Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5-4-T: Smart Sci-Fi Pictures

Since Brad spent the two solid days last week excoriating me for not being a big enough nerd, even though I have spent far too much time with Mr. Schwarzenegger in this space, I'm taking the opportunity with this week's Five for Tuesday to give my love to the Science Fiction pictures that not only hold it all together, but manage to make you think about some shit, too. While these don't always show stuff blowed up real good, they're all movies I could watch again and again. So without further ado, on with the list:

5) Total Recall
I know. You think this movie has no business being on a list like this one. And to be sure, this is the one that is knocking out Metropolis and Gattaca, both of which are perhaps inherently "smarter." But I choose to have at least once crowd-pleaser in my list, and this one fits the criteria. I first saw this at age 16 and was blown away by the gleeful vulgarity of it. And while there are plenty of technicalities one can point to - would you really bloat to death so quickly if you were exposed to the martian atmosphere, and if you did, but were suddenly saved by an oxygen-laden blast, would you immediately go back to normal? - there's just enough nuance here to make it worth some rumination. The whole question of whether someone can trust himself - even if he inherently isn't himself, or rather isn't sure if he is. And of course, the final question - was it all a dream? - is fun to bandy about even if I think I got to the bottom of it.

4) Blade Runner
I always like the idea of Blade Runner more than the movie itself. Every time I watch it it's a bit more drawn out and slow. But there's some real magic in the future Ridley Scott created here. Between the Oriental scenery and decadent options for the citizenry, it feels like a real place. And while the film generally only flirts with its most interesting ideas (the most prominent one being the question of what makes us human in the first place), it still does a good job of bringing them up. And at least the director's cut doesn't beat you over the head with them.

3) Contact
There is one tremendous flaw in this movie. There's also a one minor one named Jake Busey. The tremendous flaw occurs at the very end when the film chooses to take sides, inherently making the viewer's mind up for him. While this movie is surely a science fiction piece, its overarching theme is about personal faith. One's faith can be a religious one, a scientific one, or just faith in the beliefs of certain characters in a movie. The fact that the filmmakers didn't choose to have enough faith in the audience to choose its own path is regrettable, but doesn't take away too much from an interesting piece that takes viewers along for the scientific ride. Rather than beat us over the head with already known facts, we're put in the position of Jodie Foster's character. Her desires, goals, and of course her doubts. The lofty ideas come along naturally and give us the opportunity for a bit of wonder.

2) Solyaris
This is probably the most unsettling movie I've ever seen. The über-short summary: bizarre things happen on a space station near a planet. I still don't really understand what it's ostensibly all about, but so far I've only given it one viewing. It's probably the most tedious film I've ever liked. And while I don't totally get it, it's because the movie something so transcendent that I just let it unfold and tried to figure out the individual moments. The big picture is elusive. But it invokes a power greater than man, something we should be afraid of and fascinated by. I look forward to future chances to dig into this one.

1) 2001: A Space Odyssey
Not just an example of accurate physics, it's a mind-blowing concept that somehow works. From the opening scenes, I realized I was watching something more ambitious than any other film I'd experienced before. And when I walked out of the theater, I was impressed but puzzled. Impressed by all the detail and proper physics involved. I think there's only one scientific flaw in the whole thing. But beyond that, even though this film is clearly a fantasy, it forces us to think about the nature of our existence. Why we're here, and how we came to be. It's one idea, but it opens your mind to the fact that there are countless options. Maybe the best-made movie ever.

So what's your favorite "smart" Sci-Fi that I didn't mention?

1 comment:

PMaz said...

I am a sucker for time travel stuff. I recently watched a foreign movie called "Timecrimes" and was impressed with how (I think) it showed that traveling backwards just doesn't seem possible. Hard to explain, but the main character appeared to be acting out things just because he saw himself do them.

I also will give a shout out to the movie "Vanilla Sky" as I may be the only one that liked it.

"Dark City" was great too. And of course there is always the Verhoeven's first American film, "Robocop", one of my faves of all-time.

I don't mind if it makes me a dummy for saying it, but I pretty much hated the original "Solyaris". Tedious is the PERFECT word to describe it.