Let us take you to infinity and beyond with 24 hours of non-stop sci-fi action on Blu-ray...
So, you’ve watched Prometheus and now have a hankering for more bigscreen outer-space action. Well, Team HCC is here to help with our Ultimate Sci-Fi Movie Marathon. So strap in and get ready for a 24-hour trip to the outer reaches of home cinema excellence...
The system is fired up, other members of the house have been banished and the fridge is full of ice-cold snacks – it’s time to begin.
The first disc in a 24-hour movie marathon needs to get the blood pumping straightaway, removing any lingering doubts that this really isn’t the best way to spend a large chunk of your weekend. Look no further than Starship Troopers. Paul Verhoeven’s galactic monster mash (and the last great sci-fi flick from a man who briefly ruled the genre) is big on action, gore and laughs and, despite running for over two hours, never lulls. Sure, the acting is generally awful and you’ll wonder how a $100m movie can end up looking so cheap, but it’ll leave a smile on your face – and the BD’s TrueHD 5.1 mix will warm your speakers up nicely, too.
Okay, one down, only rather a lot to go, and the best way to move deeper into the 24-hour marathon is with more of the same. Starship Troopers has given you a taste for hi-octane adventure and Star Trek carries on that flavour. And let’s face it, you can’t enjoy the ultimate sci-fi blowout without a bit of ...Trek action.
Rebooting the franchise with a fresh, young cast and giving hotshot director JJ Abrams a bigger-than-usual ...Trek budget of $140m proved a masterstroke for studio Paramount. This 2009 flick is smart, slick and thrilling – and benefits from a Blu-ray release that’s up there with the very best. The disc’s 2.39:1 1080p visuals are sharper than a Romulan blade and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is awash with delicate, crisp effects and brooding bass. Quite frankly, it makes Star Trek V: The Final Frontier look like a student film.
It’s now the time of night where some people start thinking about going to bed – you don’t have that luxury. So, energised by a couple of Mars bars (we’ve themed the snacks, too) it’s on to movie #3 – Alien – and some midnight scares.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 commercial smash (although at the time it received mixed reviews) was always going to be on this list. Not only is the prequel currently exciting fanboys across the globe on Blu-ray and DVD, this entry in the franchise is an unarguable classic, mixing the horror and science fiction genres to startling effect.
Scott is in his element here, armed with the concept art of HR Giger and the creature design of Carlo Rambaldi to craft a futuristic world that’s downright eerie. Sigourney Weaver, meanwhile, heads a brilliantly-chosen cast as one of cinema’s first female action stars. Some might prefer Scott’s own Blade Runner, or James Cameron’s gung-ho Aliens sequel, but, erm, we don’t.
Have a 15-minute break. Go to the toilet. Rest your eyes. Check you AVR isn’t overheating.
With Ripley’s radio message still ringing in your ears, it’s time to slow the pace down a touch and find some alien creatures that aren’t set on ripping out your spine…
Steven Spielberg tends to look for the softer side in extra-terrestrials, so we’re raiding his back catalogue for our fourth flick – no, not the sugar-coated schmaltz-fest that is E.T., but the far superior Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Given a lavish Blu-ray release in 2009 by Sony Pictures, it’s perfect middle-of-the-night fare – you can sink into your sofa and relax while Richard Dreyfuss’ everyman builds his mashed-potato towers and heads off to meet the intergalactic interlopers, enveloped by first-rate picture quality and a good (but not quite superb) audio mix, in either Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA flavours. Oh, and just so you know, we’ve opted for the 1998 Director’s Cut, rather than the original or Special Edition iterations (all three are housed on the Blu-ray) – because, as the bearded director himself says, this is the ‘final version’.
Make a vat of coffee. You’re going to need it.
To bridge the gap between night and day we’ve selected a film that, to be honest, still works even if you grab a cheeky nap halfway through. After all, none of us are super-human.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is regarded by some as the greatest science-fiction movie ever made. It’s certainly one of the weirdest, with giant fetuses, feuding monkeys and self-serving computers all vying for screentime, accompanied by slices of classical music and minimalist dialogue. Our advice is to treat it as a work of surrealist art rather than a straightforward movie – or you might get angry.
Kubrick’s outer-space epic can be snapped up on a region-free Blu-ray for a bargain price, and its 2.22:1 hi-def imagery is superb when you consider the film’s 1960s origins. The multichannel LPCM mix (the Blu-ray was released in the format’s early days) is less of a knockout – you don’t get much in the rear channels – but at this time of the morning that might be for the best.
Right, enough dozing on the sofa, it’s now halfway through our movie marathon and you need a film to focus the mind. Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 manga adaptation Akira should do the trick.
Famed for bringing Japanese animation to a wider Western audience, Akira is an enthralling 124-minute journey into a scary future world packed with violent biker gangs, psionic powers and shady government organisations. Yep – Toy Story it ain’t.
The hand-drawn visuals may not be a match for modern-day CG ‘toons but the disc’s 5.1 mix is among the best in the business – a 192kHz/24-bit TrueHD track (dubbed Hypersonic by the marketing department) that slices through your viewing room with astonishing clarity. You may not have heard anything like it. Okay, this is only on the Japanese language track so you’ll be forced to read subtitles, but we said we wanted to focus your mind, didn’t we?
Breakfast time. Grab a bowl of Weetos Meteors and replenish your energy levels.
There’s a chance that you’re now feeling a little bit hysterical, with a space-pummelled brain close to breaking point. As always, laughter is the best medicine, so our next platter is one of those rarest of beasts – a science-fiction comedy. This is a genre riddled with disasters (Pluto Nash springs to mind), but The Fifth Element stands out as a shining example of how to do it right.
This Bruce Willis vehicle doesn’t strive for jokes to the detriment of its sci-fi origins (although Chris Tucker’s superstar DJ comes close), and packs some glorious concepts – diddly cigarettes, a vertical city – alongside a memorable performance from Milla Jovovich as a scientifically created ‘perfect being’. And as a home cinema experience it’s rock-solid, too, providing you’re not in ownership of the discontinued MPEG-2-encoded release that was rapidly replaced with a much-improved AVC-encoded transfer. Director Luc Besson’s visual extravagances look suitably lavish and the soundtrack is a riot. We were using this movie as demo-fodder when it was on DVD, and nothing’s changed now.
Almost noon and, once again, we’re changing pace, following the frantic brashness of The Fifth Element with something a little more cerebral, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Made in 1927, Metropolis is, naturally, presented in black-and-white and ‘silent’, but don’t let that put you off – if you’re yet to sample its epic, sprawling narrative of a slave-labour-powered dystopian future (well, the year 2,000) then you’re missing out.
The film has gone through countless iterations over the years, including a shortened 80-minute cut, complete with pop soundtrack, in 1984, but 2010 saw a new 150-minute restoration made from previously lost prints unearthed in Argentina and New Zealand, and it’s this version that we’ve chosen here. Released by Eureka Entertainment as part of its Masters of Cinema catalogue, you even get a 56-page booklet to browse through. Purists can stick to the stereo soundtrack, but the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix isn’t bad, either.
By now, concerned/irritated family members may be banging on the door of your viewing room, so the penultimate flick in our 24-hour binge is something that has no doubt been described at some point as ‘fun for all the family’ – WALL-E.
Continuing the silent theme of Metropolis for its opening act, WALL-E is animation house Pixar at the top of its game – hilarious, emotional and smartly satirical. True, the robot design may owe a lot to Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, but everything else drips with originality.
WALL-E also shows that sci-fi lends itself to superior surround sound. Pixar’s sonic experts have crafted a playful 5.1 mix (presented here in DTS-HD MA) rammed with tactile effects (check out the cockroach’s delicious clicks) and seismic LFE when the situation calls for it. This is reference-grade audio – and the 1080p visuals are equally mesmerising.
A quick snack. Space Invaders on toast?
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final film in our movie marathon. Have we saved the best ‘til last? No. We’ve chosen Avatar instead (the best was shown at 11:45pm, surely?).
While we don’t think James Cameron’s blockbuster is the greatest sci-fi flick ever made, we’re not going to argue with the AV experience that Fox’s Blu-ray platter delivers (get the Extended Collector’s Edition or you’ll run 15 minutes short). There’s little subtlety here, more a succession of demo-worthy set-pieces that provide a perfect climax to our day-long deluge. Ramp up the volume on your amp, sprawl on your sofa and enjoy. After all, if you’ve got this far, then you’ve earned it.
Go. To. Bed.
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