Robot Overlords (and five of the best British sci-fi films)
Director Jon Wright's fledgling career has already produced two feature films; the first, 2009's Tormented, was a supernatural horror comedy about a bullied teenager who returns from the dead to take revenge on his tormentors, while his second offering, 2012's Grabbers, detailed a group of Irish townspeople who protect themselves from hordes of bloodsucking alien invaders by getting very, very drunk.
For his third feature Robot Overlords, which is out now in hmv stores and available to buy here, Wright returns to the alien invasion theme, but this time around the invaders in question are not bloodsucking extra-terrestrials with a distaste for alcohol. Instead, as the title suggests, the threat to humanity comes courtesy of a race of giant robots intent on enslaving the human race and harvesting their knowledge.
The action takes place three years after the robot invasion and as conventional attempts at resistance through military force have proved futile, the majority of the human race find themselves confined to their homes, kept under strict curfew and monitored by their robotic masters via electronic chips implanted into their necks.
However, hope emerges in the form of a teenager named Sean (Callan McAuliffe), who finds a way to tamper with the implants, enabling him and his friends to stay out after curfew, but he soon finds that isn't all he has changed; he discovers he can use the implants to communicate with the robots through a sort of telekinesis, interrupting their programming. Sean and his friends begin a quest to rid the planet of their mechanical enemies, but find themselves under attack from other humans who have sided with the robots in exchange for a more privileged lifestyle.
There's a retro feel to Wright's film, which tips several nods to the sci-fi films of the 1980s, but the director won some admirers with his last film Grabbers and has assembled an impressive cast that includes Gillian Anderson as Sean's mother, as well as Ben Kingsley as his robot-friendly nemesis, Robin Smythe. With a reported budget of around $21m it's an impressive visual spectacle for the money and on a much bigger scale to Wright's previous films. While the plot may stretch a little thin at times, there's depth to the characters and enough storytelling skill to make this an engaging watch, especially for younger viewers.
It seems we make less and less science fiction for the big screen in the UK, even though overall film production is growing exponentially, but of the sci-fi films that we have produced on these shores there are some real classics and plenty of underrated gems too.
You can find the trailer for Robot Overlords below, beneath that we've picked five of our favourite sci-fi flicks from the Brits. Enjoy...
Dystopian societies are a common theme in many science fiction narratives and George Orwell's seminal novel 1984 is probably the mother of them all. The book's cultural influence is visible everywhere, from the television shows like Big Brother and Room 101 that borrow heavily from Orwell's ideas, to the language used by political commentators to uncover and dissect government chicanery, such as 'doublethink' or 'thought crime'.
Michael Radford's film – released, poignantly, in the year of the book's title – is an admirable attempt in bringing Orwell's nightmarish, totalitarian vision to life, with John Hurt turning in a career-defining performance as the downtrodden protagonist Winston Smith. Like the book, it can be tough going and bleak, but it's utterly compelling.
Gareth Edwards' first feature film may not have benefited from a lavish budget, but Monsters looks like anything but a cheaply constructed b-movie and many of its impressive visual effects were done by Edwards himself, reportedly in a bedroom editing suite using off-the-shelf software, earning the young filmmaker enough plaudits to put him in the director's chair for the recent Godzilla reboot.
Six years after an alien infestation, caused when a NASA probe carrying extra-terrestrials lifeforms crashes to Earth, journalist Andrew Caulder (Scoot McNairy) tries to navigate his way through the infected zones in Mexico to the safety of the US border, taking with him a shaken tourist (Sam Wynden) who he agrees to help. Edwards film is a nail-biting sci-fi thriller packed with tension and if you enjoyed films like 28 Days Later this will be right up your street.
In another directorial debut, Duncan Jones' 2009 feature Moon stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut working for Lunar Industries, working on a three-year secondment at a base on the moon where he is to harvest and send back helium 3, a mineral found only on the moon which provides abundant free energy for the Earth's inhabitants. But he's lonely; with no direct communication lines to Earth his only companion is an intelligent computer, GERTY, that tends to his needs. He misses his family and the long periods of solitude are causing him to hallucinate, but he then makes a surprise discovery that causes him to question his sanity, even his own identity.
As much a psychological thriller as anything else, Jones' film is firmly rooted in science fiction and its tense, cerebral plot is delivered brilliantly by Rockwell and the rest of the film's minimal cast, which also includes Kevin Spacey providing the voice of GERTY. Moon didn't really get the fanfare it deserved when it was first released, but it's well worth revisiting.
These are The Damned
Amazingly, horror specialists Hammer Films were so disappointed with The Damned (as it was originally titled) when it was completed that they shelved the film, only to finally relent and release it some two years later in 1963. It has since become a bit of a cult classic and apart from anything else it's a reminder that, if you could keep him off the sauce for long enough, Oliver Reed really was a brilliant actor (although it has to be said, he does ham it up in places...)
The plot sees an American tourist, a gang leader and his sister unwittingly discovering – and becoming trapped in – a secret government facility, in which experiments are being conducted on children to irradiate them in the hope they will survive a nuclear holocaust. The three try and break them out, but they have some pretty fierce looking dogs to contend with first. It's b-movie material, no doubt about that, but it's great fun.
2001: A Space Odyssey
In terms of creating a legacy, surely one of the most important sci-fi films from a British director has to be Stanley Kubrick's visual opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. Written together with Arthur C. Clarke, the film took four years to produce and went through several re-writes as Kubrick tried to minimise the dialogue in the film and make it more abstract (both the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes of 2001 are dialogue-free).
As confounding as it is compelling, Kubrick changed the boundaries of what a science fiction film could be and his eerie artistic vision is still considered a masterpiece of the genre some four decades later.