If Sunshine Gets You Hot for Smart Sci-Fi

Danny Boyle's latest, the gotta-save-the-sun science fiction flick Sunshine, hit DVD this week. A cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and a particularly philosophical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is futuristic drama with an emphasis on people, not action, and how people might be affected by boldly going where no one has gone before. It is, in other words, real science fiction, not a movie that merely appropriates its trappings -- with spaceships, laser guns, and funny-looking aliens -- to tell a story that would be much the same without them.

There aren't actually a whole lot of movies about which that can be said. But if Sunshine gets you hot for more movies like it, check these out:

Blade Runner: If you think you're human, and you feel human, and you remember being the child who grew into the adult you are today, does that make you human? How can you be sure? Ridley Scott's disturbing futuristic parable asks tough questions about what goes on in our heads -- what we think goes on in our heads -- while realizing the questions are nearly impossible to answer.

Brazil: Quite possibly the best science fiction film ever made, this is not merely a terrifying vision of bureaucracy run amuck and conformity entrenching itself into the mind of humanity. It's about bureaucracy as conformity. Terry Gilliam's alarming world is our own, taken to the Nth degree.

A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick raises all sorts of troubling questions in this drama about a plan to rewire the vicious instincts of the young criminal: Do all people deserve the right to self-determination, even if it leads some of us to destructive behavior? And should we be afraid of how easy it is to reprogram our minds? Can you hear "Singin' in the Rain" and not think of Alex and his droogs?

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Taut, tense, and economic, this Robert Wise classic is still the best first-contact movie ever made, leaving you with the feeling that any meeting with aliens will probably fall along these lines... and that we'll come out looking like ignorant backwater bigots.

Fahrenheit 451: Intelligence and knowledge are dangerous, Francois Truffaut's devastating film posits that in combination they can make you question the status quo. Here, the only way to be happy is for everyone to be ignorant; intellectual freedom and mindless conformity cannot exist side by side. Is banning books a price worth paying?

Gattaca: Andrew Niccol creates a stylish retro future -- full of fedoras and natty suits and square cars -- that calls to mind the conformist 1950s, and it's meant to. Conformity in the form of "perfection" is here being genetically engineered into humanity. But if one imperfect man can fake his way to the top, what does that say about "perfection?"

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MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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