There is nothing like cozying up next to a roaring fireplace with a nice drink and settling into the season with, um, a Sci-Fi film? Scratch that, make that a bunch of short Sci-Fi films. Available on DVD and Digital Tuesday, December 10th from Uncork’d Entertainment, 5 Galaxies covers overpopulation, space exploration and dealing with crime, amongst other topics.
Originally called A.I. Tales in a prior release in 2018, and then called The 5 Galaxies, which still appears in its bog-standard opening credits. So, why the name change? Well, it helps that the shorts do not really cover the topic of A.I. So, it is not like the 5 Galaxies name upsets anything. It also helps that one of the shorts features Pom Klementieff (Avengers: Infinity War 2018, The Addams Family 2019), and one of her biggest films had something to do with galaxies and the guarding thereof. She is also joined by Eric Roberts (Best of the Best II 1993, The Dark Knight 2008) and Neil Jackson (Absentia series, Welcome to Marwen 2018).
Starting with Seed, written and directed by Nelson Lee (Blade: The Series 2006, Stargirl 2020), it is set in a world where overpopulation is dealt with by culling ‘seeding’ its subjects when they reach 40. Nathan (Lee) is fast approaching his 4oth birthday and is receiving his last goodbyes from friends and family. But things take a turn when his former lover Cat (Klementieff) comes back from the past. Perhaps there is a way to escape his fate.
The short gets the film off to a good start. Lee’s direction is solid, and the acting is not half bad either. It nails that combination of joy and sadness as Lee’s Nathan prepares for his fate. The only issue here is that the short film kind of stops instead of ending. It teases its ‘ending’ at the start through glimpses and enigmatic dialogue, and there is enough there for the audience to infer its outcome. However, it might have been better, or at least easier to get, if it kept everything in chronological order. Still, it is not bad.
Then there is IN/FINITE, directed by Kristen Hilkert (The Wahlberg Effect 2012), who wrote the script alongside star Ashlee Mundy (Azure 2018, Water with Lemon series). In it, Jane (Mundy) dreams of leaving everything behind and exploring space. She has friends and family, but she feels pulled towards a greater calling. She gets that chance when she is accepted into a space program. She gets a going-away party to celebrate, but how cheerful can it be when Jane’s hiding a secret about the program’s mission?
From one sad party to another. In between each encounter, the short shows scenes of the job interview, so it ends up with two climaxes the audience can compare to each other. It is the least Sci-Fi-based of the bunch, putting the interpersonal drama ahead, which makes it surprisingly effective. The short feels more relatable because of this, as there are likely other, more grounded reasons that have led to similar family situations. It probably could have done with being after one of the heavier Sci-Fi shorts as a refresher, but it helps the film put its strongest foot forward overall.
Speaking of heavier Sci-Fi, the oldest short of the bunch, Phoenix 9, was directed by Amir Reichart (Guardian 2018) and written by Peer Gopfrich. It is about the Earth after an apocalyptic nuclear war, and nearly everywhere on Earth has been reduced to a scorched desert. The only hope for the survivors, like Claire (Daniela Flynn: Alien Origin 2012) and Warren (Paul Lange: Maybe Tomorrow 2014), is entry into a secret installation but this comes at a high price.
The dusty wastelands and CGI interfaces stick out after the fancy homes and apartments of the prior shorts, and there is even some technobabble. Otherwise, it is 1979’s Mad Max without the title character. Just survivor stress as the band barely stick together in search of their sanctuary. It has the quickest pace of the shorts, with plenty going on from the start. The visuals are not half-bad either – better than some feature-length flicks. The drama is not as strong as IN/FINITE or Seed, but it still holds up. In fact, it might have been the strongest film overall if it was not for the ending: no clues this time, it just stops.
Not to be excluded, there is also Redux by writer and director Vitaly Verlov (Forever After 2011) has a scientist (Russell Bradley Fenton: PawParazzi 2018) trying to send a message back in time before he can be caught by his boss (Roberts) and his security team. That is pretty much it. There is not even much dialogue, but plenty of its Refn-meets-Vangelis soundtrack. While it is technically sound, and Roberts gets a payday, one could hit Skip on the DVD remote or on-screen player by accident at the start and not miss a thing.
This is where things get weird. Some of the pre-release info of the film said there would be an extra short by French Director Marc-Henri Boulier (All Men Are Called Robert 2010)- likely his 2015 A.I. film Juliet, but that is not what is on offer. The final short is the pilot episode of 2017’s New York 2150 series, written and directed by Harry Assouline (Conundrum! 2018). Here, a bounty hunter named Jayden Jaxon (Kalen J. Hall: The Kidnapping of a Fish 2016) teams up with ex-cop Mac Cole (Marcus Brandon: In the Shadows of Sugar Hill 2017) to take down a serial killer for a good price.
It has the heaviest Sci-Fi theme of all the shorts- flying cars, space stations, spaceships, and other fancy doodads. And while they do not look as high-end as Phoenix 9, they manage to mostly hold up. Unfortunately, the acting is not as hot as in the prior shorts, and the dialogue is rather cheesy too. Despite all of this, New York 2150 manages to be entertaining in that corny, Action movie way. The biggest bugbear is the ending, which is left open because other episodes were meant to carry the story.
So, 5 Galaxies is a very mixed bag. Seed and IN/FINITE have legit cinematic chops, though they are rather slow-paced. Phoenix 9 had the pace and okay drama, but somehow disappeared into another dimension before the goal line. One could blink and miss Redux altogether, and New York 2150 is cornball gold. It does not help that only one short – IN/FINITE – has a straightforward ending.
Overall, Sci-Fi fans might be entertained, though even they would be best advised to stick to catching it digitally or see if the best shorts have separate releases elsewhere. Because as a total package, Cryptic Rock gives 5 Galaxies 3 out of 5 stars.