Whether on the big or small screen, British science-fiction has always had its own distinct flavor. Often hampered by smaller budgets than their Hollywood counterparts, Brit sci-fi movies rely on big ideas to create fantastic stories and push the genre in exciting new directions.
Famed authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells have provided inspiration for classic British sci-fi of the past including 2001: A Space Odyssey and War of the Worlds, but of course new talents continue to emerge in the genre. Stellar new British sci-fi adventure Genesis is set in the year 2069. Mankind has been devastated by a chemical Armageddon. Forced to live underground where the air is breathable, the civilians, led by the charismatic Paul Brooks (John Hannah) survive in dire conditions, starving and pushed into slave labour.
As the civilian unrest grows, the politicians and scientists, led by Dr. Eve Gabriel (Olivia Grant) dedicate all resources to the construction of ABEL, a humanoid life- form, and mankind’s last hope. When the powerful A.I. Machine learns it preprogramed fate it is up to Eve and Paul to prevent catastrophic consequences. Check out the trailer below:
To celebrate the release of Genesis we take a look here at some of the best British science fiction film and television to have come out this 21st century.
Children of Men (2006)
This stunning dystopian sci-fi from director Alfonso Cuarón may have stumbled at the box office but it more than made up for it in critical acclaim. Praised for it’s innovative single-shot action sequences the film picked up Academy Awards nominations in cinematography, editing and for its screenplay and is rightly regarded as one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century. Adapted from a novel by famed British crime writer PD James, the story is set in a near-future United Kingdom several years after the human race has become infertile. Facing extinction and societal collapse the UK has closed its borders to the chaos engulfing the rest of the world, and a brutal, immigrant-hunting police state is the result. In this bleak future world, Clive Owen plays a former activist tasked with getting a young woman to the border and out of the country. A young woman who miraculously appears to be pregnant…
Danny Boyle’s acclaimed Sunshine was written by the prolific Alex Garland, and tells the story of a group of astronauts travelling to reignite the dying sun and save humanity in the year 2057. Sunshine is heavily influenced by two of the all time great sci-fi films: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Andre Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), so as you can imagine, things soon start to get very weird and metaphysical for the wayward space adventurers. The film sports stellar production design and a talented ensemble cast including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans and Rose Byrne. Boyle required his cast to undergo space training, learn to scuba dive and experience weightlessness in a zero G environment before filming, so they could all accurately mimic the movement of astronauts in space. He found working on the project so exhausting that he vowed never to work in the sci-fi genre again. Even so, we’d love to see him take the interstellar plunge just one more time.
Doctor Who Episode: The Waters of Mars (2009)
No list of British sci-fi would be complete without a mention of the good Doctor, and his regeneration in 2005 has proven one of the biggest success stories in sci-fi history. The show’s original run lasted from 1963 until 1989 when bad decisions behind the scenes saw viewing figures and production quality dwindle. However, the Time Lord came back with a bang in 2005, introducing a new generation to the time-travelling Doctor with a series that proved wildly popular and continues to be shown around the world to a dedicated fan base. Doctor Who may flirt with horror, fantasy, and mystery elements from time to time, but 2009 episode The Waters of Mars from the much-loved David Tenant era of the Doctor is pure science fiction. The Doctor lands his TARDIS on Mars and introduces himself to earth’s first colonists on the day that history states their base will be mysteriously destroyed. While a water-based virus threatens to wipeout the crew, the doctor is forced to make a terrible decision…
Young British director Gareth Edwards arrived on the scene with a bang in 2010 with sleeper hit Monsters. Edwards had an FX background which allowed him to make the impressive post-apocalyptic world and it’s creatures on a budget. Set a few years after an alien invasion, we follow a journalist as he escorts an American tourist through an infected Mexico to the U.S border. The sparse world allowed for impressive vistas and the budget-determined rare views of the aliens gave their appearances greater impact. But what really set Monsters apart from other sci-fi tales was the well-directed and subtle acting. The two leads acted like human beings – a rare thing in genre movies – and even bit-part actors were believable. Even so it was a surprise even for Edwards that his next two films were the mega budget Godzilla (2013) and (Star Wars) Rogue One (2016) but his tasteful depiction of people-in-crazy-situations more than justified the studio’s trust. Monsters is well worth seeking out.
After the much criticised (but quite successful and entertaining) Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd in 1995, many 2000 AD comic fans (and industry creatives) were keen to see the character and his world portrayed better on the silver screen. One of those was writer and soon-to-be-director (of Ex-Machina and Annihilation) Alex Garland. Garland co-wrote the script for this smaller scale but more authentic take in 2012. Directed by Pete Travis and starring the brilliant Karl Urban as everyone’s favourite hyper-violent fascistic law-bringer, the tightly focused plot and skyscraper-slum location gave the film an urgency and directness lacking in many a modern actioner. The violence was gruesome and the morals were lax, just as they should be. Some bullet-time style “slo-mo” effects might date but they added to the comic book feel. Released at the same time as the similar The Raid and pushed as “3D” just as 3D fell out of favour, the movie didn’t reach the audience it deserved on release. Dredd has subsequently built a following with much chatter of a sequel. Interestingly, Karl Urban stated in a 2018 interview that Alex Garland was the real director of the film despite Travis’ credit.
The Machine (2013)
Caradog W James’ under-the-radar gem The Machine tells the story of Vincent McCarthy (played by Toby Stephens), a computer scientist who creates an artificial intelligence to help his sick daughter. However, when the Military of Defence take over, the project is pushed to the next level producing an android that is capable of killing. Like many sci-fi stories, stretching back to Frankenstein, it is a cautionary tale about humans playing God. The film’s total budget was less than £1m, with costs stretched so tight that costume designer Chrissie Pegg was given two weeks to come up with 100 costumes at only £40 each. But the film looks fantastic considering it’s limited production budget and is well worth checking out for fans of decent Brit cinema.
Black Mirror Episode: San Junipero (2016)
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has quickly evolved to become one of the most talked about television shows in the UK. Since its highly controversial first episode it has constantly pushed buttons, confronting viewers with its pitch-black worldview and razor-sharp satire. Black Mirror is essentially a 21st century Twilight Zone, with each episode examining a twisted futuristic scenario that terrifyingly doesn’t seem too far from reality. The programme really hits its stride though when the outlook is a little less dystopian. The award-winning episode San Junipero is one of the show’s best and most hopeful episodes, about an idyllic simulated reality that the elderly can visit to claw back the feeling of being young. You can even be ‘uploaded’ into the system so you’ll continue to live on after death. Hook us up!
Alex Garland’s Annihilation was one of the most anticipated releases of 2018, so it fairly turned many heads when the film’s studio Paramount decided to avoid a cinematic release in favour of a ‘safer’ direct-to-Netflix release. Anyone who has seen the movie can see this was one film that begged to be seen on the big screen. It stars Natalie Portman in one of her best ever roles as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, who dips her toe back into the heady waters of sci-fi years after working with David Cronenberg on eXistenZ. Annihilation yet again proves Garland as a force to be reckoned with in the field of visionary sci-fi, following his debut Ex Machina (2014). The film is visually dazzling, often confusing and at times utterly terrifying – just what we want from a sci-fi! Annihilation has it all in abundance and will go down as one the best.
Lionsgate UK presents Genesis on Digital 9 July & DVD 16 July
Amazon Link: http://amzn.eu/8mVBIF6