A guide to cinema – science fiction
|February 17, 2012||Posted by Sep Gohardani under guide to cinema|
As a genre, science fiction gives the prospective film-maker the opportunity to experiment with themes that might not be as accessible in other genres. Sure enough, most of the best sci-fi films are heavily philosophical, and use the pseudo-science as a medium to bring to light many of the most important philosophical questions. Others provide a fantastic social commentary and warn us of the future of humanity, so it isn’t all hovercrafts and aliens. Not quite.
5. Blade Runner (1982)
(Dir. Ridley Scott, Starring: Harrison Ford; Rutger Hauer; Sean Young; Daryl Hannah; Edward James Olmos, Certificate 15)
A film that Ridley Scott has never quite managed to equal, Blade Runner, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, represents old-style sci-fi without overdoing it, interweaving a clever plot and intelligent storytelling with some great shotmaking and pacing that allows the viewer to take in both the visuals and the dark atmosphere that Scott creates amidst a futuristic, bustling 2019 version of LA. Despite his huge overestimate of our scientific advancements – unless something dramatic happens in the next seven years and we do end up with flying cars – Scott illustrates the issues that this sort of advancement could bring, such as the envy and desire for integration that those we create might harbour.
Harrison Ford also gives the best performance of his career as the troubled, retired “Blade Runner” policeman Dick Reckard who is forced into returning to his career as a ‘retirer’ of replicant humans. The dark tone aids Ford’s performance, and his introverted character in this film is a far cry from the Harrison Ford in either the Star Wars or Indiana Jones series, where he resembles a one-night stand with a good-looking woman infected with a mild STI: initially fun but ultimately irritating.
The film explores the philosophical question of whether an android can believe itself to be human, and the ethical implications of ‘retiring’ the machines. Ford’s character becomes close to one and this negates his initial purpose, implying that they can be just as human as any one of us. It is the thought-provoking nature of the film that has turned it into a classic, one which was originally under-appreciated by its audience but has gradually grown in popularity and acclaim.
4. The Matrix (1999)
(Dir. Wachowski Brothers, Starring: Keanu Reeves; Laurence Fishburne; Carrie-Anne Moss; Hugo Weaving; Joe Pantoliano, Certificate 15)
Andy and Larry Wachowski’s height of excellence, The Matrix is a creative and ingenious film, which manages to work through its flaws and create a spectacle packed with atmosphere and thought-provoking sentiment. To the Wachowskis’ credit, they manage to make a star of Keanu Reeves (the man on whom Shia LaBeouf blatantly based his own bland-as-Sainsbury’s-own-brand-butter-on-toast acting style) despite his apparent idea that emotions can be portrayed using only half of his right eyebrow. Weirdly enough, this suits his character: bumbling, socially inept computer scientist/hacker Thomas Anderson, who soon finds out that he’s living in a virtual reality – and reacts with about as much emotion as a box of Frosties. Luckily the dialogue and believability of the character pull him through and our Thomas/Neo actually grows to be a fantastic character.
However, most of the kudos on the acting front goes to Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving. Fishburne’s Morpheus is mysterious yet commanding, likeable yet focussed and ultimately without sentimentality or useless emotion. He bears all the scars of knowing the reality of life and the deception that runs at its core. Fishburne also provides a lot for Reeves to work with during their interactions, and for this he must also be royally thanked. Hugo Weaving, on the other hand, is possibly a close second to the great Christopher Lee at executing a cold and evil persona, as he plays one of the best villains ever created in Agent Smith. Pulling off some of the best-ever lines of dialogue, Weaving is given everything he needs to work with and definitely makes the most of it, creating my favourite character from the entire film. The cinematography by Bill Pope is also sublime, with the slow-motion fight scenes between Smith and Neo becoming some of the most iconic in cinema.
Overall, The Matrix has a neat, clever plotline that is neither too convoluted nor so simple as to ostracise the viewer. It gets the balance just right and also manages to make Keanu Reeves look somewhere near competent at acting, which is in itself commendable. The sequels (yes, I have to mention them) are nothing on this one, partly since their policing of Reeves decreases, meaning that he sucks all the other actors’ charisma into a void, but they’re okay if unnecessary. This one, however, is the one you want to watch.
3. Inception (2010)
(Dir. Christopher Nolan, Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio; Marion Cotillard; Ellen Page; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Tom Hardy; Ken Watanabe; Michael Caine, Certificate 15)
Proof that modern cinema doesn’t entirely consist of flashing and pointless robot fights, Christopher Nolan’s Inception comes in with the right amount of action mixed with a story that is intellectually stimulating and engaging, all at the same time. Comparisons to the aforementioned The Matrix are a given, and in my opinion its take on reality and the dream-life has somehow more substance than the Wachowskis’ film, though brilliant, managed to conjure. Obviously Nolan also had a brilliant cast to deploy, and the fantastic Leonardo DiCaprio is given something worthwhile to work with here as he creates a character that is emotionally scarred but determined, and above all one that can be empathised with. Special mentions also go to Tom Hardy, whose performance here marked him as an up-and-coming star. Well refined and very amusing, his character Eames is one of the only “comic relief” characters ever to work. This is simply because his role isn’t pushed right into your face like an attention-seeking terrier all of the time (Jar Jar Binks being a prime example of this), and he actually also plays an important role in the team regardless of his humour.
This film shows that Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented film directors out there at the moment, and in my opinion comparisons to the great Stanley Kubrick are not exaggerated but fair. Nolan’s intelligent brand of direction is very welcome, and I don’t know of anyone who isn’t looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises later this year. As far as Inception goes, it is 10 years of hard work come to a head and it really shows. Beautifully crafted, and thought-provoking to the extent that it probably needs more than one watch, Nolan seeks to trigger the viewer’s mind in a way that films these days normally do not. It’s valuable cinema.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(Dir. Stanley Kubrick, Starring: Keir Dullea; Gary Lockwood; William Sylvester; Douglas Rain; Daniel Richter, Certificate U)
The iconic sci-fi, what Stanley Kubrick created here was a masterpiece of cinema back when it was released all of 44 years ago – and it still is now. Some of the most famous scenes in history are found here, and Kubrick’s trademark meticulous attention to detail means that in terms of cinematography 2001: A Space Odyssey is brilliantly defined and packed with some very powerful shots.
Providing an innovative take on evolution, the film follows various characters through the progression of mankind, and in the third section of the film we meet our main characters in the shape of Dr David Bowman, Dr Frank Poole and their super-intelligent computer HAL. What transpires is, in a similar way to Blade Runner, a tale of how machinery can be corrupted. The film is made great, however, by its ability to link its sections together and provide some of the most provocative imagery possible. Justifying its length since it spans from the beginning of time to its present day, Dullea’s Bowman begins optimistic but falls in to a state of pessimism and is haunted by events that come at the hands of HAL, chillingly voiced by Douglas Rain. HAL’s speech towards the end of the film is one of the best ever and the disinterestedness of its voice when compared to the emotion that the computer makes clear to Bowman is simply stunning.
Kubrick’s creation here is chilling, glorifying and poetic, juxtaposing the successes of humanity with its failures and showing that, while humans can create marvels, they can also cause disasters and ruin those same wonders. He blends what has become an iconic soundtrack with a fantastic amalgamation of visuals, a new storytelling style that works fantastically, and couples these with a fantastic theme that never ceases to affect the viewer. Indeed, it is one of the best films to grace the big screen, and Kubrick once more shows us that cinema can be a true art form, able to stimulate the mind and entertain all at the same time – something we’re liable to forget in the modern age.
Don’t worry, the Kubrick worship-fest isn’t over…
1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
(Dir. Stanley Kubrick, Starring: Malcolm McDowell; Michael Tarn; James Marcus; Warren Clarke; Anthony Sharp, Certificate 18)
Disturbing yet satirical, Kubrick returns here with a film that tested the boundaries of society more than anything he’d done before. Blending elements of thriller and horror, this is by no means a conventional sci-fi, but it adds a refreshing edge to the genre. Exploring the consequences of a dystopian society in the future, we follow the exploits of Alex, who along with his ‘droogs’ rape and attack anyone they please with very little getting in their way. With a very dark sense of humour, Kubrick’s highly cynical approach suits the film perfectly, and its shocking nature is transferred into a perverse sort of humour that serves to horrify as much as it makes us appreciate it. Kubrick raises many ethical questions, namely in terms of forced rehabilitation. Are we within our rights to ‘reform’ someone who is harmful to society against his will, arguably in violation of most of his human rights? Kubrick provides arguments both for and against, and leaves the viewer floundering in indecision and lost in the power of what he shows to us.
McDowell’s performance as Alex is haunting, powerful and fantastically crafted. His character’s ruthlessness and almost psychopathic nature, when mixed in with his youth and his simple desire for a good time, make a disturbing mix as we come to realise the corruption to which even intelligent young people are susceptible. His character goes through a rehabilitation that makes the viewer think there could be a salvation for his twisted mind – and indeed a way to revitalise his immoral life – but Kubrick provides us with twist upon twist in true psychological horror style, and the realisation that we come to at the end leaves us in thought and, in my case at least, extremely disturbed.
Originally banned and blamed for a number of copycat crimes, the film only became legal in the UK in the year 2000 (the year after Kubrick’s death), which is a testament to its sheer provocative nature. It’s intelligent, it’s challenging and ultimately it’s wonderfully portrayed. The cinematic legend hits us once again with a motion picture that never loses its power or its ability to make us think.
Other sci-fi films worth a mention:
1984 (1984) – The adaptation of George Orwell’s masterpiece captures most of its effect, and John Hurt makes a fantastic Winston Smith. 1984 divides the book-lovers since it is slower and slightly less adept at telling the story, but it is still worth a watch.
Back to the Future (1985) – Fun and clever, Back to the Future is a kid’s film that can hold the interest of an adult just as easily.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – The best of the Star Wars dramas, Empire Strikes Back is the one with the most substance which it merges with its spectacle as a well-crafted sequel to IV.
So, there we are. Once more, I’ll ask if you agree or disagree and hope to get some sort of debate going in the comments below.