SF Movies You (Probably) Haven’t Seen
There are many different lists of SF Movies that can be found on the Internet, or even using the search feature here on the big SFS. Most of these lists are someone’s TOP X (where x is anywhere from 10 – 100+) movies. They could be “Best SF”, “Most Overrated”, “Most Underrated”, and so on. So we (ok me) decided to do something a little different. There are a lot of movies available and not enough time to watch them all. Knowing this, I asked the guys here what they thought were some good SF movies they’ve seen that most people probably haven’t. Hence the title of this post.
Apparently this question was a little too confusing for John who wondered how was he supposed to know what movies somone else has seen. I don’t believe John as really gotten past his anal fixation on over-analyizing the question, but he did manage to contribute to the list. We’re not going “Top X-number of Movies” here, we’re just suggesting some movies that we’ve seen and liked and think you, our readers, may too. We’re also not suggesting that the movies listed are great cinema and must be part of every “Top SF Movie” list. No. We are saying, though, that these movies are entertaining and will appeal to fans of SF everywhere. So, without further ado, our list.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – Its a film by the Japanese director of Ghost in the Shell and shot in Poland, with Polish actors and done with Polish dialogue. Released in the US on DVD. Unless you live in Poland, or are a big Mamory Oshii fan, you never heard of this film.
What It’s About – A thematic follow on to Ghost in the Shell. Oshii continues to explore the themes of reality vs. virtuality and what it means to be alive. A thinking person’s Matrix without the mind-numbingly indirect pronouncements from the Oracle.
Why You Might Like It – Precisely because it isn’t the Matrix. Avalon, while containing a few action scenes, is not about action over substance. We see the overwhelming drabness, mundanity and, yes, staticness inherant in Ash’s (the central character) life. The online game of ‘Avalon’ provides a way out, if only temporary. But what if there’s more? If there was a way to leave your body behind for a ‘better’ life, would you? And whose to say what is real and what isn’t? All these questions are asked, but not necessarily answered. The viewer is left to interpret the ending as they see fit. Those intrepretations may say more about the individual than about the movie itself. Also, the ‘Avalon’ aria written specifically for this movie is quite stunning and haunting. And I (JP) don’t even like opera.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – Equilibrium came and went in 2002 so fast if you blinked, you missed it. I had never even heard of it until I ran across it on IMDB. Not even Boromir, I mean Sean Bean, could bring attention to this film. Which is a shame.
What It’s About – In the future, emotions have been outlawed and humanity as a whole lives under the thumb of a repressive, totalitarian regime. Prozium is taken daily by everyone to ensure their emotionless state. Clerics are used to round up and eliminate those people who decide to experience emotions and stop taking their drugs. John Preston, Cleric, decides to forgo his pills and experience how man used to live.
Why You Might Like It – This one has lots of action in it. Specifically, tons of ‘gunkata’, which is basically a form of hand-to-hand combat, only with guns. The Clerics are masters of this and there are several really cool battle scenes, including one reminiscent of the lobby fight scene in The Matrix. In effect, a thinking man’s action movie. There is quite a bit of discussion concerning human emotions, why they may be bad, and why the nation of Libria was formed. Is it better to live in a repressive, but safe, environment, free of emotions or to feel as nature intended but to be chained to our emotions? I think you can guess what the main character decides, but the whole movie is quite entertaining and the story never got in the way of the action. It only served to enhance it.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – Basically because it never, as far as I know, ever got a U.S. release (I know there are people who read this blog who aren’t in the States. Aside from Japan, I’m not sure where else it was released.). Castle in the Sky is a Japanese anime film from the master animator, Hayao Miyazaki. It only got ‘widespread’ notice when it was released on DVD by Disney with their pact with Miyazaki’s studio, Studio Ghibli.
What It’s About – A young girl, Sheeta, holds the key to the mysterious ‘Castle in the Sky’, known as Laputa/Raputa. (That’s the whole L/R thing that many Asian languages share. As my brother said: “The midnight fright to Singapole” problem.) Sheeta is aided in her quest by a young boy Pazu. Together with a band of friendly air pirates, they race the evil Col. Muska (voiced by Mark Hamil! doing a Joker imitation), to discover L/Raputa and unlock its secrets.
Why You Might Like It – Castle in the Sky is basically a rollicking adventure tale filled with sympathetic heroes, bad temeperd villains with delusions of grandeur, pirates with hearts of gold, giant airships, flying castles, and robots. There’s really no message that Miyazaki is hammering home. Just a good old fashioned romp from beginning to end. Enjoy it.
Kevin’s Take (Edited a bit to remove potetntial plot spoilage and to remove names to protect the innocent. – Ed.) – I would take Castle in the Sky off the list, or at least mention that it’s the weakest of the Miyazaki films on the list. I would hate for people to watch this one and not care for it enough to watch ‘Spirited’ or ‘Princess’. We watched the movie as a family and pretty much agreed that it wasn’t nearly as fun to watch as ‘Spirited’ (the rest of the family hasn’t seen ‘Princess’). My son wanted to leave toward the end.
Granted, the animation is tremendous, but I think the film overall wasn’t as strong. First, it was more of a children’s film than ‘Princess’ or ‘Spirited’, which isn’t in itself bad, but I wouldn’t put ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ on the list for that same reason. Second, it didn’t have as many creative and inventive ideas as the other films. And as I mentioned above, it kind of started dragging just a bit at the end.
I am overall very glad I watched it (I’d give it 4 stars), and still think of Miyazaki as the finest director of anime that I’m aware of, but I would leave it off this list. (Now you know why we didn’t let Kevin write up the list! – Ed.)
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – The second film on this list by Hayao Miyazaki, who, I’m willing to bet, you never heard of until now. It did receive a limited release, mostly to art house theaters, in the US and even though Gillian Anderson did voice one of the characters, I’d bet most X-Files fanboys never heard of it either.
What It’s About – Ashitaka prince of his people, becomes infected with a curse/plague by the turned-to-evil Boar God (and what a mess that guy was). He must journey far away in search of a cure from the Deer God. Along the way, he meets Princess Mononoke. Together, they become embroiled in a war for the very existence of the Forest. Princess Mononoke is straight fantasy and involves a lot of Japanese mythological creatures. Which is cool.
Why You Might Like It – There is a definate man vs. nature theme going on here, but Miyazaki doesn’t play it like you’d expect. The resoultion was much more even handed that I expected, which raised the bar in my estimation. Also, there is a lot of violence in this movie. Assorted limbs and the occasional head get lopped of with regularity. This is not a kid movie in any way. That said, the motives for each side are clear and most of the characters have some sympathetic qualities to them. That combined with the ending make Princess Mononoke a thoughtful and entertaining film.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – Spirited Away creates the hat-trick for Hayao Miyazaki, at least as far as this list is concerned. It never received a wide release in the US either, but it did make the art house theater rounds and I do remember seeing it in the paper. It is also the last Miyazaki film to make to the US, but more are on the way.
What It’s About – Chihiro’s father has taken a new job in another town. The family must pack up everything and move, and Chihiro is forced to say goodbye to her friends. On the way to their new house, Chihiro’s dad takes a detour and they end up at a deserted ‘theme park’. They enter the park to investigate. As night falls, Chihiro’s parents partake of food that has mysteriously appeared and Chihiro herself investigates the many buidlings. That’s when the park comes alive. Her parents are transformed into pigs and Chihiro is forced to enter the employ of a Japanese bath house for the spirit world, located in the park, in order to save herself and her parents.
Why You Might Like It – Spirited Away is, at heart, a story of growing up and taking responsibility for yourself. The fact that it takes place in a magical setting chock-full of Japanese mythological and fokelorical creatures gives it a fantastical feel and sets it apart from any other film I’ve seen. From river dragon spirits to the omninous No Face demon, Spirited Away is a triumph of Miyazaki’s imagination. The story of Chihiro’s quest to re-connect with the ‘real’ world is also quite entertaining. It may not be action packed, but its certainly filled with wonder. A must see.
Scott’s Take: I enjoyed this film immensely due to the outstanding artwork and very interesting story. Yes, this film does come across as quite bizarre in places (although I might argue no more bizarre than talking toys or superheroes are to non-US denizens) but overall the fantasy works. It is a film you can watch with the whole family – my 4 year old really liked it, even if he didn’t understand lots of it.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – It was a low profile release that dealt with the hardcore sf theme of eugenics – the study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.
What It’s About – Set in a society where genetically engineered “Valids” are the cream of the crop and the naturally-born “In-Valids” are seen as lower class, Vincent (an In-Valid) poses as a Valid to fulfill his dream of space travel at the company named Gattaca (a made-up word using the letters of DNA base pairs: ATCG).
Why You Might Like It – The movie is a thought-provoking (especially in light of bio-ethics issues popularized after its 1997 release) thriller that is a perfect example of science fiction – it showcases an extrapolated scientific idea and examines its effect on society. The movie is just plain fun. And scenes are memorable, like when Vincent (Ethan Hawke) protects his identity by “contaminating” his keyboard with “Valid” skin samples taken from the disabled Valid (Jude Law) who is helping him. Uma Thurman stars as Vincet’s love interest.
Why You’ve Never Heard Of It – Seemed to come and go with little fanfare or with much audience attendance. While it explores similar themes to The Matrix, its been overshadowed by the latter’s preponderance of guns and martial arts.
What It’s About – John Murdoch wakes up one night in a bathtub, in a room containing a bloody corpse. He can’t remember how he got there or who the victim is. He quickly learns he is wanted by the police for a string of murders, none of which he remembers commiting and he believes he is not responsible for them. In addition, the shadowy group known as ‘The Strangers’ are also looking for him for reasons of their own. What follows is John’s attempt to learn what’s happened to his memory and uncover the secret behind the ‘Dark City’ in which they live.
Why You Might Like It – Yet another movie that deals with reality vs. perception, but in a very thoughtful and compelling manner. I can’t say too much for fear of giving the plot twists away, but I will say that the people involved are not part of a computer simulation. The title character is sympathetic and you can’t help but be drawn into his plight. Keiffer Sutherland plays a wormy scientific-type, but he also has an interesting part to play. The ultimate resolution leaves you with a lot to think about, and the final revalation as to what the Dark City is was unexpected. I would consider this movie to be better than The Matrix, a cult classic to be sure, and one you must see.
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