Red Faction: Origins (Syfy Channel movie) Review

Summary from IMDB:

On a Mars colony in the year 2145, an officer in a rebel militia discovers that his sister, who was abducted a dozen years before, is still alive and has been raised as a soldier whose goal is to bring about the destruction of her brother’s faction.

The main cast consists of Robert Patrick, Tamzin Merchant, Danielle Nicolet, and Brian J. Smith.

 

First off, I didn’t have high expectations for a Syfy Channel movie. Some of the past movies have been unbearably campy and low budget for a channel that’s supposed to be popular. I’m also not familiar with the Red Faction franchise. So I went into the movie with low expectations and not knowing about the whole franchise background.

That being said, now on to the review. Note, there are no spoilers in the below review.

Plot

The overall plot was well developed; it was easy to follow with some surprises along the way (which is a good thing). There wasn’t too many points in the movie where I could predict what was about to happen, which is something I like in movies. Since I don’t really know the background of Red Faction, I don’t know if it broke cannon with the franchise, but it was a great scifi plot. The character development was also great. A lot of background about the characters was presented in a way that didn’t make it seem like the film was throwing information at the audience to set up the plot. All of the characters developed in the right direction with nothing I didn’t like. So when something sad happened in the film, you empathized with the characters. There was one point where something quite sad occurred, and the film when to a commercial break. Since I had recorded this on a PVR, I skipped over the commercials. After the commercials, it seemed like the sad scene that had just occurred was all but forgotten. I would have liked the sad scene to have been acknowledged more after the commercial break.

Visual & Special Effects

Kate Vernon's hologram.

With most Syfy channel movies, the visual effects are fairly obvious. It’s easy to tell when a character is on a green screen or a background has been painted in. With Red Faction: Origins, there weren’t any glaring vfx issues. The 3D modeling was really well done, as it all looked fairly realistic. And the integration of the vfx with live action was flawless. There wasn’t any point where I could see that the character(s) were inserted into a 3D model of a spaceship, building, or 3D set.  Two of the best visual effects/technologies in the movie are shown below.

A small transparent screen that shuffles through photos when you flick it. Pretty slick.

A door that can turn into an invisible force field. Opaque at first, becomes transparent when you approach.

As for special effects (effects that are added on set), they all looked natural and blended well with the action. Scenes where something gets damaged seemed realistic and well done.

Acting

For the most part, the acting was top notch. The only reason I watched the movie was because Brian J. Smith (of Stargate: Universe fame) and Kate Vernon (of Battlestar Galactica fame) were in the movie. Both had amazing performances, although I would have liked to see more of Vernon integrated into the movie. The actress who played Tess De La Vega (Danielle Nicolet) was overall pretty good, but in a few instances (whenever she was complaining that everyone treats her differently because she’s from Earth), her acting felt awkward and didn’t fit with Brian’s acting. The other minor characters were great, with only Devon Graye’s (Leo) acting standing out.

Writing

Overall, I had no qualms with the lines for all the actors. As mentioned above, Tess’ lines about being from Earth were always awkward and could have been written better. Other than that, it was a really well written film.

Camera/Lighting

The camera work on the film was good. In my opinion, a good cinematographer can make it seem like you’re not even looking at the scene through a camera. For most of the film, I felt like that was the case, but in a few instances, the camera was too active; too much movement on static close-up shots.

The same logic that applies to camera work applies to lighting. Good lighting should be indistinguishable from natural lighting. The entire movie had really good lighting. There wasn’t any point where I noticed that the lighting was faked.

Sets

Again, for a Syfy channel movie, the sets were amazing. I didn’t feel that any particular set was overused or not detailed enough. If any of the sets were modified in post, for the most part I couldn’t tell the difference. I just had one issue with a set. The office of Ben Sharpe (played by Ariyon Bakare) has one piece of technology that just doesn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the high tech equipment in the movie. Can you spot it in the picture below? (Hint: it looks like it may have been made by HP or Epson.)

Editing

My one qualm with editing was one cut in the middle of the movie where Alec Mason and Ben Sharpe are talking about Jake. Most of the scene uses the usual over-the-shoulder framing and just switches between the two, never breaking the 180 line (that part is mostly due to good cinematography). But for some reason, the editor decided to cut to a wide shot for only two seconds before switching back to over-the-shoulder shots. It was a bit jarring, didn’t flow well, and ruined the scene for me. Now, being an editor myself, I know that sometimes you need to get creative when you’re given two takes that aren’t perfect all the way through. I’m guessing this is what happened here. Most likely one take had a good beginning, while the second take had a good ending, but the two had to be joined together somehow without continuity issues. I’ve run into similar issues when editing an episode or short film. Sometimes it’s unavoidable in post, and the editor just needs to make it look as good as he/she possibly can. Personally, I would have held on the wide shot at least a few seconds longer, even if it introduced a minor continuity error. Audiences will generally forgive minor continuity errors, but such quick camera changes on a static, slow scene as this one can confuse the audience and break the mood of the scene.

Directing

As for directing, I’d say that it was quite good for the most part. Again, the only big issue was the above mentioned scene. A good director would have noticed this issue and would have had the actors do another take (unless it was impossible due to time constrictions). For the most part, there was good continuity between shots with only a few small mistakes I noticed, but they were almost unnoticeable to the common viewer. I probably only noticed them because I’m used to looking for continuity issues as a cinematographer and editor.

Overall

Bottom line, I really liked the film. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. This movie really proves that Syfy can do better than the typical campy movies we see on there and still stay on budget. I’d recommend that all scifi (and non-scifi) fans should see this movie.

   4/5

IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1693872/

IMDB User Rating: 5.6/10

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