The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) by El Bicho
The films of Terry Gilliam are some of the most imaginative in terms of story ideas and visual effects in the history of the art form, and Adventures of... is no different. Based on a real 18th Century German nobleman who told outrageous tales of his adventures, which have been written about, this fantastic film delivers exactly what the title states.
During the Age of Reason, an unnamed European city is at war with the Turks. In the city, a traveling theater troupe is performing the story of Baron Munchausen, when an elderly man (John Neville) claiming to be the Baron takes to the stage, angered at the play's inaccuracies. He begins to tell the correct version of the events but the war outside makes its presence known, frightening everyone away. The Baron is resigned to die until a young girl named Sally (Sarah Polley) tells him he's the only one who can save them.
But to do so the Baron needs to locate his friends speedster Berthold (Eric Idle); marksman Adolphus (Charles McKeown, who co-wrote the script with Gilliam); the diminutive Gustavus (Jack Purvis), whose strengths are hidden in his ears and lungs; and strong man Albrecht (Winston Dennis). The Baron, with Sally stowing away, heads to the Moon, the Underworld, and the belly of a whale to reunite his team who have not escaped Father Time.
The special effects are special indeed as they show the Baron sailing to the moon and dancing in air with the Goddess Venus (Uma Thurman). Most importantly, the story is special as well with its stories layered upon stories as it speaks to the power of stories and imagination.
Solaris (1972) by Dusty Somers
Andrei Tarkovsky's cerebral and spiritual sci-fi film Solaris doesn't revel in the glories of technology or the wonder of the unknown like a lot of science fiction. Rather, it's a film that's positively homesick for earth. The opening shots of lush greenery and grass gently swaying underwater are hypnotically beautiful, setting up the mesmerizing quality of the nearly three hours to come.
Russian cosmonaut Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is being sent to the Solaris space station to find out what's become of the failed enterprise, but he's met with a lot more than he bargained for -- two fellow cosmonauts on the brink of sanity and the specter of his dead wife, who he can't prevent from appearing.
Solaris is filled with Tarkovsky's trademark languid pacing and long takes, and it makes for a film that you seemingly just sink to. Sci-fi is known to be a genre that's rigorously intellectual when it's at its best, but Tarkovsky also imbues Solaris with a deep emotional core.
Aliens (1986) by Amanda Salazar
This is a difficult category because personally I would separate the two and write about a favorite science fiction and also a favorite fantasy film, so the decision was a little difficult but I went the sci-fi route and chose James Cameron's second film the Alien series, Aliens. This film does such a wonderful job of picking up where the previous one left off, but developing a story that wasn't trite. Ripley wakes after being in hyperspace for over fifty years. When she tries to explain what has happened with the aliens, no one believes her, and they are sending out another mission to see why they have lost contact with one of their colonies.
She decides to go on the mission with a group of Marines and while there she encounters Newt, a small girl that has lost all of her family. When they find out that the colony has been taken over by aliens, a whole different mission comes into play, survival. The film is packed with great one-liners, wonderful set design, and some great scenes of alien attacks. Cameron does such a great job at maintaining a sense of fear and tension in the unknown, making for a science fiction masterpiece. The whole series is worth a look but when it comes to great science fiction films, this one did it right and to this day remains a classic.
Liquid Sky (1982) by Shawn Bourdo
For portions of my life, this was about the only genre I watched. Oh wait, it's still about the most watched genre in my watching life. It would be easy to just sort through the kings of the genre and pick Lord Of The Rings or Empire Strikes Back or Blade Runner. But I want to delve a bit deeper for my love. I see that "horror" is coming up later, so that part of sci-fi is going to come up in the future. Thinking of about my fandom of the genre - there have been some highlights. By 1983, I had done every space-related film I could find and Battlestar Galactica had rocked my TV world. I thought I was quite avant-garde as a teen - I was watching quite a few art films along with science fiction. Imagine my delighted surprise to find this mesmorizing piece showing at the local Arthouse theater in Kalamazoo.
Liquid Sky is almost indescribable. An alien ship lands on a building in Manhattan. I guess an alien gets inside of the very androgynous model Anne Carlisle. The alien can only get what he/she needs by killing a sex partner during orgasm. I wish it was easier to describe or that a description could do it justice. It certainly plays up the symbolic relationship of heroin to the alien inhabiting her body. There's also quite a bit to be parodied of the New York art crowd. Much of this feels like performance art or really more like watching someone watch performance art. The disconnect lets the viewer really step back and think about what is happening.
I think I saw The Man Who Fell To Earth in the same time frame and they make interesting companions. This is sci-fi bending the genre - expanding the possibilites. There's no two ways about it - you're either going to love or hate this film. I used to recommend it when I worked at Liberty Street Video in Ann Arbor and would often get confused, panic looks from people when they returned it. Or thanks and praise and requests for more like it. Certainly Lady Gaga uses this film as a career manual. It's not the best science fiction but it's one of my favorites that deserves a mention.