Here’s a question that I’ve seen multiple times on Facebook during the last, oh, 5 or 6 months, just to pick a couple of random numbers: “What movie can you watch repeatedly without getting sick of it?”
Now, for someone like me, that’s usually impossible to answer. I have my all-time favorite films like everyone else, films I’ve seen and WILL see multiple times, and I can promise you I’ll NEVER get sick of them.
Aliens. Amadeus. The Godfather. Chinatown. The Emperor’s New Groove. Pinocchio. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Casablanca. Citizen Kane. Cloud Atlas. (That’s right, I said it, big whoop, wanna fight about it?) And MANY, MANY others.
But there is a specific subset of films that I’ve found myself revisiting over and over again in the last few months. I’m pretty sure I’ve watched each one of these movies at least once a month since about February or March of this year. I couldn’t say exactly why, but whenever I’m at a loss about what to watch, I find myself drawn back to these films, and watching them becomes a cathartic experience all over again.
They are, in alphabetical order:
- Blade Runner 2049
- The Martian
So, why these movies in particular? Let’s try to figure this out. Besides the obvious fact they’re all in the same genre, is there another connection among these films? Four of them are about adventures actually in space, but the other two are earthbound. Two of them were directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival and Blade Runner 2049) and another two by Ridley Scott (The Martian and Prometheus, which are about as far apart as two movies can be…talk about versatility, way to go, Mr. Scott.) Two are about alien contact…three if you count Interstellar.
I think I just like the way these movies make it easy to escape. They are so skillfully made, and so beautifully realized, that I get completely and utterly drawn into their stories, so much so that I almost feel compelled to watch it all the way through in a single sitting, which makes it dangerous to start one too late in the evening. Even Arrival, the slowest of the bunch, is so intellectually stimulating that, even upon repeat viewings, I get mesmerized.
And, of course, they’re glorious science fiction. (Yes, even Gravity with its numerous scientific errors, screw you guys, that’s still an amazing STORY, and it looks AWESOME.) The questions that are being asked are among the oldest in all of recorded history, and they’re the ones that still fill me with wonder: is there life out there? What makes us human? How far would I go to survive? Can a machine think? What would I sacrifice to get these answers?
I don’t know. I don’t want to wax too lyrical or philosophical, but here’s a little bit about each one and why each one is worthy, at least for now, of repetitive viewings. Heck, I may even pop one in after I’m done writing this thing.
- ARRIVAL – There have been umpteen gazillion first-alien-contact movies, some great (Contact), some not so great (The Arrival, a sub-par Charlie Sheen movie which is not to be confused for THIS one in any way, shape, or form). But as far as I’m concerned, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is up there with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The look and editing of Arrival feels almost like a Stanley Kubrick movie, with lots of slow-moving cameras, static but well-composed dialogue scenes, and a sense of wonder about the extraterrestrial visitors. The score of the film is – I’m trying to find the right word here – otherworldly, composed of the regular orchestra trappings, but also including sampled human voices that are downright…alien. I love the look of the alien spaceships, because they’re so utterly alien, completely unlike anything humans would, or could, build. And then there’s the secret buried at the heart of the movie, concerning the nature of time and our perception of it, and it asks one of the great mysteries: if you knew then what you know now, would you do it all over again? If you knew heartache was at the end of the road, would you still go down that path? Arrival asks these questions in a consistently engaging manner. I loved it in theaters, and it’s an easy go-to pick at home. Beautiful.
- BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Might have been the most eagerly-awaited sci-fi sequel since The Phantom Menace, if I do say so myself. I happened to see this one in the good old Dolby theatre at the AMC Veterans 24, and…WHAWWWWHHHHWWWW. This movie is a TRIP. First off, the story is a worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: thirty years after the events of that first movie, a new model (breed?) of replicant is actually a blade runner himself, but when he discovers tantalizing evidence that a replicant may have given birth to a child, his world turns upside down. It asks all of the same questions from the first film in completely new ways: what makes someone a human? If you can’t tell a fake person from a real person…what’s the difference? But, WOW, is this movie a visual feast or what? It takes the gloomy industrial cityscapes of the original and turns everything up to 11. The spinners (cop cars) have evolved over thirty years, but they are still recognizable. The giant blimps still hover over the cheaper neighborhoods. One character is nothing but a sophisticated hologram, and the way they make her seem to interact with real people is just beyond belief. There’s an astonishing scene, where the hologram overlays herself onto a real woman, that had me furrowing my brows while still smiling like a kid at the circus. How did they DO that??? There’s a fantastic scene set in the ruins of a world famous city – trying not to spoil it – that really appealed to the post-apocalyptic side of me. And on and on and on. This movie is a never-ending buffet for the eyes, ears, and brain, a modern masterpiece of the genre.
- GRAVITY – From Alfonso Cuarón, one of my favorite directors working today (Roma, Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Gravity famously played fast and loose with the laws of physics. Most famously, perhaps, with the scene where the space station is, I guess, moving so fast that it’s dragging two people behind it…in space…which just. Wouldn’t. Happen. I get it. But still. What a movie! Set aside your doctorate for a second and just look at the sights you’re presented with! The debris shower, the wrecked shuttle, those views of Earth from space. And there’s the score, which serves as a surrogate for the sound effects, of which there are VERY few because, you know, the vacuum of space. But despite the visual wonders of the movie, which are legion, the heart of the movie still gets to me: a woman who has gone through the worst thing, perhaps, that any woman can go through…and now she has a choice. Stay in one place and certainly die…or move forward and face a crapload of danger…but at least it’ll be one hell of a ride. Whenever I watch Gravity, in the middle of all the visual razzle dazzle…her pivotal moment always gives me a little bit of the goosebumps. So, yes, I’m prepared to sacrifice scientific accuracy on the altar of an astounding story, if it becomes necessary. (Hell, no one ever complains when we hear explosions in Star Trek, right?)
- INTERSTELLAR – Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic touches all the bases for me: post-apocalyptic scenario (global famine triggers an extinction-level crisis), alien contact (someone or something installed a wormhole near Saturn that will take us…where?), mystery (the aforementioned “someone or something”), and sensational visuals (that first trip through the wormhole never fails to pin me to my seat). It doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge advocate at heart for the notion of traveling beyond our Earthly home. It’s my goal to live long enough to see the first manned mission to Mars, which may or may not occur as early as the 2030s. It just seizes my imagination to think that we could be this close to taking the first steps towards establishing a colony on another planet. Interstellar taps into that sense of wonder for me, as a band of space travelers attempt to scout out potential new worlds for the human race. (Naysayers will undoubtedly point to the touchy-feely, woo-woo nature of the climax of the movie, in which the identity of the wormhole-installers is revealed, and love itself is found to be a measurable property, but whatever, man, WHATEVER…to the degree that I understand the critics, I just don’t give a damn.) There isn’t a frame of space travel or just plain regular flight that doesn’t feel 100% authentic. And don’t even get me started on the black hole…WOW.
- THE MARTIAN – …and SPEAKING of colonizing other worlds, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the best-selling book of the same name, is another imagination-stoker, a great-looking, thrillingly told tale of survival in the harshest conditions imaginable. Much like Apollo 13, in addition to providing thrills, it provides a little hope that, when faced with a task, people will band together to do what’s necessary. But The Martian is also really funny, unexpectedly so, given the themes at play. Matt Damon’s character, stranded on Mars, has little to lose by maintaining decorum, so he’s a wisecracker, a motormouth who hates disco almost as much as I do. Not to mention the various characters back on Earth trying to bring him home. (Jeff Daniels and Donald Glover were inspired bits of casting.) And, of course, The Martian LOOKS great. The Martian vistas have an uncanny realism that really puts me there on the Red Planet, every time. …and that’s really all I can think of on that subject.
- PROMETHEUS – Which brings us to the last on the list, but most assuredly not least. Another Ridley Scott film, Prometheus stands as one of the most mind-bending sci-fi mysteries since 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s not to say Prometheus is as slow moving or ambiguous as Stanley Kubrick’s film, but it does exactly the same thing as 2001: it asks profound questions about our existence, then it leaves us hanging a little bit. Well…maybe that’s not entirely accurate. To be sure, Prometheus is vastly more emotionally satisfying than 2001, just by nature: one’s an ambiguous drama, the other is a horror-thriller. However, they both ask the same questions: if there is life out there…where did it come from? If there IS a creator…well, then who created the Creator? But at front and center of Prometheus are the visuals. The spaceships, the vast caverns, the alien control room, the slimy little snake-like creatures…not to mention the emergency surgery the lead character performs on herself. Ouch. Another cool sidebar…Prometheus takes place in the year 2091. That’s really not too far away. Wouldn’t it be something if some kind of technological breakthrough between now and then made something like that possible? Doesn’t that just blow your MIND? Well…it does mine.
So, if you’re trying to take your mind off things, any one of these movies are more likely to succeed in doing so than spending the same amount of time on Facebook. Trust me.