There's something about the vastness of space that has always seemed to me incredibly claustrophobic, as much of a contradiciton as that must seem. Primarily because while space itself is infinite and huge, wide open and never ending, in order to travel through it one must be confined to a vessel for the duration of their time there. Cinema has often oplayed on this contradiction, bringing to life stories that are small and confined yet epic in scope. Take for instance the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, or its less popular but just as excellent successor 2010: The Year We Make Contact. As straight science fiction, they are both incomparable, and themselves spawned literally hundreds of copy-cats. More specifically, it's a genre that I hold dear, counting Event Horizon as a personal favorite, along with the excellent Moon and even less remarkable science fiction like Pandorum, while critically panned still an enjoyable bit of sci-fi canon even though it borrows relentlessly from the aforementioned classics.
Cargo is a Swiss produced, German language indie sci-fi film that seeks to cement itself among these classics, and while it liberally takes elements of films that came before it in the same genre, as well as other science fiction landmarks like the Matrix and Peter Hyams directed Outland, finds its own niche in a catalog that should always be compelling, but often struggles to find its leggings due to swaths of mediocre fare that somehow manages to find itself on DVD year after year.
In the future, mankind has managed to outgrow and horribly pollute the Earth, forcing its populace to migrate to orbiting space stations that look like homages to Blade Runner's Los Angeles. Crossing that visual panache with the vastness of the skyscraper district of Tokyo and putting that into visual practice on huge space stations housing millions of inhabitants each. The conditions there squalid and overcrowded, with hunger and disease running rampant, as well as terrorism perpetrated by violent naturalists bent on returning humanity to the Earth we left behind.
Rhea is a planet that is much like Earth, though bigger and exceptionally expensive to travel to. Doctor Laura Portmann has taken a job aboard a cargo vessel bound for an unmanned space station light years away from where she calls home. The journey is long, taking a total of 8 years round trip and calling for 8 1/2 month shifts from each of the vessel's crew, but will pay for her trip to Rhea where she hopes to be reunited with her sister who won a visa there years ago.
Just short of the 4 year trip to their destination, Laura discovers something amiss in the Cargo hold of the ship, and wakes both the accompanying air marshall and captain in hopes of discovering the source of the problem before reaching their destination. This is when all hell breaks loose and everything planned begins to unravel in the short time left before the ship docks and unloads its cargo.
As a film, Cargo borrows from too many others to name, though I'll put up a short list. 2010, Event Horizon, even other genre films like the Matrix have their plots looted and played out in this film. But being derivative does not necessarily make for bad filmmaking, and Cargo is excellent. Reveling in it's sense of atmosphere, and littering the film with plausible science fiction (my favorite kind), it is a joy to watch, if not for the story itself, then for the environment, cinematography, and admittedly compelling performances. The actors here play their roles deadly seriously and the movie is all the better for it, adding a needed sincerity to what would otherwise be just another sci-fi film, better than most but itself not noteworthy. The ship is massive, but that claustrophobia I spoke of earlier still creeps in and gets under your skin as you watch the events unfold, and the chemistry of the crew is remarkable, a credit that needs to be given to the full cast, not just the obvioous leads.
The visual quality of the film is excellent. With every detail being extremely striking and compelling from the ship's interior, to the uniforms worn by the cast, to the worn faces of the crew. It's all apparent and well rendered on the screen. While not reference quality, it's fantastic. Shot completely digitally, any DNR is completely absent, and there's no grain to speak of which itself does not hinder the film at all. We're looking at the sterile confines of a huge spaceship, after all, in a film produced in 2010.
Sound is also excellent across the board. Being an exceptional thriller, sound effects are just as key to the film as the visuals and tone, and they are all expertly exposed here. Another case of a film where the soundtrack isn't mastered too quietly in some parts while too loudly in others, it's spread evenly and competently and probably a better example of great sound mixing than many other films that have hit blu-ray in some time.
The supplemental package is sparse, however, and while that may not bother some such as myself, it may perturb others if for nothing else than the cost of importing the disc. Only a theatrical trailer here, which is great and itself sold me on the movie. Some additional material would have been awesome, even if just a short making of to expose the work that went into producing this great movie.
As much as Cargo is a clone of other science fiction films, it's still hard not to recommend, especially to people who consider themselves fans of plausible sci-fi such as myself. The technology shown in the film, while beyond what we currently have doesn't seem a far stretch from what we might come up with given the time and know-how. It's downright creepy, and maintains exceptional suspense from beginning to end, even if you manage to infer the outcome before the movie arrives there. The picture quality is better than good, and sound quality superb, the only real drawback here is what it lacks in supplements. Even considering that, I have to recommend Cargo, not only as great piece of science fiction to add to collections that may already contain superior titles like Event Horizon, 2001 and 2010, Pitch Black, Blade Runner and even the Matrix and Pandorum, but also as a fantastic display of what can be done independently of Hollywood and on a limited budget, similar to the excellent Moon. It's rare that a genre pic like this will stand out from it's peers considering how derivative it may be, but Cargo manages just that.