This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Amy Stewart.
The Fifth Element (1997)
Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Luc Besson
The 1990s saw a slew of big-budget science fiction films, and most of them were memorable but not fantastic. Independence Day and Judge Dredd come to mind. However, there would occasionally be a diamond in the rough. Demolition Man would be a campy favorite. Contact was a science fiction pic made for people desiring something more cerebral. And then we have The Fifth Element, a lavish indulgence of production design, eccentric characters, and space opera that never takes itself too seriously yet has so much heart. There are few films like it which is probably why The Fifth Element has endured in people’s memories. But, unfortunately, even the director failed to recapture the magic decades later.
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Sense8 Season 1 and 2 (2015-2018)
Written by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, J. Michael Straczynski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon
Directed by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue, and Dan Glass
Sense8 was one of those shows I missed out on when Netflix when it premiered in 2015. It had two seasons and got canceled due to its expensive budget since they filmed on location. I toyed with the idea of watching it for the longest time. Due to my lack of commitment to some things, I sometimes hesitate to go into things people love or find great comfort in. Word of mouth can be so grand that when you finally get you can feel like a jerk for perhaps not enjoying it as much as others do.
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Escape from New York (1981)
Written by John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Directed by John Carpenter
Our flashback to 1981 has come to a close with this film. Be on the lookout for a list of my favorite movies of 1981 tomorrow. For now, we bring things to a close with Escape from New York. Over the last year, I have expanded my viewings of John Carpenter movies quite a bit. I rewatched The Thing, a film I already love a lot. I also gave Halloween another chance and walked away, liking it a lot. Seeing it in the context as a slasher before that became such a dominant and overdone horror genre helped. I watched The Fog & They Live! for the first time and liked both of them. This was also my first viewing of Escape from New York, and…well, I think this is at the bottom of the list compared to the other movies personally.
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Written & Directed by Peter Hyams
In 1981, you might think the juggernaut of Star Wars had crushed any desire by Hollywood to make intelligent, more adult science fiction. Yet here comes Outland, a film set on a mining colony with a complete absence of aliens or space battles. Instead, writer-director Peter Hyams translates a plot commonly found in Westerns and places in outer space. The result is seamless, showing how timeless and transcendent certain narratives are. Hyams admitted he wanted to make a Western only, but the success and boom of the science fiction genre caused him to rethink the setting of his idea. He reasoned that the types of stories being told in the 1970s and early 80s were the same you found in Western just repurposed. Thus we get Outland which is High Noon on the moon of Io.
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Written & Directed by David Cronenberg
Over the last year, I have begun to go deeper with David Cronenberg’s work with Videodrome and The Fly. In previous years I’d seen films like Dead Ringers and Existenz. I’d also viewed some of his more recent movies like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg is one hell of a complex director to pin down. His early work is undoubtedly of the science fiction/horror genres, particularly pioneering body horror on film. More recently, he’s focused much more on the psychological elements of his stories forgoing the visceral & gory bits. Scanners is very much of that early period in his filmmaking days, interested in the evolution of humanity in the face of a more uncertain modern world where technology was digging in its talons.
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Written by Nathan Parker
Directed by Duncan Jones
As referred to previously, cinematic science fiction has a clear demarcation line as pre- and post-Star Wars. In making Moon, first-time feature director Duncan Jones was intent on creating a world that felt like those earlier films, making sure characters took precedence over special effects. You would be right to think the setting of Moon resembles Ridley Scott’s worlds from Alien and Blade Runner. This is a very industrial world; the shiny veneer of the future was worn off a long time ago. It also evokes that sense of loneliness I’ve mentioned when discussing The Man Who Fell to Earth and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jones is another filmmaker who sees space as a very vast and empty place.
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The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Written by Paul Mayersburg
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
The year before Star Wars was an important one for science fiction. Once George Lucas released his blockbuster science fantasy film, anything set in space or alien worlds would be changed forever. Three major science fiction films were released in 1976: Logan’s Run, Futureworld (the sequel to Westworld), and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Each movie represents a kind of science fiction story that didn’t see much traction in the 1980s, though DNA from the Westworld franchise can be seen in films like The Running Man and Jurassic Park. The Man Who Fell to Earth was made by a very esoteric filmmaker, Nicolas Roeg. For my Horror Masterworks in October 2020, I rewatched and reviewed his Don’t Look Now. This would be his fourth theatrical feature and become a cult classic like the rest of his work.
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Forbidden Planet (1955)
Written by Cyril Hume
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
I was utterly blown away by Forbidden Planet, which was helped because I went into my first viewing with pretty low expectations. I kept seeing the picture pop up on Best of Science Fiction lists, but from the images I’d seen, it looked like a collection of a lot of sci-fi cliches. I’d seen Robby the Robot in pop culture since I was a child and always associate him with The Robot from Lost in Space. Leslie Neilsen is the protagonist, and his association with comedy probably had me expecting something cheesier. What I was met with was a psychedelic powerhouse of a science fiction movie that certainly pushed the boundaries when it was released.
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Planet of the Apes (1968)
Written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Based on the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes, the movie goes in a very different direction while holding to some of the same basic themes & ideas. In the book, the story is told through the framing device of a couple vacationing in their space yacht coming across a transmission from a human soul who claims to have landed on a planet of apes. The film’s screenplay was penned by Rod Serling, the mind behind The Twilight Zone; however, he portrayed the apes as advanced in technology beyond modern-day humans. That was going to be cost-prohibitive. The script was rewritten by Michael Wilson, with the apes being framed in a smaller, more rustic society.
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Written by Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
As an adult, I have developed an entirely new appreciation for the work of Paul Verhoeven. He was born in The Netherlands but managed to create a framework for American action movies in the 1980s while simultaneously delivering brutal satire about the United States. Robocop was his second English language film and his first pass at skewering the direction of Reagan’s America. The result is a science fiction classic, a combination of themes from Frankenstein mixed with commentary on the rise in corporatization of the public sphere. It’s not as biting as Starship Troopers, but it is full of brilliant takes on the United States’ ease & comfort with war and violence.
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