Thursday, December 07, 2017

Other Worlds Austin ’17: Paleonaut (short)

Nicholas Sparks can’t top this message in a bottle. Scientists have developed a method of H.G. Wells-style time travel, so the first human test subject will travel back to the pre-historic era, hopefully to leave a message for the research team in the fossil records. Essentially, the time traveler will become the fossil. It was a mission Dr. Maria Lin volunteered for, but she might possibly start to develop feelings for the man chosen instead in Eric McEver’s short film Paleonaut (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival.

There might be a future in our past. If the so-called “Paleonaut” can successfully adapt to pre-human living conditions, it could open the door to colonization of the past, from the environmentally doomed near-future. Apparently, they are not worried about Butterfly Effects or Prime Directives, because desperate times call for desperate measures.

Unfortunately, Dr. Lin is too valuable as a team member to send her back in time, but Kai is pretty disposable. Indeed, he seems to have nothing tying him down to the present day. Yet, as the shy Dr. Lin trains the socially awkward Kai, they come to like and respect each other—and maybe even something more.

Any jerk who says science fiction cannot be emotionally engaging should watch Paleonaut and then grovel for forgiveness. It is a beautiful but finely nuanced film that suggests so much through hints and implications, yet it is epochal in its sweep. McEver takes a mammoth-sized big-picture-idea and examines it from a distinctly individual and intimate perspective.

Of course, he has a huge advantage in his remarkable lead, the uncannily expressive Tomoko Hayakawa, who can truly break your heart while lucidly explaining the principles of paleontology. Plus, she forges some acutely potent chemistry with Yasushi Takada’s Kai. He is also terrific and terrifically subtle portraying the standoffish Kai as he slowly comes out of his shell around her.

Paleonaut was shot on location at various Chinese research institutions and science museums, so it has a totally legit science fiction look. Genre fans will definitely respect its intelligence, but the central relationship makes Paleonaut accessible to anyone who enjoys a good tale of star-crossed romance. Very highly recommended, Paleonaut screens this Sunday (12/10) as part of the Scifi Shorts: Paradox of Choice programming block, at this year’s Other Worlds Austin.