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Ascension

Film Threat // Unrated // August 9, 2005
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted August 28, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

I've next to no idea what to make of Ascension; on one hand it's a very well-crafted and thoughtful semi-sci-fi tale of alienation, loneliness, and madness. On the other ... it is, for several lengthy passages, an extremely dull and languid movie. Almost aggressively so in many spots.

But since this is clearly a labor-of-love project, and one that boasts its fair share of assets, let's mainly focus on the positive. Directed with what must have been an inordinately low-budget, director John Krawlzik acquits himself extremely well; his compositions are crisp, his cinematography, lighting, set design, costumes ... all of it screams of a filmmaker with more ingenuity than money, so it's easy to appreciate how good Ascension looks on the screen. Hell, the guy even pulls some rather impressive performances from his three "no-name" leads -- and if you're even remotely familiar with no-budget sci-fi mind-benders, then you know how tough a task that is to pull off.

Clearly inspired by the likes of Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ascension tells the tale of Agent Hayes, a no-nonsense investigator sent to the moon of Titan in an effort to discover why a certain scientist committed suicide. At the remote outpost, Hayes has to contend with two mysterious witnesses in Lippert and Sterner, a pair of mildly spaced-out survivors who seem to know just a little more than they let on.

Although Ascension runs a mere 80 minutes, I'd be lying if I said the movie flew by at a rapid clip. Much of the running time is devoted to Hayes walking down corridors, Hayes staring into computer monitors, Hayes sharing evasive conversations with his two subjects, and Hayes contending with a gradually amplifying series of bizarre hallucinations. Basically, there's a noticeable amount of down-time scattered amidst the somewhat challenging ideas and the obvious homages to the classic sci-fi brain-twisters.

But still, for all its intermittent dryness and ambling conversations, Ascension is to be commended for actually having a brain in its head. One suspects that Krawlzik could have just as easily slapped together an interstellar monster movie and kept his fingers crossed for a curious distributor. Instead, he went the cerebral route, and created a soft-spoken sci-fi semi-mystery and did it with a careful eye on the visual side of the equation. There's enough that's right with Ascension to forgive what's not, I suppose, and those who appreciate well-hewn indie flicks could do a lot worse than to give this one a weekend rental.

The DVD

Video: The transfer is a fullscreen affair, which the DVD case informs me is the intended aspect ratio, so all's good in that department. Picture quality is actually pretty decent, with only the slightest indie-grain in evidence.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which is more than acceptable for this intentionally quiet and mellow affair.

Extras: Film Threat DVD has put together a solid little handful of extra features for this release, starting with the feature-length audio commentary with writer/director John Krawlzik, actor Paul Nolan, production designer Carol Clouse, and cameraman Greg Reciter. Like the movie, it's a laid-back and understated yak-track, but the four participants seem to genuinely enjoy looking back over their movie, and, thankfully, they don't spend 80 minutes patting each other on the back.

You'll also find some of Mr. Krawlzik's home movies (which is essentially 7.5 minutes of pre-production footage, conceptual work, and on-set hijinks), a photo gallery accompanied by director's commentary, nine deleted scenes (with optional "play all" capability), the original Ascension trailer, and a bunch of Film Threat Trailers for releases such as Jar Jar Binks: The True Hollywood Story, Talent, The Breathing Show, Stuck, Plastic Utopia, Moving, First Aid for Choking, The Ultimate Truth, Hooked: Get It On(Line), Starwoids, The Removers, Red, Ligeia, Joyful Partaking, Hacks, Getting Out of Rhode Island, Frontier, Brainwarp, April Is My Religion, and Agent 15.

Final Thoughts

Exceedingly well-directed and periodically quite fascinating, yet almost helplessly lifeless for a few small stretches, Ascension is something the hardcore sci-fi geeks will want to give at least one charitable spin.

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