Ten Sci-Fi Flicks for the Thinking Man

...or woman.

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Primer

Like any genre, science fiction has its share of clichés -- and anything relating to time travel probably belongs on that list. But few films have ever dealt with time travel -- or the many personal and ethical questions that could arise from ownership of the technology -- with the level of intelligence that Shane Carruth's ultra low-budget Primer brought to the table. The story of two garage scientists who accidentally build a time machine, Primer eschews whiz-bang special effects for a nuts-and-bolts look at the science behind the device, and a cold, hard look at how quickly and easily a friendship can be torn asunder by unchecked power and bottomless greed. It certainly isn't for everyone -- the reams of technical dialogue prompted critics such as the BBC's Matthew Leyland to dismiss it as "one of the most willfully obscure sci-fi movies ever made" -- but if you can absorb the material, it's uncommonly gripping. Time Out's Jessica Winter was appreciative, saying "this film imagines its viewers to be smart, possessed of a decent attention span and game for a challenge. It doesn't happen all that often."




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Children of Men

Unlike a number of the movies on this list, Children of Men works even if you don't like sci-fi -- and don't particularly care for thought-provoking movies, either. Yes, it grapples with some heavy issues -- most notably, the idea that human hope is tied inorexably to our ability to reproduce -- but it also moves with Bourne-like speed and intensity, bounding from one white-knuckle setpiece to another (and packing some truly incredible cinematography as it goes, courtesy of Emmanuel Luzbecki). Director Alfonso Cuarón wasn't shy about loading his adaptation of the P.D. James novel with visual statements on man's cruelty to man and the folly of governing through fear, but he doesn't linger on them; instead, he trusts his audience to absorb the story's subtext, and rewards them with one of the most rip-roaring dystopian sci-fi films you're ever likely to see. It deserved the heaps of praise it received from critics like the St. George Spectrum's Bruce Bennett, who called it "an apocalyptic thrill ride that is as gritty as it is gripping, with a dark terror outgunned only by its daring humanity.".



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