SciFi movie night 4 (final!) – get your popcorn while it’s hot!

Here’s the Final chapter in my exploration of my SciFi DVD collection. As before, the films listed are from my personal collection of DVDs. More lists from VHS, post-apocalyptics, Fantasy, and Kids/anime/animation will be forthcoming. The Saturn Award (for Best Feature Presentation) is from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, and the OFCS rating is from the Online Film Critics Society,

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

User rating 6.4/10. Directed by Kerry Konran, and starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Gambon, Giovanni Ribisi, Angelina Jolie and Sir Laurence Olivier. “In 1939, an intrepid reporter in New York City makes a connection between the story she’s covering– of famous scientists suddenly disappearing around the world, and a recent attack on the city by giant robots. Determined to find the solution to these happenings, she seeks the help of her ex-boyfriend, the captain of a mercenary legion of pilots. The two are investigating the case when the robots attack the city again, though in a stroke of luck, Sky Captain’s right hand man is able to locate their source. They then set off on an adventure in search of the evil mastermind behind these schemes, who is bent on creating a utopia and destroying the current world.” Apster, IMDB

“The Battle for Tomorrow is About to Begin…” Set in an alternative history 1939, it is notable for being the fist film to be on a digital backlot, blending live actors with computer generated backgrounds. A pulp-action adventure, much in the style of Star Trek: Voyager‘s Lt. Tom Paris’ Captain Proton adventures, but with more style, and updated for better adventure. It draws on the serials of the 30s. Definitely out-of-the-box style film, it’s fun, and due a screening.

Sound of Thunder (2005)

User rating 4.0/10, IMDB. Directed by Peter Hyams, based on a Ray Bradbury short story, and starring Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, Ben Kingsley, and Jemima Rooper. “According to the film, the established rules of time travel are:

  1. Don’t bring anything back.
  2. Don’t leave anything behind.
  3. Don’t change anything in the past.

These rules were established by a businessman who has recently developed a service, based around a newly invented time machine, which offers prehistoric safari trips to wealthy hunters. Travis Ryer has been trained to lead these safaris. On one of these time-safaris, the guides are escorting two men along a path. They are attacked by an Allosaurus and the leader’s gun fails, so the allosaurus does not die when it was scheduled to do so–thus breaking one of the rules of time travel.

Panicked by the attack, one of the explorers steps off the path in an attempt to ensure his own safety. The guides exchange gun parts with another gun, kill the allosaurus and return through the time portal. Unseen to the explorers, a muddy footprint has been left just off the path….Rand [the inventor of the business] does explain that since they altered something in the past, the future will proceed to change in a series of “time waves.” She says that the changes can’t all happen at once, and that they will proceed in order of evolution: first, everything will reset, then the vegetation will change, then wildlife, and finally humans.” Wikipedia

“Some Rules Should Never Be Broken.” While this film has a low user rating, and was critically panned, it suffered from production problems, and other set-backs. It is a decent look at the casual loop of time travel, such as was seen in The Butterfly Effect. Time travel is widely used, but the problems and instabilitesinherent in it’s use are rarely mentioned, much less explored. I feel this film deserves a higher viewer rating, and I would give it at least a 6 to 7. My children liked it o, and they are not fools.

Space Station (IMAX) (2002)

User rating 7.3/10, IMDB. Produced and Directed by Toni Myers and narrated by Tom Cruise. “As astoundingly beautiful as it is technically dazzling, SPACE STATION is the first-ever IMAX 3D space film. Audiences will travel 220 miles above Earth at 17,500 mph to experience SPACE STATION – the greatest engineering feat since landing a man on the Moon.

SPACE STATION is the story of this unique partnership of 16 nations building a laboratory in outer space — a permanent facility for the study of the effects of long-duration exposure to zero gravity and the necessary first step towards the global co-operative effort needed if man is to someday set foot on Mars. It is a story of challenges, setbacks and triumphs…and ultimately, the shared international victory of men and women whose dreams exceed the limits of life on this Earth.”

“A Select Few Have Been Aboard… Now It’s Your Turn!” This show, originally shown in 3-D in IMAX theaters, is a film presented by Lockheed Martin in cooperation with NASA. The shows details many of the experiments in this “high-flying laboratory.” It includes glimpses of in-orbit construction, and the daily lives of crew members, such as drinking water right from the air in the zero G environment. Great for any armchair traveller who likes a deep-space adventure, and educational for the whole family. A must for any serious SF collector, as it’s one of the few documentaries, along with An Elegant Universe, available to the general public.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

User rating 7.7/10, IMDB. OFCS #30. Won the Saturn for Best Actor (Shatner) and Best Director. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, and starring William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley, and the rest of the crew. “It is the 23rd Century. The Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise is on routine training maneuvers, and Admiral James T. Kirk seems resigned to the fact that this may well be the last space mission of his career. But Khan is back. Aided by his exiled band of genetic supermen, Khan–brilliant renegade of 20th Century Earth–has raided Space Station Regula One, stolen a top secret device called Project Genesis, wrested control of another Federation starship, and now schemes to set a most deadly trap for his old enemy Kirk . . . with the threat of a universal Armageddon!” Robert Lynch,IMDB

“At the end of the universe lies the beginning of vengeance.” This is MY personal favorite of all the Star Trek movie, followed by it’s sequel in the three story arc, Star Trek II: The Search for Spock, and then my 3rd favorite, the final chapter, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The last is the one that pokes the most fun at itself. The third Star Trek movie is the most serious, given it’s subject matter, and this one, the most sheer fun! For any trekkie, large and small, old and young, this is THE one to watch. Although there was much speculation about Montalban having a prosthetic chest to give him that incredible muscular look, in his 60s he was fit and trim, and the director, Montalban himself, and the production crew all insist it was real – if so, one can only sigh…Supposedly Montalban took a reduction in pay in order to do Khan again, a character he favored. It is one of the most memorable roles in the Star Trek mythos. I was in the dentist’s office with my youngest, and the dentist, also an oral surgeon who works with my ex, an anesthesiologist, told me they had gotten into a Star Trek trivia contest during an operation recently and that my ex beat him hands down – that’s because of all those years, with only a few channels, and nothing but Star Trek re-runs. Have fun with this one, but be sure to get them all. They provide a complete story arc, and watch for the latest, entitled simply Star Trek, about the young Spock, coming out this year (see SciFI movies of 2008 post).

Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1997)

User rating 8.8/10, IMDB. OFCS # 3. It won the Saturn for Best Film, as well as numerous awards for effects, writing and acting, and won a number of Oscars for the same. It lost Best Picture to Annie Hall. Listed by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the 15th greatest film of all time, and the quote, “may the force be with you” is the 8th greatest. Directed and written by George Lucas, and starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guiness, and James Earl Jones. “In a distant galaxy eons before the creation of the mythical planet known as Earth, vast civilizations have evolved, and ruling the galaxy is an interstellar Empire created from the ruins of an Old Republic that held sway for generations. It is a time of civil war, as solar systems have broken away from the Empire and are waging a war of rebellion. During a recent battle technical schematics for a gigantic space station, code named The Death Star, have been unearthed by Rebel spies, and a young woman who is a dissident member of the Imperial Senate, under the cover of a diplomatic mission to the planet Alderaan, is trying to smuggle these plans to the Rebellion. But her spacecraft is attacked by a vast warship of the Empire and seized. The dissident Senator is captured, but the plans for the Death Star are nowhere to be found. While soldiers of the Empire search the nearby planet Tatooine, a series of incidents sweeps up a young desert farmer with dreams of being a fighter pilot in the Rebellion, as he winds up with the Death Star plans and also the assistance of an elderly hermit who once served as a warrior of an ancient order whose chosen weapons were powerful energy swords known as light sabers. The pair recruit a cynical interstellar smuggler and his outsized alien copilot with an ancient freighter heavily modified for combat to help them reach Alderaan – but the planet is obliterated and now the foursome must rescue the young woman held prisoner by the Empire and lead an attack by the Rebellion against the Death Star before it can annihilate all hope of restoring freedom to the galaxy.” Michael Daly, IMDB

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… ” One of the most memorable opening lines in the history of film, this is THE SciF movie of it’s generation, and of the century. It was exploded across the screen like a bat out of hell, and into our collective consciousness, and left you breathless and sitting, literally! on the edge of your seat. The first to use Dolby Surround Sound to it’s fullest, and the infamous special effects from Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (created just for this film, and using Adobe PhotoShop, created by designers (later to work for ILM) in the 1980s), it was the only film in its class. Where were you! when you first saw it. If you’re reading this, I bet you remember. I was in my first year of college in the Twin Cities, and I got a call from my parents, who had just seen “this incredible” movie on opening night. Minneapolis/St. Paul was one of the few cities that got the early opening date on it. They called and told me to get over to the theatre the next day. I stood in line for about an hour with my friend, for an afternoon matinee, and still we barely made it in, being one of the last. We had to split up, and as I sat there in the dark, and the first fighters zoomed in from what seemed just over my head, all my childhood readings of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke came to life, and I KNEW that this was what I loved – space and all it’s glories. Over 30 years later, it’s still a passion for me. Although everyone has seen it, I included it still, as it is iconic, and provides the mythos for our time. I believe I have an earlier post on the Power of Myth and Star Trek. If not, I’ll post one, since I have it somewhere else.;

Stargate (1994)

User ratings, 6.6/10, IMDB. Direct by Roland Emmerich, and starring Kirk Russell and James Spader. “Egyptologist Daniel Jackson is brought to an underground military base where he decodes the symbols on Egyptian cover stones as star constellations. That allows a alien device known as the Stargate to be opened and a team led by Air Force Colonel Jack’ O’ Neil and Jackson to travel across the known universe to a distant planet. Arriving on the planet, they find a culture ruled by someone pretending to be the Egyptian sun god Ra. Soon, Ra captures the team and takes control of a nuclear weapon brought to the planet in case of the discovery of hostile aliens. Jackson and O’Neil escape and must fight Ra and his army of warriors to save Earth from being destroyed by Ra.” timdalton007, IMDB

“It Will Take You A Million Light Years From Home, But Will It Bring You Back?” This is the movie that started the whole Stargate franchise – the TV shows: Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, and a new one tentatively scheduled for 2008 Stargate Universe, as well as an animated series, comic books, trading cards, games, and fanfic. While it was generally critically panned, it was a box-office success, and was an instant “camp” clasic. Millions will secretly reveal a love of Stargate, but would never publicly admit it. The concepts of the show, and some of the major plot elements were changed in the TV show and subsequent franchising. Originally there were to be three movies, but the producers moved on to Independence Day instead. I enjoy the movie, particularly James Spader, who usually plays creeps, and here plays a dweeb. Fun for all, with an interesting back story and mythology, centering around the Egyptian one.; (franchise); (official site)

Starship Troopers (1997)

User rating 6.9/10, IMDB. OFCS #62. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, based on the book by Robert Heinlein, and starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, and Dina Meyer. “The time is the future. Johnny Rico joins the military after graduation to become a citizen and for the love of his high school sweetheart. In the war against the bug aliens of Klendathu, the military is a very dangerous place to be. Johnny works his way through several battles and with the help of his friends and comrades, helps turn the tide of the war, and save the human race.” IMDB

“The only good bug is a dead bug.” In a sardonic use of war-effort propaganda vernacular, wholesome young Earth people are drafted by their government’s media machine into a jingoistic invasion of a neighboring planetary system… ,” IMDB. This movie, while on the surface a cheesy bug squashing flick, has a subtle anti-war propaganda underneath. The heroes/heroines (no gender roles here) are heroic, valiant, and with some moral conflicts. It’s fun on the surface – what could be better than an evening watching gorgeous young people battle big bugs!

Stealth (2005)

User rating 4.8/10, IMDB. Directed by Rob Cohen, and starring Jessica Beil, Josh Lucas, and Jamie Foxx. “In the near future, the Navy develops a fighter jet piloted by an artificial intelligence computer. The jet is placed on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to learn combat manuevers from the human pilots aboard. But when the computer develops a mind of its own, it’s the humans who are charged with stopping it before it incites a war… ” IMDB

“Fear The Sky.” This basic humans vs. machines movie is an easy night at the movies – place it with Starship Troopers, or one of the other basic, non-thinking fun ones, and you have a night. There’s not much to it, but I thnk the low user rating doesn’t do it justice. It’s what it is – a basic, solid, man versus machine movie. Nothing more, and it isn’t out to be, an important distinction to me. If a movie purports to be more than it is, then I’m disappointed. But if it sells itself as just what it is, then I’m fine with that, and will enjoy it on that level.;

Terminator, The (1984)

User rating 8.0/10. OFCS # 16 (T2is #15). Won the Saturn. Directed and written by James Cameron, and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. “In the future, Skynet, a computer system fights a losing war against the humans who built it and who it nearly exterminated. Just before being destroyed, Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah, the mother to be of John Connor, the Leader of the human resistance. The terminator can pass for human, is nearly indestructible, and has only one mission, killing Sarah Connor. One soldier is sent back to protect her from the killing machine. He must find Sarah before the Terminator can carry out it’s mission.” John Vogel, IMDB

“The thing that won’t die, in the nightmare that won’t end.” Using the major tagline: “In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created ‘THE TERMINATOR,” they said it all. This is the SciFi movie that non-SciFi viewers want to watch, along with Star Wars. In 1984, it seemed like the coolest movie on the planet, with Arnold’s infamous line – “I’ll be back!” resonating from everywhere you went. It was iconic, and had a darn good story-line, that continued through two more movies, a fourth in the works, and the current TV show on the middle years of John Connor. It’s worth it for the special effects, and the heart-stopping suspense when you realize he WILL NOT DIE!. The effects got better in the sequels, but that first thrill was gone – you know they can be killed – it just takes extra effort. The addition in the 2nd sequel of the advanced robot that can change shape and morph into anyone is eerie, and the best innovation for the franchise. Although I have all three, I chose the first one, to shorten the list. Get some popcorn, and sit back, and relive the thrill.;

THX 1138 (1971)

User rating 6.8/10, IMDB. OFCS #86. Directed and written by George Lucas, this was his first feature film. “The human race has been relocated to a underground city located beneath the Earth’s surface. In the underground city, the population are entertained by holographic TV which broadcasts sex and violence and robotic police force enforces the law. In the underground city, society controls all life, all citizens are drugged to control their emotions and their behavior and sex is a crime. Factory worker THX-1138 stops taking the drugs and he breaks the law when he finds himself falling in love with his room-mate LUH 3417 and is imprisoned when LUH 3417 is pregnant. Escaping from jail with illegal programmer SEN 5241 and a hologram named SRT, THX 1138 goes in search of LUH 3417 and escape to the surface, whilst being pursued by robotic policemen.” Daniel Williamson, IMDB

“Visit the future where love is the ultimate crime.” THX 1138 “depicts an Orwellian future, featuring three residents of a dystopia in which a high level of control is exerted upon the populace through ever-present faceless, android police officers and mandatory, regulated use of special drugs to suppress emotion, including sexual desire.

It was the first feature-length film directed by Lucas, and a more developed, feature-length version of his student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which he made in 1967 while attending the University of Southern California, based on a one and a quarter page treatment of an idea by Matthew Robbins.

THX 1138 shares themes with The Machine Stops, Anthem, Brave New World, [and] Nineteen Eighty-Four… A novelization by Ben Bova was published in 1971.” Normally novelizations are throwaways, but Bova is a top-notch SF writer. It is a bare, stark film, with the usual dystopian features – in some ways it reminded me of The Island, with Ewan McGregor.;

War of the Worlds (2005)

User rating 6.6/10, IMDB. Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book by H.G. Wells, and starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. “Ray Ferrier is a working class man living in New Jersey. He’s estranged from his family, his life isn’t in order, and he’s too caught up with himself. But the unthinkable and, ultimately, the unexpected happens to him in an extraordinary sense. His small town life is shaken violently by the arrival of destructive intruders: Aliens which have come en masse to destroy Earth. As they plow through the country in a wave of mass destruction and violence, Ray must come to the defense of his children. As the world must fend for itself by a new and very advanced enemy not of this world, its inhabitants must save humanity from a far greater force that threatens to destroy it.” mystic80, IMDB

“This Summer, the last war on Earth won’t be started by humans.” This is worth more that the user rating, IMO. It is a great visually exciting, with great special effect alien invaders movie. Independence Daywithout the humor. It had a high budget, and was well received by critics and by viewers at the box office. Other sites, like Rotten Tomatoes give it a higher rating. One of the problems was that Cruise had hired a new publicity agent, and much of the publicity surrounding the film centered on Scientology (see my earlier post: Tom Cruise: Guru or Goner), and his upcoming marriage to Katie Holmes. I enjoyed the movie, and Dakota Fanning played her cute, terrified little girl in best form. Tom Cruise was fairly unCruise-like, and the supporting cast was reasonably strong. Good solid adaptation of the book, although there are some differences, namely the time (present vs. 1898), the fact that the hero was a married father of two, with a different perspective and motives, and the fact that the aliens landed on earth in the book, while in the film, they were buried long in the distant past and awoken by lightening bolts, a plot device never fully explained in the film, but perhaps a later director’s cut or expanded edition may clear this up.

The biggest change was in the origins of the aliens: “The film never says where the aliens are from, unlike the book, where they are from Mars; in 1898, when the book was written, the possibility of life on Mars was considered realistic. This difference in origin shrouds the motive for the attacks on the Earth. In the book, the Martians are escaping from their dissipated planet, searching for a place to continue their civilization, rather than the “extermination” explanation given by a character in the film.”;

H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (2005 DVD)

User rating 3.3/10 (few ratings though), IMDB. Directed by David Michael Lat, and starring C. Thomas Howell, Peter Greene, and Jake Busey. A direct to DVD release, one day before Spielberg’s film was released, it never had the following of a big-screen one with a big-name actor.

“The Invasion Has Already Begun”

Changes: “Most notable is that the tripods have been changed to six-legged crab-like machines called “walkers” (a conception that mainly stems from allowing the effects team creative freedom).

The aliens are indeed Martians (though the film never states this, but this is confirmed by Latt complete with an opening credit sequence over shots of the Red Planet’s landscape), but bear almost no visual resemblance to their novel’s counterparts. Whereas Wells described his invaders as bear-sized tentacle creatures, the film’s Martians are insect-like in their appearance with four legs. These aliens also have the ability to spit acid, which melts entirely anyone who is unfortunate enough to be attacked. They also have an appetite for humans as in the novel. In terms of their military action: the war machines are not tripods, but huge resemblances of the creatures themselves with six legs. By all accounts, their fighting machines do not appear to have heavy protection against modern human artillery, leaving their ability to effectively crush resistance unexplained. The aliens do have a substance vaguely similar to the black smoke, which they distribute in shells of some kind, but is more of a green colored gas with a notable inability to rise above ground level due to a similar density, allowing the characters to escape by getting to high places.

The protagonist of the film is named George Herbert, an obvious reference to H. G. Wells. Rather than being a writer, as in the novel, he is an astronomer, perhaps in reference to the character of Ogilvy – in a related deviation, the film does not attempt the voice-over narration that accompanies other versions of the story. Despite these differences, George nevertheless goes through much of what befalls the novel’s protagonist, even up to preparing to sacrifice himself to the Martians, only for them to drop dead of infection before he has to do so. He is also separated from his wife and son with whom he tries to reunite once the invasion begins, and, like the novel, she and their son are alive in the conclusion. George’s brother, a ranger, is less fortunate; he is seen only briefly, after being fatally wounded in the trail of destruction left by the invaders. A major deviation from the text is that the protagonist actually tries to produce a means of stopping the Martians, but the film does not elaborate on whether their eventual downfall is due to these efforts, or whether their deaths simply coincided with his efforts.”

H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (2005 film)

User rating 2.9/10, IMDB. Directed by Timothy Hines, and starring Anthony Piana, Jack Clay, and James Lathrop. “This version was produced by the independent film production company Pendragon Pictures and is distinguishable from the other film adaptations of the novel in that it is not a contemporary retelling, but rather set in the book’s original time period and location. It is also the first film adaptation to be set in the United Kingdom as opposed to the more popular setting of the United States.” Plagued by production problems, and dating back to 2000 as a project. Originally the director wanted to set it in Well’s time, and be faithful to the book, but plans changed, a cast was being put together and the film was just starting production when 9/11 derailed it. Afterwards, the director changed plans again, went back to the original setting and faithfulness to the book, put a new cast together and secretly shot the film. Released only in the U.S. Critically panned for poor special effects, but noted for it’s “faithfulness” to the book. I do not own this movie, and wasn’t aware of it’s existence until I started adding the other two. A film fest of all three 2005 versions, along with the 1953 version, and perhaps the Orson Wells radio narrative would make a fine showing.;

User rating 7.2/10, IMDB. OFCS #48. 1953 version starring Gene Bary and Ann Robinson, and produced by George Pál, and directed by Barré Lyndon.;; (book)

Illustration from the 1906 French version of the book.

What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole (2006) – Also known as “What the Bleep Do We Know?”

User rating 5.8/10, IMDB. Directed by William Antz and Betsy Chasse, and starring Marlee Matlin. It “combines documentary interviews and a fictional narrative to posit a connection between science and spirituality.[1][2] Computer-animated graphics are featured heavily in the film. The film intersperses interviews about quantum physics and spirituality with the fictional story of a deaf photographer as she struggles with her life. The film employs a panel of interviewees who speculate about the impact of human consciousness on physics and chemistry. Many are affiliated with New Age organizations, and some hold academic degrees.

Among the New Age spiritual community, the film was well received. Members of the scientific community have criticized the film for promulgating pseudoscience. The film presents many ideas which are not supported by science, such as that consciousness and quantum mechanics are related, and that ice crystals can be influenced by thought.[3][4][5] Physicist David Albert, who was interviewed for the film, has accused the filmmakers of selectively editing his interview to make it appear that he agrees with the ideas presented in the film.”

“The next evolution in the ‘bleep’ experience.” See what you will from it, at least it introduces some scientific ideas into a world void of them. It is a hit in the new age world (my ex’s wife loves it, and so does he, having embraced her way of life and attitudes), but hard-core scientists pan it. I think my view falls in the middle – interesting concepts and visual effects, presented in a way that eases them into the conscious mind. It’s worth the time, even if you aren’t New Age, but just an ordinary person, interested in new ideas, and the possibilities that quantum physics MAY hold.;

So, this is the last of the DVDs. If your favorite wasn’t here -then wait until the next list. Many more will be coming – It’s what I love…


Comments are closed.