Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Ethically Acceptable Future Technology Enthusiast
Let us embrace the future and all it has to offer us…especially on the small or big screen.
When you think about it, many of the ideas that have sprung from science-fiction concepts have, in some ways great and small, changed the way we think about our lives and how new inventions and technologies have shaped our modern-say world.
After all, without Star Trek, the iPad and cell phone might still have looked much different. Other movie and TV franchises, such as Extant, reviewed here, look at the bio-ethical quandaries of creating artificial life, and what it might mean for our society if we start accepting and allowing artificial intelligence to become self-aware. After all, have we learned nothing from the Terminator movies?
Throw in some extra-terrestrial intrigue as a topping to your recipe and you find yourself with a potentially fascinating sci-fi thriller.
Conceived as a drama set in the not-so-far future, Extant combines ethics, paranoia, technology and intrigue into a muddled tale about alien visitation via an Earth space station (similar to the ISS), the introduction of the most advanced child android invented to date and the people opposed to the development of such life.
Oscar winner Halle Berry returns to the TV format after brief stint in the late 80s on a short-lived Who’s the Boss spinoff, here playing Molly Woods, an astronaut working alone on a 13-month mission in orbit aboard the Seraphim, a modest construct which comes complete with an interactive AI to assist in everyday duties, not to mention some much needed conversational skills when one is isolated for such a period.
When Molly returns to Earth and discovers she is pregnant, the plot thickens as she tries to figure out how, and more importantly who or what, got her pregnant while she as in orbit. An alien visitation? Some other mysterious invasion?
Meanwhile, her husband John (Goran Visnjic) seeks further funding following the creation of a boy named Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), a flawless humanoid robot designed to learn and evolve. Having adopted the prototype as their own son due to Molly’s troubles conceiving, the couple faces difficulty in their “boy” being accepted by other parents and friends.
As the secret of Molly’s condition becomes known to her superiors, more questions arise: did they already know? Was the alien visitor responsible known to them? Was this planned?
As more secrets are slowly revealed, we discover that Molly and John might in fact be unwilling pawns in a much larger design, one with the Space Agency and a wealthy industrialist (Hiroyuki Sanada) behind it all.
Though I can admit to a solid dose of intrigue which kept me interested past the first few episodes, I must reluctantly state that the overwhelming number of subplots and back room conspiracies, though interconnected in the end somehow, made for a tedious experience at times.
Thankfully, producer Steven Spielberg knows to fill the world the show is set in with stimulating imagery, reflective of a cleaner, more responsible future when we’ve adopted solar energy, electric cars and other environ-friendly designs.
In fact, the setting of Extant, with its interactive museums, advanced media tools and fancy cars and medical monitoring devices are so appealing that the introduction of an invasive alien presence making its way into our society by way of an impossible baby feels less like a captivating plot point and more of a nuisance in an otherwise engaging premise about the world we may very well live in a few decades from now.
I preferred the secondary plot in which some anti-technology rebellious elements out there made their feelings about the offensive nature of a robot child known through pressure tactics, not unlike people today who ma have opposing views on anything from cloning to stem cell research.
Many questions about ethics and the basic philosophical debate about controlling and harnessing artificial intelligence are raised throughout the 13-episode first season, that is, when Berry and Visnjic aren’t on the run from nefarious government agents trying to get their hands on either the Humanich boy or the mystery alien baby.
I praise this show for attempting something new and infusing its premise with challenging ideas about where our society and technology is headed. While I wasn’t on board with the whole extraterrestrial subplot as much, I was still ensnared by the story’s suspenseful pace and felt engaged enough to watch the next episode.
It’ll be interesting to see what the writers have in store for Season Two, which was announced a while back and should air closer to Summer 2015. In the meantime, enjoy the TV life Halle Berry is offering and pick and choose the elements of the show you enjoy.
3 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.