14 January 2013

Top 10 science fiction films of the 00s

Here are my favourite science fiction films of the previous decade, 2000-2009.

All the following is my own personal opinion, of course.


Dystopia is a common feature of science fiction books and films. "Children Of Men" (based on a novel by P.D. James) takes place in a world where women have become infertile and no children have been born for 18 years. A female refugee is entrusted into the care of Theo (Clive Owen) and then it's revealed that she is somehow pregnant. In a fractured, fascist Britain where gang violence and paramilitary bombings are common events, he has to try and get her to safety for the future of the human race.


Part romantic comedy, part drama, this film runs off the basic premise that our memories can be erased/replaced by simple medical procedures. Some of the visual effects are amazing, like a flashback/memory scene in a bookshop where titles disappear and lights turn off as the drugs take their effect. Director Michel Gondry uses a fair dose of practical effects to achieve movie magic as well, much as he did earlier in "The Science Of Sleep". This is Jim Carrey's best work to date.


Not all that faithful to the book, but then again Douglas Adams didn't keep his book all that faithful to his original radio serial, either. But thanks to some great casting, cool effects, giant puppet Vogons, and a dash of insanity (or perhaps just Infinite Improbability), most of the changes work. Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent shows immediately why he was cast as young Bilbo for "The Hobbit". On the voice side, Alan Rickman is the perfect voice for the permanently depressed robot Marvin, and Stephen Fry is in fine form as the narrating Guide.


Sometime in the near future, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) lives in a climate-controlled facility hoping to one day win the lottery and get to live on The Island, the last inhabitable place on the Earth's surface. Then he finds out everything he knows is a lie. He and all the others are actually clones, kept safe and comfortable until they are needed for organ harvesting for their rich-and-famous originals. In the hands of Michael Bay, this is more action-and-FX science fiction, rather than intellectual and contemplative (such as the thematically similar "Never Let Me Go"), but when you're in the mood for a futuristic vehicle chase, that's not always a bad thing.


And once again, a Philip K Dick adaptation makes one of my Top 10 lists. In the future, thanks to three highly gifted people who can see the future, known as "precogs", the Department of Precrime has eliminated most violent crime from the Washington DC area. One day, the head of the Precrime division (Tom Cruise) sees his own name come up as a "perp", and so of course goes on the run in an attempt to prove his innocence. After that, most of the plot of the original novella goes right out the window, to be replaced by what is arguably a more audience friendly storyline featuring a murder mystery from the past. The result is Spielberg's best science fiction thriller since Jurassic Park.


If you haven't seen Joss Whedon's sci-fi/western TV show "Firefly", go watch it now. Although sadly cancelled after almost a season, cast and crew got a chance to reunite to make this movie. I saw the movie first, and while it does work as a standalone film, I found that rewatching "Serenity" after watching "Firefly" added so much more to my enjoyment. To summarise: Space cowboy, big damn heroes, Chinese swearing, and Summer Glau with a sword. Enjoy.


Neill Blomkamp's debut feature stands out for me for several reasons. It introduced the world to actor Sharlto Copley (seen since in "The A-Team"), it had great visual effects for the alien creatures, had futuristic weapons and action aplenty, and dealt with serious social issues in a science fiction setting. And for once, the aliens DON'T invade America first. Here, a space ship appears over Johannesburg, South Africa, and the creatures inside are too sickly to do much "invading". The film takes place some years later, when security forces try to move the aliens from one segregated shanty-town to another. One of the cleverest films to deal with the subject of apartheid.


Certainly one of the most hyped films of recent years, a lot of people either loved or hated this revamp of the Star Trek franchise. I am firmly in the former camp. Going back to the characters from The Original Series, where else could JJ Abrams and his writers go but into the realm of altered timelines?  Eric Bana's Romulan villain travels back in time to kill Spock, but arrives in the wrong year and kills Kirk's father (Chris Hemsworth, in an extremely short screen appearance) instead. This leaves the way open for sequels that don't need to jigsaw their way between storylines of the TV series and 1980s films, but can still feature the characters Trekkies know and love. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg are impressive as "Bones" McCoy and Scotty respectively, but the true standout is Zachary Quinto (aka Sylar from the TV show "Heroes") as Spock. This is the sort of movie that I'll come across on TV, meaning to watch a couple minutes, and wind up watching all the way to the end credits instead.


The debut feature from Duncan Jones is a love letter to the science fiction films of the 1970s he was introduced to by his father (David Bowie) - there are obvious nods to films like "Silent Running" and "2001". The film is carried by Sam (Sam Rockwell), a lonely mine worker on the Moon, who encounters another man (also called Sam, and also played by Sam Rockwell) towards the end of his contract on the base. Kevin Spacey provides the calm HAL-like voice of the base computer, Sam's only other companion. A great piano-heavy score from Clint Mansell, fantastic model/miniature scenery, some outstanding acting, and a dose of philosophy, make this easily one of my favourite science fiction films of the decade. It loses out only to...


50 years in the future, a team of astronauts are sent to re-ignite the dying sun by delivering a Manhattan-sized nuclear bomb into it. They are the second team to be sent - the first having disappeared without a trace. In the hands of another writer or director, such a plot could end up being so-bad-it's-almost-good (see "The Core"), but writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle deliver a fantastic claustrophobic science-fiction drama with just the right amount of "Alien"-like paranoia and horror thrown in for good measure. (Also, I have a soft spot for the sci-fi/horror standard of starting with a small cast in a confined space and then killing them off one by one.) I love the score as well.

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