‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Mortal Engines’ in ‘Seeker’

Editor’s Note: This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from Delacorte Press, a children’s books division of Random House LLC. Price and page count are tentative.  

For George R.R. Martin fans, the format of Arwen Elys Dayton’s upcoming young adult steampunk/fantasy novel, “Seeker,” is familiar. Like “Game of Thrones,” each chapter alternates points of view, shedding light on teens inheriting their birthrights.

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

By Arwen Elys Dayton
448 pp. Delacorte Press.
$18.99 U.S./$25.99 CAN.
Feb. 10, 2015

There’s 15-year-old Quin Kincaid, a strong and pale, dark-haired beauty who could have been a heroine from a Tamora Pierce novel; 15-year-old Shinobu MacBain, Quin’s handsome half Japanese third cousin; and 16-year-old John Hart, Quin’s brown-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend. The three are vying to be Seekers, mysterious sworn assassins who topple evil dictators and right wrongs. Armed with time traveling stones called athames (pronounced ATH-uh-mays), Seekers have “the power of life and death.” But as these young Seeker apprentices soon learn, the boundaries of good and evil aren’t always clear.

Dayton creates a promising world, rich with history, betrayal and revenge that it might remind you of a cross between Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and Phillip Reeve’s YA steampunk “Predator Cities” quartet. John’s family is from a long line of Seekers whose prestige has been stolen by Quin’s father, Briac Kincaid. John’s quest for vengence brings him to the Kincaid’s large, pastoral Scottish estates, where he trains to be a Seeker — hoping to regain his family’s former wealth and power.

Like other YA novels, “Seeker” is build on unsteady foundation and the insecurities of rash, naive and volatile teenagers. The love triangle between Quin, Shinobu and John is present and unnecessary — as if Dayton’s trying to follow the footsteps of “Twilight,” “Hunger Games” and dozens of other successful book-to-movie YA franchises (“Seeker” already has a movie in the works). This makes the book unbalanced as the characters compete for dominance.

While multi-perspective stories can work very well if the world and people are fully fleshed out, “Seeker” is more plot driven than character driven. Sure, Quin, Shinobu and John have loose motives, but unlike Jon Snow the bastard, Tyrion the dwarf or even Jaime Lannister (later in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series), Dayton’s characters are missing those endearing character flaws that make George R.R. Martin’s characters so memorable.

Instead, Dayton relies on gimmicky out-of-sequence chronology to make her trilogy unpredictable. She jumps from present to past to future, teasing us before launching into the characters’ backstories. One minute, Dayton’s young heroes and heroines are fighting on Scottish estates. Eighteen months later, they’re flying airships and diving into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.

Despite its formulaic plot device and lack of focus, the mystery surrounding the Seekers may compel readers to finish the 448-page novel. The most fascinating character is Maud, a young “Dread” — one of the keepers of the Seeker’s rich history (She’s introduced about a third into the novel).

“Seeker” may be a very diluted retelling of “A Song of Ice and Fire” — trying to build another fast-paced young adult book empire. Unfortunately, it might not have all the answers we’re seeking.

“Seeker” was written by Arwen Elys Dayton and will be released on February 10, 2015. 


On ‘Being John Malkovich’

“You know something scary,” my English professor once told me. “Edgar Allan Poe was inside your head.”

I never really thought of it that way before, but I supposed that was true. We were reading a collection of Poe’s short stories in class — from “The Black Cat” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” to “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Each word was once carefully crafted by Poe — leaving the temporary recesses of his mind and inhabiting a more permanent home of ink on paper.

When we read an author’s work or watch a director’s film, we get a glimpse into his or her mind. That’s one of the reason’s we consume media. It’s a form of escapism, a portal inside someone’s else’s vision — allowing us a chance to become someone else, if only for a moment.

That’s the privilege director Spike Jonze’s and screenplay writer Charlie Kaufman’s wonderfully metaphysical 112-minute film, “Being John Malkovich” (1999), gives us: a chance to explore someone else’s consciousnesses.

The ingeniously inventive script’s centers on drab and depressing puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack). He thinks consciousness is a curse. “I think. I feel. I suffer,” he says. Suffering defines his entire existence that his only reprieve is puppeteering. The appeal?

“Perhaps the idea of becoming someone else for a little while,” he says. “Being inside another skin — thinking differently, moving differently, feeling differently.”

He gets the chance to literally become someone else when he discovers a portal into actor John Malkovich’s head, allowing him to see, think and experience the world through Malkovich’s eyes (at 15 minute intervals though).

When Craig tells his love interest Maxine (played by the sexy and seductive Catherine Keener), she decides to turn his discovery into a lucrative business — charging people $200 bucks to see the world through the famed actor’s eyes.

Although “Being John Malkovich” is Jonze’s debut feature film, he and Kaufman are master puppeteers. They’re magicians — sucking you in with their engrossing and absurd story, even luring John Malkovich to play a version of himself.

It’s fascinating to see the manufactured world through a celebrity’s eyes — even when he’s doing mundane tasks like rehearsing lines, sitting in a New York City taxi or reading “The Wall Street Journal” while eating toast. It’s strangely intimate to belong in John Malkovich’s head — even though we know we’re not actually inside John Malkovich.

Like Craig, we’ve all felt insignificant and insecure at some point in our lives. Perhaps we’ve dreamed we were somebody else. “Being John Malkovich” allows us to think and feel like someone else (who happens to be successful). By watching, we’re vicariously living — escaping from our depressing humdrum lives into that of someone else’s — even if it’s only for a moment.

“Being John Malkovich” was directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. 

‘American Sniper’ hits it mark

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) driving to the mall with a blood pressure reading of 170/110. “There’s a war going on and nobody’s talking about it,” he says.

Well, they’re talking about it now. Whether you love or hate Clint Eastwood’s controversial Oscar contender, “American Sniper,” you can’t deny how it brought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back into the national dialogue.

The 132-minute film’s based on Kyle’s bestselling 2012 memoir, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” which is co-written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice.

With four consecutive tours to Iraq (where he spent about 1,000 days in between in the U.S.), Kyle has totaled more than 160 confirmed kills. His fellow SEALs nicknamed him “The Legend” — more myth-than-man especially when airbrushed by Jason Hall’s larger-than-life Hollywood script.

“That’s a title you don’t want,” Kyle tells a fellow veteran.

But his feats are legendary. Kyle’s your Paul Bunyan, whom the marines feel invincible around. He shot an enemy sniper from a distance of 21 football fields. The Iraqi insurgents nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi,” and put a $20,000 target on his head.

Despite all that, Cooper’s Kyle is very solid and grounded. When he says with his Texas drawl: “I’d lay down my life for this country,” you believe him without a doubt.

Kyle’s one of those old Western heroes Eastwood would have played a lifetime ago: a real American hero sworn to God, country and family (in that order). He was a cowboy before he was a soldier. And his father, Wayne (played by Ben Reed), taught Chris to protect his own.

That’s what he’s trying to do when we’re first introduced to him. Kyle’s lying on his belly with a rifle in his hand. Below him, you can hear the rebels’ croon “Allah Akbar.” The rumble of an approaching U.S. Marine tank muffles their cries.

From his elevated vantage point, Kyle sees a woman and a kid with a grenade. They’re moving quickly toward the marines.

“You’ll fry if you’re wrong,” his comrade Goat (Kyle Gallner) whispers in his ear.

He has only seconds to shoot. If he chooses to.

If you choose to see “American Sniper,” be prepared for very graphic material. Eastwood creates a visceral experience, shooting you with a fusillade of heavy and emotional bullets. These include the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassies in 1998 and the World Trade Center on 9/11; as well as the confrontational conversations between Kyle and his wife, Taya (played by Sienna Miller), whose trying to raise two children on her own.

It certainly feels like you’re at war. At times, you’re looking through the crosshairs. Children and women are in the line of fire, holding up bombs and picking up guns. There’s lulls of pillow talk interrupted by the continuous rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire. Blood and guts. Disturbing images you can’t unsee. It’s long and emotionally draining, filling you with anger, pride, fear, but mostly, an incredible sadness that pierces your heart.

“American Sniper” was directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall, based on Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice’s book. “American Sniper’s” nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Motion Picture. 

‘The Maze Runner’ hits a brick wall

If Thomas were in his mid-50s, we’d be worried about early-onset Alzheimer’s. But when a healthy boy emerges from a box with next to no memories, something greater is at play. Thomas, like the rest of the boys in James Dashner’s bestselling dystopian children’s book, “The Maze Runner,” is missing part of his memory. Vocabulary like shank, shuck, klunk, keeper and slopper sound foreign.

Physically, Dashner’s hero looks around 16 years old, but Thomas doesn’t remember where he came from, what he had for breakfast, what he did yesterday, or who his parents are. When he arrives at the Glade, Thomas is consumed by panic, fear, curiosity and confusion as he confronts the frightening prospect of losing his mind.

The Maze Runner by James Dasher

“The Maze Runner”
By James Dashner
378 pp. Delacorte Press.

Dashner invokes the idea of tabula rasa — that we’re all born with a “blank slate.” But Thomas’ mind isn’t completely blank. For one, he remembers his first name. And he remembers other things too.

“Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works,” writes Dashner. “Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.”

These discrepancies seem awfully convenient for an author. It’s like Dashner’s creating a child without having to raise him. But Thomas isn’t Dashner’s only kid. He creates a whole mini-society inside the Glade, filled with one-dimensional characters defined by their roles.

There’s Thomas the newbie; Frypan the cook; Alby the leader; Newt the second in command; Gally the bully; Minho the explorer; Clint the doctor; Teresa the girl; Chuck the comic relief; and others. Without introducing the characters with backstory and memories, it’s hard to relate to them.

Perhaps the proposition would be less ludicrous if we had something more solid to grip on to. But there’s nothing solid about the Glade. The children live next to a giant maze with walking monsters called Grievers (think Creepers) and ever-changing walls. And just when they thought they knew the rules — creating their own system of order, the rules change.

Perhaps younger readers will by mystified by “The Maze Runner’s” uninspired prose, but this puzzle’s a less thrilling version of James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series; William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”; and Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof’s “Lost.”

“The Maze Runner” (2009) is the first book of James Dashner’s “Maze Runner” trilogy. “The Maze Runner” is followed by “The Scorch Trials” (2010), and “The Death Cure” (2011). The trilogy also inspired two prequels: “The Kill Order” (2012) and “The Fever Code” (set to be released in 2016).

Solving ‘Gone Girl’

Look closely. You’ve seen enough of “Criminal Minds,” “CSI,” “Bones,” “Law & Order,” “NCIS” and “Without a Trace” to know how the story goes. The killer’s usually the husband, or ex-boyfriend (in Hae Min Lee’s case), or someone close to the victim.

And the husband of missing person Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike) certainly looks and sounds suspicious.

Examine his opening monologue: “When I think of my wife, I think of her lovely head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain trying to get answers…. The primal questions of any marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done with each other?”

Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel and directed by David Fincher (whose known for psychological thrillers like “Se7en,” “The Game” and “Fight Club”), “Gone Girl” resembles one of those TV crime shows.

This case takes place in a small fictional town in Missouri. Hubby Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home on his fifth anniversary to find his furniture overturned and his wife missing. He calls homicide detectives Rhona Boney (Kim Dickens) and James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), who bring him to the police station for questioning.

“Yeah, it’s just all of a sudden, I feel like I’m in a ‘Law & Order’ episode,” says Nick.

Interspersed through the modern narrative of Amy’s disappearance are Amy’s diary entries of Amy and Nick’s fairy tale romance. They’re writers, you see, with a flare for storytelling. Amy’s the highly educated daughter of the wealthy authors (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) of the “Amazing Amy” children’s book series. Nick’s a journalist for a NYC-based magazine. They meet in a New York City party. They get married two years later. But when the recession hit in 2010, Nick and Amy were laid off from work, returning to Nick’s Missouri hometown. “Nick is happy to be home, but I don’t know if he’s happy that I’m with him,” Amy writes. “I feel like something loaded by mistake. Something to be jettisoned if necessary. Something disposable. I feel like I could disappear.”

Fincher’s a masterful manipulator, armed with an arsenal of highly impressive chess pieces: a pair of pretty and likable actors (Affleck and Pike) and Flynn’s dynamite screenplay, just to name a few.

That, plus the 24-hour cable news networks and our preconceived notions of crime, helps Fincher establish the plot twists, slowly altering our perception of the case. We feel for Nick. We certainly do. (Just like we feel for Adnan Syed.) But like producer Sarah Koenig does with her podcast “Serial” — ping-ponging back and forth between guilty or innocent, we can’t help but wonder if Nick killed his wife.

Lucky for us, this case has a pretty clear-cut ending, which audiences will devour.

“Gone Girl” was directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn. Actress Rosamund Pike was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. “Gone Girl” was also nominated for Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Original Screenplay during the 2015 Golden Globes.  

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ plays a familiar tune

It starts with a mixtape labeled: “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” — filled with tracks from the ’70s and ’80s. The mixtape, like the music, takes you into another era — the one when new “Star Wars” movies were being released into theaters and “Star Trek” was still running on TV. The force was with us as we “explored strange new worlds, seeking out life and civilizations, going boldly where no man has gone before.”

That’s the tune director James Gunn sets up with his Marvel film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a time capsule to the “old” frontier.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” aren’t your conventional superheroes. But neither are the crew of Josh Whedon’s “Serenity.” These intergalactic guardians are rogues, thieves and smugglers, assassins and killers — all with their own agendas. And their origin story starts in prison.

The captain of this Space Western (written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman based on Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett’s comic books) is Peter James Quill (Chris Pratt), or, as he likes to call himself, Star Lord. When we first meet him, he’s stealing this orb while rocking out to Redbone’s 1974 hit, “Come and Get Your Love.”

But Quill’s not the only one that wants the orb. “This orb has a real shiny blue suitcase, Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon sort of vibe,” says Quill.

Quill’s mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker) would love nothing more than to sell the orb to the highest bidder. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro, “The Usual Suspects”) wants to add the orb, and the infinity stone it contains, to his collection of outer worldly treasures (which includes the Terrasect from “Thor: The Dark World“). Green-skinned Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana of the modern “Star Trek” films) is sent to secure the orb for Ronan (Lee Pace), but she wants to betray him for killing her parents. Ronan, like all evil-doers, wants the orb for world destruction. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) wants to inflict revenge on Ronan. And Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his pal Groot (an Ent-like structure voiced by Vin Diesel) are hired mercenaries, looking to capture Quill for their own financial gain.

As you can imagine, the rest of “Guardians of the Galaxy” plays out like a 121-minute game of capture the orb, accompanied by flying ships and explosions. We’ve seen this story dozens of times before with varying degrees of special effects. (The visual effects artists of “Guardians of the Galaxy” successfully disintegrate the faces of men while animating CGI and rotomation animals.) But “Guardians of the Galaxy” strikes a chord.

With the help of Blue Swede, David Bowie, the Runaways, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and the Raspberries, Gunn drums up our nostalgia — reminding us how awesome the ’80s were while paying homage to the science fiction stories we grew up on. Now that’s a tune we can listen to.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman based on Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett’s comics. 

‘Red Rising’: building a legend

Perhaps “South Park” perpetuated the myth that “gingers have no souls.” Or perhaps the stereotype’s actually came from Biblical times. Whatever the case, 16-year-old Darrow of the Lambda clan is a ginger. Or, as society calls him, a “Red.”

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

“Red Rising”
By Pierce Brown
416 pp. Random House. $15.96.

In Pierce Brown’s post-apocalyptic debut fantasy/sci-fi novel, “Red Rising” — which takes place more than 700 years after man first toiled on Mars, Colors are everything. As a Red, Darrow’s lower than the fiery-red dirt he spends his day mining under the city of Mars. As a Red, he’s the proletariat, the simple-minded working class, “the backs in which all the other Colors are built on.” But his Hell is eased by smartly disguised Edward Bernays-style propaganda.

“They told us we were man’s only hope,” said Darrow. “That Earth was overcrowded, that all the pain, all the sacrifice, was for mankind. Sacrifice is good. Obedience the highest virtue….”

They, of course, are Hitler’s visions of a superior master race. The Aryan Golds are Darrow’s oppressors, ruled by ArchGovernor Nero au Augustus. The Golds are born faster, stronger, smarter, crueler, bigger and more beautiful — commanding the fleets and highest offices of political power. They are the Machiavellian gods of this futuristic dystopia — who reward and punish (but mostly punish). That’s what they did to Darrow’s father and his wife, Eo.

But, as history has told us again and again, people aren’t happy with suppression. Look at the French and American Revolutions. The Civil Wars. Hundreds and thousands of men have died (and still do) for their ideals.

Brown (who would be a servant in the social hierarchy he created) weaves together a tale of legend, drawing heavily from Greek and Roman myths. The Red clans are letters from the Greek alphabet. The Golds are named after characters from Shakespeare plays: Cassius (“Julius Caesar”), Julian (Julius, “Julius Ceasar”), Antonia (Antonio, “The Merchant of Venice”), and Titus (“Titus Andronicus”).

Darrow’s odyssey teaches him about love and revenge, peace and war. Darrow’s Helen was stolen from him. So Darrow (which come from Old English rather than Latin origins meaning spear) is transformed into a weapon: a Trojan horse infiltrating the Gold empire.

“Red Rising” is reminiscent of many other stories: Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and Glen A. Larson’s “Battlestar Galactica,” just to name a few. But these stories, like the Greek and Roman myths, are just as important as the works of Homer and Virgil, Plato and Aristotle. Someday, we might not remember where these myths originated from, but rather the stories that kept them alive.

“Red Rising” is the first book of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. Its sequel, “Golden Son,” was released January 6, 2015. 

‘Scripted’ follows the YA dystopia script

Editor’s Note: This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 

In Evgeny Morozov’s book “The Dark Side of Internet Freedom: The Net Delusion,” there’s a chapter called “Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat” describing how the Kremlin uses entertainment to placate rebellion. In Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy, the Capitol uses a similar method to suppress the 12 districts of Panem, airing a gladiatorial-style survival game featuring teens throughout the country.

"Scripted" by Maya Rock

“Scripted” By Maya Rock
336 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
February 2015. $13.49.

Maya Rock takes these two concepts and merges them in her debut young adult novel “Scripted.” It stars 16-year-old Nettie Starling of long-running teen reality soap opera “Blissful Days,” a tamer ‘reality TV’ version of Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood’s “Degrassi.”

Like Margaret Peterson Haddix did with “Running Out of Time,” Rock creates an isolated microcosm of a larger world. Nettie’s one of the beautiful people who grew up on Bliss Island of the Drowned Lands. Her life revolves around crushing on her best friend’s boyfriend Callen, hanging out with her best friends Lia and Selwyn, trying to solidify her apprenticeship and obsessing about her TV ratings. If her ratings are lower than the predicted estimate, she’d literally get booted off the island and separated from her family and friends.

That’s what happened to her classmate Belle Cannery and her father. One day, they disappeared from the show; the rest of the “Blissful Days” Characters had to rid all their worldly reminders of them, pretending they never existed.

So when Nettie’s new Media1 producer Luz suggests a secret incentive-based Initiative to improve her mediocre ratings, Nettie jumps as the chance; however, Nettie soon learns that her life was never her own and individuality comes at a price.

Like Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy, Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” trilogy and other YA dystopias, Rock’s 336-page novel  is an easy and absorbing read, re-packaging old familiar themes: the modern “1984” meets “Brave New World” mashup. Ever-present cameras represent the surveillance state within “Blissful Days” as Characters live in a constant fear of being cut. Meanwhile, Media1 produces “Blissful Days” as a distraction from larger off-screen political rebellions on the rest of the Drowned Lands islands.

If this story seems scripted, that’s because it is. Rock recycles the formula of high school, boys and survival prevalent in many YA dystopia novels (and CW television dramas). The “Gossip Girl”-esque atmosphere makes “Scripted” an addicting read.

But even if “Scripted” isn’t revolutionary, it’s the perfect “gateway drug to reading.” And contrary to what Huxley may argue, sometimes we need distractions.

“Scripted” is written by Maya Rock and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. The novel will be released in February 2015. 

Amibi-‘Dexter’-ous: Solving crimes by day, killing by night

As messy as crime can be, the pilot of Showtime’s “Dexter” (which first aired in October 2006) seems unbelievably contrived — packaged as artificially as the frozen and bloodless limbs Miami blood splatter specialist Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) finds at multiple crime scenes.

Morgan’s character, based on Jeff Lindsay’s 288-page paperback “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” (2004), stars as an extremely high-functioning sociopath who kills killers. His post with the Miami forensics department positions him like a double agent. His “pet projects” make him a vigilante. But while his morally ambiguous behaviors seem almost admirable, the dark and disturbing sentiments behind them are repulsive. Blood turns him on whereas sex doesn’t.

Written by James Manos Jr. and directed by Michael Cuesta, “Dexter” takes you inside the fanscinating mind of a T.V. serial killer, billing itself as an edgy Showtime show. But it’s more more sensational than cerebral.

“Most true crime really is pretty trashy,” Salon‘s Laura Miller tells NPR’s “On the Media’s” Bob Garfield last week. “I mean, it’s voyeuristic. It’s lurid…. Given how much of a factor crime is in all the entertainment that we consume — “Law and Order” or you’re reading detective fiction, which is pretty much the most popular form of genre fiction there is — you’re just consuming a huge number of narratives that are not necessarily representative of what crime and justice and detection are in real life.”

Brimming with qualifiers (a killer who kills killers), that’s what “Dexter” is — a safe and acceptable way to be a voyeur, giving us false and artificial insight into a world we can even begin to fathom.

“Dexter” was written by James Manos Jr. and directed by Michael Cuesta, starring Michael C. Hall. The show went on for eight season (2006-2013), winning two Golden Globes and four Primetime Emmys.  

The man and woman behind ‘The Theory of Everything’

One moment of James Marsh’s new biopic, “The Theory of Everything,” displays Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones of “Like Crazy”) spinning, round and round, giddy with excitement. Stephen, a doctoral student at the prestigious University of Cambridge, just had an epiphany which redefines how the world works. His theory hinges on the singularity of the space time continuum — that if he reversed time, he could calculate when and how time began.

Time traveling’s a privilege few yield, including “The Theory of Everything’s” filmmakers. Marsh, Redmayne and Jones (with the help of editor Jinx Godfrey and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme) rewind the clock and play back Hawking’s life in two hours on the silver screen.

Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” the story begins in 1963. Stephen and Jane meet at a Cambridge party and do an adorably awkward dance around each other. Because it’s a film, there’s room for embellishments — there’s lights and music and stars and literal fireworks that fill the night sky. A jazz quartet serenades the couple as Jane quotes Genesis to Stephen; and then its just the two of them — like Adam and Eve, swaying together on a bridge, sharing a long, passionate kiss.

But if there’s a beginning, there’s also an end. Stephen and Jane’s story is one of star-crossed lovers who defy all odds. Stephen’s demise starts when his hand shakes as he scribbles math equations on a chalkboard. His gait’s wobbly and he falls in the Cambridge courtyard with his ears ringing.

Suddenly, there’s no music — only the pulsating sounds of a hospital room. The doctors diagnose him with motor neuron’s disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. He has two years to live.

If this summer’s ALS ice bucket challenge didn’t bring this terrible and crippling disease to light, Redmayne certain does as we watch him deteriorate. In one scene, he valiantly braves a grin as he struggles to eat peas — a task Stephen’s friends and colleagues accomplish effortlessly. In another scene, his twisted hands barely have enough power to pull himself up the stairs.

Redmayne’s feet are contorted and his body’s lopsided as he walks like a marionette with God pulling the strings. But Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in God. He believes in cosmology — that one singular equation will explain the universe. That reason, his everything — who explains how he continues to defy his doctor’s predictions, at least — is Jane.

There’s a quiet fierceness to Jones’ Jane. We watch her lips quiver as Stephen leans heavily on a croquet mallet. In another scene, she has trouble reading because she’s looking after Stephen and their kids. Jane possesses a blind and unwavering faith which helps her endure. It doesn’t hurt that she has the help of her church’s choir director, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (played by the handsome Charlie Cox).

The real star of “The Theory of Everything,” however, isn’t someone who appears on screen. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson chronicles the magic, romance and tragedies of Anthony McCarten’s screenplay with his beautiful and original instrumental score. The curious ripples of a piano convey Stephen’s sense of discovery. A faint buzzing narrates his fall. Jóhannsson’s music is incredibly moving, rich and textured with the sad and soothing sounds of a violin and piano.

McCarten’s screenplay covers Stephen’s life over a 26-year time span: from 1963 until 1989 when Queen Elizabeth II named him a Companion of Honor. This avoids the public controversies during the later years: glossing over Jane and Stephen’s eventual divorce (1995) and his marriage to his nurse Elaine Mason (played by Maxine Peake in the film). It also makes the viewer feel gypped.

“The Theory of Everything” contains neither the comfort of everlasting love nor the knowledge of an omnipresent higher being looking out for us. (Stephen Hawking himself is an atheist.) Instead, the crescendos fade like the black hole’s of Hawking’s radiation theory — eventually fizzling out and dying. 

“The Theory of Everything” was directed by James Marsh and written by Anthony McCarten.