During a conversation with an artist friend of mine (the talented Charles Rouse-Rodriguez) he asked me what my 5 most inspiring sci-fi films were. His only condition was that I not include any Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG, etc. in my response. Normally I’d rattle off a ton of films from the top of my head yet this one had me stumped. It wasn’t what I considered the best made or well written, but the most INSPIRING films.
What makes a good movie and what inspires a person can be two very different things. Most movies entertain the viewer leaving them satisfied, but little else. Few films leave you with a desire for action, taking momentum from the creative energy ingested and turning it into something new. Those rare gems are truly above simply entertaining or even great films. They hold a quality unto themselves which is difficult to capture in any medium let alone on-screen.
Here are 5 films that have inspired me to become a better writer, to create something as amazing as what I just watched, and to take my thoughts in completely new directions. [Warning Spoilers Ahead]
Immortal (Ad Vitam)
From the moment I laid eyes on the DVD cover in the pages of Video Store Weekly (yes, I had a subscription and yes, I’m that much of a movie geek) I had a burning need to see this film. I even made my local indie video store (remember those?) order a copy which I was the very first person to rent.
Enki Bilal, an artist whose style inspired the look of Blade Runner, took his graphic novel straight from the pages of Heavy Metal and transformed it into this beautiful movie. Egyptian gods hovering over a future New York City in a giant flying pyramid, Horus given 7 days on Earth before his immortality is removed, and a beautiful blue-haired woman who holds a secret power that she isn’t even aware of. The premise of the film and Linda Hardy drew me in like a siren’s song.
This film was one of the first to be shot exclusively in front of green screens, coming out within a wave of films employing the same technique (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Casshern). Immortal (Ad Vitam) pulled it off beautifully just like Sin City would a year later. This movie was unlike anything I had seen before.
Inspiration: Bilal took his story, trapped in the static images of a graphic novel, and reshaped it into a moving visual medium thus re-creating his art without repeating it. It forced me to look at my work not only in its current form as I create it, but from other perspectives as well, sometimes bringing a spark to the tale it would otherwise be missing. Also, the juxtaposition of old with new made me look at combining elements I would normally overlook.
A Scanner Darkly
This film caught my eye with its trailer and its pedigree; another entry in a long line of Philip K. Dick inspired films. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover cop whose identity is secret even to his fellow officers. His mission was to help bring down dealers peddling a drug named Substance D, one so potent that there were only two types of people left in society, those who were addicted and those who had never tried it. This may sound like a straight forward cop drama, but you quickly realize it’s something very different.
The style in which the movie was created is the same rotoscope animation they used in Waking Life. This lets the audience know immediately that there’s a fluid nature to the events they’re watching even going so far as to have a drug induced hallucination for the first scene.
The movie is filled with ripples in reality. Reeves’ drug use caused his brain to split into two personas, one who’s an undercover cop and one who’s a dirtbag drug dealer, leaving him uncertain as to which was in control at any given time. He’s also flooded with memories of a married life he may or may not have had. Freck, a druggie friend in their dysfunctional little circle, attempted suicide out of apathy only to meet with unexpected results. Nothing is as it seems in a much more subtle way than other Dick inspired films like Total Recall. A Scanner Darkly’s future is right around the corner and in some cases already here which makes the paranoia prevalent throughout the film not such a far fetched idea.
Inspiration: This movie made me look more closely at playing with layers of reality—one of my favorite themes—in my writing. It also made me further examine the unreliable narrator as a technique to employ. Using the protagonist to both tell the story and hide the story is juggling act I hope to one day master.
Dealing in dreams is the ultimate question of reality. Everyone here has at one time had a dream so intense that we were certain it was actually happening only to be yanked out of the experience by an angry alarm clock. The characters in this film weave the stuff of dreams and architect worlds of subtle complexity. Layers upon layers are built in a tightly interlocking fashion. A Mobius strip of enigmatic reality.
The first time I saw this movie was alone in a hotel room a few feet from a 40″ LCD screen. When the film started and until it ended everything else faded away; the room, the hotel, and the city I was in. I hadn’t been so engrossed by a film in a very long time.
The plotting in this movie is the tightest I’ve ever encountered. Scene linked to scene with an exquisite precision. The timing in the latter half of the film was a thing of beauty unto itself, creating tension across three storylines all gaining momentum toward an epic climax. Forget edge of your seat, I was teetering on molecules, enthralled by the images before me.
Inspiration: This film seriously inspired me to one day create a masterpiece, a combination of effort and talent, which would define my legacy. That is how astounded I was by the movie’s flawless execution. I know I will have to work harder than I ever have before (it took Nolan 8 years to make this) in order to even touch the level of excellence this piece of art embodies yet if I ceaselessly, almost obsessively, focus on my craft I feel I can achieve it.
This is the first film I ever saw multiple times in the theater. Five, to be exact. I simply couldn’t get enough of its thought provoking premise, industrial soundtrack, or breathtaking action sequences. I was hooked from day one. I won’t go into the plot because no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
Reeves (once again) plays a protagonist who doubts his own reality. He feels like there’s something more just beneath the surface and if he can scratch it in the right spot it’ll all peel away like a band-aid.
The first in the trilogy was the most ground breaking. Layers of meaning are sown into the dialogue and visuals of this film. Foreshadowing is strongly employed while philosophical concepts are discussed in the movie without sounding academic, an extraordinary feat in itself.
The characters engaged in a lot of action sequences during the movie yet it was the motivation behind those scenes that elevated the story. They not only battled robots and Agents, but authority, control, and fate; fighting to steer their own lives instead of being corralled by outside forces.
Inspiration: Foreshadowing is used extensively in this film without being heavy handed. It impressed upon me the importance of utilizing this technique to develop richer stories which lead to readers coming back for repeat viewings. Also, it inspired me to think of my plots on much larger scales and that even esoteric concepts can be successfully injected into the core of a story.
Brazil is one of the best dystopian futures to have graced the silver screen. It didn’t achieve this through fancy CGI or an extravagant budget, but through an oppressive saturation of every element available on the screen. At times it felt oddly retro, with its tiny televisions enlarged through bulky magnifying screens. Other times it felt futuristic, with its painful looking yet astonishing plastic surgeries. All in all, it wasn’t Brazil’s sci-fi attributes that made it frightening, but how similar it was to our current society. For a film made in 1985 it was incredibly prophetic.
Jonathan Pryce was brilliantly cast as a tiny cog in the grinding bureaucracy of a sprawling government agency; happy to be unnoticed, unrecognized, and blissfully left alone. As he reveled in mediocrity his life was derailed when he came across the woman of his dreams, literally.
Terry Gilliam has inspired me with almost every single film he’s made from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to Time Bandits to any of the Monty Python films he directed or wrote. The man himself is inspiring for such an array of strong creative vision. When you watch a Gilliam film his stamp is undeniable.
Inspiration: Brazil is inspiring on so many levels, but one thing that stands out is how the world itself is a character. The oppressive claustrophobia of the environment, the overly complicated and inefficient technology, and even the constant bombardment of explosions. The minor characters are just extensions of this dysfunctional society, a symptom of the rot within. This isn’t world exploration like in Lord of the Rings. It’s using the world as a device to impede the protagonist, but giving it enough personality that it could rightfully be considered a character. In this case, you don’t think the world’s out to get you… you KNOW it is.
What Sci-Fi films have inspired you and how? Do you disagree with any on my list? Let us know in the comments or shoot me a tweet @gabrielnovo. If you enjoy these articles then feel free to have them delivered directly to your inbox or share them with a friend using the buttons below.