Directed by Tomek Bagiński
Starring Aidan Gillen and Aisling Franciosi
ESA Rosetta: Landing November 12th, 2014

by Michael Anderson

This is a film review:

…in the distant future, Aiden Gillen tutors an impetuous Aisling Franciosi on the art of creating planets using nothing other than concentration, post-human supra-telekinetic powers, and “the key to life on earth… ambition”. You sez the title, Aiden. The SFX are impressive, the dialogue the cod-sci-fi equivalent of A-to-B exposition, talking pointedly around whatever it is they’re actually talking about. Which turns out to be everything: crucially, the whole film takes an unexpected departure 2/3 in with a flash-back to the moment making all this possible; the moment which eventually endowed humanity with the gifts, grace and humility to create their own planets and solve their problems. This proves to be the Rosetta Mission – a daring, Armageddon-lite comet-landing episode from sometime early-21stC, the derring-do of which led to unforeseen knowledge re: the building blocks of life, universe, all that jazz. Proper sci-fi hokum. Or is it…

This is not a film review:

…since its rush-release a week ago, the new Avengers trailer has amassed 53,771,752 YouTube hits. Trailers are officially a big deal, cultural events in their own right, dissected po-faced by mainstream media and spawning their own 750k-hit YouTube expos. The film might be one thing but the hype is something else. So it was that there was legitimate sense of anticipation at the ‘world premiere’ of Ambition at the BFI at the end of last month. The trailer had accrued some 250,000 hits since its release four weeks prior; hardly Ultron territory, but above-par for an unknown sci-fi fronted by Aiden Gillen. The talk in the auditorium was of its secrecy, the SFX, Gillen’s accent, all gently underpinned by (our host) the BFI’s grandiose what-have-we-got-in-the-vaults sci-fi season. Expectations were low, but there was a sense of possibility: the trailer had done its job.

All of which made what followed a rather odd experience. Instead of settling down for 100+ minutes of accents and effects, the audience met a succession of speakers providing a vast range of fluff – hard-science fluff; sci-fi author fluff; BFI programmer fluff – carefully padding out the feature, which proved to be nothing more than a 7-minute short, including credits (NB: a lot of SFX people worked on this film). The crux arrived with the revelation that the European Space Agency funded the entire endeavour, with the express purpose of promoting the real-life Rosetta Mission, currently orbiting real-life Jupiter in parallel with a real-life comet, ready to take the plunge and send down a landing module to the comet’s surface on November 12th.

The speakers varied from the dull to the Hawaiian-shirted. All made valid points around the mission’s validity, the innovation behind producing an entire 7-minute film to promote an unmanned space-mission happening a long way away, and said mission’s genuine potential as a humanitarian game-changer – the big bang revealed. Sounds pretty cool, and it was hard to remain unmoved by the enthusiasm and expertise on show: CG landing sites, zero-G simulations beamed down from willing International Space Station volunteers, boundary-blurring sci-fi sci-fact rabble-rousing. It is a self-professed attempt to make space travel ‘sexy’ again – the word cropped up several times – and the logic is as sound as you’d expect from a bunch of guys far cleverer than we are. Space travel isn’t big >> trailers are big >> let’s make a trailer about space travel. It’s part of a loose PR/cinema lineage including Argo, Machete, and that car advert with Benicio Del Toro; at this rate, Interstellar 2 will be announced by an entirely real wormhole mission to a far-off star sometime in 2019, backed by Warner Bros. and portentous strings.

I want to be cynical. I don’t care about the mission, or humanity bettering itself through anything other than solving the immediate problems here and now – but perhaps there is method to the madness. Thoughts turn to the tragic fatal test flight of Virgin Galactic’s shuttle, or last week’s unmanned ISS delivery rocket exploding on take-off as NASA’s space-outsourcing encounters the drawbacks of privatisation, and the thought occurs: better public than private. Better scientist than tourist. Better Gillen than Branson.

In the hour spent writing this, 140,000 more people have watched the Age of Ultron trailer. Even it up a little and click through to Ambition (‘full’ film and far more science-factual information here).

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