Sunday, February 26, 2012

Five innovative sci-fi flicks

(From the Feb. 15-29 issue of The Fortnightly)
Audacious adventures across space and time
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Some science fiction flicks introduce ideas that blow viewers’ minds, but are also archetypal enough to change people’s perception of films or filmmaking altogether. Here’s a short but sweet list enumerating some influential, groundbreaking or otherworldly sci-fi movie experiences:

Star Wars (1977)
Over three decades ago, George Lucas’ original science fiction-fantasy film won over its first devotees, packing theaters worldwide and thrilling to the action-packed adventures of some defiant underdogs. “Star Wars” started with “Episode IV: A New Hope,” centering on a handful of space-faring rebel characters such as scrappy farm boy Luke Skywalker, charming rogue Han Solo, and feisty damsel Princess Leia. The more complex sequel (and that Ewok-infested last part) revealed that it’s a saga about a fractured family, whose secrets were later revealed in the “missing” prequel episodes.
The visually dazzling film redefined summer spectacles and made merchandise an integral part of the equation. Fans excitedly gobbled up the action figure collections, books, shirts, and related memorabilia. Lucas kept tweaking his “Star Wars” movies to adapt to the times, creating new footage with updated technology and re-releasing the films every couple of years.

Alien (1979)
Crew members aboard the spaceship Nostromo discover an unwanted guest, a violent extraterrestrial creature that eventually decimates their group. Melding science fiction concepts with horror storytelling techniques, the Ridley Scott-directed “Alien” introduced Ellen Ripley, a vulnerable but resourceful warrant officer who survives the attack and evolves into an action heroine in subsequent films. Sigourney Weaver breathed life into the character through its various transformations and lengthy war with the titular creatures.

Its influence can still be felt decades later, primarily in deadly cat-and-mouse scenarios of hybrid-genre monster flicks such as “Predator,” “The Relic,” and “Pitch Black,” to name a few. Even some horror-slasher flicks learned tremendously from the film’s eerie atmosphere and effective narrative devices.

Tron (1982)
Certainly ahead of its time, “Tron” was an oddity with distinctly memorable visuals. Software engineer and video game designer Kevin Flynn finds himself exploring a virtual world where programs sporting human forms duel. Its luminously garbed denizens and outlandish environments were uniquely “modern,” but a more fleshed out and visually sophisticated realm would be presented in its 2010 sequel.

“Tron Legacy” gives the reimagined Grid dimension a more contemporary feel, enhanced immensely by current animation technology. Edgier than ever, the sci-fi-action flick sequel provided interesting man-god allegories and human-machine rivalries, aside from delivering snazzy glow-in-the-dark gladiator matches.

Terminator (1984)
The time-traveling, titular killer cyborg hunts down the mother of a future rebel leader to ensure victory for intelligent machines. James Cameron’s riveting action-science fiction melding retooled old time travel scenarios but exuded more immediacy. Its excellent sequel expounded on the never-ending conflict, as well as re-introduced a more war-equipped Sarah Connor.

Gun-toting man-machines versus hardened human warriors—the “Terminator” spawned some copycats and parodies. Its mythology eventually expanded to comic book tie-ins and a TV series spinoff.  

The Matrix (1999)
The prophesied savior Neo fights dangerous opponents in an artificial reality as part of the war against machine subjugators in the real world. Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, “The Matrix” meshed existential themes with fast-paced action scenarios. Capable of incredible feats in that virtual world, Neo repeatedly confronts the enslavers’ renegade-hunting Agents.

The film’s flashy action choreography and visual effects became widely imitated and spoofed by various films and TV shows during the previous decade. 

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