I watched Chaos Walking. I knew nothing about it except what was mentioned in a capsule description, and it was only at the end that I read it was “based on a book” – actually a trilogy. That is almost what I surmised when watching, as it seemed to be a fusion of about 3 sci-fi ideas into a single body.
The 3 different stories are:
- A religiously-based semi-rural community existing after some apocalyptic disaster, ruled by a semi-messianic figure, with some fragments of modern high technnology still around, and fragmentary, unreliable histories.
- A world in which men are unable to avoid transmitting their thoughts to everyone around them, but this doesn’t affect women. This can have comical effects.
- A story of a failed space colonisation project, that recapitulates themes around colonialism and exploitation in human history on Earth.
Altogether, we are on a planet “New Earth”, where the descendants of a colonisation mission are surviving in scattered hamlets. No particular location is given, although we learn that it takes 64 years for a spaceship to reach here from Earth, with most of its occupants in “hypersleep”. It is not stipulated if the drive systems are limited to below light speed. The year is given as in the 23rd century.
Young Todd Hewitt is living in the male-only world of Prentisstown, reigned over by Prentiss, the “war hero” of previous campaigns against the “Spackle” native lifeforms. Official stories have it that it was a Spackle attack that led to all the females in the community being killed. There is also a weird preacher who rides around insisting on the sinfulness of life.
“The Noise” is the name of the telepathic-holographic effect around males that causes their private thoughts to be vocalised and also visualised in cloudy imagery around their heads. Life in Prentisstown is remarkably peaceful considering the futility and hopelessness of these men who can only get old together.
Meanwhile, Viola Eade is on the crew of an advance spacepod from another colonizing vessel entering the system. The newcomers know that a “First Wave” reached the planet but lost contact and have been waiting a long time for the “Second Wave”, which is now arriving.
Entering the planet’s atmosphere, the capsule goes out of control, and the male crew are afflicted by The Noise, which they are unprepared for. The capsule crashes not far from Prentisstown, though oddly no one notices until Todd sees Viola stealing supplies to take away. She gets captured and questioned, and soon Prentiss has a scheme to seize the new spaceship when it arrives.
Todd helps her to escape and they set out on an odyssey to find any functioning transmitting equipment amongst the wreckage of the First Wave, which they can use to warn the follow-up, or at least prevent it simply passing by. As you might expect, Todd learns he has been lied to about the history and geography of this wider world: there are other active settlements, with mixed populations. When we meet the Spackles they also turn out to be not quite as expected, and Viola makes the point that the settlers are “the aliens” and not them – though this does not cause her to lose interest in the project of colonialism as a whole, it turns out.
The chase scenes during the escape from Prentisstown are jolly good and recall the some of the Moon Of Endor section of the underrated 3rd Star Wars film Return Of The Jedi. A further chase on a raft over white water rapids is also fun. The best moments are in the eerie derelict remains of the original project, especially the crashed remains of the First Wave vessel, whose interior recalls the old spaceship in Alien.
Viola and Todd have a few comedy moments from the visibility of his fantasies about snogging her, luckily he seems to be too innocent to think of anything more embarrassing. At times Viola plays as a mature adult, though that is at odds with the backstory that she grew up on a spaceship and has had a life just as limited as his.
Things that don’t make sense, skipping over the whole business of The Noise:
- How are they keeping all their old guns and other gadgets working if they haven’t been able to set up any industry?
- Why don’t the Spackles just finish off the settlers in one big push, or at least run them down by attrition? They’ve had decades, and in any case their main opponents have helpfully eliminated their own population replacement.
- Why doesn’t the second spaceship crash like the first one and the capsule did, as its male crew lose their minds?
It all works out ok in the end, as you will have expected.