*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Taking a story from the stage to the screen can sometimes be a great improvement, especially in a science-fiction story, when so much of the tale relies on visuals that just can’t be presented the same way onstage as they can when CGI is available. The story of Amelia Summerland from the Cedar Rapids play, “The Summerland Project”, could have been exactly that when reimagined into the film Amelia 2.0. In many ways, the film brought a greater depth to the story that is difficult to imagine being performed onstage to the same level of intensity. An interesting story idea is not, however, the only requirement for a good movie, and in order for Amelia 2.0 to really have taken hold of our hearts and imaginations, it needed a lot more work on the other story elements. Though the concept was a good one, less than stellar camera placement and coloring, as well as questionable shots that could only be described as the Sims games sending their love to Cedar Rapids and large bounces in the storyline, all add up to create a confusing mess that has a good story buried so far beneath all the problems that it will be difficult to fully appreciate them. Maybe Amelia 2.0 needs another upgrade to be completely accessible to its audience.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, newly married couple Carter (Ben Whitehair) and Amelia (Angela Billman) find their lives turned upside down when Amelia suffers an aneurysm that leaves her with locked-in syndrome and slowly dying in a hospital. Carter is approached by Wesley Enterprises, headed up by Paul Wesley (Ed Begley Jr.) and Dr. Ellen Beckett (Kate Vernon) with an opportunity that seems almost too good to be true – through Wesley Enterprises’ work with robotics, they have discovered a way to transplant Amelia’s brain into a synthetic body, completely made over in her image. In short, they can extend Amelia’s life by turning her into a computer. Completely out of options, Carter agrees to the experimental procedure, but becomes wracked with guilt and doubt over whether or not the result of the procedure is really his wife. Existing technology opens the doors to questions like what makes someone human, and just because technology can be used to save someone’s life, should it?
Though there are very few large names in the cast lineup, there are some great performances nonetheless. Billman handles the duality of her role with perfection (as she should, since she was one of the Amelia Summerlands in the stage production), bouncing between the lively and expressive Amelia Summerland and the slightly robotic version that is still navigating her new body after the procedure. It’s almost creepy how robotic she can be, and the switch between the two is enough to cause audiences to question whether or not she is still the human she once was, or if she is the robotic imitation that many of the characters believe her to be. Another noteworthy performance is Eddie Jemison’s Max Parker, the technician primarily in charge of Amelia’s procedure. Though he gets a little creepy, you can very easily track his progress and his development, which is not something that can be said for all characters. Vernon and Begley are both given passionate monologues (usually with each other) but because the cuts between those monologues are so shaky and uncertain, their speeches don’t always seem to fit, or feel genuine. Whitehair’s performance had the air of being a good one, but it almost seems as though some of his scenes in between the beginning and end were cut, and his character development suffers as a result, since it is difficult to see where his decisions come from with just the information the audience has. Really, all of the characters could’ve used a little more development, if less time had been spent in other areas.
Really the bulk of this film seems to rest on its special effects, as though someone wanted to prove that the film would be a better performance of the story then the stage production and did everything in their power to make sure it was proved to the audience. The fictional company of Wesley Enterprises is meant to be loosely based on The Blue Brain Project, which is dedicated to creating artificial intelligence, so some of the science from the film is based on their current findings. There are also over 900 visual effect shots throughout the entire film to really drive home the feel of a science-fiction wonderland (for comparison, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) has only 540 visual effect shots). This is supposed to enhance the film’s experience, but perhaps because so much time was dedicated to these special effects, not enough was put into other areas. A huge portion of the film is very poorly lit, and not in a way that makes it look both artsy and good, it’s just artsy and hard to see, and that does the characters no favors at all. It also makes it hard to tell what the audience is meant to be connecting to when they have a hard time seeing the images. There are also a few special effect shots that are not up to parr with the rest, which makes all of the good ones look less well-done. Specifically, some of the airborne “over the city” shots of Cedar Rapids (which honestly weren’t really that necessary to begin with) look like they were made with a simulator rather than a video camera or a drone, though both could have been at the disposal of the film crew. It’s hard to take everything else seriously when it feels like you’re watching a homemade version of a film with old video game graphics.
The idea of the story is an interesting one, and once Amelia wakes up in her robotic form, the audience is given a better chance to delve into the implications of what she has become. When your memories are downloaded into a computer, does it mean that you actually feel them and remember them the way you once did, or is it a simulation based on a computer program? Was Amelia truly Amelia after being transferred into a new body, or were her mannerisms adapted from photographs and videos that the technology crew watched beforehand? Was Carter right to bring his wife back to life in that way, and what else could the programs be used for? If the film had been edited a little more carefully and shot a little more efficiently, those questions could have been the sole focus of the film, rather than tacked on and less impactful than they might have been otherwise.
2.5 / 5
If this is based off of a real project and could (theoretically) come to the market, how would you react?