SciFi movie night 2 – get your popcorn while it’s hot!

Part II of my SciFi DVD collection. Again, I’ll use much of IMDB for the synopsis, and use cites to Wikipedia. I will try and note if it won a Saturn Award, (for Best Science Fiction Film, unless otherwise noted). The Saturn is given out by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. Also I will try and note it’s rating on the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS): International Critics Group Celebrates a Century of Sci-Fi With List of the Top 100 Films from the Past 100 Years (2002).

So starting out with the D’s:

Dune (miniseries) (2000)

User rating 6.8/10, IMDB. Directed by John Harrison, based on Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name, and starring William Hurt and Alec Newman. “It is a distant galaxy in the far future. Arrakis is a desert planet and is the only source of Melange, a vital drug used by the Guild Navigators for space travel from star system to star system. The corrupt Emperor Padishah Shaddam IV sends the Atreides family to Arrakis to take charge of the mining operations of Melange, once controlled by the Atreide’s rival family, The Harkonnens. Duke Leto Atreide’s son Paul becomes fascinated by the native Freman’s culture and learns he has a special powers and he can see images of the future. But the Emperor is in league with the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the Baron and his loyal army attacks, taking control of the mining operation on Arrakis and Duke Leto is assassinated. Paul and his mother Lady Jessica flee in the desert, where they are befriend by the Fremen. Adopting his Fremen name “Maud’Dib”, Paul vows vengeance on Baron Harkonnen and the Emperor and he unites the Fremen and forms a army of warriors and leads into battle, as he sets out to defeat the Harkonnen family and put a stop to the Melange mining operation, as Paul sets out to fulfill his destiny, as he becomes the prophesied all-powerful Kwisatz Haderach.” Daniel Williamson, IMDB

This 3-part SciFi Channel mini-series is the best interpretation of a book I have yet to read. I tried many years ago, but the intricate plot, court intrigue, and bizarre setting, with “spice” left me out in the cold. I saw the movie version, was intrigued, but no less clued in. Since I am not a die-hard Dunebook fan, I can’t comment on how well it sticks to the book, although that is not usually a concern of mine, since movies and books are apples and oranges to me. I thought this version better exemplified the court side of the book, explained “spice” and gave meaning to “Muad’Dib.” Some tend to like certain actors in roles better. Most agree that Kyle MacLachlan was a better Paul, but many like the side characters in this miniseries better. With a running time of 265 minutes, or over 4 hours, it’s got plenty of time to delve into the story and come out a winner, IMO.; (Official Dune novels website); (SciFI channels website)

Dune (movie) (1984)

User rating 6.5/10, IMDB. Directed by David Lynch, based on Frank Herbert’s self-titled book, and starring Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, and Sting, Jose Ferrer, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, and Jürgen Prochnow. “The desert planet Arrakis – we enter the year 10191 and the whole universe depends on the spice Melange which exists only on this dry and desolate planet. The natives of this planet await the arrival of their Messiah who will lead them into a holy war against the evil Harkonnen empire. This is the film adaptation based on Frank Herbert’s cult novel.” Harald Mayr, IMDB

“A spectacular journey through the wonders of space and the mysteries of time, from the boundaries of the incredible to the borders of the impossible.” The movie version, which feature a much better Paul, is shorter by far (137 minutes v. 265), and thus can’t begin to explore the subtleties and complexities of Herbert’s novel. It’s confusing to me, but if you are a fan of the book, you might just like this one better.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

User rating 7.1/10, IMDB. OFCS #85. Directed by François Truffaut, based on Ray Bradbury’s book, and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. “When fireman of the future Montag comes home from a hard day of book burning, his wife is totally engrossed in a screen that fills a wall of the living room. Here she gets her entertainment and all the information the people in charge want anyone to know. A few days later Montag is intrigued by a woman he sees on the monorail who looks very much like his wife. But this woman’s eyes suggest that she has an active mind. She is a subversive, hoarding books. And he learns from her why books are so dangerous they have to be burned. People will want to think for themselves.” Dale O’Connor, IMDB

“What if you had no right to read?” This movie, while it has a discordant, jarring, dated ’60s soundtrack, and dated furnishings, clothes, make-up and hair, is still one of my favorite movies, perhaps because of its subject matter. The ending is truly a must-see for all book lovers – that people would go to such lengths to save a single book is truly a tribute to the power of the written word. Although later Bradbury states that the true purpose of the movie was not about book-burning or censorship, but instead about the power of television to take over lives. Since the wife is a “slave” to her wall-screen family, it’s clear that the movie uses TV to subdue the masses. But the movie was made in 1966, and the book was written in 1953, before the true advent of a TV in every home. His remarks about the power of TV were made in 2007, and his codas to the various editions of the book before that date suggest censorship was a prime concern then. “Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which ultimately leads to ignorance of total facts.

Bradbury has stated that the entirety of his novel was written in the basement of UCLA’s Powell library on a pay typewriter. His original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451was to show his great love for books and libraries. He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself.” See my earlier post on “Fahrenheit 451:…” (the film); (the book). There is also a new film version coming out in 2009.

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (2004)

The Peacekeeper Wars

User rating 8.1/10, IMDB. Saturns for Best Actress in TV, Best Actor in TV, and Best TV Presentation. Directed by Brian Hensen. Its a miniseries based on the TV series on SciFi Channel, intended to tie up loose ends after the show was cancelled in 2002, and starring Claudia Black and Ben Browder, who went on to the Stargate franchise on SciFi. “When a full-scale war is engaged by the evil Scarran Empire, the Peacekeeper Alliance has but one hope: reassemble human astronaut John Crichton, once sucked into the Peacekeeper galaxy through a wormhole. Crichton’s task: Get the entire Peacekeeper race to safety before the last war of an era brings an end to the universe.” smatthew-2, IMDB

“John Crichton may not have started the war – but only he can end it.” Since this is based on the show, the plot is too complex to sketch, and you really have to be a fan to watch it; although it can stand alone, you get much more out of it if you are knowledgeable about the Farsacpe mythos. Much like Firefly’s Serenity, this mini-series exists because of massive fan support. “Henson and others have attributed the return of Farscapeto the on-going campaign of fans. Fans mounted a massive letter, phone, e-mail, and advertisement campaign and hoped to pressure Sci-Fi into restoring the show or another, more financially solvent, network to take over.” Similar campaigns rage over the TV show Surface, and Invasion, as well as a few others.

Fountain, The (2206)

User rating 7.6/10, IMDB. Directed and written by Darren Aronofsky, and starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn. “Three stories – one each from the past, present, and future – about men in pursuit of eternity with their love. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with various trees, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree encapsulated within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that’s wrapped in a nebula; he seeks eternity with his love. The stories intersect and parallel; the quests fail and succeed.” jhailey, IMDB

“What If You Could Live Forever?” Originally set to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Pitt left, and production shut down for several years. It was revived with Jackman, and Weisz. “[It] follows three interwoven narratives that take place in the age of conquistadors, the modern-day period, and the far future. Jackman and Weisz’s romance exists in all three time periods. The Fountain explores the themes of love and mortality, drawing influences from Mayan mythology. The film is framed with visual language by using transition scenes, light, and shapes.” A visual stunning, but complex and at times confusing movie – I found it necessary to watch it several times in order to understand the interwoven themes fully.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

User rating 7.2/10, IMDB. It won the Saturn for Best Actor. Directed by Dean Parisot, and starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub, and Alan Rickman among others. “Eighteen years after their sci-fi adventure show “Galaxy Quest” was canceled, actors Jason Nesmith, Gwen DeMarco, Alexander Dane, Tommy Webber, and Fred Kwan are making appearances at sci-fi conventions and store openings in costume and character. They’re wallowing in despair and at each other’s throats until aliens known as Thermians arrive and, having mistaken the show for fact and consequently modeling their entire culture around it, take them into space to save them from the genocidal General Sarris and his armada.” Jeff Cross, IMDB

“The show has been cancelled…but the adventure is just beginning.” This classic and goofy send-up of the Star Trek franchise down to the Red Shirts is a hoot. Red shirts, for those of you who have managed to escape Star Trek’s reach, are those extras in the show, who have only first, last or no names, and are always the first ones to die. Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of “Guy” the Galaxy Quest character with no last name, who becomes convinced he is the first to die is spot-on. He eventually is given a last name to calm his fears. The movie is a must-see and must-have for all fans of the genre, who don’t mind poking a little fun at themselves. Tim Allen does William Shatner to a T.

Gattaca (1997)

User rating 7.7/10, IMDB. OFCS #52. Directed and written by Andrew Niccol, and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. “Vincent is one of the last “natural” babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. Myopic and due to die at 30, he has no chance of a career in a society that now discriminates against your genes, instead of your gender, race or religion. Going underground, he assumes the identity of Jerome, crippled in an accident, and achieves prominence in the Gattaca Corporation, where he is selected for his lifelong desire: a manned mission to Saturn. Constantly passing gene tests by diligently using samples of Jerome’s hair, skin, blood and urine, his now-perfect world is thrown into increasing desperation, his dream within reach, when the mission director is killed – and …. the police start to close in, with extra searches, and new gene tests. With the once-in-a-lifetime launch only days away, Vincent must avoid arousing suspicion, while passing the tests, evading the police, and not knowing whom he can trust… ” Cynan Rees, IMDB

“There Is No Gene For The Human Spirit.” This movie seems that it can’t be that old. It isn’t dated in the least, and is a great uplifting tale of one man’s quest to fulfill his dream, in a world ruled with an iron fist. Since he is inferior, he can’t do what he wants, but he finds a way around it, celebrating man’s ingenuity. A must-see, and a great movie.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The (2006)

User rating 6.6/10, IMDB. Directed by Garth Jennings and based on the book by Doug Admas. Starring Martin Freemna, Mos Def, Bill Nighy, and Sam Rockwell, among many others. “Waking up one morning, a British man named Arthur Dent awakes and find his house is going to be demolished. But for Arthur, the demolition of his house is only the beginning, Arthur’s friend eccentric Ford Prefect reveals to Earth that he is not human and he is a alien from a planet called Bettleguise and is a researcher of a electronic book called “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Ford saves Arthur when Earth is wiped out by the Vogons who have demolished the Earth to make way for a new intergalactic motorway. Embarking on a intergalactic adventure, Arthur and Ford are joined by two-headed former president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, intelligent human woman Trillian and Marvin, a depressed android, travels across the galaxy on-board Zaphod’s stolen spaceship “Heart of Gold”. Where they set out to discover the meaning of life and travel to the newly constructed Earth II, where Slartibartfast reveals the truth about the original Earth, that was destroyed by the Vogons.” Daniel Williamson, IMDB

“Don’t Panic.” “The movie begins with the narrator (voiced by Stephen Fry) explaining that dolphins, the second most-intelligent mammals on Earth (humans being the third and mice being the first), have been trying to warn mankind about the impending destruction of Earth. Their backflips and swimming patterns, according to the Guide, are their way of communicating with humans. Considering their mission a failure, the dolphins decide to leave, after passing their final message ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.'” That about sums up this wild ride through the galaxy. Based on the original book and then the TV series, this is a short version of what is really a complex, twisting journey through the Galaxy, and if anything, just remember “42.”; (the book); (the 1981 BBC cult classic TV series).

I, Robot (2004)

User rating 7.2/20, IMDB. Directed by Alex Proyas, and loosely based on the book by Isaac Asimov. Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, and Bruce Greenwood. “It’s the year 2035, and the community now has the help of robots. These robots have three laws integrated into their system. One, they cannot harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Two, they must do whatever they’re told by a human being as long as such orders don’t conflict with law one. Three, they have to defend themselves as long as such defense doesn’t conflict with laws one or two. One day, the writer of the three laws, Alfred Lanning, apparently jumps out of the tenth-floor window of U.S. Robotics. The majority of the Chicago Police Department believe that he committed suicide, but Detective Del Spooner (Smith), who hates robots, thinks he was murdered, and the number one suspect is a Nestor Class-5 robot who calls himself Sonny. However, if it was Sonny, then that means he would’ve had to have broken the three laws. With the help of Dr. Susan Calvin, Spooner must now discover the truth before it’s too late.” Ridley Lavine, IMDB

“Laws are made to be broken.” This is a classic from the start. It has become my 14 yr old’s favorite movie, and she is picky. I too love the progress that Will Smith’s character makes as he progresses from skeptic to believer. The three laws of Robotics could have been given more screen time, since they are the heart and soul of the story, and a generation of SF writers have based their robots on those laws, and robotics engineers have too. However, “[t]he tone of the movie upset some fans of Asimov’s works, which are almost devoid of scenes of explicit violence. The movie is largely an action-oriented story, involving police and mobs fighting or evading hordes of rampaging robots. This “Frankenstein complex” or “robot as menace” type of story was something that Asimov disliked. Asimov’s robot stories, in contrast, were the first to treat robots as useful, exploring the effects they would have on lives and their interactions with people. Rarely do Asimov’s robots break the Three Laws (for instance, by harming a human being) and, if they do, they are generally rendered inoperable as a result.”

Asimov however saw the “need” for violence in what he called eye-science-fiction, or SF movies. “The purveyors of eye-sci-fi cannot assume that their audience knows anything about science, has any experience with the scientific imagination, or even has any interest in science fiction.

But, in that case, why should the purveyors of eye-sci-fi expect anyone to see the pictures? Because they intend to supply something that has no essential connection with science fiction, but that tens of millions of people are willing to pay money to see. What is that? Why, scenes of destruction.

You can have spaceships destroying spaceships, monsters destroying cities, comets destroying the Earth. These are called ‘special effects’ and it is what people go for. A piece of eye-sci-fi without destruction is, I think, almost unheard of. If such a thing were made, no one would go to see it; or, if it were so good that it would indeed pull a small audience, it would not be thought of as science fiction of any kind.”; (the original Isaac Asimov book); (the Three Laws of Robotics)

Island, The (2005)

User rating 6.9/10, IMDB. Directed by Michael Bay and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. “Lincoln Six-Echo is a resident of a seemingly Utopian but contained facility in the mid 21st century. Like all of the inhabitants of this carefully controlled environment, Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to the “The Island” – reportedly the last uncontaminated spot on the planet. But Lincoln soon discovers that everything about his existence is a lie. He and all of the other inhabitants of the facility are actually human clones. Lincoln makes a daring escape with a beautiful fellow resident named Jordan Two-Delta. Relentlessly pursued by the forces of the sinister institute that once housed them, Lincoln and Jordan engage in a race for their lives to literally meet their makers.” bondish, IMDB

“They don’t want you to know what you are.” This is a good, solid under-rated thriller SciFi movie. Nothing special, no super visual effects, no eye-popping violence or terror, just good suspense and thrills.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

User rating 4.7/10, IMDB. Directed by Robert Longo and based on a short story by William Gibson. Starring Keanu Reeves. “Johnny is a data trafficker who has an implant that allows him to securely store data too sensitive for regular computer networks. His brain can carry nearly 80 gigabytes worth of data, or 160 gigabytes if he uses a doubler. Johnny uses this implant to act as a courier between contracting parties. On one delivery run, he accepts a package that not only exceeds the implant’s safety limits (and will thus kill him if the data isn’t removed in time), but also proves to contain information far more important and valuable than he had ever imagined. He has to remove the data and avoid being killed by assassins sent after him by the company who owns the data.” Wikipedia

The hottest data on earth. In the coolest head in town.” This is classic cyberpunk. The movie, along with Blade Runner that best exemplified this sub-genre of SciFi. William Gibson’s short story provided the framework for this movie. It’s fast, furious, and dangerous. Packed with thrills, heart-stopping suspense, and the coolest tech imagined this side of the millennium. Must-have and must-see. Seriously under-rated. It’s dark, dystopian, but exciting and imaginative. “It portrays Gibson’s standard dystopian view of the future with the world dominated by large corporations and with strong East Asian influences. There is one major difference in the film and that is in inclusion of NAS. “Neural Attenuation Syndrome (NAS) is a fictional diseasein the film, which is not present in the short story. NAS, also called “the black shakes”, is caused by an overexposure to electromagnetic radiation from omnipresent technological devices, and is presented as a raging epidemic affecting the world in the future. The plot of the film revolves around the one pharmaceutical corporation that has found a cure but chooses to withhold it from the public in favor of a more lucrative treatment program.”; (the short story).

Jurassic Park (1993)

User rating 7.7/20, IMDB. OFCS #29. Won the Saturn for Best Director, Best Writing, and Best SF Film. Directed by Steven Spielberg, and based on the Michael Crichton novel. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Sir Richard Attenborough. “On a remote island, a wealthy entrepreneur secretly creates a theme park featuring living dinosaurs drawn from prehistoric DNA. Before opening the attraction to the public, he invites a top paleontologist, a paleobotanist, a mathematician/theorist, and his two eager grandchildren to experience the park — and help calm anxious investors. However, their park visit is anything but tranquil as the park’s security system breaks down, the prehistoric creatures break out, and the excitement builds to surprising results.” Richard Lynch, IMDB

“An Adventure 65 Million Years In The Making.” This is THE dinosaur, lost island adventure. We took our oldest daughter to it when she was six. She was terrified that the dinosaurs were real. I spent several hours that night, calming her down, explaining about special effects, and how they made the movie, etc. Eventually she began to creep down the stairs to watch bits when it came out on VHS and finally became one of it’s biggest fans, and collected all the figurines and sets; it’s still a family favorite, along with Lost World: Jurassic Park II, and Jurassic Park III. Supposedly, Jurassic Park IV is scheduled for release in 2009 (which looks right now, if they stay on schedule, which might be a problem with the strike, to be a banner year for SciFi).

See Part III for more of the DVD collection…


2 responses to “SciFi movie night 2 – get your popcorn while it’s hot!

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