Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ready and Abel: "Able Edwards" (2004)

Graham Robertson takes one part "Citizen Kane," one part the frozen Walt Disney legend, and sprinkles a pinch of every clone sci-fi film you have ever seen, and still creates a memorable film.

In the future, Earth is uninhabitable with ninety percent of the population being killed by an unknown contaminant. Humanity now lives in a giant space-bound Civilization pod, which slowly circles the dead planet. We see old newsreel footage about a Walt Disney-type film maker named Abel Edwards (Scott Kelly Galbreath), who died in 1960 in a helicopter crash. His company is still alive in the pod, morphing into a company that builds androids. In order to increase plateaued profits, a team heads to Earth and harvests some of Edwards' body, creating a perfect clone. The board of directors decide to raise the new Abel knowing full well that he will be taking over the company, and create a half human/half cyborg lifelong friend for him named Gower (Steve Beaumont Jones).

The film follows the life of the new Abel Edwards, who begins to make waves on the pod by going back to "reality" entertainment. No more virtual rides, no more extinct animals on computer screens, Edwards wants to bring back actual rides and actual animals into parks spread around the pod. His life story is book ended by a probate hearing being run by Chairman Lowery (Michael Shamus Wiles), at the request of Abel's widow Rosemary (Keri Bruno). The film's trailer asks the perfect question about the story- can individuality be reproduced?

The film is experimental. It was executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, who seems to specialize in these small types of films when he isn't filming George Clooney or Matt Damon going through the motions. The entire movie is shot on digital video against a green screen, and is in black and white. While this may seem like a detriment, Robertson makes it work. His use of stock footage in the background gives the film an other-worldly look. Big giant James Cameron-type computer generated effects might have overwhelmed the old fashioned linear story. Michael Suby also turns in a fantastic epic musical score, which sounds like something from the early days of cinema.

Scott Kelly Galbreath does a great job as Edwards. He is both sympathetic and ruthless. Jones as Gower is also good, very understated as a part android being, but not turning it into a "Star Trek" idea reject. The supporting cast all excel in what must have been difficult shooting situations. While the cut rate look of the production is interesting, I wish some of the technical aspects had been jacked up a touch. While very intense, a park accident scene late in the film could have been so much more.

"Able Edwards" is very imaginative and very watchable. It's a piece of thinking-viewer's science fiction, without an alien or transforming robot in sight. Very refreshing. (* * * *) out of five stars.