Science Fiction & Fantastic Film

Video/DVD Top Ten Chart - 2004

Concatenation's calculation looking at the UK weekly video/DVD rental top ten charts. Accounting for only fantastic films we have compiled the overall SF top ten for the year to Easter 2004.

This SF top ten chart is based on the level of UK weekly video rentals and this year sales. Remember, this is the public 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...

This year is the last year we will be producing an annual SF top ten video/DVD rental chart. This is because BARB, who provide the weekly trade figures from which we collate and compile an annual SF chart, has stopped freely providing the data. This has caused us to revise the way we do things. So as of next year we will be providing an SF cinema attendance annual top ten instead. This we feel will actually be more useful to you. Videos and DVDs are typically produced 6 months to a year after the cinema release. So why not do a cinema release top ten? In short in the past the value of a retrospective video/DVD top ten was that you could check to see which releases you may have missed. From next year on you will have a contemporary DVD/video rating based on the previous year's cinematic popularity. We hope you approve.

1. 28 Days Later

(Fox, 18)

Another year in which the number '1' romps home with nearly twice the score of number '2'. But all the more surprising at it was launched before the end of our window last year, hence appeared in last year's also ran worthies. Our protagonist (played by Cillian Murphey) wakes up in a quiet hospital. Leaving to find out where everyone has gone he finds London deserted. Everyone has left to escape an artificial virus that is highly infectious and spread by contact. Those infected are violent maniacs. Meeting a handful of survivors, they soon meet up with what appears to be left of the army (a small troop). But there is more to fear that the virus... The high score this attracted is due to a fortuitous combination of a good film (if not a block buster) combined with the date of the video release which maximised the time window (from Easter) in which we assess the top ten. Dr Who fans may wish to note that the actor, Christopher Ecclestone, playing the army leader is the new Doctor. Though not as slick as most Hollywood productions, this Brit-produced offering comes highly recommended from the fantastic film buffs on the Concat' team. Also the video as well as the DVD contains a feature on the making of the film.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

(Warner, 12)

Rowling's books have sold millions, so you know the story. Yes it's not SF, but that didn't stop Rowling getting an SF achievement award (the Hugo) for one of her Potter books (because the Hugo allows fantasy too hence our inclusion of this in the top ten). Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts school (where they train witches and wizards and find a mystery... Hugely popular with tiny kids of all ages.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

(Warner, 12)

All right, so it's not SF, but we know that a lot of you like classic fantasy (as do we) and this film was nominated for a Hugo (see the above Potter entry). This second film in the £300 million trilogy delivers, though tends to focus on the lead up to the big battle and, of course, the confrontation itself. Did hugely well at the box office and the final movie (no doubt a video next year) swept the Oscars. You've read the book. Enough said. (Ooops, last year we confused this with the first movie... Well it's all the same great stuff.) Hugely popular with middle-sized kids of all ages.

4. The Matrix Reloaded

(Warner, 15)

The sequel to the 1999 film fully delivers on effects which are awesome, as well as on 'potential' SF plot. In case you missed the 1999 original here's the back story... Thomas 'Neo' Anderson is a software programmer and model citizen by day, by night he provides illegal computer services which enable him to pursue his obsession to find out about something called 'The Matrix'. Then one day 'the authorities' come for him at work; he escapes and meets members of the underground who show him what the Matrix really is - an artificial reality programme, a virtual world which contains himself and everything he knows. He then gets to learn about reality... Now he is a freedom fighter who seems to have special powers in the matrix cyberspace. Fast paced with stunning effects, and filmed in such a way that it looks like a Japanese animé cartoon come to life, The Matrix was (not entirely unjustly) publicised as being the Bladerunner for the end of the century. The Matrix was nominated for a Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo for 2000; it would have won but that year the voting was under Australian rules which allowed for second and third choice counts which enabled Galaxy Questto win. The Matrix also came ninth in the Blackwood/Flynn poll of WSFS members of top ten SF films. This sequel is almost up to the standard of the original. But the motorway fight scene is something else, brilliant.

5. Daredevil

(Fox, 15)

Based on the Marvel comic book hero, the blind lawyer by day and super-sensed athlete vigilante by night, goes after those who killed his dad. Despite the weak story and cardboard villains, this film hits the spot with a good performance from the lead (Ben Affleck).

6. Die Another Day

(MGM, 12)

Forty one years on from the first Bond movie and Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of James Bond is proving every bit as good as Sean Connery's. With the usual 'Q' provided high-tech gadgetry, Bond is provoked to act on his own after the Americans accuse him of treachery and 'M' (Judi Dench) removes his 00 status. Korea, Hong Kong, Cuba and Iceland provide the backdrops. More techno-thriller than SF, it still has genre appeal.

7. Terminator 3

(Columbia, 12)

Oh dear. This film really should have been based on the S.M. Stirling spin-off novel but for various reasons it was not, including that reportedly Linda Hamilton (who plays Sarah Connor) wanted more money than she was offered. So we have this mediocre offering instead of excellence. Bad points: little tension even though plenty of action and Arnie really looks old. Good points: development of the time line concept and the psychiatrist's cameo. The DVD has a deleted scene which poorly portrays S. M. Stirling's explanation for the Terminators' Schwatrzenegger look (but the film's plot does not exploit this as the book did). With Arnie now a politician we might be spared him should they do a T4 and with Matrix and Lord of the Rings effects it should be possible to have a final movie set in the future in the middle of the war with the machines. However they are bound to mess it up unless they give control of the script to a single decent writer. Alas Stirling's own novelization of the war itself was not nearly as strong as his T2 follow-up.

8. Star Trek: Nemesis

(Paramount, 12A)

Another outing for the Enterprise Next Gen crew. Picard faces his clone and Data a prototype twin, and both face a plot to destroy Earth. Lots of agonised soul searching about what it is to be human. The bottom line is that the film franchise has not returned to the heights of First Contact. Come on now, we have the temporal war Enterprise back story, not to mention Voyager time police to fill in. Even a 'Q' story. Yes, Nemesis' effects are good but effects aren't everything. One can't help feel that Trekies (as opposed to Trekkers) are responsible for this getting into the top ten.

9. Solaris

Based on the original film, Russian 1972 movie, dir. Andrei (Stalker) Tarkovsky and in turn based on the 1961 Stanislaw Lem story, Solaris was originally billed as Russia's answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey (even though it was an answer that took four years in the coming and lacking that film's spectacle). This is the Hollywood version 30 or so years on... A research station is placed in orbit about the unknown planet 'Solaris' and its huge ocean. The ocean is thought to be intelligent but no one has found a way to communicate with it. A psychologist is sent to help, but soon discovers that all is not well and that the station is haunted by 'projections' of people. Shortly, the psychologist having encountered his former wife (who in reality had committed suicide), it becomes apparent that these projections come from the scientists' own minds... And then... well we will not spoil it for you. The film is very much for those into new wave SF. The original, it has to be said it is very drawn out running as it did to 165 minutes (though the first US release was 132 minutes) and that opinion is greatly divided as to its merits. This 2003 Hollywood version is a little shorter. The original was voted 15th favourite film in the Concatenation poll back when we were a print publication. Solaris (2003) is more cerebral than the usual fare so makes for an interesting change.

10. X-Men 2

(Fox, 12)

X-Men was a portrayal of the comic characters as they appeared in the 1990s and not the 1970s and 1980s that a number of today's parents will remember: this sequel film is primarily for today's generation of comic readers, though older fans should still find it hugely enjoyable. In it the tension mounts between the mutants and normal citizens which put the liberal US President in a bind especially after a mutant nearly assassinates him in his White House Oval office. Great stuff.

And the worthies that slipped through the net...

Paycheck is based on the P.K. Dick short story and is not out on yet (as we go up on the web) as a DVD or video but will be shortly. None of us have seen it in the cinema and it has had some indifferent reviews. But have these reviewers read the Dick story? A man has just completed top secret work for some industrial corporation. The work is so secret that he (by advance agreement) had his memory wiped. Now all he has to go on as to what happened to him is a pocket full of odds and ends...

Hulk is based on the Marvel comic series. Enough said. One of us who has seen it says that there is much angst and it takes a while for the Hulk to appear... but when it does it is quite good. Otherwise the film takes itself too seriously.

Our US comedy slot is a fantasy Bruce Almighty concerning a reporter (Jim Carey) who gets fired, mugged and rows with his girl (Jennifer Aniston). As a result of a prayer/appeal to God he has a chat with the being himself which ends up with him having God's powers and the God job for a trial period. Obviously indulgement and revenge are on the list before (boringly) Carey recognises what is the right thing to do... Apart from the end it's a fun movie.

Our Brit comedy slot is the spoof James Bond techno-'thriller' Johnny English. It is based on the British TV adverts for a credit card that had Rowan (Black Adder and Mr Bean) Atkinson as a bumbling secret agent. Unfortunately though this is better than many recent spy spoofs it is not quite up to the standard of the adverts which were really good. By comparison this is (only) quite good.

The Time Machine

This is the re-make based on the Wells classic. This was launched before the end of last year's top ten window but still made enough rentals this year to have been in the top twenty. Not at all as faithful as the George Pal version (probably due to political correctness reasons as the time machine novel was about the evolution of the social classes). This is strange as the director is Wells' grandson. Still, despite the changes, the film works on its own level and is quite competently done even if it will not go down as a classic genre offering. The effects are good as are the time lines' rationale.

Xchange is hard SF reminiscent of the 1966 novel Mindswap by Bob Sheckley (who is to be guest at the 2005 World SF Convention in Glasgow), except that in this film all the action is set on Earth. It is the near future and to save time you can Xchange bodies with someone a long way away. (As electronically transmitting someone's mind is far more easier than teleporting someone entire person Star Trek style as this last is, of course, science fiction. You knew that.) So this businessman swaps bodies with someone in another city to attend a business meeting but when he comes to swap back his own body has gone missing... Things goes from bad to worse when our man finds out that whoever is in his body has committed a crime. Meanwhile the Xchange organisers don't want our hero running around in case they loose a second body and there is the proverbial time limit on Xchanges. Given that people are not who they seem it gets a little complex. Plenty of action and suspense keeps the movie flowing along nicely.

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