Sci-Fi: Science-based depictions on film

Posted: February 26, 2010 in FILM REVIEWS/COMMENTS
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Science fiction is a huge spanning genre of fiction. It’s an incubator for imaginative minds to create visions that help us to glimpse not only the future, but also something about ourselves. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible. I’ve left Terminator and Alien(s) out both I’ll visit in the future, in the meantime here are my comments on a few old classic films and new comers of Sci-fi…

Repo Men (2010)

It’s is the near future, Jake and Remy are repossession men for body organs. After a repo’ goes wrong Remy’s heart is replaces and he finds himself on the run before his heart is repossessed.

It’s a high concept idea with a twist at the end. The gory repo scenes are cringe worthy and action scenes backed with a pumping music score are amazing. The sets, location and effects are attention-grabbing. Miguel Sapochnik’s directing admirable but its failing is the screenplay, Repo Men is a jarring mismatch of a film, it doesn’t know what it wants to be, one minute a social commentary, the next minute a comedy, then an action, a serious thriller and so on. It just doesn’t gel and as a result it’s a let down.

Schreiber’s Frank is menacing as one of “The Union” heads and there’s a welcomed cameo appearance by John Leguizamo (Asbury). A lighter, healthier Forest Whitaker makes an impression in this odd toned movie, quirky lead and ever reliable Jude Law looks uncomfortable with the role Remy. Alice Braga’s (Beth) performance is average and she isn’t atheistically beautiful enough to convince the audience of Remy’s infatuation with her.

Unfortunately, Repo Men tries to cater and appeal to a spectrum of movie goers and as a result fails to entertain or satisfy in any capacity or arena.

Planet of the Apes (1968)


Franklin J. Schaffner is never given enough credit when it comes to the genuine sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes. The talking points are usually the twist ending, or the late great Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall.

A philosophical sci-fi made in 1968 and nominated for two Oscars it still holds up today as a social parable, effective drama with a relevant and underlining social commentary. It’s the primitive depiction of an ape civilisation rather than technologically society made Planet of the Apes standout as the iconic film it is haled as today.

‘Apes builds up nicely, there’s a wonderful score, (groundbreaking for the time) by Jerry Goldsmith, creating eerie and ominous atmosphere with the first exciting ape reveal at about 30 minutes in.

The film is wonderfully directed and has a solicitous and thought proving screenplay by Michael Wilson & Rod Serling. That said source material was from Pierre Boulle’s very wry, whimsical and thoughtful novel. Astoundingly Boulle is also author of The Bridge over the River Kwai.

The few visual effects are sufficient but the ape make up is admirable and star of the show. Recognisable only by their voices Kim Hunter as human conservationist Dr. Zira and the anxious Cornelius played by McDowall are splendidly magnificent as they assist Taylor played by the boldly cast film legend Heston to escape the command of the apes. The attractive Linda Harrison, who plays Nova is effective and the British classical actor, in orangutan make-up Maurice Evans is outstanding, giving a weight of believability to the subject matter.

Planet of the Apes is an original science fiction must see.

Blade Runner (1982)

I must admit I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scotts’ and Blade Runner is one of
his finest moments, panned by critics and by most on its release, it was ahead of its time on every level.

Whichever version of Blade Runner you prefer, it has atmosphere, great costumes and a mood of gritty realism about it. The neocityscapes, the dark street life and polluted air all paint a grim futuristic picture complimented by a score by Vangelis , which is touching and haunting. The lines are memorable and there are fantastic performances from Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. Harrison Ford is perfect as the moody ex- Blade Runner and Joe Turkel should have won an award as the Frankenstein -like creator.

Blade Runner is quite a simplistic tale that is complicated by the fantastic visuals and effects. Lying beneath the plot that many writers contributed to there’s heart and soul, questions of what it means to be human and delves into our own mortality.

Its edgy hi-tech art-house that brings science fiction to life and while it’s not the most fulfilling sci-fi film it certainly is a fantastic visual experience.

RoboCop (1987)

A cop is brutally murdered in the line of duty only to be resurrected as a robot cop. With a mission to clean up Detroit stopping criminals and corruption unwitting Robocop meets his killers.

 Social commentary, religious connotations and cutting satire, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is now over 20 years old, some of the effects have dated and some of the acting is like two-day-old chicken, but it holds up. It is indeed an often-imitated sci-fi classic. It could have been just another Terminator rip-off but all it shared was a machine theme as it had a whole world of its own. That said, it borrows heavily from lesser known films Jean-Claude Lord’s The Vindicator and The Wraith both made a year prior.

Amongst the rival robot ED-209 and TV commercials what’s more interesting about Robocop (played by the now elusive Peter Weller) is the loss of his family and how they have moved on after Alex Murphy’s gory death which is only partly explored. There’s a lot going on in Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner writing underneath all the action pieces.

Miguel Ferrer as ‘Bob’ is excellent, his performance has all the 80’s Wall Street feel of the time, doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Ronny Cox plays ‘Dick’ Jones and gives the bad guy dimension. It shows a corporate structure and how they also use the underworld to get an immoral job done, in this case using Clarence and his gang played terrifically by Kurtwood Smith.

Basil Poledouris’ music is fantastic and heightens the films punches and subtleties, the action is great as to are the costumes and practical effects. It is a comic book film for adults but is unusually grounded in a surreal plausibility.

It’s Orion Pictures fine production, part man, part machine. All cop.

Moon (2009)

David Bowie’s son directs his debut film. Duncan Jones comes out of his fathers’ shadow and into his own in this low-key sci-fi which is destined to become a classic.

The style is without a doubt influenced by Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You could argue that there is also a hint of Gattaca in there, but this does not detract from the strong emotional story line.

Sam Rockwell’s subtle and edgy performance is Oscar worthy, as to are the effects. As Duncan Jones first film it certainly doesn’t show, it screams traditional in the modern sense of film-making. Kevin Spacey voices the robot GERTY, his smooth tones and look are reminiscent of 2001’s HAL and his monotone voice adds tension.

The film is not an action; Moon is a well-rounded package, almost pure sci-fi, and thought provoking playing out a believable premise. It’s a tighter 2001 for a 2009 audience, compulsive viewing.

Star Wars (1977)

It was a long time ago when I first saw Starwars, I watched it as part of a trilogy and then Lucas’ CGI altered edits.

There’s not much I can add that isn’t already littered on the, net, countless books and so on. It has become ingrained in popular culture and it is impossible for me to watch it with fresh eyes. It was great to see my son watch it for the first time and no doubt his children will enjoy it too.

The story is that Luke Skywalker must try to save Princess Leia from the evil clutches of Darth Vader. It could have been an awful b-movie but its strength is a great bold script, memorial characters, fantastic effects, costumes and John Williams timeless orchestral score. It has a princess, lasers, alien creatures, spaceships, and more. It’s a good old fashioned tale of good versus evil and there really isn’t much not to like.

It has inspired and has been imitated in numerous films, books and games. It has changed the way Sci-fi is made and will remain a timeless charming classic.

If you only ever see five films in your lifetime, this is one of them.

Surrogates (2009)

In a world of masks, who’s real and who can you trust? A well made sci-fi, a hybrid reflective of high concept low-budget 70’s-80’s films. Sadly it was in and out of the cinema so fast I missed it.

Bruce Willis character tries to unravel the mystery conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and is forced to abandon his own surrogate, risking his life.

Excellent direction by Jonathan Mostow Radha Mitchell is as usual on top form, Rosamund Pike (give a poor performance) and Ving seem out of place. That said, the effects and music are amazing – I was pleasantly surprised. Overall very entertaining, suspenseful and while not totally original, it combines the best ideas around to deliver a thought provoking piece.

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