5. The Andromeda Strain
How would human beings react to a potentially dangerous alien virus? That is the essential question behind ‘The Andromeda Strain’ by Robert Wise. It is one of those ‘hard-sci-fi’ films written and directed almost like a chess game of actions and reactions to the developments in the first few days after finding a dangerous alien strain. ‘Andromeda’ shows scientist feverishly working to find out the right steps to contain a potential disaster.
Director Wise shoots the film with a lot of care, and it moves slowly. A special note deserves to be made for the set design, which is quite impressive and adds to the films clinical feel, evoking a strange claustrophobic mood.
4. A Scanner Darkly
Bizarre and intentionally disorienting animation (roto-scoped) film by the hands of Richard Linklater, based on a book by Philip K. Dick. Set in the near-future the film follows a number of drug-addicts and an undercover agent in their midst. Essentially what Linklater creates here is the mood described by Dick about his experiences as a drug addict; it damaging himself, his brain and in the end his person and identity. No wonder the film swerves from darkly comedic all the way into thriller and finally into confusing nightmare territory. And the unique animation fits that vibe perfectly.
Supporting the story is an eclectic cast consisting of Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, and Woody Harrelson and a dreamlike (or nightmare-like) soundtrack featuring artists such as Radiohead and Four Tet. The end result is dark but beautiful, it is certainly an experience.
3. The Man Who Fell to Earth
David Bowie was born to play the role as the titular alien that finds himself alone on planet earth. And how well Bowie fits his role, as well does Nicholas Roeg fit the role as director with his deeply intuitive style. Alien Thomas Newton crashes on earth, looking for water for his dying planet. Trying to get funds to fly back he gets used and abused by various humans usually for reasons of greed.
Director Roeg tells this cynical and sorrowful story with his trademark style, often juxtaposing human behaviours like sex with traditional dance, and animals with feelings. The end result here is a cynical, demented and in the end profoundly sad picture showing the darker sides of humanity.
2. Hard to be a God
‘Hard to be a God’ is either brilliant, or a brilliant mess. It is left up to the viewer which one exactly. The film by the hands of director Aleksey German plays like a nihilistic Tarkovsky. A group of scientists is send to a planet similar to earth populated with people stuck in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately the population has the habit to destroy any form of intellectualism making them stagnate. The scientist with their superior knowledge are regarded as gods, each inhibiting their own kingdoms, surrounded by an overwhelming stupidity and filth.
It is hard to talk about ‘Hard to be a God’, you have to experience it. It is impenetrable, violent, dense and most of all very overwhelming. But for the watcher that gets through it, it is also strangely beautiful and comments on the human condition in a wholly different way. The filming techniques alone are incredible, no wonder the crew spent 6 years filming, 7 years editing and decades writing. Director German died just before his vision was realised. And it is up to the viewers to make out what exactly it all means.
1. Upstream Color
‘Upstream Color’ is an experience. The film has a complicated plot with a character (named just ‘Thief’) using worms for controlling victims. Also involved are pigs, which establish a connection with the victims through the worms, and an audio engineer. Two of the former victims meet and find they have a connection. However complicated and vague this all may sound, ‘Upstream Color’ is not a film about plot, it is a film picked up by the senses. It directs you through scenes and emotions naturally, flowing like water. Director Shane Carruth said of his film that it is in essence a romance film. Two people ‘melding together’ memories, experiences and emotions to from a whole new thing: a couple.
Shane Carruth’s second film is, much like his debut ‘Primer’, carefully crafted. It shows the hand of a director that has thought extensively about every detail in every shot. ‘Upstream Color’ is not an easy film, not helped by the fact that Carruth absolutely abhors any notion of exposition, but it is a rich film. It is a ride through image and sound that never much explains itself, but for those willing to follow their intuition it is something unique and beautiful. But you have to dare to immerse yourself, and let go.