Rating: The Good – 74.3 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 98 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
This John Carpenter sci-fi/horror/western about a police officer (Natasha Henstridge) and a dangerous prisoner (Ice Cube) trying to escape a terraformed Martian town as it becomes overrun by spirit-like aliens is a tongue-in-cheek heavy metal opera. Just like said music, everything about this movie screams mock-rebellion. Women run the show, aliens are ghosts, their language is a ferocious scream, the good guys are criminals and like that music, if you’re not a fan of Carpenter you just won’t get it. Thus, Ghosts of Mars has the semblance of rebellion but it’s not really that dangerous and Carpenter has a ball with it. The more technical aspects to the film such as the visual effects, make-up, and fight choreography are tinted with this light hearted sarcasm. Once you accept all this, however, you can really start to enjoy it. The patient start uses a series of dissolve-cuts to tell the back story as quickly as possible without feeling rushed but as the action moves through the gears, Carpenter’s utterly superb heavy metal soundtrack kicks in and sweeps you forward until the end. As with many of Carpenter’s films, the Rio Bravo theme is present and there’s plenty of innovative and over the top violence on show to keep most horror fans happy. There’s a great supporting cast on hand too (e.g., Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy) to deliver some outstanding and cheesy lines alike. And on top of all that, we have that wonderfully thunderous opening inspired in part by the opening to Bad Day at Black Rock (confirmed to this author by the director himself). Don’t approach this on the basis of what some of the critics have said and certainly don’t approach this as you would a typical science fiction/horror movie. This is John Carpenter – a director who has spent his career subverting conventions in the most entertaining ways possible (even if what he’s subverting is subversion!). That’s why he’s so damned important to the medium.
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.
Rating: The Good – 78.9 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 129 mins Director: Terry Gilliam Stars: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe,Brad Pitt
Bruce Willis stars as a prisoner sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic world to help future scientists learn the secrets of a virus that wiped out five billion people in the late 20th century. There are few directors as suited to depicting the unfathomable qualities of dystopian futures as Terry Gilliam is. As he did in the masterful Brazil, Gilliam presents us with a world which, unlike the spartan imagination-deprived Hollywood notions of the future, is just plain inaccessible. Yet, so visually creative is it, that despite this inaccessibility we stay connected. That’s film-making! Thankfully, for the sake of being able to fully engage with the film, most of the story plays out in the present tense when Willis’ slightly deranged character and the psychiatrist who is inevitably charged with his care (Madeline Stowe) attempt to piece together the clues to what happened in the days before the virus’ release.
Willis is terrific and this must surely go down as one of his better roles and performances. He’s exactly what a fish out of water (scarred by the trauma of his horrific world) should be – naive, innocent, violent, immature, and unhinged. Stowe is excellent also as his slightly incredulous caretaker while Brad Pitt is on hand to slightly over-egg the pudding as the crazy inmate of the asylum which Willis initially finds himself in. David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) and Janet Peoples’ script is a delight and while helping to set the darker tones is also balanced out with some neatly written humour. Ultimately, Twelve Monkeys became one of the most striking, creative, and original films to emerge in the 90′s. It’s a tour de force for Gilliam and Willis and it will stay with you for a long time.
Rating: The Good – 72.3 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 89mins Director: Douglas Trumbull Stars: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin
Extraordinary sci-fi movie about a fleet of ships housing the last of Earth’s forests and one of its caretakers who takes matters into his own hands when the crew are ordered to destroy their precious cargo so the ships can be returned to commercial service. Bruce Dern gives a uniquely pensive performance as the self proclaimed protector of these last remnants of plant and animal life. For an actor who is best remembered for his more in-your-face performances it’s an admirable change of pace made more so by the fact that he manages to carry the entire film with such little dialogue and so few on-screen partners. Naturally, Douglas Trumbull’s (he who was responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s visual effects) patient and visually stunning direction helps him substantially in that regard and combined, the two men ensure that this film becomes something far greater than most science fiction delivers. In fact, Silent Running can held in the same lofty regard as films like The Wicker Man, maverick cinematic achievements which break all the rules and come up with something uniquely resonating. You’ll need to give it time to work its magic but once it gets hold of you, it’ll stay with you forever. Silent Running became a cult favourite amongst hardcore sci-fi fans and filmmakers alike so much so that even to this day, films such as Duncan Jones’s Moon are nodding affectionately at its influence.