Film Threat presents
Lippert: Is it what you expected, comrade?
Hayes: It never is.- Sally Mercer, Paul Nolan
Stars: Paul Nolan
Other Stars: Sally Mercer, Curt Karibalis
Director: John Krawlzik
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief language)
Run Time: 01h:17m:17s
Release Date: 2005-08-09
DVD ReviewOn the sci-fi movie scale, big noisy spectacles like Star Wars are one end, deadly alien encounters like those in Alien exist at another point, campy gross-outs like XTRO lie elsewhere, and then way to the left of all of those are the small titles like writer/director John Krawlzik's 2000 release Ascension, a quiet film that owes more to Solaris than it does to Starship Troopers. This version from Film Threat is the director's cut, a slightly longer runtime that rejiggers the minimal plot enough to significantly alter the flow of the original story, that according to Krawlzik makes this almost an entirely new film.
Set in the year 2057 on Titan, the 15th moon of Saturn, monosyllabic "agent" Hayes (Paul Nolan) is sent to an isolated underground research center to investigate the death of the lead scientist. The only other two inhabitants are Lippert (Sally Mercer) and Stener (Curt Karibalis), a pair of weathered and seemingly emotionally troubled types who spend most of their time uttering grim bursts of dialogue as Hayes peppers them with gruff questions about the mysterious death. A spiky crystal, treacherous Titan sandstorms, and an escalating air of depression all brew together as Krawlzik takes the brainy high road, as opposed to offering up fang-toothed aliens or exploding spaceships, with a quiet plot that is a little slippery, especially during the final act.
Ascension is really for a certain strata of the genre, fans who can forsake the trappings of most low-budget sci-fi titles in favor of style. And Krawlzik excels when it comes to production values and cinematography, pegging his film with an impressively stylized visual approach—cleverly minimal but effective—that makes the grubby moonbase look authentic and large, balanced by a strong use of light and shadow to accent the cramped quarters. There are very few effects-based "money shots", though the use of models (often blurred by sandstorms) as the surface portion of the base look better than the modest budget might indicate.
Much of Ascension is driven by Hayes' noir-like narration, linked between often long, dialogue-free scenes as he investigates, only to be broken up by minimal conversations that eventually build to a climax that is less clear-cut than most mainstream types will probably appreciate. The big dramatic reveal in the third act just hints at what other films may have focused on for their entirety, and Krawlzik plays it on the down low, opting for vague explanations rather than hammering home the obvious.
The journey may move slowly, but the look of the finished product is satisfying.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Ascension has been issued in its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio, and even with the expected minor grain-related issues found on small budget projects, the presentation is actually rather strong. Much of the film is intentionally quite dark, with lots of adequately shadow delineation that shows off just enough to somehow make the sets seem larger. Fleshtones look natural, and facial closeups tend to reveal strong levels of detail.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo surround, and even though this is technically sci-fi, it is an unusually quiet, dialogue-driven film. Character voices are clean, and there is some rear channel presence, but this is largely spread across the front channels.
Modest, but very effective.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
20 Other Trailer(s) featuring Joyful Partaking, Hacks, Frontier, Getting Out of Rhode Island, Brainwarp, April Is My Religion, Agent 15, The Ultimate Truth, Hooked, Starwoids, The Removers, Red, Ligeia, The Breathing Show, Stuck, Plastic Utopia, Moving, First Aid For Choking, Jar Jar Binks: The F! True Hollywood Story, Talent
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Krawlzik, Paul Nolan, Carol Clouse, Greg Ressetar
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: Film Threat has provided a fair amount of extras for Ascension, including a commentary track from writer/director John Krawlzik, actor Paul Nolan, production designer Carol Clouse and assistant cameraman Greg Ressetar. It's a low energy track, and some of the participants (Clouse in particular) sound like they're too far off mike. There's a lot of talk of the timespan between shots that appear as one scene, or pointing out things like the opening sequence was shot two years after the rest of the major filming was done. There are a few silent gaps, but there is something inherently interesting about listening to the struggle that low-budget indie filmmakers go through, especially with regard to set building, taking test footage across the street from their studio to play in the K-Mart television department, or that Paul Nolan's onscreen belt was originally a suitcase strap.
Next up are two bits narrated by John Krawlzik, Home Movies (07m:36s), which is a collection of test footage, set building, and rehearsals, and Photo Gallery (18m:26s), a set of 35+ still photos and production drawings. Also found here are 9 brief deleted scenes, including an alternate take of the final scene, a theatrical trailer, as well as a hearty set of 20 other Film Threat titles.
The disc is cut into 10 chapters.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsJohn Krawlzik's low-budget indie sci-fi title is awash in starkly impressive production values that make this one look more darkly polished and expansive than it really is.
The plot gets a bit frothy as things develop, but the look and feel make Ascension well worth a rental for genre fans.
Rich Rosell 2005-10-07