August 02, 2012

Must watch Sci-fi movies

Watching Prometheus recently took me back to the various Sci-fi movies/literature I had come across. Numerous writers and film makers have woven dramatic tales of humans grappling with the consequences of new discoveries and inventions, which, while entertaining, also serve as a reminder of the various pitfalls of tampering with mother nature. While the basic theme of a science fiction is rooted in the ‘science’ or the technicalities of the basic theme, it is the drama surrounding its application/misuse/consequences that make it interesting, and results in most science fiction movies ending up as a ‘thrillers’.

Here is a list of my favourite sci-fi movies, rated 1 through 5. Please note that since I haven’t watched as much of sci-fi as, say, drama, this might not have many of the movies you would consider to be in your top five. I would love to hear of a few more movies I can watch

5.   Jurassic Park (1993): The ‘popular’ choice! For my generation, this film is a trailblazer in many ways and I am sure everyone who reads this would have seen the movie. It was one of the first movies to employ CGI effects extensively, in this case, to recreate a ‘lost world’ on screen. Older movies either had life size models or used magnified images of miniature models to show dinosaurs and the like on the big screen. 
Starting with the animated feature on how the Jurassic Park was conceptualized, to the exhilarating helicopter ride to the park, to the moment when everything goes wrong, the movie delivered the thrills like never before. 
The ripples in the water as the big lizard approaches, the T-Rex chasing down the car, and the feisty little raptors taking on the T-Rex during the climax are images which will stay with us forever. It also sparked the trend of Hollywood movies getting dubbed into regional languages in India, almost doubling the reach of Hollywood cinema in India.
Of course, at its heart, it had the simple theme of 'thou shalt not tamper with nature' which us humans seem to have difficulty comprehending. Also, it taught us that the best way to fix issues is to restart the system!
For me, Jurassic Park narrowly beats the other Spielberg classic, E.T.. Had I been born 10 years earlier, that might have been the movie I would have grown up with.

4. Alphaville, une ├ętrange aventure de Lemmy Caution  (1965) – Jan Luc-Godard’s depiction of a computer controlled autocratic society is stylishly executed in a noir format in black and white which suits the overall grim undertone of the movie. A detective (the titular Lemmy Caution), clad in a rain coat, enters the city of Alphaville looking for a missing colleague. The city seems like any other except the fact that it is run in ‘auto mode’ by a computer Alpha 60 built by one Von Braun (a seemingly deliberate reference to the German scientist). 
The administration prohibits any kind of emotion to be felt or displayed by any of his inhabitants. His search leads him to his ultimate showdown with Von Braun and the Alpha 60. The film uses simple imagery without resorting to special effects of any kind - a bulb with a bossy voice over stands for Alpha 60 and images of ‘E=mc2’ in neon lighting flash regularly on the screen, as representatives of ‘logical’ thought). A must watch for noir fans.   

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Poster

3.     Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (2004): A controversial choice, in that the movie can also be categorized as ‘Drama’ or ‘Romance’. But what the heck, IMDB even has V for Vendetta under Science fiction! Jim Carrey (in a very non-comic role) and Kate Winslet (is there anything she cannot do?) play a couple who try to erase each other from their memories, quite literally, until Carrey’s character, realizing that he cannot really afford to lose her, begins revolting against the procedure. 
The movie uses a non-linear structure to take the viewer through their tale, told from both of their perspectives separately, till the viewer gets a handle on the goings on. The sequences wherein the program is erasing parts of his memory with traces of her is visualized brilliantly. 
Excellent cameos from the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Elijah Wood add layers to the plot which makes the experience that much enriching. A most satisfying film.

File:District nine ver2.jpg
2. District 9 (2009): One of the most under rated movies of recent times, this genre defining Peter Jackson’s production is set in the city of Johannesburg. The city has been visited by aliens and, following a mishap to their mother ship, they have since been set up by the xenophobic government in a ghetto in the city called ‘District 9’. A multinational corporation (which, strangely, is also the name of the org) are charged with moving them from District 9 to a remote location and this is where you come across Vicus Van Der Marwe, an employee of the corporation, who is in charge of the operation. As luck would have it, he comes in contact with a chemical which triggers a mutation in him, and would eventually turn him into an 'alien'. As he grapples with his identity and crosses the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, he becomes much sought after property with the MNC, the aliens and Nigerian gangs chasing him for his unique generic makeup. This is when he befriends an alien father-son duo who are working on getting their mother ship repaired and finding a way back home and decides to help them in return for a favour.
The movie begins with a documentary style of film making which is non intrusive and lends a historical context to the events. Setting the story in Jo’burg proves to be a master stroke, with the lively city itself becoming a character in the narrative. 
This might have set of another trend – of the aliens triumphing over the humans, which was also used by Avatar, released in the same year. Though the second half of the movie goes into the typical ‘bad guys chasing the good ones’, it ends with aplomb and has the viewer cheering all the way for Vicus. I only hope they don’t make a sequel and spoil this. It is one of those rare movies you would want to preserve.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): I had only seen clippings of the movie in various ‘Top movies’ lists over past several years and had thought it to be a ‘typical’ sci-fi movie with spaceships, aliens, guns et. al., until I realised it was by Kubrick which meant it had to be seen and thank god I did! 
Dealing with evolution, the origin and advancement of mankind and the role of technology, the movie is set on a scale very unlikely to be touched by any other movie in the genre. The bone metamorphosing into a space ship, the western classical score set to its spinning disc, the man vs. machine plot, all add up to a movie experience like no other. 
The plot is too far reaching and complex to be attempted to be explained here. The movie is split into distinct chapters, each unravelling one piece of the puzzle of the ultimate question of ‘who we are’. The ending is left open ended for the user, and it was not before reading a few blogs that I could decipher what it stood for. Like any Kubrick movie, it is a movie which demands much of the audience and requires a second, or even a third, viewing, but is totally worth the effort. Watching it is one of those events which would alter your perception of the very concept of being 'human'.


ND69 said...

Gosh...2001 a space odyssey is a very boring movie.Trying watching Stargate(1994) one of the finest sci-fi movies.

Anonymous said...

Good to see some love for District 9. What a fantastic movie!

Anonymous said...

Great post.
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