Monday, May 11, 2015

A Series of Genres: Sci-Fi

I think it’s about time to wrap up this series. This genre study has been an adventure, to say the less. I want to end this series with my all-time favorite genre, Science Fiction (Sci-Fi). In my Fantasy post I defined Sci-Fi as being, “rooted in science or scientific theory that usually has an outer space setting.” I would like to take that definition and expand upon it. Science fiction films use science, pseudoscience, and / or scientific theories as their primary plot device. The “science” in these films tend to be partially fabricated, if not totally fabricated. Along with “science”, the Sci-Fi genre usually showcases these characteristics: outer space as a setting, time or interstellar travel, new technology, aliens, mutants, androids / robots being used as characters, or exploration of an else-world scenarios. Sci-Fi films give the audience an outlet to escape reality, much like the Fantasy genre dose, hence why most combined the two genres as Sci-Fi / Fantasy. 

There have been many visionaries, throughout history that have given us that escape. In the modern world, movies and their director are the ones responsible for proving that form of entertainment. I would like to share a handful of directors that have given us some of the best Sci-Fi worlds in cinema. First off there is J.J Abrams, he started his career as a television producer, creating shows like Alias, Lost, and Fringe. He then made a jump to the silver screen directing Mission: Impossible III, from there Abrams flexed his geek muscles and made the reboot to Star Trek. J.J. Abrams has continued down this Sci-Fi path directing Super 8, and the sequel to Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness. His latest project is none other than Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. 

The next director I have to mention is James Cameron, the father of The Terminator. Looking at James Cameron’s filmography he has written pretty much everything in the Terminator universe. James Cameron is also responsible for Avatar (not the Last Airbender) and their sequels, which he is currently working on. His plan is to film Avatar 2, 3, and 4 all back-to-back. Other Sci-Fi films James Cameron has been a part of include, The Abyss and Aliens. Before James Cameron there was Ridley Scott, who made Alien, the preceding film to Aliens. His very next film was Blade Runner, which is arguable one of best Sci-fi films ever made. Ridley Scott didn't touch the Sci-Fi genre again until 2012 with the film Prometheus, which was a prequel / spin-off to the Alien franchise. As far as, Ridley Scott future career goes, he is in talks of producing an Alien movie directed by Neill Blomkamp, along with a sequel to Prometheus. 

I’m going to move from Ridley Scott to Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is synonymous with filmmaking, his name has been attached to many different projects, spanning across film, television, and video games. I’m sure you have heard of this guy, but if not, let me rattle off some of his films: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and, War of the Worlds (remake). Those are only the Sci-Fi films he has directed, which is only the tip of the iceberg, especially if factor in all of the films he has produced. Form his resume it seems like he know what he is doing when to come to Sci-Fi. As a matter of fact, some of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi films were directed by Spielberg. 

If you have been paying attention, so far, then you may have realized that a lot of the films I have mentioned are big budget summer blockbuster films, with intense visual effects. To bring these vast worlds to life on the big screen, filmmakers have to create them digitally and sometime partially. For me, good VFX is a perfect balance of “real” and “fake” some may even call it, seamless. I found it interesting that most filmmakers that work on Sci-Fi films usually have to create new ways to capture visual effect shots. One of those filmmakers is George Lucas, who founded Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in 1975 while working on the first Star War film. ILM should sound fairly familiar because that company is responsible for most of the visual effects today. One of the films that stick out in my mind, which made major breakthroughs in visual effects and “CGI” is Tron (1982). 

Tron is credited as the first film to use extensive computer animation, but because of the capacity of the computers, at that time, the film only uses that form of technology for about twenty minutes of the film. The rest of the visual effect shots had to be done more traditionally by filming in black-and-white with an all-black backgrounds. The color bits were added in later with rotoscopic techniques and cel-animation. It’s been said that because of the process and cost, that form of animation hasn't really been used again in a feature film. The next film to have similar ambitions as Tron, visually speaking, was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was nearly ten years after Tron. T2’s visual effects, advanced the applications of CGI by being the first film to utilize natural human motion from a CG character. These advancements landed the film an Academy Award in the Best Visual Effects category. 

At the end of 1990’s, 1999 to be exact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science gave The Matrix and Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Personally, I think The Matrix has heavily inspired visual effect artists today, by popularizing the effect known as “bullet time” See this effect for the “first time” in the Matrix was one of the coolest things in a movie. I remember being in full amazement at point in the film. Now days, that effect or a variant of that effect is used quite often, case and point, Zack Snyder. 

I could spend a whole post talking about visual effects and CGI, and I may in the future, but we are here talking about Sci-Fi films. Well, Sci-Fi films and visual effect go hand-in-hand, especially films being made now. The visual effects in a Sci-Fi film tend to be its best quality, so much so, the Academy takes notice awarding them the Best Visual Effects Oscar. This category and other visual categories like Best Make-Up is really the only love the Academy shows towards Sci-Fi films. Every once in a while a Sci-Fi film is nominated for the Best Picture category. In 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was nominated for Best Picture but, Gandhi took home the prize that year. In recent years, the Best Picture category has expanded its potential list of nominations to ten nominations. Since that change, only five Sci-Fi films have been recognized as one of the greats: Avatar, District 9, Inception, Gravity, and Her. 

What Sci-Fi films are considered great? We have already examined some of the great directors that have produced great Sci-Fi films. We have even explored the world of visual effects and how Sci-Fi films have evolved that area of filmmaking. This exploration leads us into the many accolades these films have received for breathtaking visuals, some have even been nominated for the most prestigious film awards, The Academy Award (Oscar). Now, I want to share with you my favorite Sci-Fi films.

My favorite Big Budget Sci-Fi films are: 

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 
  2. Tie: Interstellar / Inception 
  3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey 
  5. Independence Day 

My favorite Indie Sci-Fi films are: 

  1. Moon 
  2. District 9 
  3. Donnie Darko 
  4. Sunshine 
  5. Attack The Block 

Top Franchise in Sci-Fi:

  1. Star Wars 
  2. Back to the Future 
  3. Jurassic Park 
  4. Star Trek 
  5. Terminator 

  • Honorable Mention: Planet of the Apes 

I have mentioned before in this series that Star Wars was a Fantasy set in space. I still hold that to be true. The story element line up with many fantasy tales, but there a lot of Sci-Fi elements as well. Star Wars become a full Sci-Fi film, if you compare it to the definition I stated back in the first paragraph. I have been a Star Wars fan for quite some time, well since the 90’s when I first learned about Star Wars. My parents had the original Star War trilogy on VHS. I was part of the millions who watch every single prequel film at their midnight release. I understand why die hard Star Wars fan disown the prequels. As I aged, I began to sway with that line of thinking more and more because Star Wars became very kiddie. My excitement of Star Wars has been rekindled because of The Force Awakens. If you are a huge Star Wars fan, like me, than I suggest checking out AMC Jedi Council. It’s a weekly show, hosted by cast members of AMC Movie Talk, which covers everything Star Wars. 

Back to the Future is by far one of my all-time favorite movies. The funny thing about Back to the Future is that it could have been on any one of these genre lists. It is first and foremost a comedy, with the premises, what would it be like to hang out with your parents when they were a teenagers. To achieve that goal a time machine is in order, and if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style? This film franchise first takes us back to 1955, were Marty has to hang out for a few days while Doc Brown figures outs how to send Marty back to 1985. The second film shows us the future, 2015, that right the future is now. In the third film, Doc has become trapped in 1885, the old west era, and Marty has to rescue him before Biff’s descendant kills him. Overall Back to the Future is a great action / adventure comedy with sci-fi elements. 

Have you ever been to a museum and seen dinosaur bones, or even a model of a dinosaur and think, “I want to see a real dinosaur?” Well, the Jurassic Park franchise made that dream come true. Steven Spielberg brought, a world where dinosaur can be visited by humans at a theme park named Jurassic Park. Our amazement is shared with the character Dr Grant (Sam Neill) when the first dinosaur is revealed. By the end of the film our opinion to see a real dinosaur, changes because of the apex predator known as the T-Rex. He reigns king of the dinosaur until the third movie, when the Spinosaurus becomes the new big bad dinosaur. The next film in the franchise is Jurassic World, it’s kind of a reboot. The film’s synopses: In an attempt to boost visitor’s attendance, park scientist create a new dinosaur by mixing the DNA of many different dinosaurs. This new species of dinosaur, Indominus Rex, escapes its enclosure causing death and destruction upon the park. It’s up to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to save the day before too much damage has been done. 

I didn't really get into the Star Trek universe until the rebooted movies directed by J.J Abrams. These movies brought an updated version of the original Star Trek series / films, and revitalized the franchise. I personally liked The Next Generation television series a little better than the original series, but original series had a better set of films. Arguably, the best film in that franchise is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, some even claim it to be the best Sci-Fi film ever made. Star Trek is what I imagine when some say Sci-fi, because the characters have to use their own wits and science to solve the problems in the universe. Star Trek also screams Sci-Fi because of the tech. The original series didn't have that big of a budget, so the show’s creators had to be creative in creating “futuristic looking tech.” I know that some of these effects were achieved in the sound design, who could forget those classic beeps and bops. 

I almost didn't include The Terminator franchise because this film series hasn't made that immense of an impact on my viewing experience. I think I speak for most film fans that The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are the best of the franchise. Let’s be honest guys the only real reason we watched Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is to see Kristanna Loken in tight leathers. Besides the eye candy I didn't think that film was that good. Terminator Salvation was a decent film. I’m personally NOT the biggest fan of McG’s work. I kind of enjoyed his television show, Chuck, but that’s about it. I’m kind of looking forward to Terminator Genisys, primarily because of the cast: Jason Clark (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Lee Byung-hun (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator). For me the one person that keeps The Terminator franchise alive is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He made The Terminator / T-800 an iconic character. This movie made Arnold Schwarzenegger a cool action hero that you don’t want to mess with. 

Honorable Mention: Planet of the Apes nearly made it to my top five over The Terminator. The main reason I didn't include this franchise is because I haven’t really been that invested into the films. Much like Star Trek I was more or less introduced to the franchise with the reboots. I do remember watching the 1963 film with my father, one of the times it aired on the television network TCM. I barely remember the first rebooted film by Tim Burton, starring Mark Wahlberg. The newest incarnations of Planet of the Apes are really good. I think Andy Serkis should have gotten at least a nomination for best supporting actor for his work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I also think that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should have won the Oscar for best visual effect last year, over Interstellar. 

What are your favorite Sci-Fi films?

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