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Dystopian sci-fi over popcorn

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WORLD Radio - Dystopian sci-fi over popcorn

The Crater movie for kids and the Silo show for adults distill current fears into dystopian drama


Rebecca Ferguson in Silo now streaming on AppleTV+. Apple.com/tv

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, May 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Sci-Fi on the small screen.

WORLD arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino has a review of two new science-fiction options—one of them aimed at kids, the other at adults.

COLLIN GARBARINO: I’ve said before that science-fiction stories often have more to do with our fears in the present than they do with our hopes for what’s to come. Crater and Silo are a couple of dystopian shows that have recently arrived on streaming platforms, and they capture some of our current moment’s uneasy vibe. But while they share similar themes their target audiences are very different.

Crater is a movie for kids, and it debuts today on Disney Plus. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy named Caleb living in a harsh mining colony on the moon 234 years in the future. Caleb’s father recently died in the mines, and the orphan is about to be shipped off to humanity’s new utopian home on a distant planet. Before he leaves though, he needs to fulfill his father’s dying wish and travel to a mysterious crater far away from the lunar dome.

A motley group of friends help him steal a rover and come along for the ride.

BORNEY: This kid—he got caught messing around down here, and then they put him in a holding cell out by the terra complex and left him there for 60 years.

DYLAN: You’re doing it again.

BORNEY: Doing what?

MARCUS: You’re catastrophizing.

BORNEY: OK, that’s not even a word.

MARCUS: Of course it’s a word.

ADDISON: It’s totally a word.

These likable characters fit easily into those quirky stereotypes that have been staples of kids’ movies for years. There’s plenty of action, but the peril never seems very perilous, so most kids aren’t likely to get scared.

In some ways, Crater feels like a throwback movie from the 1980s with a gang of misfit kids embarking on a ludicrous adventure without adult supervision. In our day and age of social-media-imposed isolation, there’s something charming about a movie in which real friends defy authority to go outside and take some risks.

ADDISON: I still just don’t get exactly why you’re doing this.

DYLAN: I told you already, OK? His dad wanted him to—

ADDISON: Yeah, yeah, I know. I get why he’s doing it. Why are you?

DYLAN: Because he’s my friend.

Crater also touches on some current frustrations with 21st century capitalism in which working folk feel like the system is rigged to keep them from getting ahead while the hyper-rich build rockets to the stars. The moralizing feels a little heavy handed at times, but kids’ programming isn’t known for its subtlety. Even though I found some aspects of the plot questionable, I was surprised by Crater’s emotionally satisfying ending.

MUSIC: [Silo theme music]

Adults who want a little intrigue with their dystopian science fiction can check out Silo, the new series on Apple TV Plus.

In Silo, the earth is uninhabitable, and the last 10,000 human beings live in an underground silo, waiting for the day they can go outside. There’s a decided hierarchy here in which the further down the silo’s spiral staircase one goes, the further one travels down the social ladder.

Rebecca Ferguson stars as Juliette Nichols, an engineer living in the silo’s lowest levels charged with keeping the generator running.

JULIETTE: Everyone thinks their job in the silo is the most important, mine actually is.

In an unlikely turn of events, the low-status Juliette finds herself thrust into leadership despite a history of questioning authority.

A string of murders has set the community on edge, and order becomes precarious. The silo experienced a rebellion 140 years earlier that destroyed its cultural memory. A lack of trust could spark another rebellion that might jeopardize humanity’s existence.

Silo is rated TV-MA for some bad language and adult themes. The characters use foul words, but the language isn’t as pervasive or gratuitous as, say, Apple’s Ted Lasso, and like other Apple series, Silo doesn’t have any nudity.

I really liked Silo’s look and feel. The series has a sober mid-century aesthetic that roots the story in a world of scarcity and brutalist architecture. Bureaucrats use old CRT monitors, and paper seems to be one of the silo’s most valuable commodities. This bleak existence feels recognizable as both our future and past simultaneously.

BERNARD: We do not know who built the silo. We do not know why everything outside the silo is as it is.

Societies need trust and the free flow of information to survive, but are those who hold the reins of power trustworthy to share what they know? Silo contains a slow-burn mystery that suggests a conspiracy is at play. The show doesn’t hurry in revealing the nature of the cover-up or who’s behind it.

BERNARD: We do not know when it will be safe to go outside. We only know that that day is not this day.

This haunting and engrossing series critiques totalitarianism and classism. And the show asks us to think about how easily good people can allow bad things to happen when they fail to question the status quo. Which is more desirable for society? Inventive curiosity? Or good-natured docility? Our own recent pandemic lockdowns loom over the claustrophobic silo, giving these questions a disquieting sense of relevance.

I’m Collin Garbarino


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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