An ex-slave trader struggles to live a reformed life as a lowly interplanetary cargo hauler. Stranded and broke, he faces his dark past and difficult ethical choices in a desperate attempt t... Read allAn ex-slave trader struggles to live a reformed life as a lowly interplanetary cargo hauler. Stranded and broke, he faces his dark past and difficult ethical choices in a desperate attempt to provide a better life for his daughter.An ex-slave trader struggles to live a reformed life as a lowly interplanetary cargo hauler. Stranded and broke, he faces his dark past and difficult ethical choices in a desperate attempt to provide a better life for his daughter.
At least among the sci-fi shorts that I've watched, few have managed to construct a setting that feels meaningfully different from real-life 21st-century Earth, while also showing enough restraint to avoid what effectively seems like a green screen nightmare. While there's no mistaking that the environments and set pieces seen here are creations on a computer, at least in my mind they look natural enough as to not be a glaring red flag. More to the point, they look natural enough that they're not worth focusing on further beyond complimenting the designs - well done!
More importantly, there's a sense here of a larger picture that makes this little story feel more immersive. We see alien races speaking languages that are certainly distinct from anything on Earth. I don't suppose for one moment that writer-director Bobby Bala has mapped out an entire syntax and vocabulary, and vocal inflections echo identifiable patterns that we humans can recognize. But to simply include this as an element to the story works to bolster our suspension of disbelief. Likewise, we see a couple (apparently non-sentient) alien species that bear vague similarity in behavior or appearance to recognizable terrestrial animals, but again, their inclusion lends credence to the atmosphere at hand.
If all that sounds familiar, it's because one is quickly reminded of the great diversity of lifeforms and culture we saw on Tatooine more than 40 years ago. The effort put forth in 'The shipment,' however incomplete, to show a wider interstellar civilization provides a minor sense of world-building that we've seen before. That doesn't mean it's not welcome, though.
Yet the greatest strength of this short is using all these things as set pieces to frame the most significant detail of the setting. The core of 'The shipment' is in the relationship between a father, Kaidan, and his daughter, Zohra. Through them we're shown an aspect of deep space that even still is not frequently touched upon in mainstream stories. Even in a distant era when interstellar travel is common, those on the fringes of society still perform difficult labor, struggling with lacking wealth and insufficient resources. Desperate circumstances beget desperate and morally dubious choices just to survive, a theme that is achingly familiar in our real-life setting, too. For every tale that showcases the grandeur and adventure of life on a planet or amidst the stars, there are still many people like Kaidan and Zohra who are doing everything they can just to get by in life.
It's worth noting that there are surprisingly familiar faces in the cast here. One glance at the credits of Aleks Paunovic (Kaidan) and Robert Maillet (Rotik) inform that these aren't nobodies roped into a fanciful space opera - they may not be A-listers, but they've absolutely paid their dues. Newcomer Ishana Bala may not have a great deal of agency as Zohra, yet she still gives the girl a countenance of both innocence and determination that makes me hope we get to see her in more films in the future.
Lastly, I feel that the original music of composer Crispin Hands deserves some special mention. From the very beginning the themes he has written are striking, setting a considerable mood for the story we're about to watch. The sullen opening sequence of father and daughter piloting a cargo ship through space is given still greater life by the stirring strings and gentle piano that wash over our senses. It's an immediate tone that is set all apart from the feel of many sci-fi tales, and therefore all the more riveting.
It's not perfect, and anyone who is especially picky about original ideas in their movies may be a bit put out. But disparate familiar aspects are stitched together in 'The shipment' to tell a new story all its own, one that I, for my part, find a very worthy experience. This is worth 30 minutes of our time.
- Jun 3, 2021