Sunshine

Dir: Danny Boyle, 2007. Starring: C. Curtis, M. Yeoh, R. Byrne, C. Murphy, B. Wong, H. Sanada, T. Garity, C. Evans. Science-Fiction.

Danny Boyle knows how to engage you. He knows, more than most other directors, how to scoot your butt to the edge of the seat, whiten your knuckles as they grip the armrest and give you a stress headache from furrowed brows. The man just keeps pushing it higher, faster, and closer to the edge. What edge? Any edge - that's the kicker - you don't know where the edge is or where it's coming from. It could be around the corner or RIGHT THERE. Seriously, you could fall at any moment.

Sunshine is a perfect heart pounding pulse kicking, monster mouth drying example. The stakes? Only the planet and all mankind. The risk? Dying alone in space in a myriad of painfully awful ways including murder and knowing in your last moments that history died with you.

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Posted by:
Jessica Kaman
Feb 17, 2009 4:24pm

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dir.: Leonard Nimoy, 1986. Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hicks. English. Science-Fiction.

We’ll never know for sure, but audiences may have fared better last year if Harrison Ford had directed the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Why not have let Mark Hammil try his hand at helming The Phantom Menace? Most fourth installments have little cinematic merit and do dismally at the box-office (Alien Resurrection, Batman and Robin, if you needed more examples.) So, if you’re a studio executive and you’ve still got three kids from two different marriages to put through college, what can you possibly do to make your third sequel work? Have a completely inexperienced lead actor from the franchise direct it, which is what happened when Leonard Nimoy assumed directorial duties for the second time on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, his first proverbial rodeo being Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And here’s why Leonard could do what Steven, George, Jean-Pierre, and Joel could not: actors who are committed to the franchise have spent years reading scripts by other writers thinking, “If I was writing this, this would be so much better.” They’ve got a cache of ideas to benefit the series, rather than an interloping director approaching the project as an opportunity to put his mark on the franchise. The Voyage Home was the second highest grossing film of the series and a popular film with fans of the TV show and Star Trek neophytes alike.

The film documents a particularly bad day in the history of the Federation. Not only is the entire crew of the Enterprise on trial for disobeying orders and various assorted hijinks (plot remnants from the second and third films), the survival of Earth is threatened by a highly destructive alien probe that only speaks one language: humpback whale. Unfortunately, Earth’s largest mammals became extinct at the end of the 21st century. It looks like the probe’s unintentional annihilation of the planet is imminent, that is until Spock gets a wacky idea to time travel back in time to the 1980s and abduct some Earth whales to bring back to the future so they can tell the probe what it can do with itself, in whale song. The highly likeable middle section of the film takes place in modern day San Francisco and employs the person-from-the-future-out-of-water scenario to great comedic effect. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s talent for pitch-perfect timing and deadpan delivery is a welcome relief from the depressing eeriness of The Search for Spock. Dr. “Bones” McCoy is back to his sassy self after having spent the entirety of the previous film going crazy sharing his brain with Spock’s immortal soul and the writers allow themselves some political commentary by introducing some Cold War humor via Commander Pavel Chekov’s character. The ensemble’s ease with the material and their characters was undoubtedly facilitated by being directed by one of their own, and the atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie is reminiscent of the quality that made the Rat Pack so popular, but without the misogyny and the alcoholism. If you like laughs, good times, or both, Star Trek IV is a journey to the outer reaches of fun at warp speed.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Jan 31, 2009 12:38pm

Enemy Mine

Dir. Wolfgang Petersen, 1985. Starring: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett, Jr. English. Science Fiction.

Uncle Davidge’s Cabin Enemy Mine joins a long list of Hollywood films using alien-human tension as an allegory for race relations. The line begins with Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a 1960s space opera currently released by Criterion with a beautiful new transfer. Departing from the Daniel Defoe novel, the Friday character is not black, but he is still a slave, and the fact that he’s an alien, as well as his lowly status, still positions the white explorer as the Other’s protector. During the Cold War science fiction films used the alien-human dichotomy again to symbolize the lack of understanding between communist and capitalist ideology, sometimes propagandistically (Don Siegel’s chilling 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers), sometimes as a sympathetic plea for understanding (from Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still all the way to James Cameron’s The Abyss). But concerns about racial equality remained, addressed in various forms from the original Star Trek series to John Sayles’s underrated, overlooked masterpiece Brother from Another Planet.

In the year 2092 we’ve achieved world peace (I guess there must have been some glitches after Obama achieves it in 2009) so the human race decides to devote itself to exploration and economic development of the far reaches of space. On the course of its journey it discovers an alien race with imperialistic ambitions of its own, the Draks. During a VERY Star Wars-esque fighter plane battle, human pilot Willis Davidge (Jerry Lee Lewis, a.k.a Dennis Quaid) and Drak pilot Jeriba (Dolph Lundgren’s pursuer cop in The Punisher, Louis Gossett Jr.) are shot down over an uninhabited and hostile planet. Initially distrustful of one another, Davidge and Jeriba soon learn the other’s language, and form a close, fraternal bond. Davidge soon discovers that the contents of Jeriba’s prized book contain the same teachings as the Bible, because “truth is truth, no matter in what language.” Enemy Mine is full of warm scenes of brotherhood and life lessons learned, set against majestic, fully-rendered matte paintings. (Matte paintings, when special effects were beautiful.) Although Jeriba’s skin is a tawny brown and he is played by an African-American actor, the differences between Davidge and he are treated as primarily cultural, until a third-act racial twist involving Robinson Crusoe-esque scenes of slave labor and benevolent white protection. Although the film has a positive message and good intentions, Davidge’s near single-handed rescue of a gang of enslaved Drak miners projects a message redolent of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that racial equality will come at the hands of enlightened and sympathetic whites, rather than Black agency or even integrated effort. The simplistic treatment may come from director Wolfgang Petersen’s German nationality and hence a lack of experience with the subtext’s subject matter. These faults are minor in comparison with Enemy Mine’s many virtues: an epic story centered around two isolated “Waiting for Godot” type characters, excellent production design, and an idealistic, if flawed, message.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Nov 8, 2008 4:36pm

Children of Men

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron. 2006. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine. English. Science-Fiction.

As much as science fiction films are maligned for being the playground of geeks and fanboys, the genre has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to reinventing what we as an audience expect from the cinema. To those that saw them in their original theatrical release, films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner are described as "experiences" more often than as "films;" drawing out the hyperbolic sides of people, phrases like "life-changing" aren't at all uncommon.

As soon as there's a generation of filmgoers young enough to have missed it, I imagine I'll be saying the same things to them about Children of Men.

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Posted by:
Will B
Sep 29, 2008 5:18pm

A Clockwork Orange

Dir/Wri: Stanley Kubrick. 1971. Starring: M. McDowell, P. Magee, M. Bates, A. Morris, M. Gover. English. Science-Fiction.

A classic tale of boy loves violence, loses violence, and reunites with violence. Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell) is a romantic hero for a decidedly unromantic age, represented here by a Moddish parallel universe. When all things, including humans, lose their intrinsic qualities, becoming place holders in the stimulus-response equations of a totally administered world, even the most barbarous of acts, if freely chosen, can take on a heroic hue. Not exactly a comforting thought, that one. Thus, Kubrick enhances audience identification with Alex’s creative acts of resistance via a first-person voice over, visualizing his sadistic reveries (as in a masturbatory sequence involving Beethoven’s 9th), and shooting his violent deeds through an extreme wide angle lens which tends to slightly distort everything around our humble narrator.

Alex’s fun comes to an end when he’s betrayed by his droogs after having killed a lady. After 2 years in prison, Alex charms his way into an experimental procedure at the Ludovico lab, which via behavior modification instills in him an aversion to sex and violence, as well as his beloved 9th, which happened to be the background music to one of the videos he was forced to watch. He can look, but he can no longer touch, his feelings now associated with a crippling nausea. Having been turned into a normal(-ized) citizen, Alex is released back into society. The violence he perpetrated in the first act is inflicted back on him by his former victims to which he can only respond with learned helplessness. Through the repercussions of the last creative act left to him, an attempt at suicide, the world is restored of violent personal meaning to the familiar tune of Ludwig van.

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Posted by:
Charles Reece
Jan 7, 2008 2:59pm

Solaris

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972. Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis. Russian. Foreign/Sci-Fi

Solaris was Tarkovsky’s first foray into Science Fiction. Tarkovsky was a big fan of soft science-fiction, the kind that deals with deep moral and philosophical questions instead of focusing on laser rifles, improbable monsters and shiny robots. The film is rather loosely adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem and, predictably, the end result was not to Lem’s liking, partly because Tarkovsky took the story and thoroughly made it his own while retaining aspects familiar to Lem’s fans.

The plot concerns a mission to a space station surrounding an oceanic world they’ve named Solaris. A psychologist, Kris Kelvin, is sent to assess the deteriorating situation on the station as scientists kill themselves and apparently go insane without fail. He is to return and recommend future action, possibly shooting radiation into the planet, possibly ending the experiment.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Jan 7, 2008 2:30pm

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Dir: Ridley Scott. 1982/2007. Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer. English. Sci-Fi.

What is “human?” That’s the basic question posited by Ridley Scott’s visionary science fiction opus, release in 2007 in a 25th-anniversary “final cut,” the director’s third pass at the film.

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and set in the dark, rain-soaked Los Angeles of 2019, the tale follows “blade runner” Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he pursues and attempts to terminate four “replicants” – genetically-engineered humanoids – who have violently escaped an off-world colony and returned to earth. Deckard becomes increasingly conflicted about his murderous job and doubtful about his own identity, as he falls in love with a replicant (Sean Young) and begins to realize that his prey may be more human than he believed.

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Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 2, 2008 3:06pm

The Fountain

Dir: Darren Aronofsky. 2006. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn. English. Sci-Fiction/Drama.

I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream. I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream more than The Fountain. But I can't really compare Darren Aronofsky's two latest releases; it simply wouldn't be fair! The Fountain is a challenge that takes on a re-definition of science fiction, attempting to span 1,000 years and intersecting three parallel stories. It is certainly a task to admire. Aronofsky searches life's biggest questions - love, death, spirituality, existence - all while trying to go beyond typical science fiction films that were plot-driven by technology and science. He notes, "the interesting things are the ideas; the search for God, the search for meaning."

The film is personal and honorable in how simple yet intricate the story is. While I found it hard to involve myself in the more ancient sections of the film, and also thought using a cancer-stricken loved one as a character seems slightly redundant, but in the end mankind (in the general sense) is truly redeemed.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Dec 31, 2007 3:50pm

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Dir: Garth Jennings, 2004, 109 minutes. Anamorphic widescreen. Suitable for all ages.

The Earth was accidentally demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and archetypal English bloke Arthur Dent was left hitching around the Galaxy with just his bathrobe, a towel, and a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide (the one that has "Don't Panic" in friendly block letters on its cover.)

Welcome to the first full-length cinematic version of this 1980s sci-fi icon. And, since author Douglas Adams himself wrote the script, there is no reason to panic! The film is mostly harmless - eh, make that mostly delightful. Special effects range from a spacecraft that looks like a cannister vacuum cleaner turned inside out, to aliens from the Hanson Workshop who look like giant beanie babies. But the tour of the "factory floor" of Megrathea, the planet that manufactures worlds, is worth the price of the DVD. Adams included many of the skids, anecdotes and one-liners which made the book so special, and had them discreetly animated as well.

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Posted by:
Franklin Lei
Nov 17, 2007 4:37pm


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