The Summer 2016 Blockbuster season has come and gone and perhaps you find yourself somewhat unsatisfied after gorging on the franchise-serving, mind-numbing, CGI-overload that many of the mega-dollar sci-fi and fantasy entries delivered over the last few months. Well the fact is that a mountain of cash and the best sfx teams in the world do not assure a great film. Perhaps now is a good time for a respite from the blockbuster overload and a chance to look at a few offerings from the past 10 years or so that might have been overlooked but that delivered good sci-fi/fantasy without having to rely on the cash avalanche and high-pressure expectations of the Daddy Warbucks studios.
5. Ex Machina (2015)
Did you find an extreme lack of sci-fi movies that actually make you think in the theaters this past Summer? Then you should definitely check out this film, which had a limited cinematic release last year. It is slow and talky, but never boring as it explores the development of AI while also posing some challenging questions. Though it doesn’t rely on in-your-face special effects, the judiciously used CGI is excellent and quite integral to the overall impact of the film. It may not have made hundreds of millions at the box office, but it already counts as an important science fiction film.
4. Moon (2009)
Long before Duncan Jones took on the task of directing the expected-franchise launch of Warcraft, he kicked off his film career with this intimate and intelligent little film. It's a throwback to '60s and '70s sci-fi entries like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain and Silent Running and relies on judiciously employed practical effects instead of CGI. It also delivers an interesting and intimate character story that asks some important questions about free will and what it means to be human. Jones (who is David Bowie's son, by the way) did a much better job at filmmaking when he didn’t have a ton of money to work with and Hollywood expectations cracking the whip.
3. The Battle For Terra (2009)
Did CGI-animated films come up short for you this summer with the smarmy Angry Birds and the raunchy Sausage Party? Did you also find yourself wanting more space epic than the Star Trek and Independence Day sequels had to offer? Then I recommend going back and checking out this overlooked film that hit the US theaters briefly in 2009. It is a beautifully animated CGI entry that has many similarities theme-wise to James Cameron’s much more overexposed Avatar (which came out later in the same year). Battle for Terra has a certain spark and charm to it that feels much less derivative and cynical than the Cameron film. It can be a bit cutesy at times, but then it tackles some moral quandaries and it delivers a very touching ending. It’s not the Disney-in-space film it was marketed to be and it is definitely worth seeking out.
2. Defendor (2010)
Did X-Men Apocalypse and Batman v Superman fail to satisfy your superhero jones over the summer? Then you need to watch this criminally overlooked 2010 film. It’s another one in the normal-person-turns-superhero vein, but it manages to out kick-ass Kick Ass, which it beat to the punch (it hit the theaters in its limited run a month before that film, and Peter Stebbings wrote the script in 2005, several years before the comic book came out). This movie also gives Woody Harrelson one of his career roles (which has sadly been ignored) as it delivers both humor and pathos in what I consider one of the all-time best superhero movies.
1. Beowulf And Grendel (2006)
Didn’t care for the book-related fantasy films Alice Through the Looking Glass and The Legend of Tarzan (why can nobody do a decent Tarzan film without Johnny Weissmuller)? Then go back to this 2006 political allegory wrapped in a fantasy film that has gone mostly unheralded. There is very little of the expected machismo and posturing in this film about Anglo-Saxon heroes, with Beowulf presented as a contemplative warrior who does not just jump into a fight without considering the ramifications. And you don’t have to buy into the post-911 subtext to appreciate this thoughtful fantasy/drama that tackles some interesting moral dilemmas. The striking landscape (it was filmed in Iceland) adds to the stark ambiance of the movie, making it a visually powerful and thematically strong piece of filmmaking that is worth seeking out (and much better than the CGI-saturated 2007 Robert Zemeckis stab at Beowulf).
You may not have loved all the sci-fi blockbusters this summer, but I bet you wouldn't mind getting your hands on some of the cool sci-fi inspired gadgets in the video below:
Which of these movies do you think is the cure-all for the summer blockbuster blues?