Gattaca was made in the late 1990s, but its 1960s styling, studied minimalism and deliberately inappropriate design cues - who would send astronauts into space in a business suit? - harks back to the dystopian independent sci-fi cinema of the early 1970s. But, at the time, its subject was bang up to date: where might the then-new genetic manipulation take the human race - and what were the moral implications?
Too dweeby to be a spaceman? The DNA says so
Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Ethan Hawke’s Vincent Freeman can’t become the spaceman he’s so desperate to become because his genes aren’t sufficiently well-tailored. Eugene Morrow’s (Geddit?!?!) are, so he provides Freeman with substitute samples to allow his friend to appear to be the Right Stuff. It’s no surprise that Freeman, for all his perceived failings, is right for the job. Likewise, Gene, played by Jude Law, may have well-rated DNA but it hasn’t stopped him becoming a depressive and attempting suicide.
So it’s an escape story, with the tension ramped up as Alan Arkin's gene policeman gets ever closer to exposing Freeman’s fraud. Will Freeman ever get free, and leave behind girlfriend Irene Cassini to take part in a mission to Saturn? Yes, the symbolism is a little overdone, but this is as smart as late 20th Century sci-fi gets.
Writer Andrew Niccol
Notes Also available (just about) in a "special edition" with an extra scene featuring "genetically deficient" famous figures, including Einstein and Lincoln.
Whether it's the George Clooney-starring, Steven Soderbergh-directed 2002 remake or the Andrei Tarkovsy 1972 original - both derived from Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel - Solaris explores how we cope with the death of someone close to us. Both movies send astronaut Chris Kelvin off to a ship orbiting the titular planet, which turns out to be a living organism that's so alien its attempts to study the humans and to communicate inflict psychological trauma on the ship's crew. Psychologist Kelvin ought to be able to help, but - of course - he brings with him problems of his own, in particular the death of his missus by suicide.
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
The planet is, of course, benign and really only trying to help, but in reincarnating Kelvin's lost wife it succeeds only in tipping him further over the edge. Lem was interested in the barriers impeding communication between very different lifeforms, but the movies have extra resonance from their interest in grief and loss. Is it better to let someone go, or try to keep them alive in our thoughts? It's a question a movie can only ask, not answer. Not a flick, then, for folk seeking certainties.
Writer Steven Soderbergh
Notes We favour the 2002 which, though slightly more sentimental than its intellectually stimulating but hard-going Russian predecessor, comes in at half the length: an hour-and-a-half compared to more than three hours.
You put Zardoz in there but missed Silent Running?
Zardoz is terrible. Watched it a few months back and aside from some neat ideas and imagery its actually one of the worst films I have ever seen. A film so bad it actually hurts.
It's essentially takes what would make a good Doctor Who or Blakes 7 story and turns it into the longest 100 or so minutes of your life.
I wanted to like it, there of bits of it that I think are really quite good, but it's just a confused po-faced mess that gets worse as the movie progresses.
That said, you can pick Zardoz up for pennies on Amazon so if you are interested in such things (as I am) at least you don't have to pay through the nose to get a copy. Think mine literally cost me a few pence + the postage!
Oh, and one other thing: Dark Star
Dark Star was the first movie to show the non-utopian(*) version of the Sci-Fi space travel future: bored, lonely people in a cramped uncomfortable dirty spaceship with everything breaking down and going wrong and a disinterested planet Earth back home cutting off their funding.
(*) - Yes, I mean non-utopian as opposed to dystopian. I'm treating topianity as (at least) three-valued, and I don't think it's really about a dystopia
Bit of an underappreciated classic methinks. Directed by Katherine Bigelow who got the rights as part of her divorce settlement with James Cameron who wrote the script. It has dated a bit because they chose to set it in 2000 and the technology seems to involve MiniDiscs; but the idea of people recording their experiences seems somewhat prescient in the era of Google Glass.
The opening POV robbery is a work of genius and it has the amazing Angela Bassett as one of Cameron's strong female roles. There are a couple of incredibly violent scenes, including a rape, which some people might find too much.
Re: Wot, no Avatar?
I remember seeing Leslie Neilsen interviewed about his career. One of the things touched on was Forbidden Planet. He said that he thought he had it made when he did that. He was the hero, he got the girl, the reviews were good and it sold well. Pretty much everything an actor could ask for to endorse their credentials as a box office draw in a lead role.
He said he sat back and waited for the phone to ring. It never did and to this day he still wonders why it didn't.
I'm with him. I thought he was bloody brilliant in it.
Have to agree with most of these, though Zardoz does look very daft.
I've never watched it all in one sitting.
Have to agree about Star Trek, it's my favourite Trek film (providing you fast forward through the 'look at the cool spaceship' scenes).
What about 'Moon'? That's a corking modern science fiction film.