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Why no serious sci fi movies?
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 2:03 pm
MSN has a decent article on the ascendancy of space opera and action flicks over more cerebral sci fi.
Having recently re-watched 2001, Clockwork Orange and (ok - not too serious, but compared to the modern fare) Star Trek the Motion Picture, I've been pining for something meatier than the typical fare. Children of Men is cited in the article and it is certainly very well done. Also, I thought the 2002 Solaris remake was decent. Any other ones worth seeing?
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 3:53 pm
I found Silent Running very touching. The director's cut of Blade Runner (minus the tacked happy ending and the annoying voice over) and the SciFi series version of Dune were well-done and thought-provoking (Children of Dune, however, was execrable, to put it mildly). All of Cronenberg's films are tremendous -- intellectually exciting and viscerally disturbing.
On the do-not see list, I personally dislike Spielberg as intensely as I dislike Lucas. Somehow they manage to be crass and saccharine at the same time, to say nothing of creaky plots, wooden dialogue, primitive characterizations and reactionary outlooks.
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 11:29 pm
I personally like Gattaca. Although stylized--these are not real astronauts--the message is more subtle and thoughtful than many pseudo-SF flicks. Namely, it warns against seeing everyone through a single lens--the lens of their genome. Too often, particularly in the US, we tend to think a single idea is going to solve all our problems. In the 1950s it was atomic power. Later, space travel. Then computers, the internet (still battling that one), biotechnology (ditto). These are all useful technologies, but when they get sold as panaceas, it's a danger.
I have some other recommendations at:
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 12:36 am
In addition to Calvin's list, which contains all the true classics, here are a few other thought-provoking SF films: The Dead Zone, Strange Days, Twelve Monkeys and The Time Machine (the 2002 remake). For an absolute blast, there is The Fifth Element and, of course, Serenity.
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 2:52 am
Windwalker wrote: here are a few other thought-provoking SF films: The Dead Zone, Strange Days, Twelve Monkeys and The Time Machine (the 2002 remake). For an absolute blast, there is The Fifth Element and, of course, Serenity.
I'll actually disagree for once with Athena, although this is taste and preference. I myself prefer the 1950's Time Machine to the 2002 version; Jeremy Irons' Ubermorlock was a bit much for me (for a different take on the Morlocks, see Steve Baxter's The Time Ships, an approved sequel to The Time Machine, in which the Morlock is actually the most memorable character of all). Parts of The Fifth Element were very compelling, in particular the Diva, although other parts were extremely irritating, such as the girl in her lawn-chair-webbing costume and Gary Oldman's very peculiar hick-meets-1984 accent. Didn't work for me. And although I thought David Lynch's Dune deeply flawed--as is the original book--the SciFi channel's version made me long for it. William Hurt was sleepwalking, I can't even picture the Baron (as opposed to Kenneth McMillan's over the top turn in Lynch's version) and the Bene Gesserit were reduced to wearing silly hats. And Sting was so much better as Feyd Rautha, even if over the top. The original Dune is campy space opera anyway. And as I said--this is all my taste, which I do not pretend is superior to Athena's or anyone else's. Well, at least not to Athena's.
But I definitely second Athena's nomination of Silent Running as a truly gripping and haunting SF. From that era also is The Andromeda Strain, a decent adaptation.
Finally, the original Japanese version of "Gojira" before it was perverted into "Godzilla" is now available--without Raymond Burr. Wow, what a difference. It's not just a guy in a rubber suit stomping on Tokyo--it's a somber meditation on the conflicted feelings in Japan in the postwar era, both as victims and victimizers. Gojira the "monster" can be read in so many different ways. Highly recommended.
Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 12:31 pm
I also second a good many of the recommendations offered here, particularly Serenity
( a favorite), the 2002 remake of The Time Machine
, The Fifth Element
and the Sci-Fi channel's version of Dune
. I especially found the latter two films to be visually arresting, even as they manage to effectively incorporate compelling themes among their numerous action sequences. I'll suggest Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium
as well; it's a surprisingly gripping tale that concerns a futuristic regime which controls its people by a combination of rigid strictures and suppression of their emotions (a cliche that is given an entirely fresh twist here). Even more riveting is the personal journey its most prominent enforcer must take--even as he's drawn in to greater external war--when he gradually pieces together the truth about his society.
As far as the don't see list is concerned, I'd have to place Darren Arronofsky's The Fountain
squarely in this category, thanks to the disjointed lack of cohesiveness the movie displays; potential is there, but in my opinion, its weak structuring prevents it from being what it could have been. And strangely enough, I actually found Sci Fi's Children of Dune
to be passably fair, but that's just personal taste.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 9:10 pm
Great lists here. I'll have to look into The Time Machine
- I didn't catch it when it came out. Although Iron's Merchant of Venice
performance redemed him a bit in my book, I'll never be able to see him as anything but the lecherous jerk who wouldn't leave me alone on a movie set many moons ago.
I recommend the director's cut of Lynch's Dune
. It's like a different movie, and actually watchable without laughing. It's a lot longer though.
Finally, the original Japanese version of "Gojira" before it was perverted into "Godzilla" is now available--
Now that sounds interesting.
Posted: Sun May 27, 2007 11:05 pm
There is one unusual film I would consider SF (as well as a great thriller) -- Smilla's Sense of Snow. It is based on the absorbing novel of Peter Hoeg. The first-person narrator is a half-Inuit (Greenlander), half-Danish woman intelligent, resourceful and as hard as a diamond. The opening of the film is one of the most haunting scenes I have seen.
Another Film Suggestion
Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2007 1:06 am
While everyone is suggesting cerebral science fiction, may I offer Pan’s Labyrinth to those who favor reality spiced with fantasy? This may not be hardcore sci-fi but it is a formidable display of special effects both real and fabled.
It is a gothic fairy tale set against the post war repression of Franco’s Spain. Yet it contains the timeless ingredients in a story, good and evil, bravery and sacrifice, love and loss.
Pan’s Labyrinth unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia. She is a gifted singular, lonely child thrust into a world of cruelty. An avid reader of fairy tales, she gradually leaves the human domain to confront the monsters of her own imagination. From the first fantastical encounter with a dragonfly on her journey to meet her new stepfather (this amazing creature later morphs into a replica of a fairy from her book) to the teasing inscrutable faun who presides over the labyrinth. This place will be her haven, a dark refuge from loneliness and sorrow.
The characters of this story range from Ofelia’s timid pregnant mother Carmen, quixotic faun, mysterious housekeeper Mercedes to the horrendously demonic Captain Vidal. Don’t be fooled, this story dazzles, frightens and moves. Guillermo del Toro uses the original versions of fairy tales derived from area folklore not the sanitized. Those of the 17th-19th century filled with blood and violence as well as beauty and enchantment. The stories spoke to the fears and anxieties faced by both adults and children. He uses fantasy and the supernatural in the film to confront the malevolence and brutality of the real world.
Del Toro picked the perfect entity for the centerpiece and guardian of the labyrinth and Ofelia’s mentor, the Faun a satyr. Creatures neither good nor bad in classic mythology, they can be mischievous, ambiguous and could kill a man or give birth to a field of flowers. Like nature they are uncaring but neutral. He challenges her to reveal her own spirit or fail. As the lost heir to her father’s kingdom she is given 3 tasks to complete in order to bring that kingdom from dormant to life and reunite with her “true” family.
Along the way there are the traditional tests, the banquet where you should not eat, the three doors, the descent, the blood, etc.
Interspaced with the reality of the Republican resistance, fascist dominance, Ofelia’s relationship with her mother, Mercedes and the sadistic Vidal, the fairy tale weaves its spell.
All of the actors and actresses were unfamiliar to me and that is why I think it was a pleasure to see a film not dominated by a vapid superstar. Each fulfilled their parts with total believability.
The soundtrack is both haunting and dramatic, overshadowed by a lullaby hummed at times by Mercedes (who confides to Ofelia that she forgot the words) and then instrumentally for emphasis at peak junctures of the tale.
Do not let the Spanish language (English subtitled) deter you from experiencing this well told fantasy. It has a grimy edge but I considered it thought-worthy and impressive.
The movie is out now on DVD and in my estimation, is should have won 4 Academy Awards. The one it missed was Best Foreign Film.
Re: Another Film Suggestion
Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2007 12:57 pm
Marie wrote:Don’t be fooled, this story dazzles, frightens and moves. Guillermo del Toro uses the original versions of fairy tales derived from area folklore not the sanitized. Those of the 17th-19th century filled with blood and violence as well as beauty and enchantment. The stories spoke to the fears and anxieties faced by both adults and children.
Marvelous review, detailed and in-depth as always! I haven't yet seen Pan's Labyrinth, but I plan to.
Indeed, fairytales were not for the faint-hearted. I recall reading unsanitized tales as a child. They brimmed with betrayals, rapes, tortures, executions. Because of my lack of experience, they didn't register at the time. The full impact hit me when I was grown up. I vividly recall the film version of The Juniper Tree with singer/actress Björk in one of the roles. A merciless Icelandic production, it still gives me nightmares.
Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2007 5:40 pm
You know, I've been meaning to watch that for a while now. Thanks for the recommendation Marie!
Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:25 pm
I've been meaning to watch Pan's Labyrinth
as well. Thank you for the rec, Marie!
Also, The Juniper Tree
The Juniper Tree
Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 8:21 pm
Let me tell you, Heather, if The Juniper Tree gave Athena nightmares then there must be something very substantial in it to garner that result.
I don't know if it is available in film but I would consider viewing it not to have sleep disturbances but to visualize what would characterize an Icelandic horror.
Re: The Juniper Tree
Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 12:27 pm
Marie wrote: ...what would characterize an Icelandic horror.
As you know, The Juniper Tree
is particularly harrowing in all its versions (including a Greek one that involves the Atreides). Philip Glass and Robert Moran did a beautiful short opera of the tale, which I was lucky enough to see/hear at its 1985 premiere at the Art Repertory Theater in Cambridge. But that had a quasi-happy ending, whereas the Icelandic film hews to its uncompromising premises. Think of Bergman's Seventh Seal
in a minor key, and you get the picture.
Iceland has a bleak beauty, which lends itself to telling of equally bleak sagas. The Icelandic skalds were as gifted as the Provençal troubadours -- and they decisively influenced art, most notably Tolkien and Wagner (both The Children of Húrin and the Ring of the Nibelungen are derived from the Volsung Saga).
Posted: Sat Jun 09, 2007 9:32 pm
Hm...The Juniper Tree seems even more interesting, now.
I'll have to find out whether it actually is available on film.