Sci-fi! For this entry, I’ll be talking about some films from one of my favorite genres. They all have very different premises, but they share a definite charm all to themselves. I really do believe that these are films that you will enjoy you’ll be left wondering about them long after watching, which is more than what I can say about most of the films we have to sit through these days.
So let’s get to it!
The Thing (1982)
Available on Hulu and Stars
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Strangely enough, I’d never seen John Carpenter’s “The Thing” before I considered including it as a part of this watchlist. It was one of those films that I knew I wanted to get to and I kept both adding it to my watchlist and telling people “I’ll get to that one later!” without actually watching it. Boy, was I missing out.
Trying not to go too deep into the plot, “The Thing” is about a research team in Antarctica dealing with an alien that they don’t fully understand. As the film goes on, we learn more about this creature, but there’s a sense of ambiguity in it that I’ll try not to spoil here in case you haven’t seen the film.
At the top of his game, Carpenter was one of the best directors working in Hollywood. He created new subgenres within horror, including solidifying the slasher genre with “Halloween” in 1978. “The Thing” came after, and showcases a sense of paranoia towards the unknown. Beyond that, the film shows us how characters thrown into a truly difficult situation may not be led by their prejudices but by their fear of anything they don’t understand. Because of it, all of them turn against each other. You assume you can trust Kurt Russell’s character, McReady, but can you? Anyone could be evil in this situation.
The narrative is scattered with characters that are not fully developed, and that’s intentional. None of them talk about the wife they have back home, the friend they lost in the war, or their estranged parents (these are just some examples of ways where you can make characters more relatable on a screenplay). They’re just people on a normal day thrown into a paranormal situation. We do get to know them a bit more, eventually, but only to the extent that Carpenter wants us to. If we knew more about them, we’d be prejudiced – and that’s exactly the danger here. Again, any of them could be evil, and the danger is assuming that someone isn’t just because he has loved ones waiting for him back home.
“The Thing” is classic sci-fi horror at its finest and a solid recommend.
Eagle Eye (2008)
Available on HBO Max
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: D.J. Caruso
Although mildly successful at the box office, D.J. Caruso’s sci-fi action film, “Eagle Eye”, has been somewhat forgotten. I know I hadn’t thought about the film in a long time, even though I remember really liking its twisty plot and entertaining characters. This is Shia Labeouf at his prime, a year after he’d been in the first “Transformers” and the same year where he starred in the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie (which we try not to talk about as much). Teaming up again with Caruso (they previously worked together on the equally underrated “Disturbia”), LaBeouf stars as an everyday man thrown into a political conflict involving artificial intelligence.
While the trailers for the film wisely kept it ambiguous, the real villain here is an artificial intelligence named ARIA, who most reviewers in 2008 considered to be too unbelievable. Yet, here we are 12 years later, seeing more of what artificial intelligence could be used for and, somehow, “Eagle Eye” doesn’t seem as unbelievable anymore.
Sure, it’s a bit over the top, but all action thrillers are. In that sense, “Eagle Eye” feels like a movie that was written in the 1990s, and I truly believe it would’ve been even more successful back then. The “everyday man thrown into a crazy situation” was a recurring and overused theme for action movies back then (mostly inspired by films like “Die Hard” from the 80s), and LaBeouf’s Jerry Shaw definitely fits the bill.
So, go watch “Eagle Eye” again. It’s a fun popcorn movie with interesting plots and characters (there’s actually a surprising depth to LaBeouf’s character in the first act that he plays really well), and it stands up well as a respected thriller that should’ve gotten more credit.
Available on Hulu, Sling TV
Starring: Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Led by a fantastic marketing campaign, “Cloverfield” is remembered as the film that exploited the found footage genre in a great way. Because back in 2008, it seemed like all horror movies were found footage, but most of them didn’t find a new or creative ways to use the drama, and, even worse, they had vomit-inducing cinematography that left many viewers nauseous after watching (or was it just me? It can’t be, right?).
But “Cloverfield” stood beyond that. It’s a movie with a pretty generic premise but a really interesting execution by director Matt Reeves, who went on to direct amazing sci-fi films and is now working on the next Batman film. There’s a lot to love about “Cloverfield”, but the main thing is how it manages to build compelling characters and maintain a cohesive plot without just depending on the gimmick. This really elevates the premise, meaning, it doesn’t just hinge on the fact that it had such a great marketing campaign or that J.J. Abrams was attached to it, but it took the premise seriously and it was put together with love for the genre.
As with most of Abrams’ projects, “Cloverfield” stands on its own really well but it also had numerous viral tie-ins that made it an even more fun experience. I had fun going through these after rewatching the film.