Science Fiction Films

Top Ten Chart - 2005

Concatenation's annual calculation looking at the UK weekly film charts. Accounting for only fantastic films we have compiled the overall SF & fantasy top ten for the year to Easter 2005.

Remember, this is the public's box office we are talking about and not fantastic film buffs, consequently below this top ten we have included a few other notables worth checking out as well some warnings-to-avoid. Standby with the pop corn, here we go...

1. Van Helsing


Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), instructed by the Vatican, takes on the forces of darkness in this special-effects rich, action romp. It is as much an adventure film as it is a horror and as such rather fun. This Van Helsing is far removed from that cinematically portrayed by Peter Cushing. The latter was more of a middle-aged gentleman academic, this Van Helsing is younger and gets into the thick of the action. This film did so well in our Easter-to-Easter annual chart largely due to the timing of its release which maximised the points it could acrue. (Harry Potter below grossed more at the UK box office but it came out just for the summer holidays before being with held presumably for DVD marketing reasons(?).) Van Helsing had greater chart durability even if its box office was not as great. Nonetheless Van Helsing is most definitely worthwhile getting out on DVD for the spectacle even if it is does not have much atmospheric tension that goes with some of the classic horror movies. Directed by Stephen Summers, it looks like Universal wanted him to do a The Mummy on their old horror characters, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster & the wolfman.

2. Spiderman II


Following the first Spiderman movie being such a hit, this was almost bound to do as well as the original. This one certainly had the financial support, and the effects are marvellous as Spidy (Tobey Maguire) tackles Dr Octopus. The Peter Parker earning a crust scenes are also fun. However the plot is absolutely silly and simply a device for showing off the effects: it's definitely switch your mind to neutral time. Consequently comics fans and those adults into SF films may well be dissappointed. (A number of us on the Concat team saw this on the big screen on one of our rare get-togethers and while it made for a night out we felt we might have picked a better film to see. But then we all are rather long in the SF tooth.) Children and younger teenagers undoubtedly lapped this up hence its high showing in the charts. Directed by Sam Raimi.

3. ScoobyDoo II: Monsters Unleashed


The Scooby Gang, complete with Michelle Gellar (whose Buffy friends were not surprisingly called the Scooby Gang) do battle with bad guys with this, their second big screen, live action, outing. A comedy, light-horror and harmless family fun. The plot is the same as ever. A group of young students travel the US in a van. There's the cool blond, tall, alpha male, ditto svelte alpha female, then there's the geeky, somewhat dumpy, beta female and a dope head male. Munchie addicted Scooby also counts as a head. The group tours the US on vacation before bumping into decidely weird goings-on in some remote township. The truth is uncovered which involves some criminal activity. Probably more of a familiy film or a nostalgic trip if you are of a certain age.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


This is a gem of a movie and certainly not eye candy though it is in part a light comedy. This tale is not told chronologically, which makes it a little challenge to follow the unravelling process (so don't view when absolutely wrecked). So we will not spoil it for you and if you are not aware of the plot then DO NOT follow the above title link. Quite simply, it is the near future and this guy (Jim Carey) has a vague notion that he knows this girl (Kate Winslet). Deja vu can be downright irritating and it slowly dawns on him that maybe he could use the new near-future mind technology (that's conviniently just been invented by a physician (Tom Wilkinson)) to find out... This is very much a new wave SF offering and is simply thoughtful. Michael Gondry directs (to date he is better known in the music video business). Script by Charlie (Being John Malkovich) Kaufman. Highly recommended.

5. I, Robot


Wil Smith is after a murderous robot in this Hollywood version of the Asimov classic novel. Though removed somewhat from the book, this is nonetheless a sound SF action movie. OK, Asimov himself would probably want to distance himself from this film but its release did not harm a 2004 resurgence in sales of the book. If this turns on a new genration to Asimov then don't knock it. Good action, pace and effects and an enjoyable SF movie in its own right, though some genre readers will undoubtedly have difficulty viewing this without thinking about Asimov's work. That, though, is their problem.

6. The Day After Tomorrow


This is a curate's egg of a movie. Great in parts, dire in others. The premise is that scientists have found out that global warming will shut down the North Atlantic thermohaline, or Broecker, circulation (see chapter 3 of Jonathan's 1998 Climate and Human Change book). Though the Earth warms, this stops the North Atlantic countries from having mild winters so suddenly they are as bad as those of central Canada and Moscow. Gripping stuff. However here in the film, everything happens almost over night. Decades of climate change are condensed into weeks, and ditto centuries of sea level rise. This is fair enough so as to make drama. However Hollywood goes further and includes a super-chill factor. What is most ridiculous is one of the protagonist's (Dennis Quaid) efforts to go into a chill zone covering a couple of US states to locate his son (Jake Gyllenhaal), as if he could do what official rescue teams could not or whether his being there at the end would have affected his son's earlier survival. (Genes like that deserve to go, but hey, its Hollywood and logic goes out the window: probably on the basis that as Californian film makers have none they think that the rest of us are as logically disabled.) What is strong are the early political debates. The collapsing of the Antarctic ice shelves are also good as is the degree (though not the timing) of the sea level rise. If this film sparks debate (which it did on UK national TV and in some science journals) then great, and if the debate happened in homes then even better. (Perhaps this publicity is why it so well in the DVD/video rental charts?) Check it out for yourself. Directed by Roland Emmerich.

7. Haunted Mansion


A reasonably amusing, if light, Disney comedy for the family. Eddie Murphey stars. It was the family box office that put this into the top ten as opposed to any fantasy or horror element.

8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Another outing for the wizard school-kid Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who studies magic at Hogwarts school. This time an arch enemy (Alan Rickman) has escaped from his prison and has come after him. Juvenile fantasy and family fun, but perhaps a little darker than the earlier Potter films and this might be welcome. The soul-sucking dementors were rather good. In terms of box office takings it you might be forgiven for it not being higher up the charts. However this came out in time for the summer holidays, did hugely well with very high chart ratings but for just a couple of months before they took it off presumably to make way for DVD sales later in the year. Those on the team with children invariably report nice things about the movie, and though this Potter episode is darker this is a probably welcome development, the DVD extras (sing along with the school choir) are clearly aimed at young children. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

9. Aliens Vs. Predator


'Whoever wins, we lose.' The fifth film in the alien franchise. All the 'alien' films have done well, though arguably the first two, Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), did the best. The last one, Alien Resurrection (1997), had an entry in our 1999 video chart (was it that long ago?). This time director Paul Anderson takes us to a new part of the alien timeline, to before the first movie. Antarctic explorers find a pyramid and so a team is sent with soldiers to find out what it is. What it is is a training ground for predators. And guess what...? They are still using it! This movie is not from Hollywood but is an Anglo-Czech-Canadian-German co-production though many of the models and costumes were made in California (about which there is a book). If you have not gone beyond the 'Alien' movies then you will not know of the alien comics (Dark Horse) and graphic novel (Titan Books) collections. Of these Aliens Predator War (which has an introduction by the SF grandmaster Robert Sheckley) in 1996 coherently brings the 'Alien' and 'Predator' universes together but in a post-Ripley future. In Aliens Vs.Predator the setting is pre-Ripley. The franchise added few new SF concepts after Aliens (in which we learned that they were very sentient and we saw more of their life cycle with the Queen) and Aliens-3 (where we found that they could adopt the characteristics of their nymph hosts: cf. the dog). This time around it is effectivley just a very slick action movie with mucus flying everywhere, though we learn more of the Predators' culture. In addition to the movie doing well to enter our annual charts, before Easter 2005 the DVD came out and it has been hugely popular in the weekly rental charts. Director Paul W. S. (Resident Evil) Anderson must be well pleased.

10. Shaun of the Dead


A brilliant British comedy (whose makers like to call it a Romzomcom - a romantic zombie comedy). Amiable loser Shaun (Simon Pegg) awakes with a hangover to find that the dead can rise to eat the living. What to do? Well, being London it takes a while for the authorities to catch on, so he decides to round up a few friends and then find somewhere (with beer and crisps (chips for Americans)) to ride out the crisis. Directed by Edgar Wright. Huge fun, demonstrating that, old chap, yet again the Brits do humour rather well.

And the worthies that slipped through the net...

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is simply a vintage fantastic film buff's enchantment. Effectively it captures the essence of 1950s Hollywood sci-fi serials as well as television. It is all wrapped up in a straightforward tale of an evil ambition being thwarted by the Sky Captain (Jude Law). There are numerous visual and script references to 1950's SF film and TV and if you know these it really adds another dimension to the work, which is clearly a one of love for the sub-genre. If you are unaware of such references then this movie is likely to come back to haunt you in the future should you ever watch some old production. Then you will be able to say, 'so that's where they (Sky Captain) got the idea from'. Those unaware of the film's pedigree are likely to dismiss it as light weight tosh, and this is probably why it did not do so well as to enter our annual top ten.

The Incredibles is a humorous computer animation that follows an ex-spuerhero family (shades of the Fantastic Four) who are no longer allowed to be 'special'. However settling into mundane society does not come easy. The father needs a challenge. Fortunately there is an evil mastermind hatching a cunning plot somewhere and so guess who is going to come to the rescue...? Terrific fun.

Primer. Four men in a suburban garage have built a cottage industry of error-checking devices. But, they know that there is something more... There is some idea, some mechanism, some accidental side effect that is standing between them and a pure leap of innovation... See the trailer here.

Team America . The people that brought us South Park now transfer their satirical, school boy humour and, dare it be said, political wit, to a Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds homage with a puppet, quasi-supermarionation, film. It is undeniably a bit of a hoot, but then if you have not gotton into South Park then you are unlikely to get into this.


Thunderbirds. Jonathan (Star Trek Next Gen') Frakes joins that band of directors who have made an update or a film adaptation of a much-loved television series but who think they can do better by doing their own thing. They can't. They end up mauling the original leaving just a superfical visual semblance. (cf. the recent dire Avengers movie.) If they wanted to do their own thing then they should have done their own quite separate opus and then made in-direct references back to the original Thunderbirds TV series, as did Team America. With his Thunderbirds Frakes has turned out a lightweight kids action adventure, and not as Gerry Anderson (the original series' creator) did with supposedly adult protagonists (Alan and TinTin excepted) spectacle underpinned with big, gritty engineering. The up-to-date effects simply do not make up for it. Actor-turned-director Frakes was clearly given the job because he did a good one with the Next Gen' First Contact film and not because he understood Gerry Anderson . Also, like The Avengers re-make which did not have Brian Clemens' hand behind the scenes, Thunderbirds lacked any meaningful input from Gerry Anderson himself: Anderson was kept away. The film is therefore an incredibly slick botch-job that deservedly flopped at the box office. Worse, it has probably prevented someone else doing it right. Frakes and the film's producers must be kept away from any other re-makes or transferences from TV to film at all costs. They are a menace to society. The tragedy is that Hollywood makes this mistake again and again. Do they learn nothing!? Errr, yup Mr Tracey.

Enjoyed our top SF film summary of Easter 2004-5?
then why not check out the top DVDs and videos of the year?

For forthcoming SF film premieres then see the Concat' SF diary.

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