In memory of Arthur C. Clarke, today, we will look at Science Fiction. For those unaware, Clarke, who died in his home in Sri Lanka early Wednesday local time, was a noted writer of science fiction novels and short stories. Most well known of these was “The Sentinel,” which served as the guiding text to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Today’s list is dedicated to Clarke’s memory, as well as to the memory of Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient, who died earlier this week.
2001: A Space Odyssey
One of the great cinematic achievements of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the evolution of man is full of some of the most iconic images in screen history: the bone thrown into the air to the docking of the space station, all memorably choreographed to Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” As thrilling as it is innovative, in medium based on the moving image, 2001 stands head and shoulders above any film before or since as a visual masterpiece.
28 Days Later…
Danny Boyle’s film, penned by Alex Garland, is a zombie film at its core and has many of the conventions- the social critique, the survival fortress, etc.-, but it contains what most like films lack, all respect to George Romero and his Dead series. It has a plausible scientific explanation for the phenomenon at hand. It is not a rehash of the zombie genre but a reinvention of it. Daring and thrilling, it is also scarily believable and succeeds all the more for this fact.
Alphaville (Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution)
A futuristic noir thriller with Orwellian overtones, this early film from Jean-Luc Godard displays how deftly he can move from genre to genre and excel. The greatest trick of Alphaville is that the audience remains in the dark for most of the picture and is only given the semblance of a plot when necessary. The film is mostly an experience, and a rich one at that. Godard uses 60s Paris as the stand in for a world in the possibly not so distant future where mechanization and dehumanization are the rule, not the exception.
A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune)
A short film but well worth seeking out, A Trip to the Moon could be considered, for all intents and purposes, the first modern film. Directed by Georges Méliès, a magician by trade, it employs the first use of special effects (achieved through creative editing) and is the first film to have a true story structure. It is about a group of scientists who take a trip to the moon and find it a harrowing and scary place. For its time, it is intriguing, enthralling, and awe inspiring.
Ridley Scott’s rendering of Los Angeles in this film is simply a marvel to behold. Dark, immense, impersonal, and frightening to the core, Scott’s world of the future sets the perfect stage for this adaptation of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The story of clones and outer space colonies is the stuff science fiction is made of, but the bleakness of the vision and the uniqueness of the execution are the real attraction. The fear of what may lie ahead has never been more paranoid, more terrifying, or seemed more possible.
Children of Men
Known primarily for its gorgeous cinematography, Children of Men is the story of man looking his own extinction dead in the eye. The audience is thrown into a world where women are infertile and anarchy rules; we are given no explanation, one is not necessary. All we need to know is that things are grim. And, we know. From the dilapidated buildings and abandoned streets, we know. Also on display is a career defining performance from Clive Owen as the man who may have the key to mankind’s future. This film is epic and beautiful on every level.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
If any movie dealing with paranoia, the federal government, and contact with an extraterrestrial species could be described as sweet, this would be it. Hinging on the performance of likable everyman Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Spielberg’s blending of family drama and science fiction is perfectly rendered. At the heart of the story is the idea that in an uncertain world perhaps only something not of our world can save us.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Made in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still was both timely and prophetic. It is the story of intergalactic peace keepers who threaten to destroy the Earth as a danger to the universe. It is as much a critique on the violent nature of man as it is an indictment of those who proclaim to instill peace and order through war and destruction. Then, it was a perfect commentary on the state of the world in the midst of the Cold War. Now, it seems like a cautionary tale about our destiny as a species.
Forever associated with the popularization (and some would say invention of) bullet time, Andy and Larry Wachowski’s film runs much deeper than its innovative special effects. Yes, every image is perfectly and beautifully constructed, but the real selling point of the film is the story, as intricately woven as a well-written detective novel. Intellectually and psychologically stimulating, The Matrix is a testament to the potential for modern cinema as philosophy.
Considered by many to be the first science fiction film, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis stands as a towering of achievement, not just within its genre, but in the history of cinema. As much a social critique as it is a vision of the future, the dark visual schema serves well Lang’s typically pessimistic story. Though filmed over 80 years ago, the film holds up as well today as it did then.