Science Fiction DVDs / Videos

Top Ten Chart - 2005

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

This is the last year we are dong a DVD / video SF chart as we are switching to film. This is due to Concat' regulars saying that this would make the top ten more topical and of use when renting DVDs. Because DVDs/videos typically come out between 6 and 9 months after a film's cinematic release, there is just some overlap with our first film top ten (2005).

Remember, this is the public's video / DVD rentals we are talking about and not fantastic film buffs' views, 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. The Day After Tomorrow

(Fox, 12A)

Arguably a surprise DVD/video number one especially as it did not do so well in the film charts despite coming out at a time in the year that optimised its chances. 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 (which may be why it got a strong DVD/vid chart showing(?)), and if such debate happened in homes then even better. Check it out for yourself. Directed by Roland Emmerich.

2. Van Helsing

(Fox, 12)

This came top of our new annual film charts such was the speed with which the DVD / video was released and that the film came out early on last year. Its DVD / video release also appears to see it down-rated for younger kids. Does this mean that the DVD/video version is censored compared to the cinema release? Plot: Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), instructed by the Vatican, takes on the forces of darkness in this special-effects rich, action romp. This 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 withheld 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.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(Momentum Pictures, 15)

Timing is almost everything in these annual Easter-Easter top tens. Not only did this make the past year's top ten films (number 4) but it also made it to this the rental SF charts. 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 convinently 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.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

(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, and won, a Hugo (2004 Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form). This third film in the 300 million trilogy more than delivers. It is a huge spectacle that is largely faithful to the book (ending notably excepted so undermining the story's industrial development allegory). Well worth getting out on video but you may want to buy the DVD as this is a far longer version and has loads of extras and it includes Christopher Lee who missed out on the version in the cinema. Hugely popular with middle-earth-sized kids of all ages and of course it ran away with numerous Oscars in 2004.

5. The Matrix Revolutions

(Warner, 15)

This is the third, and weakest of the Matrix films.   It tries to make up for things with sheer specatcle of the attack against the humans' last, underground refuge city. It was made back-to-back with The Matrix Reloaded that was in last year's video top ten. With that, the 2nd, film the plot was sailing close to the wind and to resolve it and maintain coherency and logic there would have needed to be a special raison d'etre for the way everything was. Being made back-to-back with the second in the series should have enabled everything to be culminate to a neat conclusion tidying up the loose ends. Sadly this final offering simply does not develop on the SF front. We never found out why there was this cycle of human-machine opposition as stated in film 2. (Instead we had the mini-series of short cartoons to give us the origins of the Matrix and this at least delivered on the SF front and woud indeed make for a great film.) So what does Revolutions give us? Simply a large number of machines that swarm, army ant-like, into the humans' refuge and then getting blown to bits. Nero goes mystical and the AIs fail to hack it. All rather disappointing really. This explains why this did not make number 1 in our charts as the first did: its promise simply was never realised.

6. Gothica

(Columbia Tristar, 15)

An amnesiac psychiatrist (Halle Berry) is locked up in her own institution following a car accident involving a ghostly girl. A flashy atmospheric horror. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz.

7. Timeline

(Paramount, 15)

Based on the 1999 Michael Crichton book of the same name, this concerns time travel goings -on. A professor on an archeological dig in France is whisked off for some consultancy in the US. Meanwhile back at the dig the archeologists break into a cellar to find a note from the professor calling for help. The note appears to be genuinely old. How can this be? It transpires that the professor was asked to help out with a time travel project and so a rescue mission back to the French Middle Ages is mounted. This is not nearly as succesful as Crichton's Jurassic Park nor does it have the SF strength of either Westworld or The Andromeda Strain. However it is fairly reasonable on historical detail (which is something for a Hollywood movie) but this is probably due to Crichton doing extensive research for the book which included dress and culinary detail as well as political history). It is also well-paced and a perfectly reasonable adventure.

8. ScoobyDoo II: Monsters Unleashed

(Warner Brothers, PG)

Another vid that was also in this year's top ten films. 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.

9. Haunted Mansion

(Disney, PG)

Yet another vid that was also in this year's top ten films. A reasonably amusing, if light, Disney comedy for the family. It was the family box office that put this into the top ten as opposed to any fantasy or horror element.

10. Paycheck

(Dreamworks, 12)

This is based on the SF Grand Master, author Philip K. Dick, short story. A guy completes a job but has no memory. This is typical for contracts with a confidentiality clause, but normally the payment is large in compensation. However our man discovers that instead of large pay cheque his pre-amneasic self has opted for a variety of seemingly mundane items. These it turns out are clues as to what he has been up to. Strangely, though, they also seem to help him out of the immediate predicaments that keep cropping up. Most odd... The story is reasonably faithful to the Dick original. However the film's director has gone for a rather peculiar look to the future world. Amid the technology it is assumed that the fashion of the day is more 1960s middle class. An interesting perspective that was not appreciated by every critic. The film did not do particularly well at the box office, probably because it did not have the family appeal that some others, higher in the chart, had. However its SF credentials are sound. If it had not managed to slip in at '10' then we would have certainly cited it as a possibly more worthy film.

And for the 2004/5 worthies that slipped through the net... check out the 'others' section of the 2005 SF film top ten.

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

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