Category Archives: Space Fiction

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) 2.05/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 132 mins
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch,

The young crew of the USS Enterprise are back for their second outing in J.J. Abrams’ reimagined universe as they face Benedict Cumberbatch’s ruthless Khan, a genetically engineered superhuman recently awoken from a long cryo-sleep. Throw in a gung-ho Admiral in the form of the always great Peter Weller, some marvellous action scenarios, and the usual personality clashes between Chris Pine’s “Kirk” and Zachary Quinto’s “Spock” and the stage is set for one of the better movie instalments of the franchise. Abrams brought a lot back to the series in his 2009 “Star Trek” and, in most cases, he ups the ante here. A striking visual profile and immaculate visual effects provide the movie’s backbone while the cheeky script adds several layers of enjoyment throughout its long duration. The plot is rudimentary enough, the usual rehash of several past episodes, but Abrams’ trump card once again makes up for it. That card, of course, is this new series’ cast of actors which, as was the case in the 2009 movie, bring huge amounts of personality to their roles. And though the links with their characters’ previous incarnations are all maintained with tongue firmly planted in cheek, if truth be told, this new generation is far more talented than their older counterparts. This quality adds a sheen of professionalism to the new films that was often missing from the earlier movies. At the centre, Pine and Quinto are fantastic value as space’s endlessly quarreling “odd couple” and, while playing yet another “super-genius”, Cumberbatch makes for a memorable Khan. Sure, he doesn’t possess the cheesy greatness of Ricardo Montalban, but his more furious brand of egomania adds to the movie’s overall darker demeanor. Best of all, however, is that man Weller whose booming voice and gritty presence brings an added edge to the proceedings.

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Interstellar (2014) 3.7/5 (8)


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Rating: The Good – 71.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Matt Damon

An elegantly directed sci-fi adventure considerably undermined by yet another painfully flat Nolan screenplay, Interstellar charts the epic attempts of a small group of scientists and astronauts to locate a planet capable of supporting the human race as its Earthly sustenance quickly dries up. Mathew McConaughey heads the cast as the mission’s pilot desperate to get back to the children he left behind before they age beyond the point where he can help them while Ann Hathaway’s stiffish scientist and a couple of nicely conceived robots keep him company on board the spacecraft. Back on Earth, Michael Caine is the brains behind the mission, Jessica Chastain is the grown up version of McConaughey’s equally clever daughter, and Casey Affleck is his son who, like the majority of remaining humans, is attempting to farm what’s left of their desertification-headed planet.

Regaining his 2008 Dark Knight directorial form, writer-director Christopher Nolan composes a quite beautiful and thrilling action thriller that achieves a perfect balance between mood and energy with no small help from Hans Zimmer’s sublime score. Making the deftest use of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark and striking cinematography, he avoids overplaying the CGI card keeping the story front and centre. The story isn’t bad either and, predictable as its key moments are, it serves Nolan’s grand ambitions for a Kubrickian like space epic. More the pity then that the screenplay does not. Bloated with expositional dialogue and artificial sentiment, it bungles its way towards a gargantuan mishandling of a straightforward (“save the world before it’s too late”) premise with the kind of overblown piece of psycho-physical drivel that plagued Inception. Co-penned with his more adept writer-brother (Jonathan sat Inception out), this script at least shows more restraint than that 2010 monument to tedium but not nearly enough to engender its protagonists nor their dilemmas with the depth and cadences that the premise deserved. The well conceived drama emerging from the astronauts ageing more slowly than their loved ones back home is an exception to this and proves to be the movie’s one successful appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Ultimately, the problem with Interstellar is yet again one of Nolan reaching beyond his capabilities by attempting to match the work of masters who simply operated at a level higher than his own (that’s not an insult Chris, most filmmakers toil in the shadows of Kubrick and Tarkovsky!). The innumerable references to 2001: A Space Odyssey eventually feel less like a homage and more like an attempt to disguise that failure, proving far more imitative than emulative. That said, the couple of HAL-inspired robots (the Bill Irwin-voiced “TARS” in particular) work fantastically within the confines of this story, coming alive in a whirl of mechanised motion during the best of the action sequences and adding most of the humour outside of them. And, thankfully, it’s these such lighter more grounded touches that sees Interstellar passing muster as a sci-fi thriller even while failing as an attempt at something more profound.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) 1.43/5 (2)


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Rating: The Ugly – 65.1
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman

200 years after she threw herself and the alien growing within her into a molten pit, military scientists genetically re-engineer Ripley and her parasite back to life in order to harvest the alien embryo. Fortunately for the surviving crew of the inevitably doomed ship, the mingling of the two species’ DNA left her with a few special abilities. First things first. Alien: Resurrection backtracks on the finality of Alien 3. It introduces an overtly comic-bookish plot and a host of caricatured personalities into a series of movies that were always defined by tight plots and layered characters. The genre defining set-pieces of Alien and Aliens and the admirable attempts of Alien 3 are replaced by contrived, blockbuster, slow-motion explodathons. The most interesting aspect to the story, writer Joss Whedon’s notion of Ripley’s ‘rebirth’, is completely misinterpreted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The incisive dialogue of the first three instalments replete with its organic wit and charm is replaced by a one-liner infested script which plays to the sound bite. The lavish production design jars completely with the more elegantly simple aesthetic of the first three. Similarly, the sleek and dark naturalism of H.R. Giger’s creature design is ultimately replaced with a quasi-surrealist Cronenberg-esque body horror. And lastly, and perhaps most unforgivably, the steely fear and breathless tension that so defined Scott’s, Cameron’s, and Fincher’s movies is relinquished in favour of gore, gore, and more gore resulting in yet more outlandish events that feel so ‘alien’ to the series.

With all this in mind, if one is going to enjoy Alien: Resurrection, one must take it entirely on its own merits and treat it as a standalone feature. For those who can do that, there’s a fairly enjoyable action/sci-fi/horror romp lurking beneath the ashes of the great series. Sigourney Weaver is back in her darkest Ripley incarnation and she eats up the opportunity to play with the well worn role. The movie comes alive when she’s on the screen and she is the most important factor in its partial redemption. There are also a host of fantastic character actors (e.g., Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman) playing the various secondary roles and caricatured as they are, the quality of the actors inhabiting them makes them fun to watch. The creatures look better than that which most sci-fi horror movies offer up and can even be enjoyed from the perspective of the franchise. As mentioned above, inappropriate as it may be to the Alien series, the production design and creature effects are still first rate and when combined with the motley gang of badasses led by the gnarly Ripley, the whole thing becomes quite entertaining.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 2.5/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 73.4
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Duration: 121 mins
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro

Yet another comic book blockbuster from the Marvel stable of sci-fi fantasy. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the eponymous heroes whose self-interests bring them together against a common foe who, like every other super villain these days, will settle for nothing else but the destruction of the galaxy. What saves this film from the black hole pull of a mind-numbingly familiar genre is the fresh sense of fun James Gunn brings to the script and its direction. The characters are drawn and played out with a care-free irreverence that drives the movie as a whole. There are no erroneously earnest pauses in tone to allow for some heavy handed emotional button pushing – well, none that aren’t cleverly rescued in time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a joke and everyone’s happy to play it that way. It all lays the groundwork for some genuinely side splitting humour, most of which, involves Cooper’s talking and brilliantly mental space rodent.

Though Pratt is a wonderfully unassuming lead with lots of self-deprecating charisma and Bradley is in rich vocal form, most of the credit must still go to Gunn. Making a funny movie doesn’t just require you to write funny but to direct funny and armed with his anthology of vintage pop tracks and a very wry sense of editing, he rocket propels the humour in his script. Okay, so a few of the jokes are taken a step too far but most are delivered with polish. And when we’re not laughing, the simply astounding visual effects ensure that we have something impressive to look at too and, while it never escapes the CGI look, the movie remains an immaculate piece of visual artistry. On this canvas, Gunn (particularly early on) crafts some dazzling action sequences and the ceaselessly fantastic gadgetry and conveyor belt of amazing aliens adds handsomely to their enjoyment.

Where the movie inevitably falls flat however, is in the wearingly repetitive plot that seems no different to that which the likes of Thor, The Avengers, or any number of the endless comic book adaptations (that we’ve been utterly plagued with these last five years) have offered up. Plots that seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a platform for endless battles and flashy explosions. For all the good this movie does with its character construction and comedic dialogue and for all the ingenuity of Gunn’s action, the brain eventually just switches off during these protracted sequences because the premise is too flimsy to support them. It’s part of Hollywood’s magic formula so it won’t soon change but anyone who doesn’t have the hormonal constitution of a 14 year old boy, is liable to find this movie’s visual narrative veering towards 3rd act tedium. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up at just under two hours and while still perhaps 15-20  minutes too long, it’s a damn sight shorter than most other modern comic adaptations. Alongside its richer character and dialogue base, that saving grace, gives Gunn’s movie a significant edge on  the generic horde of superhero vehicles.

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Enemy Mine (1985) 3.14/5 (1)


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Rating: The Ugly – 67.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Brion James

“Hell in the Pacific” retold in sci-fi mode with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. starring as two enemies stranded on the same planet. Quaid is the human fighter pilot and Gossett is the alien “Drac” who, after an initial period of hostility, begin to work together and ultimately form a bond of friendship. Enemy Mine is one of those enjoyable movies which many of us grew up on and were happy to do so. It came from an era in science fiction writing when good old fashioned story telling was at the heart of the genre and, as a result, the movie works despite some minor issues. The two leads seemed to be having great fun working together and it pays off well given the nature of the story. Quaid was always charismatic and solid in these types of roles while an unrecognisable Gossett (thanks to some excellent make-up) gives a considered and nuanced performance.

This was a troubled production and director Wolfgang Peterson only came on board after much of the movie was shot and, depending on which story you listen to, the exteriors were shot in either Iceland (where much of the initial production was based) or Germany (where Peterson based himself). However, anyone remotely familiar with the raft of sci-fi movies shot in Iceland (Prometheus being the most recent example) will recognise the unique sci-fi friendly Icelandic landscape in many of the scenes, which combined with the top notch matte painting to bring the alien planet to life quite majestically. On the negative side, the sets are less impressive and come across as something form a Star Trek episode. Throw in some childishly conceived alien creatures and parts of the movie definitely become a little kitschy. The ending is terribly rushed and the abrupt change in pace affects the tone of the movie and destabilises much of the acting (in particular Quaid’s) significantly. There’s some gory action thrown in at the end but it’s somewhat unsatisfying given the quality of the opening 90 minutes. Ultimately, however, the movie still works thanks chiefly to the chemistry between the leads and the easy often light-hearted script.

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Sunshine (2007) 3.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 67.4
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans

A team of astronaut scientists on board a unique spaceship are charged with carrying a gigantic nuclear bomb to the heart of the fading sun so as to replenish its energy. But as they make their final approach, one disaster after another places a severe test on the crew and their fragile partnerships. Danny Boyle’s high concept sci-fi was much touted on release and it certainly sets its stall out as an intriguing genre piece. In the early exchanges, intense personalities are introduced and complex relationships are alluded to and all the while the film looks a treat. However, problems surface relatively soon into the second act as Boyle rushes into the action in favour of a slow build up. If you freeze frame any part of this non-stop rollercoaster, you’re likely to see rich set design and highly complementary visual effects. However, when watched in real time, the frenetic editing ensures too many of these lovely shots remain on screen for no longer than a fraction of a second. Within this sensory carnage, any semblance of narrative is flushed out as one disaster after another besets the mission. And with Boyle’s signature penchant for quick cuts and sharp angles, the mayhem is amplified to fatiguing levels. Thus, as is so often the case with Boyle’s work (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse – this time for worse), experience takes precedence over story. Luckily, most of the noteworthy cast are given just enough room to make their personalities count. Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans add edge and soulfulness respectively while Michelle Yeoh reminds us why Hollywood should’ve made more of her post Crouching Tiger bankability. In the end though, this film is a little too much about its director. There are plenty of well crafted set pieces and John Murphy’s score exhilarates like few other sci-fi scores can, but one can’t help feeling like Boyle and company left something behind here.

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Elysium (2013) 2.53/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 65.7
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga

The year is 2159 and while Earth has turned into an overpopulated slum planet, the wealthy have relocated to an orbiting space station which caters to their every need and, from which, the planet below is harshly governed. Matt Damon top lines as a lowly factory worker who must make his way to the space station named “Elysium” if he is to find a cure to the fatal dose of radiation he was exposed to in a work related accident. Unfortunately, Elysium’s minister of defence (a very nasty Jodie Foster) takes a dim view of those Earth peasants who attempt to sneak past her atmospheric defences and usually resorts to blowing them out of their ragged socks. However, when the first minister attempts to curb her extremist leanings, she sets about engineering a coup that Damon just happens to get caught up in. But not before he is surgically connected to a metal exoskeleton that makes him as strong as the droids which Elysium uses to enforce the law and the similarly exoskeletonised mercenaries who Foster uses to chase down Damon when he accidentally downloads the plans for her little coup (don’t ask!).

On the face of things, Neill Blomkamp’s eagerly awaited follow up to his directorial debut, the South African sleeper hit District 9, ticks a number of boxes: a 1980’s esque sci-fi escapism; a director who recently made an impressive debut in the genre; and one of the 21st century’s most watchable action stars. And for the first 40 or 50 minutes, it more or less lives up to that promise. Damon shows a likeable presence as the blue collar everyman who like Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid, reluctantly gets caught up in the political instability of his world. The film has a distinctive look, captured stunningly in 4K, and the visual effects are elegant and well conceived. And then there’s the hint of a time honoured bad guy dynamic where a sinister yet erudite mastermind uses a greasy thug to do her dirty work (think Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox or Michael Ironside and err…Ronny Cox).

Alas, as much as all this plays to an 80’s vintage of science fiction, this turns out to be very much a 21st century movie with all the muddled scriptwriting problems that blockbusters of this century are almost invariably beset with. Instead of taking the neat sci-fi premise and telling a simple straight forward story on the back of it, Blomkamp tacks a number of weak subplots onto the basic plot. What the purpose of these side plots are is anyone’s guess. Is it an attempt to make the movie something more than ‘just’ an action sci-fi? Are there deluded executives demanding the story have a “social angle” because some irrelevant focus group indicated a place for it? Whatever the reason, it pulverises the otherwise sleek concept.

Even without the plot confusion, the script becomes increasingly coarse. After an encouraging introduction, the villains fail to develop beyond their archetypes and Blomkamp uses them and the heartlessness of the new world system merely to flick switches in the mind of the audience. Sharlto Copley’s (Blomkamp’s leading man from District 9) central bad guy becomes more and more laughable in his nastiness and with the persistent and frankly ridiculous overuse of slow motion (coupled with the usual formidable score), Blomkamp gives the audience what seems like forever to ponder just how mean he is. Foster shows more potential but she too is painfully static in her cruelty. Not surprisingly for a film which is saturated with side plots, it’s the secondary characters that suffer most. Alice Braga is just a token presence and an actress with her talent should really start becoming concerned with potential typecasting. But at least she’s good with what she’s given. Wagner Moura on the other hand adds a new layer of awfulness to the catalogue of sci-fi’s bad performances with an altogether misjudged turn as the lesser of two evils whom Damon inevitably sides with against the elite. Positives notes on the acting front are sounded out by Damon himself who yet again proves a safe pair of hands for driving a blockbuster and a sinister William Fichtner who delivers the goods with his usual interesting degree of edge.

Technically, Elysium similarly suffers much more than it should. The concept design is rich and the immaculate visual effects would have done every bit of it justice if it were not for Julian Clark and Lee Smith’s bewildering editing. Every one of the fight sequences, of which there are many, is rendered nearly unintelligible by some frankly amateurish assemblage. Of course, Blomkamp’s stylistic ambitions played a major role here but somebody needed to speak up and steady the ship. Speaking of the fight sequences, as the movie wears on, the metal exoskeleton becomes an increasingly bemusing affectation for it really just isn’t an integral part of the story. This leaves the audience to notice it at the most random times and wonder what the hell its point is!

In the end, Elysium qualifies as a seriously flawed but visually and conceptually rousing piece of entertainment which fans of 80’s sci-fi in particular will probably accept – if only because we’ve been starved of classy science fiction for too long.

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Gravity (2013) 4.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 78.9
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 91 mins
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

Rarely do critically acclaimed big budget blockbusters live up to their dual billings but Alfonso Cuarón’s story of an astronaut attempting to get back to earth after being slung into free orbit on a disastrous space walk really does seem to do just that. As immersive and visually spellbinding a film as there has ever been, Gravity is a truly singular cinematic experience and one that needs to be seen to be believed. Sandra Bullock plays the astronaut in question (actually she’s an engineer on a technical mission) whose shuttle is destroyed by debris from a nearby satellite leaving only her and George Clooney’s veteran astronaut to traverse the vacuum of space to the international station in order to procure a way home. Without giving too much away, suffice to say, Bullock ends up largely fending for herself and relying on her minimal experience and training to get her through in once piece. Bullock is excellent in a role that required a lot of depth but also presence not to mention an ability to act with nothing but one’s face and voice. She forms an essential bond with her audience so that every breath she takes raises the tension. Clooney is very much in the Clooney-mode of his earlier films. That is to say, he’s really just playing an astronaut version of himself. But all that comes with a priceless charisma and against the blackness of space, the film needed him to bring it during his handful of scenes.

One might suppose the premise of a woman drifting through space would lend itself to a rather monotonous story but surprisingly the drama is non stop. In fact, so relentless are the trials she has to overcome while hurtling around the planet, the tagline to this film could’ve read “whatever can go wrong in space, will go wrong!”. Everything from oxygen depletion, fuel depletion, random collisions with flying debris, to space station fires conspire to thwart her desperate attempts to get home. However, a series of intermittent pauses for some moments of less than subtle symbolism (and cinematic reference) revolving around the central theme of rebirth ensure the film has a serene quality to complement the many tense moments.

There’s no two ways about it, Gravity is just a well directed film. Constructing action sequences with an elegant grace yet tangible terror isn’t easy but setting them against a contemplative silence (this is one film that respects the ‘no sound in space rule’) is even more complicated. But Cuarón does it with an apparent effortlessness. Of course, the jaw dropping visual effects and cinematography make this a little easier for when the endless black and immaculate stillness of space is repeatedly contrasted with the emphatic blue of the earth as impeccably as it is here, both the physical senses and intellect are honed all the more. Almost impressive as the visual artistry is the level of detail that defines practically every single shot. The zero gravity environments of the various stations and shuttles are brought to visceral life with an endless series floating objects such as tools, trinkets, cutlery, and even liquids providing for one of the most realistic depictions of weightlessness out there. This of course is heightened by the 3D experience but even in 2D, it’s breathtaking. For technical boffins, the realism largely ends there and while not a valid criticism of a fictional film, many will (and have) balk at the technical and physical liberties the story takes.

On the subject of writing, it’s important to point out that Gravity isn’t the Citizen Kane of space movies. There’s a story here but it’s nothing mind blowing. This is primarily an action adventure film with a modest level of subjective drama underpinning it. Rather than the writing, it’s the (Oscar winning) direction that elevates the latter as Cuarón pushes all the right buttons to raise the goosebumps and stir the soul into feeling that we’ve followed something more substantial than we actually have. Simply put, he crafts this movie with so much class and focused energy that you’ll either forgive the cliches and heavy-handedness or just straight up not notice them. In fact, the direction becomes the defining feature of the film. And given the scale of the visual effects, that’s no mean feat.

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Dune (1984) 4/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 77.1
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 137 mins
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Francesca Annis

David Lynch’s much maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel has been criticised by lovers of the book (which, let’s face it, were always going to be difficult to please), those desperately hung up on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation (which, let’s face it, was mouth-watering in its potential), and those who seem to have a mind about as open as the vault door at Fort Knox. However, no matter what your bias or leaning, there’s no denying that Lynch brought a level of abstraction to this version that was startling and in its own way defining. The epic story is one of political intrigue 8,000 years in the future between powerful houses fighting over a planet which holds the key to the most valuable natural resource in the known universe. Kyle MacLachlan plays the prince of one of these houses who must realise his destiny on this strange planet and he is surrounded by a host of quirky characters played by equally quirky performers. This film is probably unlike anything you will have ever seen and the sheer breadth of its unfamiliarity will leave you disorientated and at times deeply uncomfortable. And of course, for a film set so far in the future that’s exactly the point! The one major criticism that is not levelled often enough against sci-fi films is their failure to give the viewer the impression that what they’re looking at is alien. Dune is a raging triumph of alienation and disorientation. Once you acclimatise to it, however, the film becomes a rather fascinating experience and while cheesy in places (often due to MacLachlan’s bright eyed naivety being dialed a tad high) for the most part it plays out as extremely sophisticated science fiction. Not for the feint willed, but if you’re a student of sci-fi in particular and film in general, Lynch’s Dune is a must see.

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Aliens (1986) 3.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 85.8
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Duration: 137 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill PaxtonLance Henriksen

The last survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is found drifting in space after 57 years of hypersleep. Her account of what happened naturally makes the powers that be curious so they quickly order the colonists of the now populated planet to check out the co-ordinates where Ripley reported to have located the crashed spacecraft. When things inevitably go bad, Ripley is sent to the planet with a team of hi-tech marines to exterminate the alien threat.

In taking on the unenviable task of creating a sequel to Ridely Scott’s original sci-fi classic, James Cameron pulls a masterstroke by bringing the premise firmly into the action genre. The result is a qualitatively different film to the original, allowing for a whole raft of new ideas to be explored. As is typical with all Cameron’s films, Aliens looks amazing. The set-design, the special effects, and the creature effects (Stan Winston – who else?) are extremely impressive and are as good as anything you’ll see today. The chemistry between the various actors is splendid as are the performances themselves. Cameron regulars Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Lance Henriksen are all present and in top form. So is Weaver who, in this film, confirmed Ripley as the most interesting and authentic of all screen heroines. The dialogue is tight and tech-savvy and the tension is built perfectly through Cameron’s expert direction.

Of course, the stand-out strength of this film is the action and Cameron again uses the science-fiction context to raise the stakes and create imaginative new ways to capture the audience’s fascination. He also takes his time building up to said action which makes it all the more rewarding when it finally gets going. It’s a testament to Cameron and co. that when all is said and done, Aliens will remain not just one of the best sci-fi films of all time, but also one of the best horror and action films of all time.

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Pandorum (2009) 4/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 76.6
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Christian Alvart
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet

One of those rare non-Hollywood science fiction vehicles that defied low-key expectations and caught everyone by surprise with some top-notch production values and nail-biting action. Pandorum is a terrific ship-based sci-fi about a handful of crew members who wake up out of stasis to find terrifying human like creatures stalking the massive ship and preying on the other 60,000 humans who are still in stasis. The opening half an hour slowly lures you in and when it has a hold of you, it hits you with some genuinely scary sci-fi horror. Ben Foster doesn’t waste his opportunity to take on a more straightforward heroic role than usual and brings a quiet intensity to the part. Dennis Quaid is his usual safe pair of hands as his senior officer and Antje Traue is more than decent in an above average female action role. The action sequences are shot in an appropriately frenetic style by Christian Alvart and come at just the right points in the movie. Though Pandorum is a uniformly excellent piece of film making, it’s the creatures that make it so memorable. This is largely due to some insightful concept and design, but also Alvart’s use of sound and the hugely innovative way in which he captures their movement (especially in the earlier scenes). Suffice to say, if you like proper deep space scariness, this is the film for you.

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Serenity (2005)


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Rating: The Good – 76.2
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 119 mins
Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Serenity is the feature length adaptation of the seminal television series Firefly, and like that show it succeeds thanks to the unconventional yet real characters, the relationships that exist between them, the outstanding dialogue, and a fascinating, richly conceived universe. Serenity skips some important events since the end of the TV show (that we are left to imagine) in which River is re-captured by the nefarious Alliance and it picks up with the rescue of her by her brother Simon and the rest of Serenity’s crew. The film then develops around the Alliance’s pursuit of the ship led by the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor in truly nasty and sinister form. The special effects are really quite awesome (as were the TV show’s) and there are some terrific action scenes where like the show, brains are valued over brawn. Nathan Fillion is back as Serenity’s captain Mal and, as with the television series, the film largely rests on his easy charm which instantly endears him to the audience. It was always a masterstroke to combine that likeability with a seriously darker side as the unpredictability that it brought to his character kept his crew and the audience on their toes alike. Well, that darker side is back in spades here and it drives the latter half of the film erupting in a sensational space showdown between the Serenity and the Alliance. All of the show’s cast are back but Ron Glass only makes a cameo appearance as Shepherd Book. All the uneasy tensions between the different characters are still in play and indeed they are played upon by the story to great effect. Adam Baldwin is just as enjoyable as ever as the crude, rude, and anything but smooth Jane and Summer Glau’s River finally explodes into life as was originally planned to happen in Season 2 – but alas not for the first time, dumb-ass TV executives pulled the plug at the end of Season 1 on what has gone down as the one of the greatest cult television shows in history. “Let’s be bad guys.”

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