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Box, The

Entry updated 3 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2009). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Radar Pictures and Media Rights Capital presents a Darko Entertainment/Lin Pictures production. Written and directed by Richard Kelly. Based on "Button, Button" (June 1970 Playboy) by Richard Matheson. Cast includes Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella and James Marsden. 115 minutes. Colour.

The wife of a NASA scientist employed on the 1976 Viking Mars lander receives a box with a button; a disfigured stranger tells her that if one of them presses it they will receive a million dollars but someone they do not know will die. The stranger proves to be the host for an Alien intelligence which is using the box on a series of NASA employees to test the newly spacegoing human race's moral fitness to be spared extermination; all fail the test, perpetuating a chain of tragedies, though there are hints at a Transcendent reality which may be identified with an afterlife.

Matheson's story, and the 1985 Twilight Zone episode he adapted from it, provide only the first act of this characteristically ambitious, offbeat, and science-centred fable from Kelly, the remainder of which is an extended homage to the oeuvre of Arthur C Clarke framed in a recreation of Kelly's own childhood home and family. Clarke's collaborator Gentry Lee appears in a cameo, and is also credited as NASA historical consultant. With typical bravura, Kelly includes both of Matheson's original endings, only to displace them in a dramatic raising of stakes as Matheson's original fantasy is revealed, in a reference to the third of Clarke's Laws, as First Contact with a sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic. The film also makes incidental reference to "Day of the Moron" (September 1951 Astounding) by H Beam Piper. Like Kelly's earlier Donnie Darko (2001), it developed from an initially more oblique version to articulate its science-fictional rationale with comparative explicitness in its final version, as well as writing in some whizzier and somewhat superfluous effects sequences. Though the middle is stronger than the muted downbeat ending, it is Kelly's only film to date in which the world does not actually end, yet. [NL]


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