Science Fiction Films

Top Ten Chart - 2005/6

Concatenation's annual calculation looking at the 52 UK weekly film charts up to Easter 2006 that accounts for only fantastic films (SF and fantasy).

Remember, this is the UK 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. Also note that this chart compilation calculation did not include DVD sales or spin-off product earning, and our chart is also subject to weekly vagaries. (In some weeks most of the entries do not gross much but at other times (for example public holidays) overall box office takings are higher.) This means that the chart reflects on-going cinema attendance throughout the year and it is not a strict annual list of the year's high box office earners. So standby with the pop corn, here we go...


1. Star Wars Episode III - The Revenge of The Sith

(12A)

Directed and written by George Lucas, the Jedis do their thing. Meanwhile after three decades in the Clone Wars, Anakin finally embraces the dark side... Absolutely stunning eye-candy for younger viewers. This prequel trilogy is getting a little tired compared to the original (and many fans say superior) series that had a broader age-range appeal, so it is not surprising it did not even get nominated for this year's Dramatic Presentation Hugo! However it was hugely successful at the box office with a younger audience (which in turn was no doubt boosted by accompanying parents who remembered the first Star Wars outings).   Point of interest: Writer/director George Lucas makes a cameo appearance as the blue-skinned Baron Papanoida just outside the entrance to Palpatine's private box at the Galaxy's Opera House.   Principal cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi); Natalie Portman (Padmé); Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker); Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine); Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu); Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)); Anthony Daniels (C-3PO); Christopher Lee (Count Dooku).


2. War of the Worlds

(12A)

Steven Spielberg turns his hand to the 1898 H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds and, as we will assume that you are aware of the all-time SF classics, we won't summarise the plot of Martians invading the Earth using huge tripod mounted machines armed with heat rays.   As you will gather from the number 2 ranking, this did hugely well at the UK box office. Why? Well, mainly because the alien tripod machines were spectacular and clearly of a Wellsian type (unlike the 1953 George Pal version). Furthermore, the aliens themselves were not bad and the encounter in the cellar was visually excellent, not to mention it follows a scene clearly based on the original novel. So if you want to get this out for the effects then you will not be disappointed. However if you are at all seriously into SF then prepare to be massively disappointed.   Notwithstanding that it is set in the present day, or in the US, this film takes huge liberties with the novel. For a start, while the aliens are from another world, the Martian machines were buried thousands of years in the ground on Earth awaiting reactivation! The reason given for this simply does not hang together in a number of ways. Then there is the aliens' arrival, of which the less said the better. Third, the tripods are not invincible as they were in the novel (one of the purposes of the story) but our hero knocks one out (which of course is the job of tiny, everyday germs). Fourth, Spielberg tried so hard to get it right and he almost did it, but screwed up in these key elements. The good news is that there is still the opportunity for someone to do a faithful film of the novel. What Spielberg has done is show that we now have the technology to do the effects convincingly.   OK, so the film did well at the box office. How did SF fans view it? Well put it this way, it did not make the short-list of nominations for the 2006 Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award. Now you know why.   Nice touch: Gene Barry and Ann Robinson from the George Pal film played the grandparents at the film's end.   Principal cast: Tom Cruise (Ray Ferrier); Dakota Fanning (Rachel Ferrier); and Justin Chatwin (Robbie Ferrier).


3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

(PG)

Kids fantasy film. As you know we include fantasy in the top ten because fantasy is SF's cousin within the genre of 'fantastic films'. A group of children in wartime Britain (1940s) find that the back of a wardrobe is a dimensional gateway to the magical world and country of Narnia. There animals can talk but evil lurks in the form of the Ice Queen. Fortunately there is a supernatural lion (Aslan) who keeps a paternal (but distant) eye on matters, but it is the children themselves that have to sort out immediate problems. The film is, of course, based on the classic children's book series by C. S. Lewis and has 'Christian' undertones. The film was also nominated (short-listed) for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award in 2006.


4. Batman Begins

(12A)

This is the story of how Bruce Wayne became the Batman. Brought up to date and vaguely following the original comic's version, this is a (welcome?) return to a darker cinematic portrayal of the caped crusader as in the 1989 film and its immediate sequel. Here though Alfred the Butler plays a more central role as keeper of the flame while a young Wayne goes out into the World to find himself. The film is divided into two halves with the Batman only appearing in the second: some fans say that the first half is better(?). Either way Batman Begins was nominated (short-listed) for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award in 2006.   Point of interest: Notice Wayne's hair before and after, and then after that, when he is slapped by Rachael.   Directed by Christopher Nolan. Principal cast: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman); Michael Caine (Alfred); Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon); and Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane).


5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

(PG)

Another outing for the young trainee wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his wizard school chums. Based on the Rowling children's books. This film is rated one of the better ones in the series, not that the previous were at all bad adaptations. In terms of UK box office take, though hugely successful, the film just failed by a whisker to beat Batman Begins into fourth place. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was also nominated (short-listed) for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award in 2006.


6. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

(U)

This is a delightful claymation animation comedy and it will appeal to the entire family. Wallace is a middle aged Yorkshire man living in northern terraced suburbia, and Wallace is his dog. All well and good except someone is vandalising people's gardens and there is the annual giant vegetable growing competition due. Wallace and Gromit decide to solve the mystery.   This is the pair's first feature film outing following three shorts that themselves accrued an Oscar or two, as indeed did this film: it won an Oscar in 2005 and was also nominated (short-listed) for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award in 2006.   Of interest: In Curse of the Were-Rabbit one Peter Sallis not only voices Wallace but also Hutch. Also look carefully at the number of days to go to the competition on the wall after the rabbit is caught at the beginning and then after Wallace tries to brainwash the rabbits.   Directed by Steve Box and Nick Park. Writing by Nick Park (characterization) and Bob Baker.


7. King Kong

(12A)

This is an excellent re-make of the 1933 Cooper & Schoedsack classic film for which credit has to go to director Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson. The plot, as if you did not know, concerns the discovery on the remote Skull Island of a prehistoric community of dinosaurs plus one giant ape, Kong. Kong is captured and brought to New York... The original has been remade before and very badly in 1976. Notwithstanding this there have a number of films that attempted to cash in on the original's success (such as The Mighty Joe Young). In short Jackson was rather brave to attempt this but after the huge success of his Lord of the Rings trilogy he was bound to get studio backing. This new version works. It is faithful to the original but has a far longer running time of 187 minutes. Nearly all of this extra time is devoted to excellent special effects action sequences. The film won three Oscars.   Principal cast: Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow); Jack Black (Carl Denham); and Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll).


8. The Fantastic Four

(PG)

This is a quite enjoyable superhero comic book style film, which of course is in-keeping with the 'Fantastic Four's Marvel comic roots. Astronauts are caught in a radiation storm and each develops their own particular superpower. Dr Doom is on hand (but his creation bears zero resemblance to that of the Marvel original). Though die hard comic fans of all ages will want to check this out, the box office ratings probably were due to a younger audience.   Enjoyable.


9. The Descent

(18)

A UK independent which itself speaks volumes for being in the box office charts. The Descent concerns a group of pot-holers who go caving. Then one has an accident and if that is not enough something else is down there with them. Something that is not entirely human... Written and directed by Neil Marshall, who also did the excellent were-wolf Dog Soldiers, this is a gripping cryptozoological horror that really delivers. An absolute 'must' for horror fans. Enough said.   Principal cast: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah); Natalie Jackson (Juno); Alex Reid (Beth); Saskia Mulder (Rebecca); MyAnna Buring (Sam); Nora-Jane Noone (Holly); Oliver Milburn (Paul); and Molly Kayll (Jessica).


10. The Island

(12A)

A modern community thinks that they are in a bunker having survived a global war. However it turns out that they are there for some other purpose. Time then for some of the inmates to try to leave... Despite plot (and science (fiction)) flaws, this is an enjoyable SF action thriller movie. Yes, it could have been so much more, and yes we would like to give you more of the plot, but it is so basic that it would ruin the movie (so don't even read the back of the DVD case): suffice to say it concerns bioethics. If you are stuck for a movie for the weekend, then after a good meal and a bottle of wine, this will hit the spot!   Principal cast: Ewan McGregor (Lincoln Six Echo/Tom Lincoln); Scarlett Johansson (Jordan Two Delta/Sarah Jordan); Djimon Hounsou (Albert Laurent); Steve Buscemi (McCord); Michael Clarke Duncan (Starkweather); Ethan Phillips (Jones Three Echo); and Brian Stepanek (Gandu Three Echo). Directed by Michael Bay.

And the worthies that slipped through the net...

Serenity(15). Directed and written by Joss (Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV) Whedon. This is a spectacular romp of a space opera. Captain Malcom Reynolds finds he is on the run from a skilled Alliance operative who also wants crew member River Tam, and who will stop at nothing to get her. Serenity is a spin-off of the cult TV series Firefly but everything is explained in the film so you do not need to have seen the TV series to enjoy the film. Serenity itself was nominated (short-listed) for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo Award in 2006. All of which begs the question why it did not make our top ten? Well, every chart system has its strengths and weaknesses. Here Serenity did not do well in the UK box office. In part this is due to the Firefly TV series not having the profile of UK terrestrial broadcast (currently still an important factor in British Isles TV). However the DVD sales were something else, and indeed DVD sales were also strong in the US, but alas such sales do not figure in the way we compile our top ten charts. This may also explain why it is likely that any future Serenity film will be made for straight-to-DVD. Nonetheless Serenity remains an excellent action-packed space opera and has the sort of style some buffs had hoped Lucas would have imparted to his recent, second, Star wars trilogy.

Evil Aliens (18) is actually a comedy horror SF offering as opposed to a scary horror. Having said that there is blood but the film is more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. You may have missed this as it appears to be a UK independent. Stars include Norman (Red Dwarf) Lovett, there are many SF film references (such as to Predator and Alien) as well as nods to horror movies.

Underworld Evolution (18) is an action horror movie that is in fact the sequel to Underworld which continues the war between the werewolves and vampires. This sequel has more action than plot compared to the original. However the original did very well in terms of DVD rentals and sales over time but did not stay high in the weekly charts and so did not make our previous top tens. A number of buffs say that the original was better than this sequel so get that out first. Directed and screenstory by Len Wiseman.

Land of the Dead (15) is part of the director George Romero zombie series. Though a horror, note that this only got a (15) certificate in the UK so it is not the most horrific of horrors but has plenty of action. If you've not followed the series here is the back-story. Due to some vague satellite fault, the Earth is bathed in radiation that causes the dead to rise and attack the living. The previous films saw survivors in a small isolated country house, a shopping mall and a military base. In this film, set a little further on still in time, there is a large number of privileged survivors in a walled city that also has some river protection. However it is only a matter of time...

RED ALERT FILM TO AVOID...

The Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy (15). We will assume you know the brilliant radio original, but if not then get the first series on audio tape/CD from the BBC. Anyway, here goes...   Though Douglas Adams apparently originally conceived his classic BBC Radio 4 series as a film, alas he died before shooting began -- so ignore the film credit given him other than it is (kind of) based on his work. In short major liberties are taken with the original. To take just one example: Zaphod does not have two heads on his shoulders (so he can't bang them together as Arthur suggested in the original). The Hollywood gloss does not help even though the likes of Stephen Fry are added to the mix. Would have Douglas Adams approved? Probably not given that he almost literally used to agonise over every sentence he wrote.   Our advice is to wait and see this for free on TV rather than give the producers any royalty from the sale of a DVD.   Hollywood has an incredibly atrocious reputation for making film adaptations when they do not involve, and give full control to, those that did the original work. These abominations invariably fail at the box office, so you'd have thought they would have learnt by now! There are countless examples of this thoughtless habit. Recent ones include: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Thunderbirds (2004), and The Avengers films. Each of these could easily have been a box office smash had they not put the original through the Hollywood mangle. Of course film adaptations from books or the small to big screen can work: Serenity above is an example, but here the creator (Joss Whedon) had full control.   To be absolutely fair this is not the worst of adaptations in that it is at least 'watchable' by fans, but still so many unnecessary liberties were taken that it is up to us consumers not to encourage them with contributions from our wallets.   Also bear in mind that at the 1979 Hugo Awards ceremony (Brighton, England), prior to the winning announcement for the 'Best Dramatic Presentation' award, a huge cheer went up for the Hitch-hikers' radio series. So much so that Christopher Reeves on accepting his win (for the film Superman) said that he thought that as far as the people in the hall were concerned Hitch-hikers' should have won. This year (2006) the film adaptation of the radio series did not even make the Hugo nomination short list. The fans have spoken...

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

For forthcoming SF film news then see our seasonal Science Fiction news page.


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