Mapping the Future and the Past
Uncharted & Carbon—the Unauthorized Biography
Film reviews by Marc Glassman
Ruben Fleischer, director
Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, script based on Naughty Dog’s game
Starring: Tom Holland (Nate Drake), Mark Wahlberg (Victor “Sully” Sullvan), Sophia Ali (Chloe Frazer), Tati Gabrielle (Jo Braddock), Antonio Banderas (Santiago Moncada)
It’s hard to imagine watching a film inspired by a video game and thinking of Errol Flynn or Harrison Ford, but that’s what happens when you encounter the surprisingly sprightly Uncharted. Directed by Ruben Fleischer, whose best film is Zombieland, and starring the current generation’s Spiderman, Tom Holland, hopes for the critical success of the film couldn’t have been all that high. While it’s hardly a radical subversive masterpiece, Uncharted more than transcends its nerds-only expectations and manages to be an entertaining adventure film with more than enough thrills to keep any spectator engaged for most of its lengthy—nearly two hours!—running time.
Nate Drake (Tom Holland), purportedly a descendent of the famous British explorer Sir Francis, is an orphan, whose beloved older brother Sam disappeared well over a decade ago. Now in his mid-20s, Nate gets recruited by Sully (Mark Wahlberg), an older and thoroughly disreputable hustler who worked with Sam and heard enough about the boy to recruit him for a madcap treasure hunt. Along the way, they find the kind of brilliant dangerous ladies one encounters on such journeys: Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), a Black American, always stylishly dressed and never without her lethal blade, and Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a lithe, complex Asian-British schemer.
Sully and Nate’s main opponent is Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), whose family was involved in Fernando Magellan’s circumnavigation and first mapping of the world between 1519 and ‘21. Legend has it that gold was discovered and hidden by the crew—and this narrative agrees. It’s certainly true that Juan Sebastián Elcano led the expedition back after Magellan died and, in this version of the story, Elcano is the progenitor of the Moncada family, which is now fabulously wealthy.
Director Fleischer moves the arcane story along quite briskly. There’s a set piece in a very high-toned auction house in Manhattan, which is hilariously disrupted by Nate and Sully as they swipe one of two ancient keys that can unlock the missing fortune. Then it’s off to Barcelona (admittedly one of my favourite places in the world) where Nate and Sully meet up with Chloe, who may or may not be on their side. Clearly opposing them as they already did in New York are Moncada, effortlessly played by Banderas, and Braddock, performed by Gabrielle, who is more than charismatic.
The best sequence in the film is in Barcelona, when Nate and Chloe, backed up by Sully, hunt down Magellan’s fortune through a medieval church, its ancient catacombs, a surprising and delightful underground disco, a nearly deadly sub-basement, and a Roman treasure hiding spot. The locations are spot-on, and the sense of history is profound. Even the sparring between Holland’s Nate and Ali’s Chloe is okay.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t end there. It’s off to the Philippines, one of places where the Magellan crew harboured on their journey, where the pursuit of gold continues. Here, one must report, the storyline fails the treasure hunt. Gold is finally found after an absurd but riveting fight on an airplane involving a sports car, lots of gun fire, plenty of storage supplies and way too many people.
It’s followed by the felicitous discovery of the actual location of the gold. Soon after, Fleischer and company stage a wonderful but crazy fight after 500-year-old gold-laden ships are raised up in the air for no reason at all.
Suffice it to say that only parts of Uncharted work as a story. What does work is the relationship between Nate and Sully: they go from wily antagonists to brothers. It’s also fun to see the problematic love between Chloe and Nate play out. Are the two really made for each other? Or will one kill the other? Hopefully, we’ll have a few episodes to find out.
As an adventure film, Uncharted can only parody the Indiana Jones epics. It will never be the best special f/x feature nor will the Holland/Wahlberg rapport match Newman and Redford. But Uncharted has charm and style and heart. Let the sequels begin!
Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography
Niobe Thompson & Daniella Ortega, co-directors
Featuring: Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist), Tamara Davis (astrophysicist), Dr. Robert Hazen (geologist), Dr Phil de Luna (carbon capture scientist), Suzanne Simard (forest ecologist), Dr. Joelle Gergis (climate scientist), Dr. Katey Walter Anthony (Arctic aquatic ecologist), Will Steffen (climate scientist), Katherine Hayhoe (climate scientist), Ian Miller (historian), David Christian (historian), Dr. Carin Bondar (biologist), Martin Van Kranedonk (paleobiogeochemist), Mark Miodownik (materials scientist)
Narrator: Sarah Snook
Animator: Bruce Alcock
“We aren’t at war with carbon. We are carbon, and carbon is in almost everything around us.”—Niobe Thompson
“We were not framing this production as a ‘climate change film’. This is a film about an element, about its role in shaping the natural and man-made world. There’s a clear focus on the science–chemistry, physics, biology, materials and environmental science”—Sonya Pemberton, executive producer
How do you make an ecological film without turning off people with statements of doom and gloom? Veteran Canadian documentarian Niobe Thompson has combined forces with another creative, Australian filmmaker Daniella Ortega, to make a film that’s truly special, Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography. It was Ortega who came up with the idea of personalizing carbon, making the film into something far different from your standard science or eco-doc. As an Australian-Canadian coproduction with additional money from Europe’s ARTE, it’s natural that the playful seductive voice of Carbon—yes, she has a personality and is definitely a woman—is Aussie Sarah Snook, the now world-famous female lead “Shiv” (Siobhan) Roy in Succession.
The concept of the film is quite novel. Carbon has developed a bad rep: all we ever hear is carbon tax, carbon footprint, carbon credits–there seems to be a war on the element. Ortega as writer and Snook as character actor are naturally aggrieved at the misrepresentation of an element, which does as much good as harm, creating polymers and wrapping the atmosphere in its embrace. While the voice and personality of Carbon mounts her case that she has been villainized, a wide range of scientists tell us about the harm and good created by the element.
Thompson and Ortega have selected experts who are fine performers—passionate, articulate and at least reasonably good looking. (Hey, they’re scientists!) Among them are: the world-famous Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) and a crew consisting of, in part, Tamara Davis (astrophysicist), Dr. Robert Hazen (geologist), Dr Phil de Luna (carbon capture scientist), Dr. Joelle Gergis (climate scientist), Dr. Katey Walter Anthony (Arctic aquatic ecologist), Will Steffen (climate scientist), Katherine Hayhoe (climate scientist), Ian Miller (historian and Dr. Carin Bondar (biologist). Rest assured, there are others.
Just as important to the film as the recruitment of all of those distinguished experts is the artistic presence of animator Bruce Alcock. The personality of Carbon wouldn’t be complete without Alcock’s creation of the protean figure of the element. The film as a whole wouldn’t be as gorgeous and wondrous as it is if Thompson hadn’t brought the brilliant animator on board. Throughout Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography, the visuals on the screen are fantastic—literally redolent of wonder—as Alcock’s fully imaginative flights of fancy transport the viewer while listening to the transformational, or warning, words of the scientists.
Ortega and Thompson make their points far more clearly in the last third of the film as environmental warnings are expressed by the scientists. Carbon’s voice becomes plaintive as she argues her relative blamelessness in a global tragedy, which is being caused by humans, not “her.”
Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography is a truly imaginative rethinking of what we expect in an ecological, or science, doc. This critic’s major reservation is in the persona of Carbon and the obvious coaching (by the filmmakers) of the scientists to speak of the element as “her.” Turning Carbon into a woman is playful and imaginative but it can actually annoy and anger viewers, particularly women. Do we really want to think of Carbon as a flirtatious and flighty female? In such a wonderfully imaginative film, have Ortega and Thompson gone too far with their concept of Carbon?
Sadly, that is likely the case. Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography is a truly artistic doc with its heart in the right place, but it may be overly calculating in its concept. Carbon may not quite have worked out as well as it might but it’s certainly a film worth seeing.
World Premiere Screening and Q+A with
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Niobe Thompson, Dr Phil De Luna
Mon Feb 28, 2022 – 7:30pm
Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St West)
World Broadcast Premiere
CBC The Nature of Things
Friday, March 4, 2022
9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC TV
the free CBC Gem streaming service
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