6 Classic Sci-Fi Movies You Can’t Afford to Miss

The medium of film is a Holy Grail for science fiction fans: you can simply point to Avengers: Endgame and Arrival for some of its more recent eventful samplings. But the triumphs go much further back. Indeed, from I am Legend to Blade Runner, the silver screen’s preserved some of the greatest sci-fi stories ever told.

Yet this presents a problem of its own: when the oeuvre of masterworks runs so deep, just where should you start if you’re craving some science fiction fare? This post will travel back in time to take you through 6 timeless science fiction movies that deserve a viewing right now.

1.       2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey was the momentous result of a collaboration between two great minds: director Stanley Kubrick and famed sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. The film was first and foremost Kubrick’s brainchild — one that was sparked by the director’s fascination with Japanese tonkatsu films such as Warning from Space (one more must-see sci-fi film). He sought outside input for it, and eventually went to Clarke, who was already building a reputation as the “Prophet of the Space Age.” Thus was 2001: A Space Odyssey born.

Today, 2001: A Space Odyssey is upheld as a masterpiece — one that deals with evolution, AI, the power of technology, and existentialism on top of an epic journey in space. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, a feat for a movie in a genre that was extremely niche at the time. But most important of all is the indelible impact that it would make on future filmmakers: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Ridley Scott, and many more directors all credited it as an enduring source of inspiration for them.

2.       A Clockwork Orange (1971)

You could do worse than A Clockwork Orange, which ranks among the best in film — period. Adapted from a classic science fiction book, A Clockwork Orange is the dystopian story of a teenage delinquent who embarks on a crime spree with a small gang of thugs — and what ensues thereafter. Bloody, violent, and thoroughly thought-provoking when it comes to defining evil, it’s not for anyone who can’t stomach blood. But for everyone else? It’s well worth a watch.

3.       Logan’s Run (1976)

Another cornerstone of the genre that every fan of the genre must watch, Logan’s Run is set in a truly disturbing dystopian world where people are killed when they turn 30 years old. Logan 5, played by Michael York, is one of those “Sandmen” who terminate others. That is, until Logan 5 becomes one of the people who are supposed to be terminated. First released in 1976 and part of the decade that changed cinema, Logan’s Run is so visually dynamic and original that it stands up to the test of time today.

4.       Star Wars (1977)

Surely you knew that this one would make an appearance! If you still don’t know Star Wars by now, you must reside in a galaxy far, far away from ours. This monstrous franchise got off to a flying start (pun unintended) in more ways than one when its first installment, A New Hope, was first released in theatres in 1977.

With nine films — not to mention countless spin-offs and books — to its name, it’s one of the sci-fi juggernauts that truly brought science fiction into the mainstream. Though the franchise is rather sprawling, Star Wars film series focuses purely on the pivotal Skywalker family. The conclusion to the Skywalker saga is coming to theatres in December. If you’re keen on understanding the cultural zeitgeist that is Star Wars, you’ll want to watch its conclusion in December but may the Force be with you as you try to avoid spoilers.

5.       E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Steven Spielberg’s 1982 tour de force is difficult not to fall for. About a young boy who meets and makes friends with an extraterrestrial, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may seem simple on its surface. But this isn’t your standard film about aliens, as the rest of the film quickly establishes. Instead, it’s a moving story of friendship, wonder, and growing up — all of the elements that make up the best children’s books. What’s not up for debate is that it takes a special kind of movie to stand the test of time. E.T, which is today considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, certainly passed that exam with flying colors.

6.       Back to the Future (1985)

Set in both 1985 and 1955, Back to the Future is the simple story of a boy and a girl — except the girl is the boy’s mom. Not quite the story that you expected? That’s part of the charm of Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis’ rollicking science fiction movie about a teenager named Marty McFly who accidentally is sent back in time by mad scientist “Doc” Brown.

On paper, it might sound akin to a story that’s just been churned out by a plot generator. But it works. At once comic and serious, especially when it deals with themes of fate and free will, Back to the Future is simply a fully rewarding ride at the end of the day — one that’s made even more colorful by the oddball pairing of Marty and “Doc” Brown.

7.       Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s emphatic directorial debut, one that cemented Garland as one to watch in the exciting future. Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander star in this science fiction thriller, in which a reclusive CEO invites a regular employee to a vast private estate in order to test out a brand-new invention — a robotic woman. But neither can expect the aftermath of the experiment, or what ramifications it might contain for them. Flashy but thoughtful, Ex Machina is a classic in the making.

Virgin Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane
He sees you when you’re sleeping.

I hadn’t seen any of the films with Cloverfield in the title, not Cloverfield itself,  or 10 Cloverfield Lane, nor the Cloverfield Paradox. I’m not clear if they’re even related to each other. Some sources say yes, but think it might indicate a anthology of unrelated trippy stories, like a  movie analog to TV’s Twilight Zone.

So while I cannot confirm or deny if these movies are even in the same universe, I will go on record to say 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very enjoyable film. It’s kind of like one of those “experience” movies, where a first time viewing is the best, because you don’t know what’s going on, or how things will end up.

[pullquote]It’s also one of those films you can’t describe without spoiling it, like Cabin in the Woods and Gone Girl and — you know what? Even just saying there’s stuff I can’t say is a spoiler. [/pullquote]

If you’re spoiler averse, you might want to stop reading now and come back after you see this flick.

Okay, here we go. This psychological suspense thriller could have been penned from Hitchcock himself. It’s a perfect example of a bottle show, taking place almost entirely in a confined room. The claustrophobic tone is enhanced by the camera  staying very close to the characters’ faces. There are a few takes where this is very noticeable, like when Michelle and Emmett are sharing their life stories.  The camera swaps tight images of their faces without pulling back to show them in  the same frame, to enhance the feelings of separation and loneliness.

There’s a lot of close-in, canted angles, interesting framing devices, and many symbolic shots cleverly taking the place of verbal exposition — like Michelle’s nail polish slowly chipping off to show the passage of time, and the recurring image of the Eiffel Tower reminding us of possible dark deeds around the fate of Howard’s daughter. An agitated Michelle in the teaser tells us all the backstory we need about this character, without a word.

There are very few wide shots, and the few we do see just reinforce that the entire movie is filmed in a small bunker. We don’t see any landscape shots until the last act, with a surprise tonal change that manages to genre-shift the entire movie. What began as a tautly compelling suspense mystery suddenly turns into a science-fiction feature. I enjoyed both storylines, but it really was an abrupt mood swing.

One cool bit of attention to detail: Howard was watching Pretty in Pink, and they manage to name drop the movie out loud for our benefit. If you recall, that’s the one were Molly Ringwald wanted to be a clothes designer. Which is what we know Michelle wanted. (Ya think that will become important?)

So, is Howard right, or is he looneytunes? (Answer: both.) What’s with the girl who may be Megan, but is more likely Tiffany? Who wrote HELP on the window and what happened to her? Why does Howard have a barrel full of hydrochloric acid? What were those things doing to the world?

I kind of like that so few elements were resolved: I can use my imagination to fill in the rest of the blanks. I also have to wonder…what would I have done in her situation?

Movie Grade: B+

One cool thing I wanted to add: there’s a scene were Howard tells Michelle “Let’s go — bathroom time!” Wouldn’t that be the best meta cue for a Peetime?

RunPee’s original Movie Review of 10 Cloverfield Lane

Movie Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane

Prettiest Live Action Movies

Here’s a fun topic, a list of the “prettiest” ever live action movies. They have to be gorgeous on their own merits, plot aside. I’m looking for outstanding visuals. [pullquote]What qualifies as pretty? Lots of color, slick visual or computer generated effects that stand up through time, creative set-pieces, stylish direction, and lavish location scenery.[/pullquote] If you leave a theater thinking, “Wow! That was stunning,” then it’s a contender.

You’ll notice that most of the following are in sci-fi and fantasy genres, which is a viewing bias some of us at RunPee have. Help out in the comments so I may add more to this ongoing list. NOTE: Linked titles go to our movie reviews.

Well, there’s our short list, ready for you to add your opinions to. What are we missing? Where do you disagree?

Movie Review – The Terminator

He came back.

The Terminator is one of the truly perfect films in the science fiction genre. Sure, there are temporal paradox/causality loop issues, but you have to handwave that and go along with the premise. And why not? If you’re going to tell a time travel story about what happens when the singularity occurs — and it turns out AI cyborgs decide to eradicate Man — it doesn’t get better than this. Argue all you like, Asimov fans. 😉

This is heart-pounding action with a bit of sweet, wistful romance, some humor, magnificent chase scenes, a great urban 1980s setting, fatal mistakes by a rookie Sarah Connor, sardonic wisdom from the young, war-hardened time traveler, and a really scary unstoppable killing machine.

Everyone showed a spirited commitment to their unlikely roles. There are some interesting early ‘cameos’, like Bill Paxton as a young punk. I still have a crush on Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese (who played the equally awesome but essentially same character in the fantastically-scary-but-delicious Aliens film), and Linda Hamilton will always be my Sarah Connor. Finally, Arnold, as the Terminator, was a revelation (his entire acting and subsequent political career really kicked off right here).

Some lines might be hokey to modern ears, but I love it all, after all this time, and quote them in daily life. (Here’s three quotes, offhand: “Come with me if you want to live.” “That’s what he does! That’s ALL he does!… And he absolutely will not stop…ever, until you are dead!” And, of course, “I’ll be back.” Duh.)

There’s also an interestingly mechanized score by Brad Fiedel, with the subtle thrumming theme of the Terminator lingering as an iconic sound, recognizable through the entire franchise. (We can debate the various merits of the other Terminator movies/TV shows in the comments section below.)

When the exoskeletal version of the T-800 rises from the flames, it’s a horrifying moment. (Although, if you were aware at all of James Cameron movies, you would expect his signature ‘fake-out’ endings. But hey, they do work.) The scene where a wounded Sarah kills the crawling death robot is gripping, chilling, and deeply satisfying. (“You’re terminated, [email protected]” Yeah.)

The final moment in Mexico is superbly understated, ominous, frightening, and strangely hopeful. “There’s a storm coming.” “I know.” And now I have goosebumps. An enduring film, worthy of RunPee’s Classic Movie Hits List.

Movie Grade – A+

Movie Review – Ghost in the Shell

Grade: A-

This is a really, really pretty movie. It’s also a seamless use of CGI, and I’m normally really hard on films that rely extensively on computer animation. It totally works in this one.

Ghost in the Shell is an origin story for a comic book character called Major, and apparently this isn’t a case of ‘Asian whitewashing’ if you are an established fan. Johannson does a good job carrying the film, giving us a stoic, understated hero, struggling to understand whether she has any humanity left. Don’t expect a lot of humor – the main lighthearted moments are reserved for her friend and coworker Bantou, who really is the best part of the film. I smiled whenever he entered a scene.

Everyone else is deadly serious. I’m not a huge fan of deadly serious stories, but understand how the themes in GitS are relatively mature – presenting the nature of man, and the ethics of cybernetic enhancements. Where exactly do we draw the line in upgrading one’s given body, in pursuit of perfect health, upgraded skills…or frivolity (for example, getting an implant that lets you drink too much, so you don’t get hung over)? If you like the works of Philip K Dick, you’ll relate to this story. I do wish it had been a bit lighter in tone, however.

It’s a relatively short origin superhero tale (at one hour and 47 minutes), with an efficient pace. The action is exciting, reliable, and easy to follow. There’s a tremendous amount of dialog though, making it tough to find Peetimes. If I had to relate this movie to others, I’d say it has elements of Blade Runner, Minority Report, and a bit of The Matrix. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t achieve any of the bars set by those films, but is a respectable offering for what I expect to be a new franchise. I wasn’t disappointed, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Movie Review – Passengers

Grade: A+

I am exhausted from a long, late night movie, so I will be short and sweet tonite. Mainly, I want to say: SEE THIS FILM. I never give an A+ rating, and this movie deserves it.

Chris Pratt is a treasure; Jennifer Lawrence brings her A-game, and this movie is a pure delightful mix of romance, science fiction, adventure, and just…beauty. It was hard to find Peetimes, since each moment was a pleasure and a joy.

I saw this film in a rear corner, in a mediocre room, with a small screen and tinny sounds, and it still knocked my socks off. I swear; I cannot find my socks. See this in a great theater, with 3D, with good sound…I will get out to see this properly again as soon as possible. FANTASTIC.

UPDATE: I just saw this film again, in 3D. I recommend the 3D version, even though it wasn’t filmed with that in mind, simply because this movie is so beautiful. On a 3D screen, the space scenes really made me feel like I was there, which is a sort of wish-fulfillment for my geeky soul. The glasses didn’t make anything noticeably darker. It just made everything in space prettier.

NEW NOTE: It seems that if you loved Gravity, you may not like Passengers. And vice-versa. You can tell where I fall on this spectrum. To those berating Jim’s big decision, I ask you – what would YOU have done in his situation? Sometimes I think the critics judge too harshly, without taking human nature into account. In any case, this film is a lot more like The Martian than Gravity, or any of those other uber-serious sci fi films.

Movie review – Battle: Los Angeles

[ No Spoilers ]

Battle: Los Angeles is an amazingly fun, action packed, and gut wrenching movie. There was nothing that I didn’t like about the film. It has a lot in common with the other modern alien invasion movies: District 9, Independence Day, etc. But it is closer to District 9 in it’s grittyness.

The movie follows a platoon of marines starting 24 hours before the invasion through about a day or so of fighting. Once the action starts there is hardly a chance to catch your breath until the credits – making it hard to find peetimes! 🙂

One word of warning that I’d offer is that many of the shots are done with a shaky handheld camera. You won’t want to sit too close to the screen for this film. I sat in the back row and it hardly bothered me at all.

What I appreciated the most about the film is how well they avoided the need to go over the top with impossible action shots – as in ID4. They also avoided any unnecessary need to trudge up any fake romances or inappropriate humor. As much as an alien invasion movie is fiction this seemed real – which made it all the more gripping.

The only exposition comes from just a few short news clips that we watch with the marines. So we know what they know and that’s it. There’s no jumping around to different groups of people. Halfway through the movie you’ll be able to feel like your a member of the squad as well.

The movie is graphic but not over the top. There are no shots of limbs being blown off – as in Saving Private Ryan. There is only one scene in the movie that might seem gross – the alien autopsy – but even that is pretty tame.

I’m not a military veteran but if you are this movie will make you feel proud. The marines are the good guys out fighting to save their country and it’s citizens. Hooah!

Movie review : Avatar

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[ No Spoilers ]

As soon as this movie was over I knew that it was in my top 10 all time favorites. After some careful consideration I’d put it in the top 3 – with Return of the King and The Matrix.

A word about 3D
I get motion sick fairly easy. So I was a bit apprehensive going in to see this in 3D. I usually avoid 3D screens, and on the occasions that I have experienced them it was bad. Usually 3D movies show a few scenes here and there in 3D, but the majority of the time you’re wearing those funky glasses for nothing.

Well that’s not the case here. Cameron waited 10 years to make this movie because he wanted to do it right – which means he wanted to do it his way. The movie is 3D from beginning to end. And not just that, but it’s good 3D. Cameron doesn’t go for cheap gimmicks by randomly throwing things at the audience. Oh, sure there are a few, very few, times that something might make you flinch, but for the most part the 3D experience just brings you deeper into the scene.

And I completely forgot that I was wearing the glasses and watching a 3D movie after about the first 30 minutes. The movie is that good. So see it in 3D or don’t even bother seeing it.

Stunningly beautiful
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there has never been a more beautiful movie ever made. Pandora is breathtaking. You get that from the previews but you see so much more in the movie.

Pacing and story
Cameron is a master at pacing. No, he is the master at pacing. You’ll get pulled into the story and forget that you’re sitting in a movie theater even though the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. The movie seamlessly switches back and forth between the avatar and non-avatar world. You’re never in a scene too long that it begins to drag. The action scenes are just long enough. Cameron never interjects additional action just to show off. He’s here to tell a story that he has worked and re-worked for years. That makes it tight.

Nothing more to say than it was perfect.

Bottom line
Cameron has secured himself in the director pantheon. In my opinion, he and Spielberg sit alone at the pinnacle of Mt. Director. Cameron put everything on the line and risked a great deal of money and his reputation. Both are going to get a huge boost from Avatar.

Oh, and Mr. George Lucas: You need to attend any workshops on directing that Cameron might offer. You could learn a thing or two from this man.

What did you think about Avatar? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.

Are Modern Movies Too Long?

Bladder Bursting Blockbusters – are modern movies too long?

As Alfred Hitchcock said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” Beautifully said and appropriate for most films. wikipedia creative commons film photo

The above-linked Yahoo News Story lists wonderful films clocking in at 90 minutes – Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark – films that would have foundered at longer lengths (like their very own sequels/prequels, actually). Hitchcock wisdom aside, I ‘m not sure 90 minutes is the magic minute number for all films.

The Lord of the Rings films are, inarguably, verrrrry loooong. But the Lord of the Rings book is thousands of pages! Thousands. That trilogy needs the length to explain things properly, and still many of the movie version’s storylines are compressed. Tom Bombadill was eliminated as a plot point – which I am okay with, granted – but when favorite characters like Faramir and Theoden get short shrift, it irks. The poignantly dark story of Denethor was reduced to a joke. Saruman’s film farewell was just unfortunate, compared to his kick-ass denoument in the novel. My point is, the movies could have been even longer in this case, but not shorter.

Titanic was also very well told, despite the seemingly-excessive screen time. It’s a clean story with a good pace; I would have hated to miss any of it. Titanic is long, yes, but somehow stays fresh with every viewing.

The Color Purple is another classic long film without fat. Shawshank Redemption fills its running time nicely; The Abyss is just about right…so, not every long film is a tedious bore.

wikipedia creative commons peter jacksonBut then there are the films that really could have – nay, should have – been shorter. Peter Jackson, fresh off the Oscar success of Lord of the Rings, was granted much too much leeway to directorially dictate King Kong.

Jackson’s overweening Kong story clunks along with frequent gratuitious interludes, like the psychotic bug swamp gross-fest. By the time the gorilla gets to NYC, you’ve long since stopped caring about anyone but the girl, and you wish Jack Black would just die already.

Did you know King Kong is actually the movie that inspired the creation of RunPee in the first place?

We really should make an award for that.

So what is the answer? Besides being armed with a list of good PeeTimes?

Well, directors should hire excellent film editors, for a start – people who know when a story starts to sag but don’t keep you breathless for the whole ride, either. A movie like The Bourne Identity got it right – not slow, but not exhausting. Aliens got it right and so did Pitch Black (even though, once again, their sequels forgot how to tell their stories properly). Finding Nemo is just about perfect. Australia didn’t get it right: sitting through it feels like watching three unrelated, rather tedious films.

What movies do you think are too long? Is it only epic and adventure films that suffer from poor editing? What movies do you think got it right?

New Transformers Review posted on RunPee

RunPee has a new movie reviewer for Science Fiction movies in the esteemed Michelle Taylor, Science Fiction Movies Editor at BellaOnline.com.

She’s posted her Transformers review on our blog –> Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen <– (it’s a cool review)

From Michelle Taylor’s bio on BellaOnline.com: Michelle Taylor, Science Fiction Movie Guru

As far as movies go, I am not the “girly-girl” type. If the word “romance” is in the description of the movie, you are not going to find me in the theatre.

However, if there are amazing special effects, kick-butt fight scenes, and the promise of some kind of monster or alien – well, sign me up!

Like many of you, I cut my teeth on “Star Wars” in the early 70s and haven’t looked back. I am also an avid Marvel comics fan (with a major collection of X-men and related universe titles) and so the production of comic books into movies is right up my alley! I also love reading, so I grew up with the epic tales like “Lord of the Rings” and was thrilled to see those adaptations. And finally the roles of women in Scifi/Fantasy have been growing and strengthening ever since the movies of “Alien” and “Terminator”. These are all things that keep me coming back to the theatre.

We are excited to welcome Michelle to our growing list of reviewers at RunPee and look forward to reading her POV on sci fi!

RunPee - PeeTimes link

What do you think about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.