#SaturdaySpecial: 7 underrated sci-fi flicks of all time

Science fiction, when done with boldness and creativity, has the ability to open our minds to other worlds, as well as shine an often glaring mirror on society. Though there are lots of movies that are so undeniably groundbreaking that they captivate audiences into theaters, science fiction is often overlooked and not always appreciated for its narratives that venture into the unknown.

Keeping this in mind, we’ve curated a list of beautiful sci-fi films that did not get the critical acclaim and appreciation that they deserved at the time of release. Despite their numbers, these are excellent movies that warrant their ungiven accolades.

1) Heavy Metal (1981)

Heavy Metal is an animated, multiverse rock-opera narrated by Loc-Nar with sci-fi shorts that feature music from Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Stevie Nicks, and many other rock legends. It features adventures from deep space to futuristic New York, and beyond. Despite its vibrant aesthetic and memorable soundtrack, this visual anthology unfortunately received mixed reviews for its uncouth humour, blatant nudity, and dark and uncomfortable subject matter. However, Heavy Metal has earned its cult status for those same reasons.

The film is a laudable attempt at creating something unique considering the year of release. The eye-popping animation put together with a classic, smartly used soundtrack makes it worth a watch even today.

2) Xtro (1982)

One day when Tony and his father Sam were playing outside, Sam gets abducted by a bright light. Three years later Sam inexplicably returns back to his family, only this time Sam’s wife has moved on, and Sam seems a bit different. The plot might not sound extraordinary, but Xtro is far from being ordinary. The film is all things crazy and the most normal part about this movie is the alien that looks unusual and deformed. Everything else about Xtro is pure insanity and the tiny gimmicks completely separates it from the other alien movies. Afterall, how often do you come across alien films featuring an alien that impregnates a woman, who then gives birth to a full sized adult man? 

Xtro can easily be classified as one of the most bizarre sci-fi flicks of the 80s; while also featuring one massive downbeat ending. The stunning visual effects used look ahead of their age and the entertaining flick surely set the parameters high for the makers of the same genre.

3) Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)

One of the reasons a movie can be overlooked is that you literally cannot figure out how to see it. Unfortunately, that was the case with Terrence Malick’s IMAX sci-fi documentary Voyage of Time. Narrated by Brad Pitt, Voyage of Time was released on only 12 IMAX screens that were located in places like science museums. The roll out was made even more confusing by the fact that at around the same time, a different version featuring twice as much footage and different narration (by Cate Blanchett), was also being screened. 

The film is amazingly made and it’s experimental tonality doesn’t follow a formal structure. Voyage of Time is worth a watch because of its dazzling nature footage and picturesque visual effects that gives the audiences a tour through the universe.

4) Life (2017)

Microscopic extraterrestrial life has been recovered from Mars and a team of astronauts on board the International Space Station are tasked with researching it. Nicknamed Calvin, the amoebic entity begins to grow into a multicellular life form, evolving to the stage where it threatens the existence of everybody on the station.

The film has a solid plot with an excellent ensemble cast that delivers some truly tense moments, including a highly memorable ending. Life isn’t perfect but it’s refreshing to see a movie that’s designed to be a standalone piece of entertainment, quite different from any other product of a larger franchise. The movie is thrilling, well-acted, and visually impressive throughout. 

5) The Endless (2017)

In The Endless, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson play two brothers who, a decade earlier, narrowly escaped from a cult. After receiving a message from the UFO-obsessed Camp Arcadia sect asking them to return, the duo travel back for some sense of closure, but end up entwined in a number of mysterious occurrences. The normal laws of physics and time do not apply here, and escaping again will test both brothers’ sanity and resourcefulness.

The Endless is a smart sci-fi flick that rewards the audiences who love this genre. The acting and direction is superlative and the visuals are sure to keep everyone stunned. The film is a rare attempt to delve into cosmic horror and does it very well. A grounded approach to create cinematic brilliance, clubbed together with a bizarre story and believable performances, makes The Endless a must watch!

6) Annihilation (2018)

Lena, a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X, a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscapes and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity. Don’t let Paramount’s unceremonious release of one of the best films of 2018 fool you; the film is excellent and uncelebrated.

Annihilation is a slow-burn, unnerving adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s bestseller. The movie is anchored by a fierce and vulnerable lead performance from Natalie Portman and writer-director Alex Garland has done a superlative job as well. Garland’s take on the material is an unflinching look at how destruction and creation are both similar and essential parts of life. The film backs up its sci-fi visual wonders with an ambitious theme that will leave the audiences pondering long after the end credits roll. 

7) Upgrade (2018)

Grey Trace is a mechanic living in a near-future where his line of work is becoming obsolete at a fast pace. Stubbornly determined to build things with his hands, Grey diligently keeps working on old cars until he suffers a terrible accident that results in the death of his wife and his own permanent paralyzation. Grey’s only hope to move again is to have a computer chip that will completely control his motor functions, implanted into his body.

Upgrade feels like a throwback to ’80s sci-fi films; but an updated version that fits into the world of today. It’s well-written, and an amazing performance from Logan Marshall-Green and smart direction and clever camera work from Whannell makes the film feel like a breath of fresh air.

Anifest 2019 day one was all enthusiastic and creative

Anifest India 2019 organised by the TASI (The Animation Society of India) kicked off today, 9 November, with much enthusiasm and amazing minds coming together to showcase their talent. 

Celebrating 19 years of community service in the Indian animation industry, the event brought together noted animation professionals, indie studios, independent animators and creators, as well as students that have built the animation community stronger with more innovation and originality in storytelling and animation.

The programme commenced with the unusual inauguration by bursting of balloons where people from various parts of the world participated.

After the inauguration, Sony Pictures Imageworks (USA) FX lead Dipankar Goswamy who gave an insightful presentation on behind the scenes as well extensive breakdowns on how they ideated, created and executed the much acclaimed animated film around the webbed superhero. He spoke on importance on lining, scenes, frames, characterisation and many more.

Post Goswamy’s session, independent animator, Sagar Funde, who’s currently working for Animal Logic in Sydney, showcased his animated short film Kite that he single handedly created and completed over the span of three years.

His films spark nostalgia, friendship and old world charm that beautifully depict the Indian culture. Taking inspirations from daily life and surroundings, Funde artistically tells a heartwarming story of losing one’s way and finding it back again. He further explained his journey and how he managed to complete his solo project under stringent deadlines and time crunch with the support of his better-half.

After lunch, Anifest witnessed screenings of some brilliant films created by students from across the world. The lineup included – Sadaiv Tumhara, Bansho; Lucid; 400 MPH; Tant que coeurs battent; o28; Mother’s Love; A Little More Blue; Favourite Song; Ek Cup Chaha; Supriya, My Mother; Fire|Ritual|Body; Life and Ebb. 

Some got very good response while others got mixed ones, but what triumphed is the hard work of students and their vibrant ideas. Urban Sketchers, a non-profit organisation who go to different outdoor locations and conduct sketching sessions and workshops, took the audience through their journey since their inception. This unique and creative initiative has spread joy and nurtured the skills of the participants. 

Anifest saved its best for the last where Ghost Animation from Kolkata premiered their four animated shorts, each one starkly different and more meaningful than the other. From science-fiction to climate change to a mother’s love to an organisation that supports and treats communities during warlike situations in need, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, race, gender and others – Ghost Animation touched upon it all. The films they premiered are – Mother, Watchmaker: At Time’s End, Beyond Borders and Wade.

Anifest day one opened with full fervour and promises a bigger and fruitful second day. Stay tuned for more updates.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A rabble raising inter galactic escapade!

Gear up for this year’s most adventurous space odyssey as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is coming to cinemas this Friday to take you on a rabble raising inter galactic escapade.

Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna, the sci-fi thriller is based on the French comic series Valerian and Laureline and directed by reverent French filmmaker Luc Besson.

Following the lukewarm box-office performances of Life and The Space Between Us, Valerian is the next outer-space movie in line, but promises a more visually engaging experience than any of the three.Here’s some interesting facts about the movie you may want to know.

1.Most expensive independent film ever

Given the astronomical volume of CGI and VFX used in the movie, the production budget would naturally be higher than any average movie. In fact, higher than any other movie!

Having expended an eye-watering $209 million, Valerian is the most expensive independent movie ever made. Director Besson accrued the hefty sum after he independently crowd-sourced and also shelled out from his own pocket.

Valerian is technically a French film – the director is French, producers are French, the distributors are French, music and cinematographers are French – so it is also the most expensive European movie to date.

A lot is running on the movie (financially), while the expectations are also equally sky-high.

2.The movie has more than 2700 VFX shots

The earlier point mentioned about the huge number of VFX shots. Well, here’s an approximate count of it.

According to the data collected, the movie involves more than 2700 VFX shots. Now that’s far higher than an average count. The lead pair DeHaan and Delevingne have also spoken about working with green and blue screens most of the time, in an interview last year.These impressive figures suggest the whole new level of visual treat which the movie brings!

Have you kept your 3D glasses ready?

3.The number of aliens too is damn high!

Valerian is set in a fictional space station called Alpha, where millions of creatures belonging to hundreds of races live in harmony. And by creatures, one can obviously mean one thing – aliens.Not just a few aliens, but 200 different varieties of them!

The idea behind this is to give a realistic feeling about the outer world where these creatures inhibit, but it also signifies the effort put in the world-building for this movie.

Now you know why so many VFX shots!

4.Valerian is spawned across just 24 hours

The movie may be high on outer universe adventure, but the whole narrative takes place over the course of just 24 hours.Valerian and Laureline, the main protagonists are sent to the ever-expanding metropolis of Alpha on a mission to retrieve a mysterious ‘convertor’ whilst they also have to fight off the menace of a dark force that threatens to destroy the city. All of this in just one day!

Though the movie clocks at 2 hours and 17 minutes, expect fine detailing of every aspect of the movie as a result of the 24-hour narrative.Co-produced by Luc Besson and his wife Virginie Besson-Silla, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets releases this Friday.



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