Monday, December 27, 2010

Top Science-Fiction & Fantasy Films, 2001-2010

Numbers 5-7
Did you agree with the inclusion of No.8-10 on the list?  Today we'll be looking at an altogether more impressive set of films.

7.  Minority Report, dir. Steven Spielberg, 2002
Philip K. Dick's fiction has been fruitful ground for film-makers, dating right back to Bladerunner.  Dick was much better as a writer at throwing out brilliant ideas than he was at translating them into formally satisfying fiction, but those brilliant ideas make fantastic elevator pitches.   Minority Report is certainly not especially faithful to its source, but it builds on the idea of a police force which maintains order by being able to see crimes about to be committed.  This future, and the tensions and contradictions it embodies, are neatly realised in Spielberg's vision, and the presence of Tom Cruise at the height of his stardom does not unbalance the whole.  A pacy thriller and subtle exploration of a deterministic future, Minority Report remains an underrated piece.

6. The Dark Knight, dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008
Nolan has an extraordinary body of work, and although The Dark Knight is remembered primarily for Heath Ledger's bravura turn as The Joker, the film is much more impressive than that would suggest.  Most comic book adaptations rarely impress on the big screen, but Nolan's vision of a dark and corrupt Gotham City never fails to grip.  Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is a dark, unhappy soul and he's entirely at home here.  Anyone who remembers the earlier film representations of the Caped Crusader will be astonished at the power and resonance Nolan has extracted from the source material.  The special effects are stunning, but the viewer is so caught up in the narrative that they are hardly noticed.

5. Serenity, dir. Joss Whedon, 2005
Whedon is in some ways Nolan's antithesis.  Every bit as talented, he has the sad knack of creating excellent work which fails to score the commercial success necessary to continue.  Firefly and Dollhouse were both remarkable TV series and both were canned prematurely (especially Firefly).  Serenity is the film we got to round off the Firefly series instead.  It's a fine film, pleasantly low-tech, with nuanced characters and a script well above the norm for the genre.  An ensemble cast create a believable and likeable crew, enhanced by a crackingly menacing turn from Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Whedon's vision here is the nearest cinema gets to Jack Vance.  It's a fine end to the Firefly experiment, but it leaves the reader melancholy for all the TV series we might have had.

Next: films 2, 3 and 4.


dolorah said...

I just read through the last several posts in this series. I must say, you nailed it on Avatar.

I enjoyed the best and worst post too. Quite entertaining.

The Dark Knight is by far my favorite of all the Batman Movies, but I did enjoy them all. I wasn't impressed with Minority Report; every actor has an off movie or two though, so it did not diminish my love of Tom Cruise. I haven't seen Serenity. I'll have to put it on my movie list.

Great roundup you have going on here Tim. I enjoyed it very much.


Tim Stretton said...

Part of the fun of these lists is that you never get complete consensus (how dull it would be otherwise!).

Serenity is best watched after you've seen the Firefly TV series, because it's a direct continuation. Well worth seeking out those dozen or so episodes.

As you'll see, The Dark Knight was only my second-favourite Batman movie...

C. N. Nevets said...

Minority Report is greatly underrated. I think it pulls off the thriller pacing and the action set pieces so effectively that critics on the whole didn't actually pay attention to the film and catch PKD's vision for the story. It's not just a spec fic action flick. It's a good film.

I'm admit it. I have boycotted the Nolan batman movies for absolutely shallow and reprehensible reasons. Someday I will grow up. But I'm a Marvel guy. And I know the these movies are amazing. And I don't want to see a DC movie that is more amazing than a Marvel movie. There. I said it.

Serenity blew me away. I love Firefly. I'm a guy who grew up loving westerns, loving science fiction, and fascinated with Chinese culture. When I found Firefly, I was like, "Wait, this has elements of all three?" And I nearly passed out. I still nearly pass out when I watch it sometimes.

My wife got if for me on Blu-Ray for Christmas.

Serenity itself was an expertly done movie. Not just because of its story (which is solid sci fi, even on its own), nor because it caps Firefly (and does so nicely), but because of the tough call that was made:

Spoiler Alert

Letting Wash die right because the climactic confrontation was one of the best cinematic moves I have ever experienced. Once Wash died, all of a sudden you as the viewer had to take the rest of the battle seriously. I know I for one slipped out of, "How are they going to get out of this one?" and into, "Holy crap, are they all going to die except River?"

It forced me to believe in the possibility of the bad outcome, which made the tension very much more powerful and believable.

Tim Stretton said...

Excellent points on Serenity, Nevets. I remember watching the end of the film thinking they were all going to die - for exactly the reason you said.

Have you read Cordwainer Smith. Not a western in sight, but his SF short fiction is heavily influenced by Chinese culture, to bizarre and sometimes astounding effect.

I came to the Batman films without the Marvel baggage. I can understand fidelity to cherished source material but seriously, these films are amazing!