Someone recently asked me which sci-fi films fully explored and fleshed out the sci-fi ideas in the film. For example, a sci-fi film involving artificial intelligence would fully explore the nature of intelligence or the nature of being human. What sci-films really deeply or creatively explores the science-related ideas in the film? While thinking about an answer to this question, I noticed that most of my favorite sci-fi films are action oriented, and while there may be sci-fi concepts, these films don’t really fully or boldly explore those ideas. (Perhaps, The Matrix is an exception.) In this thread, I like to get some suggestions as well as the ways these films deal with the science-oriented ideas in the film.
I’m not really sure what you mean, here, though… Do you want a film that fully explores the social and philosophical ramifications of the novum? Or do you want one that scientifically fleshes it out to make it “accurate?”
EDIT: Solaris is the former, not the latter.
More the latter.
I can’t remember Solaris enough to comment (and I never saw the Soderbergh version). What was the novum in Solaris, and how did the film deeply explore it?
“That’s just a crude sci-fi concept that kind of floats on the surface and doesn’t threaten anybody. I use it to test the resilience of my potential partners in psychopathology.”
I would say that the main novum of Solaris is Hari, or maybe, more accurately, the planet itself. And I think the film explores it by ruthlessly examining Kris’ relationship to both Hari 1 (the real, dead human) and Hari 2 (the projection of what the planet finds in Kris’ brain). And, through that, it explores what it means to be in love with somebody. And there’s a lot more in there, too! I really love it!
Anyway, I can’t really think of any other science fiction films that explore their ideas that well, but if you’re into books, I highly recommend Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – It’s great and explores its ideas really well.
And, finally, we SF snobs much prefer the term “SF” to “sci-fi,” pejoratively pronounced “skiffy!”
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Which, of course, was adapted into about 12 versions of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a picture which contemplates — or purports to contemplate — what it means to be human. Spielberg’s picture AI: Artifical Intelligence flirts with the same theme, but really, both films require multiple viewings to tug the thematics out of them.
I think the central argument of both pictures is that it is not necessary to be organic to be capable of human-like depths of emotion, or feeling, call it what you will. Both movies posit the provocative idea that mechanical beings can feel emotional pain and can suffer, yearn, dream no less than people. Blade Runner probably does the better job of the two, since Spielberg’s film, like most of his sentimental pictures, is intellectually muddled and only flirts with these ideas rather than, um, flesh them out, pun intended.
Perhaps Spielberg uses artificial intelligence when crafting marketing campaigns for his films?
Both movies posit the provocative idea that mechanical beings can feel emotional pain and can suffer, yearn, dream no less than people. Blade Runner probably does the better job of the two
I think that’s why I disliked Blade Runner… Androids is much more complex and contradictory than that… I can’t even summarize all of the ideas that the book conveys. Yes, it suggests that mechanical beings can feel pain and all, but it also suggests the opposite. It suggests so many contradictory things that you’re just left with the complex array of feelings that you should have when you contemplate what humanity is. Or, to quote from the book: “Everything is true. Everything everyone ever thought is true.”
Blade Runner, on the other hand, only pokes at the surface of that kind of thought. IMHO.
Just because Androids puts forth a lot of ideas doesn’t make it a better work than Blade Runner. This is a case where I prefer the film to the novel. And that quote “Everything is true. Everything everyone ever thought it true.” aplies perfectly to the film as well; the film just doesn’t say it in those exact words, in that exact way. Good novel, great film, in my opinion. I did not care one single bit that the majority of the novels religious stuff was changed/omitted/shifted to the film’s objectives, as well as theh majority omission and adjustment of the novels plots abouts about pet acquisition/pet heirarchy, and the ommision of the majority of the technological trinkets. I actually believed the world of Blade Runner, including the “unbelievable”, and including its state of desperation, more than I believed the world of Androids.
Primer is the first one I can think of because it creates a good model for time travel and the potential ramifications to the participants. The film starts off one way but it slowly builds into a scenario where the user is increasingly trapped in a series of questions about where it all starts and where it all ends.
Drunk said, Blade Runner, on the other hand, only pokes at the surface of that kind of thought. IMHO.
I agree with this (although I haven’t read the short story).
(Btw, Drunk, thanks for the feedback on Solaris—makes me want to re-watch the film.)
I’m still trying to figure out Primer. :)
Are you referring to Solaris?
I think Children of Men does a great job of exploring the dystopian aspects of itself, while also exploring the philosophical and SF aspects of the females all becoming barren. At that point in the timeline of the film, scientists would have no idea what was causing this plague, and would be frantically trying to figure it out while the world around them inevitable delved into chaos. Very believable in terms of the universe, and it does have a lot of SF philosophy that is delved into, even if some of it is subtle (which is the way i’d prefer it, i’m watching a film, not NOVA).
Danny Boyle’s Sunshine isn’t the greatest SF, but it does a great job exploring the SF aspects within itself as well.
I agree about Blade Runner as well (it’s a novel, not a short story btw—an EXTREMELY dense novel at that)
How do you lot feel about The Fountain and the way it handed it’s SF aspects? It was confusing at times, but so were the scientific aspects surrounding it (also i do like the way it mixed the science with religion, far too many SF films are afraid to do this, or just want to not consider religion at all, and with it being a driving force in our world, sometimes it’s necessary to include it, even in a science-based film).
How do you lot feel about The Fountain and the way it handed it’s SF aspects?
I don’t really remember a lot of SF elements, but I do remember a lot of references to myths and religion—imo, these elements seemed cobbled together in a pseudo-intellectual way.
these elements seemed cobbled together in a pseudo-intellectual way
That’s exactly how I felt about the Fountain, too, but a bunch of people whose opinions I really respect love it, so I guess I really need to watch it again!
What sort of SF ideas can be “boldly and daringly explored”?
i sometimes feel the same. it depends entirely on my mood. but there are some aspects explored as experimental science to cure an incurable tumor (though they are using an extract of bark from the Tree of Life) but yeah, i enjoy the film as entertainment, and i do think it’s Aronofsky’s most ambitious project to date. I love the film, and i hate it simultaneously for reasons i can’t vocalize, but in the end, it is a clusterfuck of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo masked in pretty aesthetics and good acting.
“Are you referring to Solaris?’
Heh. No . . . that’s from Ballard’s/Cronenberg’s Crash. It’s Vaughn speaking to (the fictional) Ballard, but I’ve always taken it to be a statement on method.
…but in the end, it is a clusterfuck of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo masked in pretty aesthetics and good acting.
That sounds about right.
Well, we brought up Blade Runner and A.I.—both dealing with questions about humanity and artificial intelligence. In Time also posed some interesting ideas (e.g., money=the time you had to live), but never really explored them in any interesting or bold ways, imo.
Speaking of Cronenberg, his The Fly does a pretty good job of exploring the SF within itself, what with the merging of different species DNA, what sort of effects it could have, teleportation, etc. Though it could’ve gone more in depth. It went deep, but not quite deep enough; it really ended up being a character study of Brundle and his descent into “fly-dom” more than anything else, though i was pleased enough with the SF explorations he [Cronenberg] made.
Event Horizon was cool for a mid-90s film exploring the whole ‘black hole warp speed’ theory, though it barely skimmed the surfaces of the science of it, ended up focusing on the consequences instead, which is guess could be seen as a scientific exploration in its own right as every experiment will yield results.
Films with scientist/engineer characters usually do that better-
The Andromeda Strain
The Man In The White Suit
Quatermass and The Pit AKA Five Million Years to Earth
Dystopias can take it up to 11 too-
The year of the Sex Olympics
Films only have two hours to deal with a topic—that’s a limit right there. Not a lot of filmmakers have the inclination or talent to fully explore a topic.
I’d say Blade Runner does a good to great job of evoking a world; films are pretty good at that sort of thing (and yes I think Do Androids is far more complex, more solid in its characterization, and far funnier—not an easy achievement, that). It belongs to a subgenre of science-fiction worlds (and yes I despise the term ‘sci-fi’—sounds more like a stereo speaker than a genre). Throw in Metropolis, Akira, and Dark City as films that deal with the atmosphere and setting of science fiction, more than its ideas. Well, there’s also Alphaville but aside from a distinct look it’s teeming with ideas, Dickian style.
I’d say Kubrick’s 2001 did more through its form and structure at suggesting the pace and possibilities of human evolution than most any other film. The Andromeda Strain did a good job of giving us a taste of microbiology and possible government responses (same with Soderbergh’s Contagion, which I’d call an updated version.
I’d throw in the Back to the Future trilogy, with emphasis on the second film, as an exercise in demonstrating the consequences of time travel. And, hey, Groundhog Day as a successful portrait of human reaction to a science-fiction situation (setting out to solve a problem and rewinding over and over again till one gets the problem right).
Quatermass and the Pit is an excellent example of alien invasion combined with the notion of Original Sin, and more convincing and complex than any version of War of the Worlds I know (except for Welles’ radio broadcast).
For dystopias I’d include A Clockwork Orange (science-fiction that deals with morality and ethics), Artificial Intelligence (science fiction that questions the notions of humanity), and The Terminator (which has a sophisticated grasp of time travel, thanks to ideas Cameron filched from Philip K. Dick).
I love The Fly for how it deals not just with genetics but with a basic fear in science fiction, the flawed process of procreation.
Possibly my favorite science fiction deals with the most slippery of sciences—social science, or that which concerns society, morality, ethics. In this category I’d throw in Cronenberg’s Crash (it’s Steve McQueen’s Shame, only more disturbing), Exorcist 2: The Heretic (think of the theology being spouted here as being a mystical version of genetics and racial memory and you’re headed in Quatermass territory), Hesus Rebolusyunaryo (the Philippines 25 years in the future, an example of political SF), Bride of Frankenstein (again procreation—think of the Creature as an abused child, and just how does he react to his maker/father?), and even Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (think about it; ostensibly about environmental care, it’s really about Nausicaa’s pacifism and love for pantheistic nature, and how this affects other people).
Really a rich subject matter here, can’t cover all of it with one lousy post. Haven’t started on some of my other favorites: Stalker, Dr. Strangelove, Incredible Shrinking Man, La Jetee.
I think the hardest science fiction deals with real hypotheticals and moral quandaries. Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice” was a movie that I thought had serious science fiction ideas, all while being a fresh update on the Frankenstein story and breaking some taboos.
Splice had that, yes. Responsibility to one’s offspring. Not my all time favorite by any means, but it did make the attempt.
Having thought more about it, SF is probably one of the best genres to explore modern and human situations, or really any idea. SF allows a filmmaker to take a more subtle and potentially more intelligent take the their idea. The most obvious example of a sci-fi film doing this effectively is, for me, Blade Runner, and the classic “what does it mean to be human?” question, among many other ideas and questions raised in the film. 2001 also does this, but it encompasses a hell of a lot more than most SF films.
Noel Vera mentioned La Jetee, but I think the film is a bit too vague and philosophical to “boldly and daringly” explore an idea. Not a bad thing at all, just not really bold or daring.
A.I. for sure
La Jetee is great! I think it’s a bold exploration of memory and the whole concept of “time,” in a much more involved way than just by invoking time travel. I love the scene where they go to the zoo and are looking at animals. Neither the animals nor the people are moving – they’re both trapped by time and the present moment. The only thing that can move throughout the film is one shot of the woman. Focus on the immediate now rather than the “present.”
Although, as with almost all good SF, any summary of its themes is a huge oversimplification. Good SF needs to be experienced more than talked about!
And I’m gonna be pissed if somebody so much as mentions 12 Monkeys.
12 Monkeys is pretty great, though.
(both to piss off the DaFoo, and also because it actually is)
Maybe it’s just that I can’t separate 12 Monkeys from La Jetee (which is the same problem I have with Androids and Blade Runner), but I thought that 12 Monkeys was just awful – both as a film in its own right, and as a terrible dilution of the themes in La Jetee. But I never really could get into any of the Gilliam films I’ve seen… Any Brazil fans on this thread? That’s supposed to be a great SF film, but I just can’t understand what’s so great about it…
12 Monkeys > La Jetee
i pity da foo