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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Science Fiction. Forever the refuge of spotty young nerds, sci-fi is the genre that relies mostly on spectacle. When done correctly, a sci-fi movie can be the most exhilarating of experiences. It's a genre that has been around as long as the art form, and continues to engage audiences. From Méliès' Voyage to the Moon to Aronofsky's The Fountain, sci-fi has created some of cinema's most iconic images. Sure, a great deal of it relies on special effects. But sometimes you get those rare films that challenge the brain as well as the senses. It's a difficult genre to pick just five films, as tastes vary WILDLY. But, without further ado, here are...


1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Stanley Kubrick.

Beginning before the dawn of mankind, we're introduced to two rival tribes of apes. One morning, a mysterious monolith appears. An ape from one of the tribes encounters the monolith and subsequently creates the first tool, using a bone he has found as a club. This is the dawn of mankind. Jump to the future (as it was in 1968), and one of these monoliths is discovered on the moon. Meanwhile, a lone ship, the Discovery One is bound for Jupiter. On board are a crew of five and a 'sixth member of the crew,' the experimental computer HAL 9000. HAL shows signs of malfunction and the two pilots, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole decide to shut HAL down. HAL defends himself, forcing Bowman to take drastic measures to stop the supercomputer. As the Discovery One enters the Jupiter system, a third monolith is discovered, and Bowman exits the ship to investigate.

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those rare films that divides audiences. Some are bored to tears by it (including Andrei Tarkovsky, who made the film Solyaris as a reaction to seeing 2001). And then there are those who claim it is one of the most important films ever made. 2001 isn't the type of sci-fi film that is going to grip the average joe multiplex. There are no dogfights, lasers or aliens. This is 'intelligent sci-fi.' The type of film that defies explanation but encourages theory. Kubrick, and writer Arthur C. Clarke claimed that if anybody could explain 2001, they would have failed in their endeavor. Kubrick wants the viewer to make his own interpretation, and every viewer does. Love it or hate it, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a study of the evolution of the human condition... with some of the greatest special effects ever put to film. Some achievement for 1968. And in this humble person's opinion, it is the greatest movie ever made.

2. Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Irvin Kershner.

The rebel alliance, driven from their hidden base, take refuge on the ice planet of Hoth. Darth Vader, obsessed with finally destroying the rebels launches an attack on the planet. Led by Luke Skywalker, the rebels defend the base long enough for a daring escape. Skywalker heads to a remote planet to be trained by legendary Jedi Master Yoda. Meanwhile, in a badly damaged Millennium Falcon, Han Solo and Princess Leia are on the run from the Empire. They head for the planet Bespin and are met by Lando Calrissian, an old friend of Han's. But Vader is already waiting for the rebels and uses them as bait to capture Skywalker, en route to rescue his friends.

No science fiction list is complete without a Star Wars film. Their impact of the history of cinema is incalculable. And while the post millennium Star Wars films have been disappointing to say the least, the first three films remain classics. Episode IV- A New Hope kicked the Star Wars saga off, but The Empire Strikes Back is the finest of all the films. It's dark. Almost nothing goes right. It ends on a down note. But it features some of the cinema's most iconic characters. Set pieces that leave you on the edge of your seat. And the most famous film revelation of all time. Forget the truly appalling 2 hour toy commercials that are the prequel trilogy. THIS is Star Wars. And it's utterly fantastic.

3. Blade Runner (1982) - Ridley Scott.

Los Angeles, 2019. Rick Deckard is retired Blade Runner, a cop who specialises in finding and dispatching replicants, artificial humans who are indistinguishable from the real thing. Deckard is ordered by his former boss to 'retire' four replicants led by Roy Batty, a commando. Deckard tracks down the four replicants throughout a bleak, neon-lit, rain-drenched L.A. and comes face to face with Batty, a replicant who is searching for an answer to the nature of his own existence.

Blade Runner is Ridley Scott's masterpiece and remains to this day one of the most important and influential movies ever made. On it's initial release, it wasn't received well at all. But since then, the true genius of Blade Runner has been realised. Based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? the film deals with humanity, essentially, what does it mean to be human? But aside from the multi-layered script, the film is visually stunning. Scott created a film that is both science-fiction and film noir. The technology is realistic and believable and the film itself has influenced everything from Tim Burton's Batman to the new Star Wars films. And with several different versions of the film in existance, it seems the legacy of Blade Runner is as interesting as the film itself.

4. Aliens (1986) - James Cameron.

The only survivor of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley, emerges from hypersleep after fifty seven years. She recounts her experiences to her superiors who refuse to believe her outlandish tale. The moon that the Nostromo encountered over half a century earlier has now been terraformed and there are humans living on it. However, contact with the colony is abruptly cut off. A team of heavily armed marines are sent to the colony to investigate and Ripley is asked to go along as a consultant. Ripley initially refuses to go along. However, she reluctantly agrees and the mission begins. The marines arrive on the moon to find the colony torn apart and the colonists killed... or worse. And so Ripley comes face to face with the alien queen and hundreds of her drones.

Chosing Aliens over Ridley Scott's Alien may seem like blasphemy to some. But I'm going for the popcorn on this one. Alien was a slow-burning horror movie in space, but Aliens is a balls to the wall, relentless action. Cameron himself stated that the film is alegorical of the Vietnam war. The marines storm into the colony, arrogant and complacent. They're trained and armed to the teeth. But they get their asses handed to them. And then it's time for Ripley to step up. Essentially, this is a chick-flick. Ripley mourns her daughter, who grew up and died while she was in stasis. And in Newt, the only survivor of the colony, she finds a surrogate daughter, someone to protect from the alien queen, herself a mother, protecting her flock. A film with fantastic special effects, a brilliant story and action that keeps you uncomfortably tense, Aliens has everything. And Ripley becomes one of the toughest, meanest and most compelling screen heroines.

5. The Matrix (1999) - Andy & Larry Wachowski.

1999. A computer hacker leads two lives. One as Thomas Anderson, a man who works with computers in a cubicle in a generic office building. In his other life, he is Neo, a hacker known throughout the cyber world. He is contacted by Morpheus, a man who is willing to offer Neo the truth about the world in which he lives. Neo accepts Morpheus' offer and wakes up 200 years in the future in a world that has been taken over by advanced artificial intelligence machines. But Morpheus believes Neo is 'The One,' a hero who, according to prophecy, will free the human race from their virtual prisons.

The Matrix is a triumph of style over substance. Released in 1999, it was the perfect science fiction film to mark the times we live in. It's all about computers, technology and reality. It's a flawed film, far from perfect. The philosophy is a little confusing. The acting hammy. It spawned two incredibly disappointing sequels. And it made a bunch of pasty-white, skinny nerds think it's cool to walk around dressed head to toe in long, black coats and sunglasses. But these faults aside, it's also action-packed, exciting and, well... pretty fucking cool. It's influence on films made since it's release is substantial. The Matrix is 21st Century sci-fi.


Marin Mandir said...

"And in this humble person's opinion, it is the greatest movie ever made". Hear, you're also a big fan of "2001", ha? Me to. I think it's a masterpiece, not only of Sci-Fi genre but of cinema in general, yet it demands a lot of "loose" thinking to be understood.

Great list. I agree pretty much with every film you put there(especially with "Blade Runner") except for the last one - "Matrix" is good, but there are tons of other superior Sci-Fi movies that should be on that list. Non the less, great list.

Peter Slattery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Slattery said...

The reason I put the Matrix on there is due to the fact that it had an incredible impact on film making directly after. Wire-fu, gun play, slow-mo, twirling cameras, the Matrix has plenty of iconic things in it. It's pretty difficult to make a list of just 5 movies. However, when I weighed my choices up (including films like Brazil, Children of Men, The Fountain, Terminator 2, The Day The Earth Stood Still, etc...) The Matrix JUST edged ahead of the others.

Moondog said...

Excellent and accurate list Peter, but my Number 1 would always be Empire. Galvin pointed me to this site, It's really well put together man, great reviews

Peter Slattery said...

Many thanks Steve. I can understand Empire being number 1. It's probably the film I've seen the most in my entire life. Lost count of how many times I've seen it. It's so fucking good.

leucopogon said...

In all seriousness, I'm surprised that you didn't include Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers. That movie is sci-fi at its best.