Sunday, 6 October 2013

10 Terrific Space Movies to see instead of GRAVITY or 10 Reasons NOT to see GRAVITY - By Greg Klymkiw

There's really no need to see this movie!
October 4, 2013 saw the release of Gravity, a dull, predictable, badly written and clearly expensive space thriller which opened wide on several thousand screens in uselessly annoying 3-D. It has already amassed a ludicrously high "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and this highly touted trifle will be a huge hit. To the former, most critics aren't real critics and the real critics who've ejaculated on the film are probably so depressed over all the crap they have to see that Gravity did indeed feel special to them. The reality is this - it's really not very good. There exist, however, a clutch space travel movies that offer far more than what's on display in Alfonso Cuarón's trifle of a picture. Buy, rent, VOD or if, God willing, they're in rep somewhere, see them as they're meant to be seen. Any of these suckers deliver the real thing rather than wimpy, weepy eye candy. The most recent and obvious choice for this list is Europa Report, the phenomenal picture from this very same year that's received virtually no release of any consequence.
Europa Report (2013) ****
Dir. Sebastián Cordero
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Easily one of the best science fiction films I've seen in years. It had me charged with excitement from beginning to end. A private corporation launches a historic manned flight to Jupiter's Moon of Europa, a huge orb covered completely with ice and most probably having one of the likelier possibilities of life in our solar system due the presence of water. An international crew of six astronauts are onboard for the mission and director Sebastián Cordero astonishingly covers every key detail of the trip via an insane number of POVs from the cameras set up by the corporation. Europa is, of course, fraught with danger and the filmmakers work overtime to keep us on the edge of our seats. What drives the film is the potential to discover life - it might be simple or complex, benevolent or dangerous, but there will be life. And it will be awe-inspiring.

Here are more top picks for space travel movies (in alphabetical order):


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) *****
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain

This is truly the greatest of them all. A collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, this monumental picture is still ahead of its time and delivers what feels like the closest approximation of what it must be like to travel in space. Spanning the Dawn of Man through to a deep space journey to Jupiter, Kubrick takes all the time he needs to lavish attention over the simplest, though most gorgeous elements of space travel. In addition to the dazzling opening involving prehistoric man, we occasionally meet up with mysterious ancient alien monoliths which inspire continued leaps in mankind's evolution (or devolution) and its ability to traverse the universe in traditional spacecraft and by more spiritual means. 2001 is partially a muted thriller involving the famous robot HAL who attempts to murder the entire crew to carry on a mysterious mission into the netherworld of deep space. On the other side of the coin, it's a glorious head film that inspires audiences to accept the purely experiential aspects of Kubrick's visual genius - whether one chooses to see it stoned or straight. It also proves that 3D is completely unnecessary. In fact, it proves that 2-D is, in the hands of a real artist - multi-dimensional. I'm happy to say that my first few helpings of the film were as a kid in an old National General Cinerama theatre with the huge, deep, curved screen. Take that, IMAX!!!!!

Armageddon (1998) ****
Dir. Michael Bay
Starring: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, Peter Stormare, William Fichtner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi

Pure roller coaster ride, but what a ride! A huge all-star cast propels this taut disaster epic wherein a team of pure testosterone blasts into outer space to drill into the core of a mighty asteroid hurtling towards Earth and to nuke the bugger to kingdom come before life as we know it ceases to exist. Visceral thrills of the highest order and loaded with plenty of true grit and heart. Critics crap on this, but audiences knew and still know the score. The movie rocks big-time!

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun AKA Doppelgänger (1969) ***1/2
Dir. Robert Parrish
Starring: Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Lynn Loring, Patrick Wymark

Moody and creepy space thriller from Britain's Gerry Anderson and Co. doing their first live-action feature after a successful canon of animated sci-fi TV shows like Thunderbirds which used marionettes in place of actors. No puppets here, though. Two terrific, underrated character actors play a pair astronauts who discover a planet in an identical orbital position to that of Earth located directly on the opposite side of the Sun. Well written and very strange. It certainly pre-dates the notion of parallel universe and is as fascinating now as it was in the 60s.

Marooned (1969) ***1/2
dir. John Sturges
Starring: Gregory Peck, David Janssen, Richard Crenna, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman

Cool optical effects (as opposed to antiseptic digital F/X) rule the day in this genuinely suspenseful sci-fi melodrama involving a ship with major mechanical failures that's trapped in outer space. Three astronauts are sardine-tinned in the ship while mission control does what it can to bring the boys home and the wives weep and fret down below (as good wives should do). Though the movie inexplicably errs on a number of key technical elements of space travel, it gets far more of them absolutely dead-on. The film's release pre-dated the somewhat similar disaster that befell Apollo 13 and was spectacularly presented in 70mm, 6-track sound (which, Thank Christ, I had the joy of seeing a few times as a kid). The movie even inspired the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 which was a result of the Apollo 13 disaster. Kick-ass manly-man director John Sturges (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Bad Day at Black Rock) handled the claustrophobic action brilliantly and a good deal of the picture is genuinely nail-biting. The performances are first-rate, but it's Gene Hackman who steals the show as a space flyer who starts to crack-up big-time. There's also absolutely no musical score. The interior soundscapes within the ship, and back on Earth works just fine, but one does have to ignore the exterior sound in zero gravity since it doesn't exist out there.

Moon (2009) ****
dir. Duncan Bell
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Space is thrilling, exciting and full of adventure, but when you get right down to it, the whole experience has got to be extremely creepy and Duncan Bell exploits this notion to terrifying effect as Sam Rockwell plays the sole human being presiding over a mining project on the dark side of Earth's Moon. His only companion is the Über-Creepy GERTY the robot (Kevin Spacey's voice, 'natch!). Shit is slowly hitting the fan and the entire movie plunges into nightmare territory.

The Right Stuff (1983) *****
dir. Philip Kaufman
Starring: Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henriksen, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum, Kim Stanley, Levon Helm

One of America's greatest living directors crafted one of America's greatest motion pictures about outer space. Based upon Tom Wolfe's book, Kaufman plunged us into a gorgeous, thrilling, supremely entertaining and utterly fascinating look at the history of modern space flight - telling the story of test pilot Chuck Yeager and the seven brave men who were part of America's Mercury space program. Every aspect of this film is pure perfection and it's not only infused with epic sweep, but it's deliriously romantic. One of a handful of genuinely great motion pictures from the otherwise horrendous decade of the 80s.

Silent Running (1975) ***1/2
dir. Douglas Trumbull
Starring: Bruce Dern

A huge convoy of spaceships loaded with plant life floats amongst the stars to regenerate what's been lost to pollution on Earth. When Mission Control decides to abort the mission due to funding and general lack of interest in environmental concerns, Botanist Bruce Dern goes insane ('Natch!), murders the whole crew and jettisons in the netherworld to preserve the plant life. The whole movie is pretty much Bruce Dern, two drones he names Huey and Dewey, Joan Baez singing about flowers, trees, birds and bees (gotta love the 70s) and endless shots of whole forests under huge domes in outer space. You kind of need to ignore the fact that the Earth apparently has NO plant life at all, yet appears to be perfectly functioning. Just imagine that the interplanetary greenhouses are to build up plant life on the verge of extinction - or something - because it's a pretty damn fine movie in all other respects from F/X whiz Trumbull (2001).

Solaris (1972) *****
dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Sos Sargsyan, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky

From one of the great masters of Russian Cinema, you'll not see a space travel movie quite like it - steeped in sorrow, melancholy and a brand of cinematic humanity that could only have been achieved by Andrei Tarkovsky. A psychologist travels into deep space to investigate the mental health of a crew on an interstellar station perched above the planet Solaris - comprised of no known land mass and seemingly an orb of pure ocean. The crew has stopped communicating with each other. When our head doctor arrives, the space station is a complete disaster area, the crew of two ignores him, a third crew member has committed suicide prior to his visit, the space station appears to be full of crew members who shouldn't be there (and who don't communicate with anyone) and in the middle of the night, the doc wakes up in his room (which he's barricaded) to find himself in the company of his late wife. Things begin to get strange. Prepare to be alternately creeped out and moved to tears. One of the greatest movies of all time.

A Trip To The Moon (1902) *****
dir. Georges Méliès

Scientists blast off to the Moon, its bright side adorned with the face of a man. The rocket lands in the eye of the Moon's face. The scientists are assailed by grotesque moon creatures. They're pretty easy to kill, but eventually they acquire strength in overwhelming numbers and a desperate fight ensues to safely board the ship and return to Earth. 18 minutes of pure movie magic from the great early magician of cinema, Georges Méliès - this film and its creator immortalized in Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Though shot and released primarily in black and white, Méliès generated and presented a limited number of painstakingly hand-coloured prints. They were all said to be lost. One was found and restored - frame by frame. One frame of this film has more magic, imagination and innovation than the entire running time of Gravity and, for that matter, most contemporary movies.

Here is the color restoration of A TRIP TO THE MOON - Please BUY the BLU-RAY - it Kicks Mega-Ass: