Why, it seems like almost every day one platform or another – one production house or a group of fledgling intellectual property creators – are trying to establish some space saga for the modern age. The explosion of entertainment options – both streaming or traditional cable (though we’re told that’s in its dying stages) – has only opened more doors than perhaps ever before for genre series to take hold, try to build an audience, and launch audiences into the heavens and/or beyond. Granted, not all of these new excursions are at the same level of quality or interest, but it’s nice to know that fans truly have opportunities these days to step aboard one ride wilder than the last, to buckle up, and settle in for sights unimaged.
2023’s Colonials is an all-new adventure property directed by the team of Andrew Balek and Joe Bland. Written for the screen by Bland and Cyrus Cheek, the adventure stars Greg Kriek, Jamie Bernadette, B.A. Tobin, Daniel Roebuck, and Jeremy John Wells in key roles. The action takes place in space and on the planets Earth and Mars in the distant future; and it’s all meant to be a clever action/adventure yarn about a young pilot whose fate might very well be tied to whether or not he can ignite a revolution on what remains of our fallen world before evil can truly mire itself in our reality.
While I think the feature really could’ve used a bit more development behind-the-scenes – the story isn’t as clearly and precisely told as it could’ve been with, perhaps, more money and less special effects trickery – I believe it’s still mildly diverting enough to find either an audience of young’uns, gamers, or SciFi enthusiasts (such as myself in that last regard). Though it never quite rises above the level of its obvious imperfections, it still has something to offer as a pleasant diversion for the length of its roughly 80-minute run-time.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A space colonist traveling from Mars crash lands on Earth to save a Resistance stuck in the dark ages from an advance Moon enforcer – and the galaxy from human extinction.”
It isn’t always easy to make something of an all-new SciFi property.
Right out of the gate, audiences require a reasonably easy-to-follow set-up – one not all that overripe with exposition – along with a respectable level of world-building. Enough of the foundational particulars have to be both set-in-stone as well as relatable otherwise storytellers run the risk very early on of crafting a universe that, sadly, may not be compelling enough to both ignite and sustain growing interest. Characters should be well-defined – no one should have to put much thought into who the heroes are much less the villains – and an understandable ‘hero’s quest’ should underscore every one of these early steps, placing viewers alongside the lead characters for what looks to be a vicarious thrill ride.
In its early scenes, Colonials doesn’t quite set the world up as efficiently as was necessary. While the opening section hints to the fact that Earth has been left in ruins by what looks to have been an alien invasion, it really takes some time for the current state of affairs to come into perspective. Some of this might be owed to Joe Bland and Cyrus Cheek’s script getting into some comic relief a bit too soon – a floating droid whizzes ‘robot urine’ on our young hero to wake him from a restful slumber – without firmly giving the boy so much as a back story. Whereas Star Wars chose to introduce its Luke Skywalker starring longingly at twin suns while he wishes he could be somewhere else in the galaxy, Colonials’ Silas (played by Greg Kriek) wakes up to a mouthful of piss.
Whether you like it or not, this moment tells me that – thematically – this is an unimportant character whose destiny is likely far more humorous than it is heroic, an aesthetic I believe that the screenplay tries to reset in the opening action sequence rather quickly. But, again, what the audience sees is some alleged pilot who can’t even seem to get his ship out of the cruiser’s launch bay. It isn’t but a few short minutes later that the big transport is destroyed, our hero’s friends killed (people we never really got to know anyway so there’s no emotional resonance to their deaths), and Silas and his urinating droid plummet to Earth below.
Sadly, this herk-and-jerk start-and-stop progression never really improves. I felt tugged along the story – not eased into it nor encouraged to follow along out of caring for these characters – and instead of a narrative what unspools feels more like a video game adaptation than it does an authentic tale. Here’s where our hero loses his memories. Here’s where the hero discovers one chapter of his legacy. Here’s where the hero earns a friend. And here’s where it all goes to sh#t (instead of urine!) for the hero. No person who joins him on this supposedly epic quest is every lifted from two-dimensions, and even the villains end up feeling like stereotypical baddies all in search of a plot.
Visually, Colonials does offer up some interesting sights that might serve as a momentary distraction from the drudgery of modern-day life, and sometimes that’s the best one can expect. Occasionally – though not often enough – it reminded me of TRON: Legacy (2010), a critically-drubbed project that I enjoyed for the way it rather effortlessly blended live action with effects work. Similarly, Colonials is chock full of wizardry – most of it some obvious computer-generated robots, soldiers, spacecraft, and backgrounds – so much so that there’s a jarring effect once real location photography begins on the devastated planet Earth. The difference between what’s authentic and what’s been added in post-production is blatantly, so painstakingly obvious here, and it’s for this reason that I and many other reviewers loathe what CGI has done to film, creating visible layers of quality to wind up pulling us out of watching the film because our eyes can’t be convinced that this movie set is tangible. It isn’t, so – gasp – there’s no resulting tension with its loss. It was all pixels anyway.
Meh. No one truly hits any performance out of the park here, but I think that’s probably owed more to the script’s uneven pursuit of a unifying idea here. The reliable Daniel Roebuck – a character actor I’ve always had great respect for – does try to give his scenes a bit of gravitas; as a Martian senator, he’s standing against his planet’s status quo to send more forces to rescue Earth. Alas, nothing really emerges from his good works, and even he can’t elevate this space opera above B-Movie status. Heck, in an even curious bit of bad casting or uninspired make-up, three different female players all look so hauntingly alike in the film that I began to wonder what the picture was trying to imply about our future: will all stunning ladies be decked out in black with shoulder-length hair? (And here I thought blondes had more fun!) It was as if casting was asked to locate a ‘Trinity’ type (Carrie Anne Moss from The Matrix franchise), forgot which character was supposed to be her, and instead cast every female role with the same look!
Lastly, Colonials dabbles with popular tropes a bit too often – wacky droids, lightsaber-style technology, long-winded exposition, and Apocalyptic imagery – leaving its one inviting idea – that of a souped-up hovercraft that looks like a decked-out muscle car – sidelined after finally creating a spark all of its own.
Colonials (2023) was produced by Bland Productions and Colonials Film. Google.com reports that the film is presently available online for streaming on a variety of platforms including Epic Pictures own website. (link) As for the technical specifications? This is a reasonably well-produced Science Fiction and Fantasy flick, but there are some widely varying video and audio differences between what’s obviously ‘live action’ photography versus rendered computer graphics. While occasionally a bit jarring (at least, for this viewer), it isn’t all that distracting: anyone experienced in computer gaming is probably very well equipped for this experience. Lastly, as I viewed this via a streaming platform, there were no special features available.
Because I’m a genre junkie, I can appreciate a budding franchise opportunity as much as anyone; and, yet, I can’t ignore that Colonials felt extremely overloaded by the weight of its ambition as compared to what storytellers Balek and Bland were ultimately able to deliver. Regular readers know of my stance on projects overloaded with CGI, and Colonials requires a ton of it. Some of the special effects work is very well done. Other bits? Not so much. It all ends with some closing credits looking as though the production was a set-up for a possible gaming spin-off; I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see if that develops. In the meantime, the flick is reasonably kid-friendly, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Epic Pictures Group provided me with complimentary streaming access to Colonials by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.