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Five Great Standalone Science-Fiction Films

by on 2012/01/01

About a year and a half ago, when planning the monthly topics for our blog, I realized science fiction posed a bit of a problem. (To avoid it was not an option, especially given our focus on all things geeky.)

The range of definitions for the genre was less an issue than volume. There were so many contenders. The stumbling block was passed by dividing the pool into two smaller groups: series entries and standalones. Last January (2011) I looked at the “firsts” in various sci-fi series. Now we turn to the soloists.

As with our unconventional Christmas focus, however, it struck me that we’ve also already done some great standalones in the normal course of our blogging. So before we get started on our monthly trawl, I’d like to present five of the best so far.

This sampling of already-studied titles, listed in alphabetical order, isn’t exhaustive or definitive, but covers a wide period of time, and is a reasonable survey of science fiction topics. Each deals with a phenomenon or technology posing a problem, be it alien, artificial life and intelligence, robotics, travel through time and space, and living with and within virtual worlds.

At least two of these choice have been remade, and others have been revisited in lesser-known follow-ups, but none has spawned a series of three or more movies. Worthy contenders like Metropolis, for example, didn’t make the cut for being less about tech than politics. Other films covered interesting topics but simply weren’t as effective as these five films.

Which is not to say I loved them all — this isn’t melodrama, after all — but I have to be rational and give credit where it’s due. All five are admirable, intriguing, and undeniably great science fiction.

Blade Runner (1982) on 2011/08/16

* * * *

Blade Runner asks about or suggests numerous philosophical matters. Must a predator resemble its prey? Is their likeness inevitable? What is the relationship between creators, creations, and their flaws? Are memories worthless — or worth less, for that matter — if they are not real? And what makes something real? What constitutes living? Feeling?”

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) on 2011/10/31

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The Day the Earth Stood Still is a family friendly, re-watchable, highly entertaining classic, and thought-provoking on several different levels. It’s got aliens, robots, paranoia, action, subtext, great lighting, and a proto-electronic score . . . all of which explains why it’s also got a rating of five stars.”

eXistenZ (1999) on 2010/07/26

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eXistenZ is a stunning work of fiction, far in advance of its time. Its recursive complexity may finally find acceptance with the pop success of Inception (and the followers that Nolan’s film will probably inspire). Both meditations on the nature of delusion, escape, and obsession, eXistenZ plays more as a cautionary tale, forsaking sweep for shock, and polish for grit.”

Timecrimes (2008) on 2010/05/01

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Timecrimes is a time travel movie . . . built more on ideas than action, but it will not wait for viewers to understand its patterns as it continues to unravel and reweave itself in turn. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a bloody gauze bandage. Horrific, yes, but still more visionary than visceral.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on 2011/08/28

* * * *

2001: A Space Odyssey is worth seeing, as intensely interesting as it is nearly boring. My experience was slow, protracted, disjointed, and uneven, but it was also unexpectedly compelling, impressive, and interesting, an effort ahead of its time . . . far ahead. It belongs in a post-robot-uprising age.”

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