Netflix Movie Spectral Deciphered

Watch Spectral online now:

I was talking with a buddy about a random movie I’ve featured here on this site the other day, and he said something to me that really caught my attention. He goes, “You rated that movie really high, and everyone else panned it.” Basically he was saying that if I hadn’t mentioned it, and if I hadn’t explicitly talked about it here, he would have never known that the movie was worth while. He would have just let it slide right by. But that is what I’m all about here. Finding different – non-Hollywood blockbusters – that try something new. Try something different. Take a risk. Sure, the acting might not be nearly as good. Sure, you may have to work at it to understand what is happening because it isn’t coming to you out of a book of 4 recipes. But those are the movies that are tons of fun. Those are the movies that really get me excited about the state of the movie union right now.

And today? Spectral is that movie. I have to give credit where credit is due. I believe someone here tipped me off to this movie, but I can’t find your name in the comments or in my email. I’d definitely love to give you credit though, so if it was you!? Let me know! Anyway, Spectral is the recommendation of the day. Originally Universal set to release Spectral as moderately a big budget film ($70m), but they scared of crashing at the box and driving everyone away. So instead? They sold to Netflix and negotiated a world wide simultaneous release there instead. Seems like Netflix is becoming the world’s largest conduit of risk avoidance in the movie industry. We even saw it recently with Annihilation. Regardless of how Spectral was released, it was a wild time, and a wonderful romp. And my biggest gripe with the movie was probably that the WETA special effects were probably too good. Which is a rare complaint indeed. But we’ll get into that soon enough.

Before we break Spectral down and start walking through theories, why don’t we do the trailer, yadda yadda, and then exeunt those that haven’t seen the movie. Ok?

So with that, if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll need to exit now. From here on out, HERE BE DRAGONS. 

Ok, if you don’t know THiNC., or this is your first time wondering through, WELCOME. Basically what I love doing is talking about movies with my best friends… which, you are now a member of. The THiNC. Best Friend Club. Think of it like a coffee shop, or a wine shop, for movie connoisseurs where we drink port, smoke cigars, and discuss the ins and outs of our favorite movies. And I open up the discussion but just giving a super high level overview of the what. The details of what happened in the movie, and I do that because some people come here just to figure out what exactly the physicality of what happened. Not the metaphysical, or philosophical underpinnings. Just the, UM WHAT THE WHAT? sort of answers. And then after that we usually dive into the deeper zeitgeisty types of answers. But first the what.

Quick Spectral Movie Overview

The movie opens with an encounter between a soldier and what appears to be an apparition, or spectral ghost of some kind. The soldier is killed when he comes too close to it. And as a response, General Orland contacts DARPA researcher, Dr. Mark Clyne, and brings him out to investigate the spectral sitings that are coming up on his goggles that he invented. Clyne begins working with Orland and Fran Madison (CIA) in order to begin researching what these apparitions could be. Maybe it’s ghosts? Or some sort of invisibility suit that the enemies have? It is really unknown at this point.

At this point, Utah Team has gone dark after an encounter with these ghosts, and Delta is going in to retrieve them at all possible, and to also retrieve a sample of the ghosts also. Clyne brings a more sensitive version of his goggles in a massive camera mounted to a personnel carrier. After engaging with the ghosts and having numerous Delta and Utah group members die, they retreat, only to have both their armored personnel carriers destroyed by mines. The scurry for cover only to find 2 girls hiding inside a factory who had been protected by their father. Their father had created a protective ring around the factory by using iron shavings, which the apparitions can’t cross for some reason. Using this logic, Clyne imbeds iron shavings in the grenades and the IEDs he is creating in order to slow the ghosts down. The group finally makes contact with HQ and they agree to meet a mile or two down the road in an open quad.

Immediately upon leaving, the group is chased by apparitions. And while the iron shavings explosives are helping, they aren’t killing the ghosts. And as soon as they arrive at the quad they are attacked on all sides, only to have just a handful make it it out alive on a helicopter. They make it to a civilian hide out managed by the Moldovan army. And when they arrive, Clyne postulates that the apparitions are probably man-made, and that they are made possible by something called a Bose-Einstein Condensate. It is this condensate that allows these men to walk through walls, kill people instantly, and it also explains why the iron shavings slow them down. When they discover this, they realize that the nearby power plant is probably the only location where this condensate could be made as it’s the only place that could generate enough power to make it happen.

The remaining soldiers from Delta and Utah mount a surprise offensive against the plant. And after their battle they discover an abandoned science lab where the condensate was made. And it would appear, that the scientists were scanning and 3D printing in order to create warriors out of the condensate, while leaving their human byproducts (read, brains and nervous systems) behind in a storage unit that keeps both their human bits and their condensate parts alive simultaneously. Clyne shuts down the system, instantly killing the human portions of these apparitions while simultaneously killing their spectral corollaries as well. And as the war winds down, the US and Moldovan allies sweep up the last of the insurgents in the city. And as Clyne is leaving, a Department of Defense team is breaking down the equipment, potentially for their own future use.

WETA Special Effects Details

I have to say, that as I was watching this movie I just kept saying to myself, HOLY CRAP that is an amazing set! WOW! Look at those guns!!! GAH! Those spectrals are freaking amazing. Just every corner we turned the tech and the weaponry got heavier and more critical to the story. And immediately after stopping the movie I instantly started searching for more information… and, I found this:

WETA!!! Yeah, as soon as I saw WETA was involved, I was like, oh. Duh. Of course. That makes everything make sense. But wait! How in the name of all things spectral did this movie afford WETA?!? And that was when I realized that Universal had envisioned this movie totally as a big budget, big screen movie. But when the executives saw it they cut and run, sold to Netflix, and the rest is history. But I absolutely loved the intricacies of the weapons, the suits, the cameras, and the goggles! It was epic in every way. Right?

But here’s where the problem happened for me in the movie. We have this DARPA scientist, cut off behind enemy lines, right? And this guy is so MacGyver he out MacGyvers MacGyver! Totally. “OH I KNOW WHAT I’LL DO!! I’ll just invert the optics, up the quantum voltage to 1.21 jiggawatts, and we’ll have a spectral projector!” This happened over and over again in the movie. I did like how the viability of most of the stuff Clyne built was just to hold back the ghosts, it wasn’t 100% effective. But still! It was a little much for the suspension of disbelief. (Ok, more than a little.) But dang, the special effects were just so freaking fun to watch. The kill scenes, where the spectrals would dash and pop through enemies one after the other? Oh man. That was worth the price of admission right there. (Never mind the price of admission was free on Netflix, but whatever.)

Spectral Movie Ending Details and Explanations

I have to say, Spectral didn’t 100% hold together all the way through the end… but dang, I give it two big THiNC. thumbs up for trying. But dang! That ending. So let me see if I have this straight. We have an evil Middle European country, stripping the souls off of humans and 3D printing spectral armor for them out of Bose-Einstein Condensate…

“A Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) is a state of matter of a dilute gas of bosons cooled to temperatures very close to absolute zero. Under such conditions, a large fraction of bosons occupy the lowest quantum state, at which point microscopic quantum phenomena, particularly wavefunction interference, become apparent. A BEC is formed by cooling a gas of extremely low density, about one-hundred-thousandth the density of normal air, to ultra-low temperatures. This state was first predicted, generally, in 1924–25 by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein.”

Yeah, that was ripped straight out of Wikipedia in order to attempt to get some sort of clue as to what this “condensate” really is in real life. Apparently, you make stuff super cold, and it drops its wiggling, and then you have this new BEC state. But what does this BEC do for us today in some sort of practical way? Well, apparently, this BEC is a state of dilute gas, its bosons that are cooled to nearly absolute zero. And while under these conditions, apparently bosons occupy the lowest quantum state that allows us (us said in the least inclusive of me us ever) to see microscopic quantum phenomena like wavefunction interference.

Then, once you have noticed this wavefunction interference, the next step – OBVIOUSLY – is to  3D print BEC condensate into armor, insert a soul, AND VOILA, you have spectrals, which are invented as the perfect fighting machines! Ok, so BEC is a thing. But the rest isn’t. But you have to give the screenplay authors credit for at least attempting to ground the technology into the real world! hahahah.

Spectral Movie Final Thoughts

I loved, ABSOLUTELY LOVED, Spectral’s guts for going for the brass ring. The sets, the special effects? All really amazing. The gorgeous European architecture as a backdrop for World War 3? Brilliant. The design of the spectrals and the hardware tech? All just fabulous. I was really quite impressed. And even the acting was decent. Not bad at all. Possibly the only part that had me giggling a bit was Clyne’s ability to MacGyver his way out of really any solution. Sure, he’s smart. But really? No.

Where this movie went sideways, was that it didn’t know that it was an independent film. (Because it wasn’t at the time of creation. And some could argue that just because it was distributed by Netflix doesn’t make it one. I though disagree. The moment its parent (Universal) abandoned it, it became an independent film.) If it had known that it was an independent film, with the resources to marshal WETA? It could have done so so so much more here. Like for example, look at what The Ritual did with its dollar ninety five, and a frolic through the woods? The Ritual made it a character study in emasculation and overcoming said setbacks. Here? We have a MacGyver tech with the super hero powers to bondo and duct tape any technology into existence… even BEC tracking and defeating levels of technology, but absolutely know character development, beyond surviving. Which, he does with aplomb. (And a lot of luck, I might add.)

Do you know what Spectral actually was? I think it was a modern Demo Reel footage for WETA’s capabilities. Full Stop. It was an advertisement for what WETA is capable of post The Lord of the Rings. And dang, was it an amazing demo reel! Kudos to you guys WETA! You nailed it. Next time I need custom weapons to fight the undead on screen? I’m coming to you guys!