Another Earth is a passion project by director, co-producer and co-writer Mike Cahill, who teamed up with his leading star Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and co-produced the film. It was shot on a micro budget and it certainly shows. It breaks the mold in terms of independent sci-fi because of how it chooses to focus on human emotion with science becoming a backdrop for the entire story. It’s slow and often times a little too heavy, but Brit Marling‘s performance, which is deep and rooted in regret, helps give the film a unique shape and Cahill’s amateurish directing style helps give it an out of the ordinary visual flare.
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a young student with a bright future until one history making night ruins it all. A distant planet is seen in our solar system that could possibly be home to life. As she looks up innocently at the stars her car collides with John’s (William Mapother). That single night changes both of their lives forever. Rhoda goes to prison for what she’s done and John continues his life without his wife and son, who died instantly in the accident. As Rhoda’s prison sentence ends the mirroring planet draws closer and closer to our own, bringing up tons of unanswered questions and theories.
While going to confront and apologize to John, Rhoda loses her nerve and lies about her visit. She claims to be a worker for a cleaning service (when in reality she’s a school janitor) and she offers her assistance to John. As Rhoda cleans John’s home she begins to form a friendship with him. John has become a shell of the man he used to be, sitting in trash and moping around all day. Rhoda gives him much needed hope and a sense of purpose to live. Rhoda isn’t just cleaning John’s house, but she’s in a way cleansing her soul of her past mistakes.
She uses the simple task as a way to balance out her own mistakes and continue her life, while healing Johns. At the same time she’s also hurting John even more by giving him this fragile friendship. She’s faced with the decision of telling John her true intentions and possibly accepting a trip to Earth 2.
Another Earth isn’t your ordinary science fiction film. It’s an extremely heavy drama. Everything about it is sad and hopeless. The camerawork is often dark and blurry while following Rhoda around as she constantly reminds herself of the hurt she’s caused. The characters are all sad in some way, whether it be Rhoda and John or even Rhoda’s family members. Up until the very last frame Another Earth relies on its painfully honest performances and slow pacing.
Brit Marling is soon to be a huge star. Her tragic performance as Rhoda is unlike anything I’ve seen before from an actress/writer her age. Rhoda is a very smart individual who’s faced with so much pain and sorrow. Her cowardly decisions to hide her true intentions from John only make things worse for her in the end, but watching her attempt to tell the truth is just heartbreaking. You want her to tell him but at the same time you don’t because of the inevitable blow up that will follow.
William Mapother counters Rhoda’s forgiving self as John, the hermit crab who’s locked away every shred of emotion minus anger. John is a loose cannon that’s ready to explode at any minute if the wrong button is pushed and Mapother elevates that to the next level. His eyes mask the pain and instead show the calmer side of John and it becomes very hard to watch him interact with Rhoda because of the truth behind her visits.
The sci-fi elements are interesting, but mostly act as a backdrop for the story to unfold. The idea of another planet that could possibly contain life is something many have thought about. The idea of that planet being a mirror of our own is also a unique idea to think of. The chance to meet another you and see if they made the same mistakes is mind boggling, but great sci-fi. Unfortunately that’s where it stops though. Another Earth has no problems bringing forward the ideas of the sci-fi story, but it never really tries to further them. They simply act as the setting for the film, but they never really come full circle until the very ending.
Compliments aside, Another Earth still has some major flaws. It’s paced out as slow as possible, hanging onto every last scene of Rhoda starring at a blank wall a bit too long. There’s nothing wrong with painting a depressing picture for the viewers to soak up, but you have to have something to keep the minds engaged and active. Too many shots of Rhoda walking around town doing absolutely nothing fill Another Earth and weigh it down into over-dramatic territory. It starts to lay itself on so heavy to the point of wanting to shut it off and not resume.
Another Earth also toys with the whole science fiction element too much. It’s not hard understanding that it won’t ever become a full-fledged sci-fi movie, but it gets a little irritating when you start paying more attention to the characters only for the film to sidetrack into more sci-fi heavy stuff for no apparent reason. It establishes itself early on as a strict drama, but then it stops several times to try and become a realistic science fiction film, but it leaves open too many holes.
Part of these problems could be because of director/writer/producer Mike Cahill. Perhaps he was a little too attached to the production? The editing felt a little too loose and the general directing feels unbalanced. Another Earth is obviously a passion project for him and sometimes too much passion can cloud the films judgment.
Another Earth is a deep film full of metaphors and meaning, but that doesn’t make it an instant classic. It often times crosses that line in drama films that makes the film a little too much to watch. The characters go from bruised and damaged with a small chance at happiness to completely burnt out shells. The pacing is the films biggest problem. It feels 30 minutes too long, which makes the characters dry out and the sci-fi elements become nothing more than distant stars in the universe, unreachable no matter how hard you try to get at them.
Brit Marling and William Mapother play off of each other well, providing some really thick character work and director Mike Cahill shows his skills as an independent director. He has a bright future ahead of him and with a higher budget and a bigger scope he could really open up the storyboards and tell something even better!
Another Earth has no problems showing its low budget roots on Blu-Ray. The 1080p encode is probably one of the worst I’ve seen this year for a new release film. Because of its low budget origins the film won’t be able to look much better than this. Digital noise is very present here making the picture lack detail and color. Everything is just one big, blurry mess.
The 5.1 DTS-HS Master Audio track is better than the video, but not by much. Again, it’s the low budget origins that plague the film and hold it back from looking or sounding any better. Dialogue comes across the front channels. It’s often very silent, but still easy to decipher. There are very little surrounding effects in the film, most of the sound sticks to the front channels. I honestly forgot I was watching this film on a surround setup because of how relatively straight-forward the track is. Its front heavy and simple, but it works.
For such an interesting concept of a film Fox really skimped on the extras for Another Earth. Check out the full list below.
- Music Video: “The First Time I Saw Jupiter” by Fall On Your Sword (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (HD): These are short and mostly pointless. Thankfully they were cut from the film because they would have only held it down even more. There’s one particular scene that deals with the gravity of the other planet coming closer and it looks very poorly made and out of place.
- Fox Movie Channel Presents: Direct Effect with Mike Cahill (SD): Director Mike Cahill briefly discusses the film from a directing and writing point of view.
- Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Brit Marling (SD): Actor and co-writer/co-producer Brit Marling discusses her character Rhoda and how she approaches her differently from a writing and acting perspective.
- Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with William Mapother (SD): Actor William Mapother discusses his character and why he took the role.
- The Science Behind Another Earth (HD): An all too brief discussion between Cahill, Marling and an astrophysicist. They scratch the surface on alternate universes.
- Creating Another Earth (HD): Cahill and Marling discuss the making of the film and how they did it with virtually no money and very little help.
- Trailer (HD): The theatrical trailer for the film, which is beautifully cut with lots of great imagery and a well fit song.
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
It’s too bad Another Earth isn’t better than it really is. The passion and dedication is there from director Mike Cahill and star Brit Marling, but the material is a little too damp and slow. It starts out with promise, but quickly falls into some troubled waters because of its script. It’s still an impressive film that should be recognized for its achievement of making it to the big screen and even on Blu-Ray. It was shot on a shoestring budget with barely any resources at their disposal and yet they still managed to make it feel big in a theatrical sense.
Some will find lots to love about the film and others will probably be bored out of their mind. I fell somewhere in the middle. I appreciate most of the character work in the film and it certainly does have its moments, but I often found myself checking the clock wondering when it would end. I actually thought the ending was worthy of its own film that would probably end up being more enjoyable then the whole film I just sat through. Had the sci-fi played a bigger role in the film then maybe more would have enjoyed it, but as a raw independent drama Another Earth wears its welcome somewhere in the second act and never brings itself back to amount to much more than a bold try at different filmmaking.
The Blu-Ray has some major flaws that can be rooted back to the films production. It’s a cheaply made film so it’s going to look and sound cheap. The video is ugly and lacking any real pop that reminds you you’re watching the film in high def and the audio is heavy in the front and lacking any real surround effects. The special features are short and repetitive. The feature discussing alternate universes should have been a 20 to 60 minute doc where the director and star really dig into their ideas, not some 3 minute clip featuring random comments. As much as I found the film as a middle-of-the-road experience I still was very interested in the ideas behind making it, but sadly none of that is present on the disc.
If the trailer looks like something you’d want to see then I strongly suggesting renting the disc before a purchase. Blu-Ray might not even be a must if you can find the DVD cheaper.
The acting is very strong thanks to Brit Marling and William Mapother and director/writer/producer Mike Cahill does a decent job considering his limited resources and budget.