YouTube HOF: Sci-Fi Edition
[This week, we pour one out for the late, great Ray Bradbury (and geek out over the impending release of Prometheus) with our favorite sci-fi clips. Note: If you don’t see the videos, please try another browser. We put them in, we promise.]
Dan Silver: Frack off, Battlestar Galactica. I love you, but there’s been no piece of sci-fi created in the last decade (maybe two) that has been able to sniff the space jock of Duncan Jones’s brilliant Moon. Its dexterity in construction is rivaled only by Sam Rockwell’s (most heartbreaking Oscar snub of 2009) performance. I’ve sat through this movie at least five times, and am constantly amazed by Jones’s seamless blend of computer-generated landscapes and CGI with practical effects, and consistently haunted by Clint Mansell’s score. If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and Netflix it now.
Sean Fennessey: Some special things in this clip: Neil Patrick Harris — not a Doogie, not yet a Barney — murdering a giant alien space arachnid with an automatic weapon and then menacingly staring into the camera. Children gleefully stamping out a huddle of roaches on a sunny suburban street. Colonized American outpost Buenos Aires destroyed by an alien bug invasion. An impassioned, fascist speech inciting an anti-bug war. The best CGI bugs that 1997, or any other year, has ever seen. Gary Busey’s son saying, “Shoot a nuke down a bug hole, you got a lot of dead bugs.” An incisive satire about war, patriotism, politics, the art of messaging, and a little body horror for good measure.
Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is a strange, great, enduring artifact of the post–Jurassic Park ’90s. With its big budget and big ideas, upon its release many critics mistook the rah-rah jingoism and wartime newsreel presentation as mindless DUBYA-DUBYA-THREE drivel. And it’s played so straight, you can sort of see how that happened. Then again, Verhoeven made the first scene a shot-for-shot remake of a moment from Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda movie Triumph of the Will. But even if the allusions avert your gaze, the torrent of exploding insect limbs will likely hold your interest. I can’t think of a more explosive, energetic sci-fi film in the last 20 years.
The Martian Chronicles
Rembert Browne: Ray Bradbury, teller of fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian tales through the written word, passed this morning at age 91. One of his most famous works, The Martian Chronicles, was made into a TV miniseries in 1980. Bradbury’s take on the adaptation: “Just boring.” I agree. Feel free to watch this, but do yourself a favorite and read his books before they all get outlawed and burnt to a crisp.
The Wrath of Khan
Megan Creydt: Never mind the damage to Chekov and Terrell, this Wrath of Khan clip kicked off my lifelong fear of death or insanity via otic bug invasion (thanks for letting — making? — me watch this as a child, Mom and Dad!). Years later, a friend pointed out an earwig (“WHAT DID YOU CALL IT?”) on the wall of her living room, and despite being told they had no interest in burrowing into my brain, I’ve always been suspicious. Because this shit does happen in real life.
Molly Lambert: I’m one of those cranks that thinks practical effects are scarier than CGI can ever be, because they tap so deeply into the uncanny valley. While the 1951 original is also great, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing is indelible in my memory, featuring some of my favorite sci-fi set pieces and more latex and nihilism than an industrial club. The Thing got stomped in theaters by E.T. presumably because audiences in the early ’80s were more interested in the prospect of friendly aliens than face-melting ones. I actually find The Thing comforting, even though it’s about losing your mind to paranoia in frozen isolation. It’s one of my go-to rainy day movies. The remote Antarctic research center always seemed romantic, but that probably has something to do with the tan and toasted ’80s-cool-guy majesty of bearded Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady.
[WARNING: Spoilers above and/or below.]
Chris Ryan: The first half of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is my favorite sci-fi movie. Something about the atmospheric, melancholy, near-future depiction of space travel distracts you from the plot, which is about an atomic scientist (Cillian Murphy) going into space with Captain America and Rose Byrne to SAVE EARTH BY RESTARTING THE SUN WITH A NUCLEAR BOMB. If I were a producer and someone pitched that movie I would look sternly across my mahogany desk and simply say, “LOL.” But it really works, it’s incredibly moving, and for half a movie you can even convince yourself you’re watching a classic. The scene above is the emotional climax of the film — the death of the captain in charge of the mission to restart the sun. It features a great piece of music from composer John Murphy and the electronic group Underworld. I know it’s a spoiler to include it here but I can’t think of a better advertisement of how at once emotionally operatic, visually stunning, and well-acted this thing is.
Serial Experiments: Lain
Emily Yoshida: Here I was, searching the Internet for a clip that would most effectively convey the trippy, contemplative feel of the cult anime miniseries Serial Experiments: Lain, and what do you know: The entire series is available online, in Japanese, with subtitles! (But not for embedding, unfortunately.) Never change, YouTube. This quietly mind-blowing little bit o’ cyberpunk probably qualifies as more phil-fi than sci-fi; its depiction of the ever more blurry line between the online world and the real world was ahead of its time in 1998 (and in 2007 when I shamelessly ripped it off for my thesis film in college). The story is told in “layers” rather than episodes, starting with our mousy, tech-dumb heroine Lain receiving an e-mail from a classmate who has just committed suicide, and ending with … well, I won’t spoil anything. Let’s just say somewhere along the line she figures out how to use a computer. The series feels molasses-slow on the first watch, but for anyone who’s ever found themselves staring out the window and daydreaming about the Singularity, it’s also molasses-dense (and molasses-satisfying). I’ve probably gone through the whole thing at least eight times now, and find something new to chew on every time.
That Mitchell & Webb Look: “Vectron”
Tara Ariano: In another time, or another world, human endeavors are governed by Vectron, a benevolent, eternal, mysterious being of whom little seems to be known except that he has eyes and a beard and maybe knees. Is Vectron omnipotent, like Xenu? Is Vectron merely a prophet, like Joseph Smith, but in space? Or is Vectron … maybe not as eternal as he might at first have seemed? By Vectron’s mighty claw, you must find out!
“These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For.”
Jonah Keri: If you’ve never used this line when trying to convince someone to change their mind, you’re a big liar, because of course you have.
The Twilight Zone
Tess Lynch: I’ve always loved science fiction, but I was pretty closeted about it for a long time. I learned quickly that being a sci-fi fan wasn’t considered the most attractive look on a preteen girl in New England; in fact, thinking about small greys (for instance) as a hobby is a really great way to clear your dance card, freeing up more time for naming your bearded dragons after characters in Dune. Even in college, I hid my Ray Bradbury books as if they were giant radioactive vibrators, shoved behind my copy of East of Eden and a strategically placed Ikea Jonisks. (R.I.P., Ray, you were the best. “A Medicine for Melancholy” is prominent on the shelf today.)
After I graduated, I was living in an apartment building that was full of crazies and wound up spending a lot of time on my living room sofa, biting my nails and worrying that I was going to get murdered. It was at this point that I dove into a yearlong Twilight Zone k-hole, ripping through every single episode in alarming binges that often led to my dreams being narrated by Rod Serling. It was a completely counterproductive response to feeling unsafe and paranoid — in retrospect, I should have devoted my time to renting Ab Fab — but now, when I revisit some of the best episodes (“Time Enough at Last,” “The Eye of the Beholder,” “Nick of Time,” “It’s a Good Life”), I feel like I just dunked Proust’s madeleine into that comfortably creepy dimension of “both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.” If The Outer Limits had been half as good as The Twilight Zone, I might have stayed in that apartment forever, too zombified to get it together to break my lease. Maybe that’s why sci-fi will always carry a sort of stigma: It’s just too powerful. Things and ideas!
Michael Weinreb: Any movie can demand a suspension of disbelief; unless you are Stephen Hawking, Shane Carruth’s Primer will likely require an absolute suspension of comprehension. It is the most confusingly great movie about time travel, engineers, garage boxes, stock purchases, and March Madness I’ve ever seen, and all 77 convoluted and riveting minutes are on YouTube, so you can watch it on an endless loop over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until you lose track of your dimension and wake up half-naked in a windowless storage facility.
Total Recall: DVD Commentary
Mike Philbrick: Much like this whole category, I don’t think technology yet exists on this planet to properly describe what you are about to hear. All you need to know about this DVD commentary from Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven is that it is as real as their accents. Thank God for the 12th Amendment.