6. Lifeforce (1985)
Directed by Tobe Hooper – the author of the cult masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) – and starring Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Mathilda May and Patrick Stewart, “Lifeforce” is an intriguing and almost forgotten sci-fi classic, with many references to the horror genre.
The space shuttle Churchill – with a British and American crew – discovers an unknown spaceship in Halley’s Comet. Inside the spaceship, the crew finds many dead bodies – with the appearance of bats – and three naked human-like bodies, shielded by a glass casket. They bring the naked bodies on the Churchill and on the way home, they disappear in outer space. A spaceship is sent to find the lost shuttle; when they find the Churchill, they discover it was destroyed by a fire, but surprisingly the three naked bodies are still immaculate. The return of the bodies to Earth will cause dramatic consequences.
Hooper masterfully directs every scene; from the sci-fi beginning premise to the horror incursion later in the movie, there are no mistakes. A special mention goes to the precision and the artistic value of the special effects: the flawless yield of the bat-like bodies makes you wonder why – in today’s cinema – the abuse of CGI is preferable to the more realistic handmade effects.
If you are a fan of sci-fi films, “Lifeforce” should be mandatory for the expansion of your knowledge. It’s a shame that – considering the poor reception at the box office at the time – Hooper’s movie is still today overlooked by many. Now it’s your chance to rediscover this classic.
7. Until The End of The World (1991)
A mammoth movie from a mammoth director. Late 1999. The world is threatened by an Indian nuclear satellite, which is about to re-enter the atmosphere and crashes on Earth; panic and fear have caught most of the population of the globe.
In this frantic atmosphere, Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) – while going back to Paris – has a car accident with two passengers of another vehicle; unable to start their car, the two men jump into Claire’s. She then discovers that the two are bank robbers who actually committed a recent robbery; unable to move fast, due to one of them being injured, they decide to hire Claire to bring the money back to Paris, in exchange for a percentage of the loot. She accepts and – during the journey – she encounters a man named Trevor McPhee (William Hurt), who’s running away from an armed man. She offers him a ride, but when they part ways in Paris, she discovers that Trevor stole some money of the loot. Here starts a long journey for Claire, trying to reach Trevor and take the money back.
Wim Wenders is one of the more authentic and creative directors of this century. This is why it seems useless to talk about the technical aspects and peculiarities of the movie: they are just perfect in all of their forms. As always, the colors and the lights significantly catch the eyes of the viewers, due to the flawless work of cinematographer Robby Müller, a frequent collaborator of Wenders.
“Until the End of the World” is not just a road movie made by an author of cinema with a capital c; it’s an inner journey of the protagonist, who tries to discover herself and sort out her existential problems. PS: It’s better if you watch the Director’s Cut of the movie, the 287-minute version.
8. Avalon (2001)
Mamoru Oshii is a genius. He’s already proved to everyone to be one of the most interesting directors of the century, delivering incredible masterpieces, such as the immense “Ghost in the Shell” (1995). “Avalon” is the umpteenth proof of the ability of the Japanese director.
Ash (Małgorzata Foremniak) is one of the best players of Avalon, a virtual reality game that simulates war scenarios; as opposed to many other players, Ash plays alone in the game after her team was disbanded. Even though playing Avalon can earn you a great amount of money, players are connected to the game through their brain, and sometimes excessive time spent in the game can cause them brain damage and affect their way of life.
Ash will make every move she can to enter the Special A, a mysterious and highly difficult mission level. The visual effects and the cinematographic impact of the film is the first thing a spectator notices; while watching “Avalon,” the real world is depicted through almost monochrome shades of grey – representing the sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario – while inside Avalon, the main color is sepia, representing the fact that we entered the game.
At the same time, the hypnotic rhythm and the screenplay attract the audience in this new and creative representation of the sci-fi world, divided – but at the same time communicating – into two realities.
Mamoru Oshii’s work needs no introduction and “Avalon” is just another important and unmissable step into his immense career. Go and watch it!
9. Interstella 5555: The 5tory of The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
A collaboration between Daft Punk – who produced the movie with Cédric Hervet and Emmanuel de Buretel and who obviously, scored it – and Toei Animation, “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem” is the visual animation rendition of “Discovery” (2001), the second album by the electronic French outfit.
A band performing on a planet in the galaxy is kidnapped by invaders; while dreaming about Stella, a pilot named Shep wakes up, due to a distress message, communicating the kidnapping of the band. He then decides to chase the invaders and free the musicians.
The movie – collectively directed by Daisuke Nishio, Hirotoshi Rissen and Kazuhisa Takenouchi, with the supervision of Leiji Matsumoto – is structured in a way that the salient points of the story coincide with different songs by Daft Punk; in a way, it could be considered a sci-fi musical, due to the fact that there isn’t proper dialogue between the characters, who speak only the lyrics from the songs.
Moreover, the animation is without a doubt one of the strongest features of the movie, thanks to the immense work of the renowned Toei Animation studio; worthy of note are the flamboyant visuals, with a vast palette range and almost psychedelic sequences. What more do you need? You’ve got upbeat French house music for the soundtrack and one of the most important Japanese animation studios for the visuals, enriched by the presence of the great Leiji Matsumoto, creator of none other than Capitan Harlock. A thrilling collaboration for a thrilling movie.
10. The Man From Earth (2007)
John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is a professor who’s about to leave town. His friends decide to organize a farewell party for his departure: the biologist Harry (John Billingsley); the professor Edith (Ellen Crawford), who’s also a Christian; the anthropologist Dan (Tony Todd); the historian Sandy (Annika Peterson), who appears to be in love with John; the archaeologist Art (William Katt); and his student Linda (Alexis Thorpe).
Since the friends don’t understand the reasons for John’s departure, they pressure him to give them a reasonable explanation. After moments of hesitation, he reveals to them his true identity: he was born around 14,000 years earlier, evolving from a caveman to a modern man, going through entire ages without getting old. The unexpected and insane story obviously doesn’t persuade his friends; however, the proof will become more evident and the destiny of all the participants at the party will forever change.
Directed by Richard Schenkman and written by Jerome Bixby – who completed the screenplay on his deathbed – “The Man from Earth” is a highly interesting and thought-provoking movie. Due to the limited and low budget of $200,000, the movie is entirely set in a small house. If you’re thinking about special effects and action sequences, this is not your movie: the story is basically a great and intriguing discussion between John and his friends about his revelation.
Despite the low budget and the stripped down settings, you can’t allow yourself to miss this movie; it’s a minimal and intellectual take on the sci-fi genre that is uncommon nowadays. Highly recommended.