Science Fiction Films: A Selection

An incomplete guide to some films I’ve seen recently

10 Cloverfield Lane

This is an alphabetical summary of some of the science fiction movies that I’ve seen recently:

10 Cloverfield Lane

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane is written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken, and Damien Chazelle. Dan Trachtenberg directs, and the cast includes John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr.
  • This is billed as a sequel to J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield (2008). Abrams is listed as a producer on 10 Cloverfield Lane and has confirmed that it is part of the Cloververse franchise of loosely connected stories.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane is more of a psychological thriller than a science fiction movie, three characters thrown together in unlikely circumstances and it takes a while before we can unravel exactly who is telling the truth. It’s the kind of story and setting that could easily work on stage as a play.
  • While the key plot points are fairly clearly signalled and spelled out, this is a well-crafted movie. Goodman is the big name actor, and he’s suitably creepy, but it’s Winstead’s character that successfully drives the momentum of the movie.
  • Accomplished film-making.

ARQ (2016)

  • Dystopian science-fiction written and directed by Tony Elliot.
  • The story revolves around Renton — an engineer whose invention causes time to loop during a home invasion. He attempts to save his former lover Hanna, while trying to unravel who has targeted him and why.
  • Cast: Robbie Amell as Renton; Rachael Taylor as Hannah; Shaun Benson as Sonny; Gran Powell as Father; Jacob Neayem as Brother; and Adam Butcher as Cuz,
  • In many ways it’s reminiscent of Source Code (2011) by Duncan Jones. Deliberately claustrophobic and cleverly layering clues and context as the fragmented memories overlay to reveal the story.
  • Surprisingly watchable.

Battlestar Galactica — Blood & Chrome (2012)

  • Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is a chapter within the Battlestar Galactica science fiction universe.
  • Produced as a ten-episode online series, it was also released in feature-length format. The intention was to expand production into a full series chronicling the early adventures of William Adama, but this did not go ahead.
  • Blood & Chrome is written by Michael Taylor and is directed by David Weddle.
  • Set in the tenth year of the first Cylon war, the story introduces us to William Adama — a young pilot just graduated from the military academy and assigned to Galactica, one of the most powerful battlestars in the fleet. In the Battlestar Galactica universe, this places the story between the series Caprica (which showed how the humans created the Cylons, and the Battlestar Galactica series which deals with the aftermath of the Cylons’ attack on the Twelve Colonies.
  • Luke Pasqualino plays Adama, Ben Cotton plays his co-pilot Coker, and Lili Bordan plays Dr Becca Kelly — the focus of their mission.
  • If you’re a fan of the Battlestar Galactica universe, then there’s plenty to enjoy here. For anyone else, it’s relatively simple to dive into the story and work out what’s going on (it’s exploring themes that we’re familiar with from Terminator). I would have loved for this to have gone into full series production.
  • Ultimately it’s a good sci-fi movie, but if that’s not your genre then you might struggle a little.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

  • From the house of Wachowski (who brought us the Matrix series) this is a movie with a big budget and a big cast — exploring the concept of past lives and human interconnectedness.
  • The cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant — all playing multiple characters throughout the ages.
  • I watched this on a Sunday night on the couch at Volleyball’s. It was one of his LoveFilm selections. He’d watched it once already but insisted that we watch it again as he loved it so much and “made him think”.
  • As the closing credits rolled, he turned to me expectantly and said:
    “So, what did you think of that?”
  • I quickly changed the subject as I didn’t want to be too critical. To be honest though this is a bit of a mess. A long, unwatchable mess. Best avoided.

Coherence (2013)

  • Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is a surprisingly good take on the science fiction theory of alternate realities.
  • The set-up is simple enough — a group of friends gather for dinner on a night when a comet is passing over Earth.
  • In his debut feature, Byrkit pulled together a cast of his friends and shot Coherence without a crew and without a script — each actor was given a page of notes each day with their back story or motivation for the scene being shot. As a result the movie (shot over five days in Byrkit’s house) has a very naturalistic feel to it, with much of the dialogue improvised.
  • It takes a little while to get your head around what’s going on, but this is worth watching.

Europa Report (2013)

  • Europa Report is a science fiction movie written by Philip Gelato and directed by Sebastián Cordero.
  • The story follows an international crew of astronauts who are undertaking a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon.
  • The cast includes: Anamaria Marinca; Michael Nyqvist; Karolina Wydra; Daniel Wu; Sharlto Copley; Christian Camargo; and Embeth Davidtz.
  • The structure of the movie is a found-footage reconstruction, following a non-linear narrative.
  • It’s claustrophobic and stylish, holding your attention right until the credits roll.

Gravity (2013)

  • Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity follows the fate of astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) who is the sole survivor of her space shuttle mission which is hit by space debris.
  • Once we *spoiler alert* lose fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) this is Bullock’s movie.
  • The effects in this film are stunning — Cuaron gives us big-screen film-making at its technical best.
  • While set in space, this is a story about human resilience.
  • Bullock is mesmerising.

Paralells (2015)

  • Written and directed by Christopher Leone, Parallels is a science-fiction adventure that sees estranged brother and sister — Ronan (Mark Hapka) and Beatrix (Jessica Rothe) — who, while searching for their missing father, discover a way of travelling between parallel universes or alternate realities.
  • It’s an interesting concept through which we get to explore some alternate versions of how earth’s history might have played out.
  • The cast give it plenty of energy and the action moves along swiftly, however the film raises lots of questions without really providing any answers. You’d have to assume that this is deliberate, perhaps pitching for a sequel, but ultimately what we’re left with is a movie that doesn’t make any sense and without any emotional in the characters or their fates.
  • There’s better science fiction movies out there.

Resident Evil — Afterlife (2010)

  • Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil: Afterlife is the fourth instalment in the Resident Evil series of films — built on the platforms of the video games franchise.
  • While technically impressive, with stunning 3D effects, this is strictly one for the fans as the plot makes little sense and generally feels a bit of an afterthought to piece together the various action sequences.
  • Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, and Wentworth Miller appears as Chris Redfield.
  • There are better ways to spend your time.

Skyline (2010)

  • Skyline is an alien invasion movie.
  • Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell, and directed by brothers Colin and Greg Strause, the story is set in Los Angeles where an alien force suddenly appears and begins abducting the entire population.
  • Starring Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, and Brittany Daniel, this is an effects-drive B-movie. None of it really makes much sense and the characters aren’t given enough depth for the audience to have any emotional investment in their fates.
  • There’s better alien invasion movies out there.

Super 8 (2011)

  • Released in 2011, Super 8 was clearly a project close to the heart of writer/director J.J. Abrams.
  • The movie tells the story of a group of young teenagers who are making a film but by accident record the derailment of a military train that results in the escape of a dangerous presence.
  • With its nostalgic tone and and clear affection for its characters and the genre, Abrams has delivered a very polished, watchable movie that keeps the pace up while slowly revealing the key elements of the mystery. The first half of the movie is particularly strong — Abrams expertly establishes his characters and builds the mystery that they have found themselves caught up in. Once the mystery is revealed it is harder to sustain the tension and avoid the cliches, but that’s always a challenge with this type of monster mystery movie.
  • Abrams draws strong performances from his predominantly young and predominantly unknown cast. Joel Courtney (as Joe Lamb) carries most of the emotion of the movie, while Elle Fanning (as Alice Dainard) lights up the screen in a way that demands attention.
  • The cast also includes: Jessica Tuck; Joel McKinnon Miller; Ryan Lee; Zach Mills; Riley Griffiths; Gabriel Basso; Kyle Chandler; Ron Eldard; and AJ Michalka.
  • Quality movie making.

The Great Wall (2016)

  • Directed by Zhang Yimou, from a screenplay by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy, this is a monster movie set in Ancient China.
  • It’s hard to see this film as anything other than a soulless attempt to cash in on the burgeoning Asian market for big budget Hollywood films with an Asian twist.
  • Matt Damon stars, the storyline is pretty basic and contains no complexity or depth, and even the effects and monster scenes feel pretty underwhelming.

The Phantom Menace (1999)

  • It’s hard to believe that it’s already 13 years since Episode 1 of Stars Wars was released.
  • At the time it was a bit bewildering and disappointing — detracting rather than adding to the mythical Star Wars universe.
  • It’s now back in cinemas with a 3D version (some say “enhanced movie experience”, some say “cheap marketing ploy to recycle sub-standard content”…).
  • To be frank I don’t think the 3D effects add that much. Jar Jar Binks is still one of the most annoying characters ever created and the whole thing feels a lot like “Muppets in Space”.
  • But I probably enjoyed The Phantom Menace more this time around — possibly because you have time to appreciate a bit more of the detail of the movie: Natalie Portman gets to wear some great outfits; Keira Knightly makes an appearance as the pretty decoy; Celia Imrie surprisingly pops up as a fighter pilot; Dominic West is a palace guard; Sofia Coppola is one of the Queen’s handmaidens; and gay comedian Scott Capurro makes an appearance as one half of a two-headed race commentator.
  • It’s the details people… it’s all about the details…
ARQ

Read more from Gareth Johnson