By Josh Henderson
With shows like Holodeck Follies in our repertoire, it should come as no surprise that The Dandies love science-fiction. Personally, I’ve loved sci-fi since I was little. One of the reasons I love the genre is its strong visuals. As a cinematographer, I’m drawn to a number of the iconic worlds brought to life in science-fiction films. Here are a few of my favourites.
9 science-fiction films with iconic cinematography
The dark rain soaked and neon lit streets of Los Angeles nights of the future (which is now the present as it was set in November of 2019) helped Blade Runner become the single most influential film for cinematography since its release. The novel that Blade Runner is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, didn’t paint the setting as thoroughly as Director Ridley Scott and Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, though.
In comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s other films, I find 2001: A Space Odyssey to be his most crisp, cold and sterile. There’s heavy use of symmetrical and tack sharp shots. The overall look including both cinematography and production design, also led to the conspiracy theory that Kubrick directed the Apollo 11 moon landing. This film is also famous for major budget overages, which in part, is a reason why Kubrick directed A Clockwork Orange in mostly physical locations in and around London, England.
As the story goes, Ridley Scott was set to direct a version of the medieval romance tragedy Tristan and Iseault, but one he saw Star Wars, proceeded to back burner that project in favour of the offer to direct Alien. Also drawing influence from Star Wars around the dirty and lived-in aspects, Scott sold the film as truckers in space and the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre of Sci-Fi films. With cinematographer Derek Vanlint, Scott worked to make the film slow, minimal, dark and claustrophobic.
Children of Men is a near future dystopia where humans can no longer procreate. Director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki combined elements of cinema verité and documentary shooting for a powerful science-fiction film with themes of hope and faith.
Time spanning and jumping, three stories intertwine around the themes of love and life. Well-crafted editing eases the flow between periods. When The Fountain was released in 2006, it was especially noted for the visual effects, most of which were created physically with macro photography and chemical reactions since CGI was expensive and director Darren Aronofsky maintained wanting visuals that never became dated.
Set 30 years after the events of Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 brought back many of the visual touchstones of the first film – giant ads, a sprawling megacity and, of course, the rain, but also extended to new areas of bleakness in Las Vegas and San Diego. As soon as I heard that 13-time Oscar nominee, Roger Deakins was brought on by Director Denis Villeneuve (who had previously teamed up for Prisoners and Sicario), I was certain that this would be not only a substantive follow-up and visually impressive, but would earn Deakins an Oscar.
Another entry for director Denis Villeneuve, this time teaming with cinematographer Bradford Young. A very natural looking film, it’s a bit like a small film pretending to be a big film, or is it vice versa? A big film pretending to be small? Either way, it was shot in Quebec in only a handful of locations and in only 56 days. The sense of wonder wrapped in apprehension is a great strength of Arrival.
The neo-noir film is, like the title suggests, dark dark dark. Dark. There is no sun and hasn’t been in a long time. Night and day and time have little meaning. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski often finds darkness prominent in his projects; he shot The Crow, Prometheus, and Sweeny Todd amongst others. The film combines film noir, horror and Sci Fi working to keep the audience on edge and what we know constantly shifting.
1999’s The Matrix was one of the stronger unique colour pallets at the time, and could be a permission for other filmmakers to push styles further than before. One of the few mainstream examples of the Cyberpunk sub genre, the Wachowskis brought an unheard of level of style and action to The Matrix. It’s a bit hard to remember before there was the “bullet time” shot as a tool for film and TV.