Empire Blu-ray Special: Sci-Fi

EmpireScienceSquare2001: A Space Odyssey
Unless you happen to have your own private screening room in which to watch Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus in 70mm, the astonishing Special Edition Blu-ray is the best possible way to experience it. From opening overture to mystifying climax, 2001: A Space Odyssey represents a magnificent achievement, lauded for its stunning effects, and renowned for the stunning effect it has on those seeing it for the first time. Setting out, in the early ‘60s, to make “the proverbial good science fiction film” and “a film of mythic grandeur”, Kubrick and his visionary collaborator, science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, achieved both goals with a complex, confounding film, undiminished by repeat viewings, and as likely to inspire future cosmologists as filmmakers. (Of the latter, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron are among those interviewed for the bonus material.) The making of the film, extensively detailed in several hi-def documentaries created exclusively for this edition, took place as the drama of the space race was unfolding for real. Yet the tiny black-and-white televisions most people had in their living rooms in 1968 could not do justice to the space experience. Kubrick’s film could – and did. As Spielberg said, “He took you into space for the first time.” Back then, the year 2001 must have seemed as impossibly distant as Jupiter; that it has come and gone without diminishing the power of A Space Odyssey is a testament to the film’s enduring profundity and mysticism. Forty years on, it continues to provoke wonder and awe, and will surely continue to do so, for as long as cinema, or the human race, exists.

The Omega Man
Decades before Will Smith filmed Richard Matheson’s 1954 novella under its original title, I Am Legend, Charlton Heston followed Vincent Price’s turn as The Last Man on Earth with this cracking post-apocalyptic vampire thriller from 1971, lovingly restored in all its widescreen glory.

Men in Black
Barry Sonnenfeld’s successful meld of sci-fi and comedy has enough sight gags, memorable characters and witty dialogue to make up for a dearth of plot – and it’s never looked better. A dizzying array of extras includes the Will Smith music video and ‘silhouette commentary’ with Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones.

Starship Troopers
Paul Verhoeven’s bloody and brilliantly subversive adaptation of Robert A Heinlein’s satirical sci-fi novel, about human cannon fodder fighting alien bugs, gets a stunning transfer, highlighting the superb effects and absurdly attractive cast. Would you like to know more? Then check out the effects-minded ‘making of’ featurettes which add to the fun.

Planet of the Apes
Forget Tim Burton’s egregious “re-imagining” and get your stinkin’ paws on this superbly detailed hi-def transfer of the first, and best, of the five original Apes movies currently available on Blu-ray. It still packs a punch, both visually and thematically, and it’s crammed with all the extras from earlier editions, plus some impressive HD exclusives.

Sunshine
Ironically, it was unseasonably fine weather that killed Danny Boyle’s moody, melancholy meld of 2001, Alien and Solaris. It’s a pity, too, because it’s one of the most visually stunning films the UK has ever produced. With the success of Slumdog Millionaire, it’s ripe for rea-assessment – especially with the immaculate picture and sound on this Blu-ray.

Dark City: Director’s Cut
Fully-realized alternative worlds are one of the things science fiction film does best, and I, Robot director Alex Proyas’ sinister sleeping city, clearly a major Matrix influence, is one of the finest. The Blu-ray boasts an exquisite transfer of the theatrical and director’s cuts, plus commentaries, feature-length retrospective ‘making of’ and much more.

The Chronicles of Riddick
The director’s cut of this ambitious sequel to Pitch Black, which introduced Vin Diesel as amoral anti-hero Riddick, is one of those films that Blu-ray’s startling visual clarity helps to elevate beyond its reputation. The extras are equally impressive, and with a new Riddick video game in the shops, it’s essential re-viewing.

The X-Men Trilogy
With X-Men Origins: Wolverine in cinemas, there’s no better time to experience Bryan Singer’s extraordinary adaptation of the Marvel Comics favourite: viewed as a trilogy, even with Brett Ratner taking the reins for The Last Stand, it stands beside any comic book series for excitement. Razor sharp extras and exceptionally detailed extras.

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