Welcome back to another guest edition of Reagan’s Recs. This month’s guest is Ethan Chamberlain who up until now has been entirely behind the scenes as my editor.
I haven’t known Ethan for very long, if memory serves (it often doesn’t) one of our first conversations was me pitching Reagan’s Recs to him. In that short time, however, I’ve come to consider Ethan a good friend; he’s always willing to send stupid jokes back and forth, even at the expense of his own sleep schedule. While planning for July, Ethan asked if he could take the July guest spot; what else could I say except yes? After all, Ethan has been the mastermind between Star Wars month, what better way to celebrate than by having him talk about sci-fi; a frequent staple of our conversations, what with our mutual love of Trek et al.
Ethan loves movies, and he specifically loves these movies. I’m glad that all of you get a little bit of insight into why he loves these movies.
Hi, I’m Ethan. While normally I’d be behind the scenes editing Reagan’s Recs, I’ve stepped in front of the imaginary camera this week to talk about some of my favorite sci-fi films. It’s been a joy working on these with Reagan so getting the chance to shout about these films is a real pleasure.
Now, when it comes to sci-fi, I have a deep-rooted love of the genre dating back to the first film I remember seeing in theatres, Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones. It was a life-changing experience getting to see all the varied worlds, people, creatures, and especially spaceships. Since that day I’ve never looked back and I’ve grown to appreciate what sci-fi can do when it comes to exploring themes of a social nature, be it head-on or via allegory. And not only that, I still geek out over all the new, exciting worlds that are out there to be discovered.
So let’s take a look at just a sampling of my favorite sci-fi films. You’ve probably heard of most, if not all of these, but hey, I enjoy them so you’re gonna listen to me wax poetic about them.
Contact (1997), dir. Robert Zemeckis
(CW: Strobe lighting)
While being the oldest film on the list, Contact is the most recent addition to my sci-fi top picks having watched it for the first time just this year. Let me tell you, I kicked myself for waiting this long to watch it. Zemeckis, perhaps best known for another sci-fi film: Back to the Future, brings an incredibly realistic sensibility to the central premise of the film, what happens when we make contact with extraterrestrials?
Anchored by an incredible performance from Jodie Foster, the film tackles the cultural conflicts between religion and science brought on by the apparent first contact head-on, and whether the two can co-exist in this new world order. Foster’s character goes on one hell of a journey throughout the film, being the one who discovers the message from outer space, all the way through to being the one sent to make the proverbial handshake with these extraterrestrials, before finally standing up for her belief in the truth at the film’s conclusion.
With what was at the time, state-of-the-art special effects that still hold up to this day, Contact makes for one of the best sci-fi experiences out there, not just due to said effects but because it has heart and empathy at its center.
The Martian (2015) dir. Ridley Scott
(CW: Strong language, Intense action scenes, 70s disco music)
Have you found yourself getting increasingly angry about the state of the world lately? Yeah? Well, let me tell you about The Martian. Directed by the GOAT Ridley Scott, the film follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) after a near-death experience leaves him stranded on Mars, seemingly without hope of rescue.
So how exactly, I’m hearing you ask, will this make me feel better? Simple, through sheer ingenuity and belief in himself, Watney works through problem after problem to survive, even managing to plant crops on the red planet. Accompanied by one hell of an ensemble cast (special shoutout to Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover) back on Earth working to bring Mark home, The Martian will make you feel good about the goodness of humanity, and that there is hope for the future. Oh, and it also has both an incredible score from Harry Gregson-Williams, and one hell of an accompanying soundtrack of 70s disco bangers that bring a sense of joy to what can, at times, be quite an emotionally taxing film.
Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014) dir. Doug Liman
(CW: Graphic scenes of death, Tom Cruise running)
Time Loops! Perhaps my favorite sub-genre of sci-fi. I love time loops so much I could have just chosen films of that nature and been happy with this article. But I went with what I consider to be the best of the lot. Originally released under the title Edge of Tomorrow, before being changed to Live, Die, Repeat when put out on home media (stupid, I know). The film follows Tom Cruise as a military major who talked his way into being a media liaison to stay out of the fight because he is, at heart, a coward who gets found out and sent to the front lines in a war against alien invaders.
He is accompanied in his quest to now win the war and overcome his cowardly sensibilities Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who had been caught up in a similar time loop at a previous battle against the alien invaders, winning the day in the end and becoming a war hero in the process. Rita is the true highlight of the film, Blunt’s performance captures something not often seen to such an extent; the soldier, no, the hero, who saved the day and now has the expectations of the world weighing down on them to do it again. It’s good stuff and takes the film from being a fun way to spend a couple of hours to one of the best sci-fi films around.
Star Trek (2009) dir. JJ Abrams
(CW: Scottish accent)
When I started figuring out what films I was going to include on this list I originally set out not to include any “franchise” films, as that can go down a tricky road of differing opinions of what film is the best to start with when getting into a specific franchise. But then I remembered how much Star Trek ‘09 as it’s commonly referred to, served as an introduction to not just Trek, but the genre as a whole.
Being an almost completely fresh start for the series, the film, directed by JJ Abrams, jumped over to an alternate timeline separate from the shackles of the franchise and able to explore new story angles, while still keeping the core of Star Trek at its heart.
With a cast of newcomers who capture the essence of the original actors perfectly, Star Trek ‘09 makes for an enormously enjoyable watch that will get you excited to check out more of the iconic franchise.
Interstellar (2014) dir. Christopher Nolan
(CW: Intense action, Will make you cry)
And so we come to the last film on the list, not just my favorite of the lot, but my favorite film of all time: Interstellar. Christopher Nolan’s ode to space travel, the film follows an Earth not too far into the future ravaged by dust storms, which serves as an allegory to climate change. The film explores the question of how exactly can we survive, and Nolan points the film in the direction of space travel. We are meant to leave the Earth.
I could talk about the insane visual effects of the film once it takes flight into space, or the familial bond across time between Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and his children, I could even talk about Hans Zimmer’s heartbreakingly beautiful score, instead, I’ll leave you with the following:
The make-or-break point for a lot of people in Interstellar comes around the halfway mark. Dr. Amelia Brandt (Anne Hathaway, putting in a career-best performance) asks both the characters she’s with, and the audience, to believe in love, not just as a shared bond between individuals, but as a driving force of the universe. And I don’t know about you, but I’m more than willing to take that leap. I’m happy to believe in love. Because love is the key. Maybe we should trust that even if we can’t understand it.