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Defiant in The Face of Extinction
Examining Epic Sci-Fi Battles
By Chuck Francisco
October 15, 2013
Defiance now on Blu-ray
© Universal Studios
Ah the eternal struggle over the dominion of Terra. Whether waging war across the sapphire skies above in suped up space jets or blasting laser carbines among maze like urban centers, the battle for Earth is frequently a messy affair when extra terrestrials come calling. The denizens of Defiance learned this harsh lesson through the brutal and costly Pale Wars, which carried on until the catastrophic Arkfall event proved to be a far deadlier enemy to both factions. And so a truce was called in the wake of the battle of Defiance, leaving both sides to face the uncontrolled chaos of alien terraforming gone wild.
Of course humanity slugging it out with otherworldly baddies is hardly an unprecedented occurrence among the annals of science fiction. Our big ball of blue and green seems to harbor an electrostatic attraction for extra solar invaders. In return we have something of a penchant for belligerent violence. As Gary King so drunkenly put it in The World's End, we are the human race and it is our right to be screw ups. We aren't always wrong though and sometimes we put up a hell of a fight- as the people of the town of Defiance are apt to do.
The most entertaining combination of belligerence and badass manifests itself as Nada in They Live. His battle against an all pervasive alien subjugation is an insurgency rather than a contest of armies, but Roddy Piper's one man defiant streak burns in kindred to No-Man Nolan, Law Keeper of what was once St. Louis. Both dudes kick ass first and quest for gum as an afterthought, a necessity when alien spies are hidden among the general populace and no quarter is given.
Occasionally large scale engagements are unavoidable though. The courageous crew of humanity's last remaining Battlestar, the Galactica, knew a thing or two about running firefights and Vegas odds. Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six, as Adama is known to say (so say we all). Why not rig the table; why not stack the odds toward a more favorable outcome? The admiral FTL jumped the backbone of humanity into the atmosphere of New Caprica as part of a mad calculated gamble to save his people. In a similar turn the townspeople of Defiance staged a desperate stratagem, luring an overwhelming Volge army into a box canyon in a costly delaying tactic aimed at holding them long enough to detonate a potent explosive artifact. The same courageous desperation flows through the soul of both tales, fueled by the one facet of the human spirit which is indomitable: hope.
The townsfolk who put down roots in the concrete clad foundation cast by the defiant few showcase determined tenacity coupled with firearm ingenuity as a result of their forced desperation. They display qualities similar to the last remnants of humanity as depicted in the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion. It's true they're led by Morgan Freeman, and count Zoe Bell among their fearsome warriors, but that isn't always enough to win the day. I'll admit to being emotionally sucked in by valor in the face of certain doom. There's a certain decaying high tech futurism present in both settings, though they split off in wildly divergent directions. Comparing them makes for fascinating conversation for fans of the finer points of theoretical science fiction.
Combat is not the only interesting element of these stories but is a critical binding agent. Defiance paid special attention to each of its martial engagements, putting on a kinetic ballet of blood and boom. Even the Dodge commercial, which serves to stitch the breaks together, is explosive and engaging (and how often does that happen?). With the show hitting store shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, now is the perfect time to indulge in a program that borrows liberally from many well loved Sci-Fi sources. While that's normally akin to high treason, the crew behind Defiance does it with such reverence and skill that it became a can't miss part of my broadcast schedule. Check it out for all the hellbug slashing, frontier town gun fighting you can shake a remote at.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.