Fantasy sci-fi season

When I first saw the trailer announcing Film 4’s latest Sc-Fi season my heart sank. Some of the films shown have only just been broadcast on Film 4 and elsewhere (sometimes in HD too).

And I might be splitting hairs here but I’m not sure X-Men Origins: Wolverine is even a sci-fi film (fantasy surely?).

EDIT: Full list at the end of the post*

I guess my frustration comes from the fact that there are hundreds of sci-fi films out there that are worthy of the genre (you know, interesting premises, narratives, cinematography etc.).

So here is my small fantasy sci-fi season wish list.

Obviously these are largely 70s US films so if anyone has any other ideas I would love to hear some more.

Invasion Of  The Body Snatchers (1978)

Leonard Nimmoy, Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum star in a film that reaches the parts that other paranoid 70s sci-fi films can’t.

As much as I love the original it is spoiled by a trite happy ending and the balsa wood acting hasn’t dated too well.

The final scene in this remake is simply devastating (to me, but I’m soft) and comes on the back of a film’s worth of steadily building isolation and paranoia.

Watch out for the sinister priest on the playground swing in the opening scenes. Doomed, doomed!

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers on IMDb

Demon Seed (1977)

It’s safe to say that the premise is probably much stronger than the execution but I remember being pretty disturbed by this film when I first saw it.

Essentially an artificial intelligence named Proteus captures its creator’s wife (played by Julie Christie) and does something utterly awful to her.

May require suspension of disbelief to get round some clunky SFX and plot contrivances but worth a watch.

Demon Seed on IMDb

Brainstorm (1983)

Another great sci-fi concept that I guess has been explored elsewhere but perhaps not as disturbingly as here (the hilarious Freejack for instance).

A device that captures, records and replays people’s first person experiences inevitably gets pulled in a dark direction as the smart money ditches fairground rides in favour of gonzo porn and military applications.

The ending is quite mind blowing too. Oddly uplifting and philosophical.

Nice hat Chris.

Brainstorm on IMDb

Solaris (1970)

Film buff territory here. I remember seeing this one Saturday morning on one of the regular channels (BBC 2 I think – which seemed an odd time to show it).

As I was in my early teens I’m still surprised that I was able to stick with it as Andrei Tarkovsky’s films aren’t exactly pitched at a youth audience. It probably won’t wash with audiences conditioned by years of Hollywood fast cuts either but if you are willing to slow down and  digest long static shots it is a very rewarding and haunting film.

Incidentally the utilitarian production design aesthetic you see in just about any sci-fi film made since the early 70s can be pretty much traced back to Solaris.

Solaris on MDb

Silent Running (1972)

In which Laura Dern’s intense, twitchy daddy Bruce plays a conservationist serial killer. OK, I kind of sexed that up a little. I hear there is a nicely cleaned up reprint of this film now so well worth a re-showing.

It also has three of the most endearing robots in cinema in the form of Huey, Dewey and Louie. Tin cans with character that set the standard for cute celluloid droids, the most recent that springs to mind being WALL-E.

If you are of the lachrymose persuasion you’ll need a box of tissues handy for the end.

If you don’t like Joan Baez then this might take the edge off it for you (it does a little for me FYI).

Silent Running on IMDb

Andromeda Strain (1971)

I’m too lazy to Google it but I’m sure there were other plague/virus outbreak films that predate Andromeda Strain, but this was my first.

Taken from the novel penned by Michael Crichton the film is peppered with the sort of plausible details typical of the writer who gave us Jurassic Park but which never seemed to trouble his tendencies towards climate change denial (OK, off topic I know).

The action takes place in an underground bunker where a group of scientists battle against the clock and a team member’s undiagnosed epilepsy (no kidding) to come up with a cure for the outbreak.

Slightly anti-climactic ending I seem to remember but fun getting there.

Tense stuff.

Andromeda Strain on IMDb

Dark Star (1974)

A fun and whimsical low budget film directed by John Carpenter (The Thing etc) and written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien – O’Bannon is also in the film).

Among other things it features a bunch of beardy blokes being intimidated by an alien that is clearly just a beach ball with some stuck on bits and a desperate conversation with a sentient bomb.

Dark Star on IMDb

eXistenZ (1999)

I guess this is a science fiction film, it’s about people getting lost in virtual reality right? My favourite Cronenberg film.

Enjoyable  for the distinctly odd atmosphere and the weird dream logic that runs through it. That thing in the still above? No me neither.

If you don’t like it you could always watch Cronenberg’s The Fly instead.

eXistenZ on IMDb

Star Man (1984)

And finally, the Dude abides. A touching and understated – and little shown – film about an alien trying to get back home.

Jeff Bridges plays the part beautifully – but he is Jeff Bridges after all.

Star Man on IMDb

*The full list of films in the Film4 season

7 thoughts on “Fantasy sci-fi season

  1. Okay, a 15 minute whizz through my DVD collection, ignoring ones like Silent Running that you’ve already done (and I hate the Baez). So here’s a straight list:
    Blade Runner
    City of Lost Children
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    The Day the Earth Stood Still (I do love Keanu Reeves…)
    Invaders from Mars (the first 50s sci-fi I ever saw, so my feelings are coloured by that)
    La Jetee (shouldn’t be possible to tell such a compelling story in primarily still images)
    The Road
    The Thing
    This Quiet Earth (brilliant NZ post-apocalyptic film)

    I’d actually include The Matrix, if we could wipe the sequels from existance.
    Obviously I love Star Wars and Back to the Future, but that’s more an age thing than a quality thing.
    Alien is exempted as it’s just a horror story.
    Enjoyed District 9 more recently.

    Where do we stand on Dinosaurs? More fantasy? Although I suppose Jurassic Park is classic sci-fi in being a typical Planet of the Apes like “don’t trust scientists” tale.

  2. And you are not splitting hairs, X-Men Origins is fantasy, not sci-fi, as would be most comic book movies.

    As for the Film4 schedule, I’d consider showing Brazil, the new Star Trek movie (lens flares not withstanding), and Wrath of Khan, which I do love (maybe because my Gran fancied Ricardo Montablan).

    1. Actually I’m quite fond of Star Trek The Motion Picture, but that might be me being sentimental as it was the first big budget non Star Wars sci-fi film that I saw in the cinema. I know it isn’t really loved.

      I remember the transporter accident as something that made the old certainties of the TV series look a bit tired and seemed to be taking the franchise somewhere new.

      But I’m not really a Trekkie so what do I know. I’ve somehow never got round to seeing Wrath Of Khan. I like the new Trek film but I can’t really imagine wanting to watch it again but respect is due for the canny reboot.

      Splendid list there too – a couple that I haven’t seen (which again is something I expect from a film season) and has prompted a couple additions from me:

      On a manga tip –

      Ghost In The Shell
      Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

      Postapocalypso –

      On The Beach

      Gratuitous Werner Herzog –

      The Wild Blue Yonder

      While we’re thinking of Terry Gilliam (one of the most poignant uses of time travel to tie a plot together) –

      Twelve Monkeys

      Looks like I’ve broken my 70s streak too

  3. We really should be given control of a film channel…

    12 Monkeys is actually directly influenced by La Jetee. So there’s a great double bill for starters.

    I’ve got all those, bar This Quiet Earth which I’m yet to get hold of, on DVD. Happy to lend any you haven’t seen.

  4. if you’re going to have 70’s sci-fi films you’ve got to add the original rollerball, A boy and his dog,The Andromeda strain, The man who fell to Earth and logan’s run

    1. Great choices – a ’70s sci-fi week would be a pretty good Film 4 theme in its own right. I can’t believe I forgot about Rollerball 🙂

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