Denis Villeneuve’s star studded mega-budget science fiction epic Dune has arrived in cinemas with the future of big-screen cinema resting heavily on its shoulders. To whet your appetite, here are a selection of masterpieces to remind us how, when done right, sci-fi movies can help shape our view of the world and the future.
THE ART HOUSE ESSENTIAL
Stalker — YouTube
A mind-boggling, eye-watering puzzle that asks much of its audience, but which is increasingly awesome and thought-provoking on repeated viewing. Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979, 161-minute epic is as much about a world unknown as it is about the grim realities of the world he knew under communism.
It’s plot is simple enough: in an unnamed future police-state lies the Room, a mythically powerful place where all your desires will be revealed if you can cross the forbidden territory of the Zone in which it is situated. The only way through the Zone is with the help of Stalkers, one of whom is tasked with leading a writer and a professor to the Room. What follows is a slow but increasingly psychologically terrifying journey in the eerily wet-grey, mind-tricking landscape of the Zone.
Tarkovsky’s carefully controlled and majestically realised fable asks whether faith and love are sufficiently redemptive forces in the face of seemingly insurmountable philosophical and environmental obstacles. His answer is, as always, profoundly complicated and endlessly fascinating.
THE STONE COLD CLASSIC
2001: A Space Odyssey — Rent or buy from Apple Tv +
The world was on a knife edge in 1968; would the keepers of its past, comfortable social and political traditions or the new generation of psychedelic, free love, new-future advocating youngsters win the battle for its soul?
Enter Stanley Kubrick, cinema’s most careful, forward thinking and coldly clinical visionary who, with sci-fi pioneer Arthur C Clarke, completely blew the minds of young, LSD-popping audiences with this technologically innovative and prophetic vision of something like a future for civilisation.
2001 forever changed the way sci-fi cinema looked, felt and envisioned the future. Leaving aside its central battle between Jupiter-travelling astronauts and their creepy computer HAL — and its prescient predictions of many technological innovations we now take for granted — Kubrick and Clarke’s big ideas about space exploration and what navigating the final frontier might mean to the psyche and future of the human race remain its greatest and most continuously debated achievements.
From the violence of its prehistoric opening to the first appearance of its legendary monolith and the millennia-spanning jump cut from animal bone to space ship, this is a cinematic and intellectual trip unlike anything before or since. What’s it all about exactly? Everything. What does it all mean? Anything. What else is like it? Nothing.
THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Blade Runner 2049 — Netflix
Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sort-of-sequel to the undeniably brilliant and massively influential 1982 Ridley Scott tour de force Blade Runner was a daunting undertaking in the face of much scepticism from generations of sci-fi geeks. However, Villeneuve’s film works as both a hat-tipping acknowledgment of its inspiration and a breathtakingly spectacular original.
Blade Runner 2049 introduces us to an even more grim, noirish urban future with a new breed of replicants, more terrifying and even harder to distinguish from human beings.
It’s on-screen world certainly pays tribute to the original, but thanks to Villeneuve’s vast imagination — and the dazzling genius of cinematographer Roger Deakins — it’s version is unique while ably serving a new set of all too pertinent philosophical questions about fate, predestination and the ever-thinning line between humans and the artificially intelligent machines we’ve created. It also has a strong dash of knowingly ironic humour that helps drive the twisting, dystopian gumshoe plot for an epic 2 hours and 44 minutes.
In a cinematic universe overpopulated with reboots and sequels motivated by easy money, Blade Runner 2049 offers a relevantly thematic, visually awesome and necessary continuation of the original, that also stands out as a truly memorable work of ingenious and thought provoking science fiction.