REVIEW: Anti Matter
– By Allan Lear
The peculiar thing about science fiction, as a genre, is that it is so bloody terrified of science. Right from what is commonly agreed to be sci-fi’s root, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, there has been a tension amongst the genre’s practitioners between those who portray scientific progress as an amoral force which can be harnessed by humanity for good or ill, and those who perceive it as an Arthur Machen-style intrusion into the celestial sphere of God’s power which is doomed to end, like the Tower of Babel, in a health and safety nightmare.
For reasons directly attributable to the real world, utopianism as a movement is dead in the twenty-first century.
Superior science fiction, like Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror, presents us with worlds where advancing technology with exciting and fascinating applications is highjacked by idiots to make the world a living hell. The fact that you are reading this on the internet means that you are already familiar with the process that Brooker’s oeuvre depicts – the internet is a tool for instantaneous worldwide communication and information gathering that has enabled bigots, terrorists and other cunts to pull their bullshit on a worldwide scale. Inferior science fiction, meanwhile, tells us that science will inevitably fuck us due to its inherent scienciness – see the dreadful misprision of chaos theory in the otherwise fine film Jurassic Park. In the interests of balance, I should point out that Crichton’s original novel has a much clearer idea of how chaos theory works and presents it in a more interesting fashion than simply bleating “messing with nature is bad”.
Antimatter is a film that sets itself up as presenting a reasonably realistic view of scientific research on a shoestring budget. A very early sequence in the film captures the tedium of proper research very well, as the lead character runs an experiment which consists of doing the same boring thing over and over again with minimal adjustments to a single variable. It’s quite a brave move, being roughly a minute of screen time where we give absolutely not a single damn about what is going on. It’s also far and away the most accurate bit of the film scientifically, because when the big reveal comes at the end it’s utterly risible, but credit where it’s due.
Our lead character, an experimental physicist, is messing with various elements in an artificial magnetic field or some such bunkum. While stimulating the particle field with emitted laser tachyons or whatever, she stumbles across a bizarre finding: an elementary particle that disappears, only to reappear somewhere else without traversing the intervening space. She has accidentally invented teleportation.
Of course, in real life, Australian scientists have already discovered how you teleport an electron from one place to another. The problem is that it doesn’t work on anything larger than an electron, and thus is completely useless, albeit interesting.
In order to solve the problem of scaling up the effect so she can teleport actual visible stuff, our intrepid scientist enlists the help of a fay youth and a bitchy goth girl. Why are goth girls always bitchy in movies? Why aren’t any of them nice people who just like a lot of eye makeup? Every single goth girl is written as someone who was turned off all her emotions and just makes sarcastic comments at inappropriate moments. It’s so tedious. It’s been twenty years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these teen stereotypes should have been long buried by the march of time.
In any event, our wacky gang of nerds hit upon a perfect solution for scaling the teleportation up: Bittorrent. Sort of. They book themselves some time with their university’s supercomputer and get the word out to geeks across the world that they need additional computing power. People donate their processing time to computing the equations needed to get the teleporter working. It’s effectively quite similar to illegal torrenting sites (god love ‘em) where you use other people’s hard drives to store files and stream the data to each other over your wireless connections. In theory. I guess. Maybe? I don’t really know. I’m a law graduate. Sorry.
It all goes at a licketty-split pace and soon they are testing the teleporter on live subjects, mainly themselves. I was hoping for something like Tone Death, where the test subjects start exploding or melting in hilarious ways, but sadly it was not to be. Instead, Antimatter takes a turn for the paranoiac. A la Flatliners, the experiment seems to have unleashed some sort of fearsome presence owing to the messing with nature, and our lead physicist-stroke-test subject starts experiencing weird side effects. They start small, with gaps in her memory, people claiming to have seen her places she doesn’t remember being, déjà vu, that sort of thing…but soon her own mother is telling her she can’t speak to her without the password they agreed, and a sinister presence seems to have taken over almost every aspect of her life…
Antimatter is not a completely successful film. As I said, the explanation for what has been going on is absolutely preposterous. But it’s a brave attempt to tell a story about a scientific experiment gone sideways without resorting to the usual clichés of “what man was never meant to know”. The experiment’s downfall has been that the assembled boffins have not known enough, and consequently they’ve been unable to predict the potential fallout. The unknown threat turns out to be morally ambiguous and there is no explicit evil or wrong being deliberately perpetrated.
The film builds slowly and is more of a thriller than an out-and-out horror movie, but as a change of pace from the sort of anti-scientific potboiler that Christopher Lee’s character mocks in Gremlins 2*, it’s certainly good enough. For the sort of semi-nerd who enjoyed watching Interstellar because all the cleverly-stacked scientific building blocks fell apart at the end, it will fulfil your expectations of overambitious science fiction nicely.
* “There are some things man was never meant to splice!”