Ten Must-See Science Fiction Movies on Netflix (ANZ): Cont’d…

Donnie Darko

Richard Kelly’s enigmatic debut has lost none of it ability to confuse, or intrigue. If you struggled to understand what was going when it was released seventeen years ago, chances are you’ll be none the wiser this time around. But it’s still a lot of fun trying to figure it out. The gist of the plot is that troubled young lad Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is plagued by visions of a monstrous rabbit. The rabbit tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days. Meanwhile, a bunch of other weird stuff happens. Donnie Darko’s stubborn, almost Lynchian, refusal to give us a linear plot is both its greatest strength and its cross to bear. Donnie Darko is confusing in the way that it feels like a puzzle for us to decipher, as opposed to being a deliberate attempt to mess with the audience. In the intervening years, nerds have decrypted it and cracked it wide open like an egg. But that takes away all the fun. Like people who always want to know how a magic trick is done, the knowledge comes with the proviso it will never entertain you again. Donnie Darko also gives us one of the great Patrick Swayze performances. Despite being a supporting role, he cuts a memorable figure as strange motivational speaker / life coach Jim Cunningham. Add in Michael Andrews’ eerie, disorientating score, and you’ll find this 2001 film holds up remarkably well across the board.

Rogue One

Although intentionally different from the Star Wars saga movies in both style and tone, and despite enduring re-shoots and re-writes, Rogue One is, ironically, the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi. And it only gets better with repeated viewing. Rogue One calibrates the tone perfectly – there is levity, and it is sombre without being maudlin. The cast are excellent and in K2SO they have created a character as beloved as any in the canon. Rogue One succeeds where the prequels and both new movies have faltered, in that it sets itself up within the existing universe but never feels like it’s treading old ground or rehashing a previous plot. We’re left with a gritty war film, perfectly suited to the famously ‘lived in’ Star Wars aesthetic, that fills in the gaps and provides a seamless footnote to the original movie.

Children of Men

You might fancy Gravity to be the pick of Alfonso Cuarón’s filmography on Netflix, but I’m opting instead for his incredible, dystopian sci-fi thriller Children of Men. In the near future, an infertile humanity fights for remaining global resources. The UK, faced with a massive influx of refugees, exists as a sort of quasi-fascist state, beset by unrest and terrorism. Theo (Clive Owen) is a Winston Smith-styled civil servant who agrees to help a young, pregnant refugee to safety. Twelve years after its release, Children of Men’s grim dystopia seems more relevant now than ever. The whole film feels like an ominous portent of where the UK is headed under the Conservative politics of austerity, intolerance and an utter lack of compassion. And Australia should also take shameful note, since Children Of Men’s internment camp scenes can’t help but invoke comparisons to Nauru and Manus Island. On top of that, Children of Men is dense and intelligent and has a wealth of great performances (Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor), and it accomplishes it all with an eye-opening style that never feels at odds with its subject matter, including a stunning, single take, escape through a crippled warzone of a city block. Children Of Men is one incendiary piece of science fiction.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Oh Mad Max: Fury Road, let me count the ways I love thee.

One. The glorious spectacle of your gas-guzzling, supercharged, stunt-heavy pursuit through a charred blast zone of a post-apocalyptic desert.

Two. The cast of radiation-bleached grotesques populating every nook and cranny of your weird and eye boggling dystopia. From Immortan Joe to the Doof Warrior to Rictus Erectus, they’re gross and revolting and we can’t tear our eyes away from them.

Three. Your lack of needless exposition. This is your universe and we have to figure it out for ourselves. All the detail we need is right there in front of us, if we care to look close enough, in the depth of creativity and inspiration applied to even the smallest aspect of production.

Four. Tom Hardy’s bizarre, stoic approach to Max, grumbling monosyllabically and hoofing about the tundra.

Five. Furiosa, Furiosa, Furiosa, Furiosa, Furiosa,

Six. Director George Miller, sage dispenser of pragmatic advice and the gentleman genius responsible for three legitimate mindblowers (original Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Fury Road).

Seven: Your dedication to in-camera stunt work. You went out to that Namibian desert, and flung people off trucks and onto moving vehicles and blew a lot of shit up. Even a truck crash I was convinced had been achieved with CGI, was actually achieved by just crashing a bloody great truck – albeit with an expertly surgical precision. And everything looks incredible because of it.

Eight. You are the greatest sci-fi action film of the last twenty years (and possibly beyond). I raced out of work on the opening afternoon to gaze upon thy beauty on a gigantic IMAX screen and frankly, I’m still not over the experience.

Interstellar

Not that I want to oversell it, you understand, but Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is an exceptional film and it represents everything we should be demanding of science fiction. As the Earth’s crops die and humankind inches closer to starvation on what has become a planetary dust bowl, ex-air force pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads an off-world scouting expedition to investigate a potential new home for the remaining population. More than just an ode to 2001: A Space Odyssey (its influence is keenly felt), Interstellar is a tale of exploration, personal responsibility and family. It walks a tightrope between entertainment and hard sci-fi and calibrates its big-picture ideas with a watchmaker’s precision. But it is in the smaller moments, the humanity, where Interstellar excels – the consequences of Cooper’s choice to leave, and the impact on those he leaves behind. If the farewell between Cooper and Murph doesn’t hit you in the feels, then you must have the cold, hard circuitry of onboard robot T.A.R.S. instead of blood in your veins. Finally, Hans Zimmer brings an epic, sweeping, and at times haunting score to the proceedings. Interstellar is confident, ambitious and powerful science fiction. It is Nolan’s masterpiece.