Sunday, July 01, 2007

SFX Best Ten SF movies - part 2

Continued from Part One:

#5 The Matrix might not have invented bullet-time, but it certainly popularized it, and rightly so. Unlike the sequels, The Matrix hadn't yet devolved into a computer game, nor was it drowning in Zen psycho-babble and Dickian mysteries, although the early warning signs of wankery were there. But it was visually impressive, had an exciting plot, and didn't let the Zen philosophy get in the way of a rollicking good story. My rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

#4 Planet of the Apes. I speak not of the recent remake, which was abominable and entirely without merit: the ridiculous interspecies marriages, the pointless and nonsensical "shock ending", the absurd battle scene where knuckle-walking gorillas out-raced horses. But the original was an entirely different thing. The shock ending of the original was, at the time, actually shocking and not just stupid. Viewed as a mere action SF movie, Planet of the Apes was quite good by the standards of the late sixties, and I believe it has held-up well even by today's standards. But it actually had something serious to say about humanity, self-destruction, and what it means to have the shoe on the other foot. Even after losing points for getting the psychology of the great apes so badly wrong (it should have been the chimpanzees who were the killers, and the gorillas the tree-hugging peace-nics) I give the movie a better-than-average rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

#3 Blade Runner is a movie that polarises both SF fans and critics into those who love it and those who hate it. If all you've seen is the Director's Cut, I can understand you hating it: Ridley Scott managed to take a movie already easy to dislike, and make it more pretentious, unengaging and confusing. I often say that unless you've seen the original, you won't be able to make head or tail of the Director's Cut. But the original is a spaceship of a different engine: although it is slow-paced and quite dark, it also has a harsh, dystopian beauty, and explores a number of literary themes. Being based on a Philip K Dick story, naturally it questions what it means to be human, but in this case it does it well, unlike (for example) the awful Screamers. The sound track, by Vangelis, is hauntingly beautiful, and the rooftop death-scene of the Replicant Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer), dying in the rain, is both haunting and wonderful. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

#2 Star Wars is one of the most loved and most viewed movies of all time, not just science fiction, but across all genres. It is a wonderful, innocent, rollicking good adventure -- more space opera than science fiction, but it did more than anything else before it to make science fiction acceptable to the mainstream. Yes, Star Trek may have paved the way, but Star Wars build an interstate superhighway. George Lucas virtually created modern special effects, and if some of the effects don't look quite so seamless in 2007 as they seemed in 1977 when we saw them for the first time, who cares? Star Wars was, when you get right down to it, merely Flash Gordon with state-of-the-art special effects and a marginally better script. The movie barely had an original line in it: Lucas copied, sometimes scene-for-scene and even word-for-word, from Japanese samurai movies, Flash Gordon serials, The Dam Busters, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and even Nazi propaganda films. But it was done with such panache and style, and it contained so many memorable characters, that the movie goes beyond its origins as a homage to the Saturday afternoon serials. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.

#1 If Star Wars invented the "used future" SF movie, Serenity made it real: You Will Believe A Spaceship Can Fly. Far from space opera, Serenity combined characters you can believe in and care for with a fantastic story. It contains Joss Whedon's trademarked clever use of language, humour, tragedy and action. I don't always agree with Orson Scott Card, but on this, I agree one hundred percent: Serenity is a great movie. It explores questions of sin and belief, paternalistic government, and the freedom to make choices, whether good or bad -- and without the over-powering shadow of Uncle God that too often gives inane answers to these questions. My rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

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