Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Top 20 science fiction movies: Part 2, #11-15

My Top 20 science fiction movies (continued)

15. Children of Men (2006)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Clive Owen impresses me every time I see him. He’s convincing when he plays in a drama, has good comic timing and doesn’t look out of place in action roles. Children of Men is set in the year 2027 and we quickly learn that the world’s youngest person has died. Think about that for a moment. What a strange thing to report. It’s unusual enough to grab your attention and make you realize that something is wrong in this version of the future. The problem is gradually revealed and we see that the world’s population is infertile and there hasn’t been a birth in 18 years. When Theo (Owen) is introduced to Kee, she shows him that she’s pregnant. The setting is Britain and it’s not a very safe place. Society has started to break down and it’s common to hear gunfire on the streets. Theo is charged with taking Kee to safety, and that means finding a boat to leave England. He’s helped by Jasper (Michael Caine) who is great in the role. It’s a gritty movie and reminds me of 28 Days Later and The Road. Director Alfonso Cuarón was responsible for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; arguably the strongest release in that franchise. He’s made another good movie here. 

Click here for my full review.

14. Source Code (2011)
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga

I’ll be writing a full review of Source Code when I receive my review copy in a couple of weeks. If you didn’t see it in theaters, there are spoilers ahead:

Source Code plays like a mystery, but there’s no shortage of action. Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is a soldier who wakes up in a chamber and doesn’t remember how he got there. A woman named Goodwin (Farmiga) appears on a screen and asks him what he remembers. He doesn’t remember much. Then we start to see what kind of ride we’re in for. Stevens suddenly inhabits the body of another man and he’s on a train. After eight minutes, the train explodes and he’s back in the chamber. This time he remembers more. We eventually find out that his task is to find out who was responsible for planting the bomb. He can keep going back, but only for eight minutes at a time. There’s also another deadline which I won’t mention here. The story is like a cross between Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap and it’s a great ride.

Click here for my full review.

13. Alien (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt

I included Alien in my Top 10 horror movies, but I can’t leave it off this list. Here are my previous comments:

Ridley Scott’s Alien was a sensation on its release in 1979. The setup looks like that of a traditional science fiction movie, but it evolves into a battle for survival. The crew of a mining ship encounters an abandoned ship and decides to investigate. Its origin clearly isn’t human. Those investigating are allowed back onto the ship without undergoing proper quarantine procedures and a life-form is inadvertently brought on board. The creature evolves fast, increasing in size and adapting to its situation quickly. It starts to pick off the crew. Who will survive and what will happen to the creature? The first hour is the strongest half of the story due to the air of mystery surrounding the derelict ship, but the second half is far from weak and contains most of the action. It’s a movie with a lot of replay value and was popular enough to spawn three more films in the series.

12. Dune (1984)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis and Max von Sydow

This is a controversial selection. Dune was the first science fiction novel I ever read and it’s a wonderful story. It’s also complex and far too long to comfortably fit into a two-hour movie. It really deserves the Lord of the Rings treatment and would have been better as a series of two or three movies. The special effects look pretty bad, especially during the concluding battle. But I’m a Lynch fan and there are a lot of things I enjoy. It’s enough for me to forgive the weaker aspects of the movie. Paul Atreides (MacLachlan) is forced to leave his home and live on a desert planet, Dune. The vast deserts are populated by the Fremen, who have adapted to the extreme climate. The deserts also contain worms which can be hundreds of yards long. It’s a harsh world. The story is a mix of politics and action, and is carried by an excellent cast. Maybe my mind fills in the gaps in the story because I have read the book, but I don’t think that the criticism is justified. There is an extended edition which Lynch disowned, but the regular version is the better movie.

11. The Abyss (1989)
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn

If you watch The Abyss, it’s worth seeing the 171-minute special edition which is more than 30 minutes longer than the theatrical release. It takes the story further and makes it a lot more interesting. The movie won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and was nominated in three other technical categories. Whatever you say about James Cameron, the man knows how to deliver movies with mass appeal. The acting usually isn’t the best, but The Abyss contains two very strong performances from Virgil (Harris) and Lindsey (Mastrantonio) who play the leads. Their mission is to investigate the crash of a nuclear submarine. What they find is totally new to science and doesn’t look like it could have originated on Earth. The special effects were ahead of their time and the Oscar was deserved. The story is gripping and Harris is at his best. The restored conclusion is satisfying and plausible, given the circumstances. I once watched the movie without sound and it still held my interest throughout. Just writing about it makes me want to watch it again, but I’ll try and hold out for a Blu-ray release.

Click here to see numbers 16-20 on the list.
Click here to see numbers 6-10 on the list.
Click here to see numbers 1-5 on the list. 

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