a positive note Heijningen brings his movie to a perfect conclusion, matching it directly to Carpenter’s film. This takes place as the end credits roll so be sure not to leave the theater. It’s actually very cool.

Still, the 2011 “The Thing” has assimilated its earlier classic and produced an inferior copy. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate it a 5.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand. Directed by Michael Bay. 157 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Two questions frequently visited my mind as I watched, in 3D, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” on its opening weekend.

The first was: Where can I find the clearcoat that the Autobots use to protect their paint? The finish on every Autobot, when it was configured as a vehicle, shined brilliantly and the luster was undefeatable. Autobots would roll through a desert, but no dust clung to their paint. Autobots zigzagged through toppling, burning Chicago, but no soot attached to their exteriors. Amazing, I want protection like that for my non-GM car.

The second question was: When will this movie end?

Transformers 3 was “Battle: LA” multiplied by 2. Peril was interminable.

Every instance of Sam Witwicky, portrayed again by Shia LaBeouf, surviving a maelstrom of exploding light pulses and short-recoil hypervelocity projectiles was more absurd than the one that preceded it.

But, part of sitting down for a long time to watch this PG-13 blockbuster is suspending, completely, disbelief. That was made easier by the screenwriter’s effort to make Transformers 3 somewhat serious.

The film is coherent.

There are at least two betrayals in the toy-based movie. What Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, does to Optimus Prime would make former Vice President Dick Cheney flush with pride.

Humans, hit by photons, disappeared in puffs of gray ash, mimicking scenes in the 2005 remake of “War of the Worlds.”

The realism endures, though the director, I assume inadvertently, tried to wreck it.

Sam’s love interest is unconvincing.

Witwicky’s parents could have been deleted from the movie without it suffering one bit.

And, the film’s panoramic 3D shots looked childish. Cybertron at war was a tangle of metallic structures with fighting robots in stark relief against the background. They looked like plastic models set in motion. Air Force special operations airmen gliding through the Chicago skyline looked more like flying squirrels than hotshots trying to save Earth.

Product placement – I want to go buy a Lenovo computer now – is exceptionally annoying in 3D.

Another of the film’s strengths is decent acting.

America’s national director of intelligence is the woman who won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a cop in “Fargo.” One of the human bad guys, I was told by a friend, is the man who plays “Dr. McDreamy” in the TV show “Gray’s Anatomy.” John Torturro does an OK job reprising his quirky spy character.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the best movie of the franchise. Presumably, because the leader of the Decepticons, Megatron, is beheaded and his second-in-command, Starscream, blasted apart, there’ll be no others. There’s risk, of course, that the director and production company will opt for a prequel. Stay tuned, as I’m sure you will.

Transformers 3 is worth seeing in the theater, but the movie and all its mostly entertaining excess can be enjoyed without the extra several dollars you’d have to drop for 3D.

Del’s take

I don’t think Megatron is the only entity beheaded by this awful example of Hollywood bad-storytelling. Mladen must have been conked on the skull by a piece of Chicago’s falling skyline.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a disaster from top to bottom, the absolute worst of the three movies and the one that will convince me to never again waste my money on another Transformers movie.

Where do I begin? The bizarre score? The lousy acting and cheesy script? The absolute lack of internal logic? Or maybe the subtle discrimination. Everywhere I look in this movie I see: train wreck.

Let’s start with the score. It’s peppered with trendy clips from bands like Linkin Park, Stained, Skillet and My Chemical Romance, songs that have no business being in a rock ‘em sock ‘em action movie. It’s as if the movie’s makers wanted to endow their creation with a sound of currency, and introduce a note of empathy on the personal level. It didn’t work for me. Music is every bit a plot device as characterization, pacing and visuals. Movies like “A Clockwork Orange” and “Silence of the Lambs” used the score to, if you’ll pardon the pun, underscore the emotional amplitude of certain scenes. Here the music seems merely added on, as if cake icing were used to dress up a taco-cheeseburger-pizza.

There’s no fun in this script. There’s no fun in the actors’ performances. “Dark of the Moon” is 157 minutes of Shia LaBeouf screaming, “ GOTTA GO! LET’S GO! GO, GO, GO!” and “CARLY!” John Malkovich is a power player who looms large in LaBeouf’s employment future but becomes a simpering lap dog once the Autobots hit the fan, and the great Frances McDormand must surrender her role as national intelligence director who doesn’t care what LaBeouf did in the past to an irrelevant footnote once the Decepticons occupy Chicago and begin eradicating the populace. Critical scorn has been heaped upon Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays LaBeouf’s love interest, but I found her performance to be one of the most consistent of the movie.

“Dark of the Moon’s” fatal flaw is the rampant contradictions of its own logic. I could compile a list as long as your arm but for brevity’s sake I’ll mention only two. Early in the movie the Autobots are told about a crash site on the moon that may contain the body of their leader, Sentinel Prime. They fly their own spaceship to the moon to recover his body. Yet when the Autobots are banished from Earth they must ride into space aboard a modified NASA shuttle. Um, what happened to the Transformer spaceship, guys? Second, when the Decepticons take over Chicago they seal off air access and shoot down anything trying to fly in, including speedy F-18 Hornets. Yet a flight of subsonic cruise missiles is able to penetrate their defenses, a formation of Ospreys manages to make it into the city, and soldiers hoofing it on the ground enter unmolested. It’s as if the rules of “Transformers” only apply for a few seconds.

Worse is the subtle discrimination the movie presents. Not to be a standard-bearer for all things politically correct but I was alarmed by the dialogue applied to LeBouf’s two “pet” robots, who tended to speak in black dialect and behave like clods. George Lucas took a hit for the same lapse with Jar-Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace.” Also, an extended scene where a distraught Ken Jeong, in a men’s room stall, presents LaBeouf with evidence that the moon landings were a cover-up for something more insidious, struck me as an attempt to say, “People think we’re gay. Aren’t you embarrassed?” Would the audience have laughed if the joke had been at the expense of a Native American, a woman, or a disabled person?

“Dark Side of the Moon” has made a kabillion dollars at the box office, but I don’t care. It’s a lousy movie replete with contradictions, cheap stereotypes, a bad script and crappy acting. I’m tired of Sam Witwicky and his unbelievable foibles.

If this is what people consider quality entertainment I am clearly out of place with the times.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.