Shiny: My Favourite Sci-Fi Films

Camping out seems a tad mad-as-**** but I kinda of understand it. As we go into the final days before the UK wide release of The Force Awakens I find myself getting that Christmas Eve-is-Santa-on-his-way feeling. Course, I got that same feeling in the run up to Interstellar. And Age of Ultron.. I still watch that trailer with a tear in my eye, sadly singing under my breath..‘got no strings to tie me down..’ What a metaphor for speculative fiction. As in so many things it seems the anticipation is better than the reality, so we might as well make the best of it! Here’s my list of favourites..


 – Push – 


Not perfect but for everything it tried to be I have to include it. It has all the raw ingredients I wish we could see more of, plus Chris Evans, who I always like to see more of. He isn’t a hero – he isn’t painfully smart arsed, he’s not the one with unprecedented power and bad pun for a name who will save the world, the core relationship isn’t based on romance but friendship – although you could argue there is a touch of unrequited puppy love to it. There’s a deeper conspiracy angle but at its heart it’s about a few messed up kids trying to figure out their way in the world. And I like the raw edged cinematography.


 – The Fifth Element



I like the absurdity, I love the flying food boats, I like the way Besson has taken the world now and just twisted it enough to make it mad and fun and yet still unmistakably the same messed up all too human muddle we know. I love the music and lastly, I love the optimism.

There are flaws, it’s a bit spoofier than my ideal, full of grotesque caricatures and camp satire aimed squarely at the genre it falls in, some could accuse it justifiably of being a little bit too much style and too little substance. The ending – in the main the love conquers all solution – does induce an eye roll, but for Inva Mula’s extraordinary vocals, extra-long filtered cigarettes and the hope that one day I will open my tenth storey window and order a pizza from a passing junker, I can overlook any flaws.


– Cloudy with a chance of meatballs –

"Steve" voiced by Neil Patrick Harris in Columbia Pictures' animated film CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS.

Ice cream snow, talking monkey, dad with talking eyebrows, and a jelly castle. And a jelly castle. And ice cream snow. And a jelly castle..


Men in Black 


If the Fifth Element is a little spoofy then you’d think this was a talking dog too far. Actually, the talking dog was cute in this one. It managed a rare feat; took a subject, had a really good laugh at it and yet managed not to disrespect it. The minds behind Men in Black seem to love the cliches and conspiracies as much as the nutjobs do. It had style, a big slippery tongue stuck in its green cheek and an unexpectedly sharp script.


– Stargate


A film where James Spader doesn’t play the weirdo, it had mystery, sumptuous cinematography, the ultimate conspiracy theory and aliens that you could almost believe in – human yet not.. The quiet intensity of the acting, the authenticity provided by the language and the series that brought us Jack O’Neill with two l’s… I have precious little to fault, except I’d have liked a little more. I always regard that as the mark of a good film.


 – Wargames –


The original hacker film. And still the best, intriguing, ingenious, and completely believably human, no mean feat for a sci-fi film, especially in this slick whizz kid sub-genre. There were no special effects, with a slightly worn, small town America feel to the sets; no one dimensional villains, – not even the computer – and no character without their own distinct personality no matter how small their part, nor did they stint on shaping the relationships, even for those who only have one scene together. In particular the interplay between the guard and secretary, essentially nothing more than background noise as our hero makes his escape, is a story all of its own and lends an authenticity to the scene that I’ve never seen equaled. The tensions between the old school human approach and the new guard of science were brilliantly pitched especially for the time, when let’s remember tablets existed only on Star Trek. While the smarts on show (and sometimes lack thereof) unlike the seemingly superhuman abilities that most hacker-inspired shows display, were everyday enough to be believable while still ingenious enough to keep us grinning.


– Serenity –




Many credit this as the prequel that Star Wars deserved and I think – I may have to search the archives – Whedon himself has cited it as a primary influence. But then every sci-fi lover in the world between 8 and 80 has been influenced by Star Wars.

Serenity managed to bring all the elements that most of us loved in the first films – the rogue space traveller and his unlikely band of heroes, the seemingly impossible odds as they take on the establishment and its evil agenda, throw in romance, humour, adventure and some mysterious forces we can’t quite understand. They take a more scientific view of it than the ‘force’ putting it down to plain old human ambition and ill-advised intervention, which as someone who always leans more towards the science over the fantasy, I rather prefer. There’s a social commentary element contained within the Pax/Reavers reveal that I am not quite as taken with. Whedon excells in certain areas, namely those that make him master of popular entertainment, but often when you deconstruct the snappy dialogue and atomic level plotting, the actual message is somewhat simplistic. What saves it is his willingness to have his characters walk a dubious moral line and be really buff while doing it.


– Wall-e –


Possibly the most convincing and terrifying vision of the future I have ever seen, and yet still I feel its pull. There are days when a little floating buggy with built in juice cup and screen is all I want, especially if it comes with a rainhood. Love still saves the day – for a pixar obsessive you think that wouldn’t make me boke the way it does – yet there something about robot love that makes me willing to forgive. Maybe its dancing in space with Fire extinguishers, maybe it’s the love of life which the humans rediscover watching the robots live life with a thousand times the humanity they have, or perhaps ever had. Maybe it’s the lack of dialogue, there is something about love that doesn’t seek to explain itself or convince anyone else but simply is, that seems truly honest. In fact the dialogue and its subtlety something missing from both Toy Story and Finding Nemo, the earlier efforts of the fledgling studio, mark a change in style, a more grown up era that perhaps reflects their awareness of the Big Kids in their audience.


– Minority Report –


I have struggled to read Philip K Dick. Despite the sublime brilliance of the title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, he is a peculiarly difficult read. And yet his works have produced some of the best sci-fi films of all time. Minority Report was based on a short story of the same name however, as is the case in almost all of the adaptations of Dick’s work, the end of the story is changed. Given my difficulty with Dick’s writing style – marked by a cold remove and stiff characters – I’m not sure I can fairly compare the two, but taken on its own I felt the film was perfectly pitched. Despite dismantling pre-crime, and disavowing the ‘justice’ it had meted out, it still allowed the viewer the right to make up their own mind; the corruption and its eventual exposure was about protecting the human lives we had invested in more than the idea being fundamentally flawed. Again as with so many of my favourite sci-fi’s, what really made me love it was not the central story line as much as the way the world and the characters were realised. Spielberg didn’t become king of Hollywood by accident, as my mother taught me when I was first learning to sew, what makes a great seamstress is the finishing touches. Turns out film isn’t so different. The possessively devoted Wally, the grotesque eye doctor and his tetanus laden fridge, the automated personalised greeting in Gap, the man who wants to fantasize about killing his boss, and the slightly mad scientist with her too-personal touch… paying attention to the peripheries pays.

I know, you’ re thinking where is Star Wars? It’s there, in every film in the above list, in every film still to excite us. It’s always there, and it’s back on the 17TH!!!!!




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